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Those Crazy New Names

Agilent, Agilis, Ajilon, and Agere. Advantix, Advantis, Adventis, and Advanta. Actuant, Equant, Guidant, and Reliant. Prodigy, Certegy, Centegy, and Tality. Why are there so many sound-alike names? The short answer is this: Most of the good names are taken. Between a rising tide of startups on one hand, and a flood of URLs on the other, companies are continually forced to dive deeper for workable names. The latest trend is to push the boundaries of dignity with names like Yahoo!, Google, FatSplash, and Jamcracker. Where will it end?

It won’t. The need for good brand names originates with customers, and customers will always want convenient ways of identifying, remembering, discussing, and comparing brands. The right name can be a brand’s most valuable asset, driving differentiation and speeding acceptance. The wrong name can cost millions, even billions, in workarounds and lost income over the lifetime of the brand. George Bernard Shaw’s advice applies to brands as well as people: “Take care to get born well.”

Of course, some names haven’t been created so much as inherited. A good example of a heritage name is Smuckers, which marketing people have often cited as a bad name with a clever spin. “With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good,” goes the well-known slogan. But Smuckers was a good name from day one—distinctive, short, spellable, pronounceable, likable, portable, and protectable. And while the company presents it as slightly silly, the name benefits strongly from onomatopoeia. “Smuckers” sounds like smacking lips, the preverbal testament to a yummy jam.

Another heritage name is Carl Zeiss, the maker of optical lenses. Does Zeiss make great lenses? Who knows? But the name makes the lenses “sound” great. The word “Zeiss” has hints of “glass” and “precise,” and evokes thoughts of German technological superiority. The name works so well that it can stretch to include high-end sunglasses and other precision products without the risk of breakage.

Generally speaking, high-imagery names are more memorable than low-imagery names. Names constructed from Greek and Latin root words tend to be low-imagery names. Accenture and Innoveda come to mind. Names that use Anglo-Saxon words, or the names of people, tend to be high-imagery names, producing vivid mental pictures that aid recall. Think of Apple Computer and Betty Crocker. Some of most powerful names are those that combine well with a visual treatment to create a memorable brand icon.

The 7 Criteria For A Good Name:


Distinctiveness. Does it stand out from the crowd, especially from other names in its class? Does it separate well from ordinary text and speech? The best brand names have the “presence” of a proper noun.


Brevity. Is it short enough to be easily recalled and used? Will it resist being reduced to a nickname? Long multi-word names will be quickly shortened to non-communicating initials.


Appropriateness. Is there a reasonable fit with the business purpose of the entity? If it would work just as well—or better—for another entity, keep looking.


Easy Spelling And Pronunciation. Will most people be able to spell the name after hearing it spoken? Will they be able to pronounce it after seeing it written? A name shouldn’t into a spelling test or make people feel ignorant.


Likability. Will people enjoy using it? Names that are intellectually stimulating, or provide a good “mouth feel,” have a headstart over those that don’t.


Extendibility. Does it have “legs”? Does it suggest a visual interpretation or lend itself to a number of creative executions? Great names provide endless opportunities for brandplay.


Protectability. Can it be trademarked? Is it available for web use? While many names can be trademarked, some names are more defensible than others, making them safer and more valuable in the long run.

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