What's in a Name?
namers are taking the time to understand their target audience and
ensure they're creating names that are both relevant and meaningful."
Playing the Name Game for Fun—and Profit
For those in the midst
of naming (or renaming) a company or product, the stakes—and
risks—are high. A good company name can help secure customer loyalty
and provide a competitive edge in a crowded marketplace. (Assuming, of
course, that your company's product or service upholds this good name.)
A bad name can simply fail to resonate with your customer base,
relegating your company or product to obscurity.
The name game, however,
is also a spectator sport. The world is watching—and passing judgment.
In the late 1990s, for example, Hewlett-Packard hired identity firm
Landor Associates to name the spin-off of its instrumentation and
measurement division. The name chosen: Agilent. "From a quantitative
standpoint, it's a very appealing name," Darius Somary, research
director at Landor Associates, states on Salon.com. "On all the scalar
measures of distinctiveness and appropriateness, it tested right off
But others weren't so
convinced. According to Salon.com, the president of one naming firm
declared it "the most namby-pamby, phonetically weak,
light-in-its-shoes name in the history of naming." A professional at
another naming firm concurred: "What a crummy name."
Spectators can be a
of a Good Name
If you are undertaking a naming
initiative, what should you keep in mind? First, if you can, forget
about the spectators. Focus your efforts on your potential customer
"Smart namers are [taking the] time to understand their target audience
and ensure they're creating names that are both relevant and
meaningful," according to TippingSprung, a branding consultancy. For
example, InvesTex, the name of a credit union in Texas, may not pass
muster with many name-game spectators. But for customers that live in
Texas and want to keep their money there, the name is reassuring.
Other characteristics of good names? They're easy to spell, pronounce,
and remember. They're not geographical (because that might hinder
company expansion to a new sales or service area)—unless their origin
is part of their appeal. (A company called "Maine Lobsters" would most
likely rake in more sales than would a company called "Nebraska
Lobsters.") They don't limit products or services your company may
offer in the future. (What if "Smith's Doors" decides to sell windows?)
And they're distinctive enough that they can receive trademark
protection. (The name "Quicken," for example, is distinctive.
"Johnson's Hardware" is not.)
Types of Names
Typically, there are four
categories of names: family names, abstract names, semi-descriptive
names, and initials.
Family names tend "to be associated with
services where the personal touch and continuity over the years are
both seen as
important. Authenticity is therefore an important attribute that family
names help express," brandchannel reports. A family name is almost seen
as a personal endorsement, providing customers with reassurance and
trust. A point to consider, however, is that some surnames aren't easy
to register as trademarks.
Abstract names, such as Yahoo! and Kodak,
little or no meaning with respect to the product or service being
offered. But "they are potentially strong and legal properties,"
brandchannel states. "They can create powerful differentiation, which,
if backed up by products and services of high quality and value for
money, can lead to strong and successful brands. Precisely because such
names lack any descriptive content, they are relatively easy to
register and protect as trademarks." Their shortcoming? Because these
names are so abstract, time and investment are required up front to
educate the customer on the name, as well as the product or service
"associative" names hint at the product or service the company
provides. Think Dunkin' Donuts, Jiffy Lube, and JetBlue. These types of
names "are relatively easy to understand, [and] they simplify the task
of positioning the product or service concerned," according to
brandchannel. But like family names, semi-descriptive names can be
difficult to register as trademarks. The name "Blue," with "its simple
evocation of clear skies and serenity," was appealing as the name for
an airline, Business 2.0 reports. "After trademark lawyers pointed out
that it would be impossible to protect the name 'Blue' without a
distinctive qualifier, ... JetBlue was born."
Initials are generally used more for company
than for product names. The immediate example that comes to mind, of
course, is IBM. As brandchannel notes, "Very few companies or products
would choose the initials route if they were new to the market.
Initials lack information, differentiation, and personality; they are
also notoriously difficult to protect as trademarks."
What Name Will You Choose?
So, what's the right
name for your company or product? Naturally, only your organization can
decide. But by keeping these naming characteristics and strategies in
mind, your new company or product name may well create differentiation,
stick in the minds of your targeted audience, and secure customer
Sources: Ruth Shalit, "The Name Game," Salon.com, November 30, 1999.
"2005 TippingSprung Survey of Top Brand Names,"
"Choosing a Powerful Brand Name,"
brandchannel, October 10, 2005.
Alex Frankel, "The New Science of Naming, Business 2.0, December
2004. (Subscription required)