Naming In The News

What’s in a Name? More Than You Might Think, Study Says

Different Letters Portray Brands As Masculine vs. Feminine, Traditional vs. Innovative

By Beth Snyder Bulik,
June 23, 2006

YORK, Pa. (AdAge.com) — Brand names beginning with C, S and B are perceived by consumers as traditional or classic, while those that start with X, Z, Q and V are seen as innovative. And short is apparently not sweet when it comes to brand names: The average number of syllables in the names of the nation's most-advertised products is 3.5. (Only 32% have two syllables or fewer.)

Those are just some of the findings in a recent “consonant association” study by brand-name consultancy Strategic Name Development, Minneapolis. The study was crafted to assess the connections consumers make with different letters of the alphabet.

Rating System

The 414 people in the study rated their reactions to different letters on nine-point scales — for instance, a scale where 1 was innovative and 9 was classic.

Strategic Name Development applied the letter-association findings to a list of the top 1,000 most-advertised brands in the U.S. It came up with a raft of general name-branding connections as well as others specific to certain categories, including automotive, consumer electronics, household goods and pharmaceuticals.

Along with the findings above, the group discovered that L, V, F and W are thought of as more feminine, while X, M and Z make a more masculine connection. Think Victoria's Secret vs. (Nissan) Xterra.

What does it all mean for marketers? It depends on the marketer, the category and, more importantly, the strategy. If an electronics company is launching a new product it wants consumers to think is innovative, it might consider using a Q in the name. Or if a household-products company wants a new product to stand out, it might shy away from a name that starts with B because of the number of B names in the category.

Solid Starting Point

For Strategic Name Development, the study creates a solid starting point for conversations with clients. “It minimizes the arbitrariness of it and introduces more science,” said William Lozito, president of the consultancy. “It provides a common language. Our clients — and we — like that it gives us a framework and a common ground to work from.”

One retail client came to Strategic Name Development with the idea that the name for a new store concept had to be just one syllable, like Gap, because that's what works in retail. The company's study information revealed that the average retail-store name is actually three syllables. “It really opened their eyes,” Mr. Lozito said. “The name isn't out yet, but it's two syllables and two words.”

The study results have been so helpful that the consultancy is already working on a follow-up, said Chief Linguistics Officer Diane Prange.

The company did not study vowels because it would be difficult to account for their multiple pronunciations, Ms. Prange said, though she is trying to find a way to do that.