October 28, 2014 | By:

What’s in a name?

Short answer: a lot.

Longer and much more interesting answer: Please read on.

Naming a company or product isn’t easy. In fact, it’s straight-up hard, but it’s a special kind of hard; one that’s challenging and quite rewarding. Some of these challenges include, but are not limited to finding a name that is:

• available (this is increasingly difficult in a www.com world)
• differentiated from the competition
• meaningful to the target audience
• memorable

In order to tackle these factors, there are several methods and types of names used for determining a solution that performs.

Descriptive: Clearly describe the product or service. (Toys R Us, Internet Explorer)

The advantages of a descriptive name are fairly apparent. They are easily related to the product or service, and for that reason, usually fairly memorable, if not exciting.

The other side of that coin is that they are often difficult to trademark or obtain a good web address for, and usually lack that “a ha” moment that helps to create an emotional response from the target audience.

Evocative: Alludes to an aspect of the product or service, but less directly than a descriptive name (Safari, Greyhound)

As a counterpoint to a descriptive name, evocative names often have a less tangible relationship to the business, but instead speak to feelings and sensations or align with other more concrete concepts that are relatable to the product or service. They are also more likely to be obtainable from a trademark perspective.

Synthetic: A completely made-up word that, while intrinsically meaningless, can be fertile ground for companies that are looking to separate themselves from the competition. (Hulu, Zoosk)

This method has grown increasingly common now that everyone is looking for the shortest available URL, and depending on industry, can insinuate that the product or service is so fresh and so new, an existing word is just not adequate to describe it.

Legacy: Usually name(s) tied to the founder(s) or partner(s) in the company, though some use this artificially. (McDonalds, Mercedes-Benz, Ralph Lauren)

Legacy names are useful when the goal is to tie to an individual to the organization, but usually don’t do much for instant recognition. If the company is successful over time, brand equity can be formed in such a way that it makes the name synonymous with the solution that the company provides.

Alphanumeric: Including acronyms, these are names that form a group of letters and/or numbers. (MADD, AOL, IBM)

Alphanumeric names are often used to condense longer, more cumbersome names (UPS), or names that a company would like to retain brand equity of, but would like to move past the original name for one reason or another (KFC).

The upside here being that if an organization has an unwieldy collection of words that make up the company name, they can be made more manageable.

The downside is that they can be lost in an alphabet soup (that’s a descriptive name) of characters that can often lack character themselves.

Amalgam: Combining meaningful words to create a new name that seeks to leverage these terms. (FedEx, LEGO)

Amalgam names tend to leverage the strengths of both descriptive and synthetic names. Depending on the history of the company (did they once function as a series of words only to be combined later?), and the accessibility of the words after they’re combined, they can fall on one side of that spectrum or the other.

For instance, it’s easy math to watch Federal Express shift to FedEx, and it still retains it’s descriptive nature. Conversely, LEGO is a worldwide brand most of which doesn’t speak Danish, so the original abbreviation of “leg godt”, meaning “play well”, is lost on the vast majority of the market, thus relegating it to a synthetic solution.

Etymological: Using foreign or root language to find a name that is referential to the business, even if it isn’t immediately apparent. (Zappos, Sony)

This is another instance where the initial impression is that of a purely synthetic solution, and often can have an evocative interpretation. For example, Zappos derives it’s name from the spanish word for shoes, “Zapatos”. Most customers don’t know this root, and often think it’s just a collection of letters, while others infer some sort of speed of service from the “zap” part of the word.

While there is a potential stumbling block for understanding, these types of names often offer that aforementioned “a ha” moment for those customers that are engaged enough to find out the origin of the name. There is a sense of discovery when you learn that Sony is derived from the latin word for sound; “sonus”.

Fun stuff, right? Just because it’s not easy, doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing, and this is exactly the kind of challenge we love here at Ilfusion. If you have any questions about naming, or any other aspects of branding, messaging or other marketing activity, give us a call at 888-420-5115 or email us at creative [at] ilfusion.com.

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