Naming In The News

Good Question

How Do Brands Get Named?

May 1, 2008
By Jason DeRusha

Drive by any Wendy's restaurant and you'll see a sign advertising the new "Spicy Baconator." It's a catchy name, and the people at Wendy's didn't come up with it. The credit actually goes to a company in Bloomington, Minn.

"You think of Terminator, refrigerator, so its hearty," said Bill Lozito, Chief Branding Officer at Strategic Name Development.

Some brands are named after the founders, like Wells Fargo Bank. Others come out of a complicated brainstorming process, like the one Strategic Name Development uses. According to Lozito, there's only eight companies in the U.S. doing full-time naming.

"The name is your walking advertisement," said Diane Prange, Chief Linguistics Officer with the company. "'This is a breakthrough product so we need a breakthrough name.' We hear that a lot."

Prange has a wall of dictionaries, thesauruses and name books that give her inspiration. She also has Scrabble and Boggle to help juice her creativity, but the creative process is just one part of name development.

"The hardest part is being able to trademark it," said Prange. "For every name you come up with 87 percent of the time it's not going to be legally available."

The company has an employee they call "The Eraser." Katya Miller scours trademark records to find out if the names coming out of the creative process are already taken.

The U.S. Government has about 3 million registered trademarks, according to Prange, so a shocking number of names are off the table for consideration.

After the domestic research is done, then the names get sent to a team of professors in countries around the world, because no one wants another Chevrolet Nova situation. No-va in Spanish translates to "no go."

"One of the names that we wanted to use for a global brand was 'Regus.' ... In Brazil, where the people speak Portuguese, it means 'butt crack,'" said Lozito.

"Toyota brought a car called the "MR-2" to France, and in French its 'M-R-deux' which means 'poop,'" said Prange. "A couple of companies have brought the word 'mist' to Germany. 'Mist' in German means the same thing, 'poop.'"

After the names pass the trademark and the international tests, they are submitted to consumer testing, where the company looks for memorability, distinctiveness, emotional bonding and fit for the concept.

Right now, Strategic Name Development is naming a new kids cereal, "a new technology delivered on your cell phone, a new drilling product and we're naming a couple of things for the body to enhance a woman's appearance," said Lozito.

"It is so hard. I could see where a consumer would see a name like Baconator and think, 'I could do it one evening.' What makes it difficult is that you have to come up with hundreds if not a thousand names. Then you find that this name's not available, it's hard to pronounce, it's too close to another name," he said.