Naming In The News

Raising the Bar?

July 5, 2008
By Melissa Martin
Winnipeg Free Press

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

But what if it were called a crotchblossom? Or, for that matter, a Pink Taco?

In late May, a pair of local bar openings sent Winnipeg club watchers into a tizzy. Between upscale country bar Whiskey Dix or its pudendally named competition, Pink Taco, jaws dropped. The names aren't new -- there are clubs in the U.S. called Whiskey Dick's and an American Mexican restaurant chain called Pink Taco -- but for many Winnipeggers, they were shocking.

For instance, the Tear It Down blog announced that Whiskey Dix' moniker fell, ahem, a little flaccid. “The name of the bar blows, hard,” wrote blogger Mike, while commenters responded to Pink Taco with a simple, “what the f--- is wrong with this city?” The Free Press's own Bartley Kives pointed out that the names could be a quick attention grab in an industry with a notoriously high failure rate.

We figured there was only one way to settle the bar-name debate: by calling up the big guns. So the Free Press enlisted the help of Minneapolis-based brand naming company Strategic Name Development to help us find the best, and worst, bar names in Winnipeg.

The firm certainly knows a thing or two about good names. Led by chief branding officer William Lozito, Strategic's team spends its days anointing everything from burgers (they're responsible for Wendy's daunting Baconator) to insurance plans and breast implants.

We supplied them with a list of 20 of Winnipeg's best-known nightclubs, including some pertinent details: a description of the club, information about its target market, and a link to its website.

In between dreaming up names for clients like Kraft, General Electric, and The Discovery Channel, Lozito and chief linguistic officer Diane Prange dug in to our city's bar names. After over a week of research (including running some names by a panel of 20-somethings), the duo was ready to announce their picks for the best -- and worst -- nightclub names in Winnipeg.

Whiskey Dix

The bar: Upscale country with a $1-million twist: club owners have poured that much into renovating the former Empire, including a swanky hardwood patio. Even better? The bouncers have ten-gallon hats.

The back story: Though there are clubs in the U.S. with similarly booze-fuelled monikers, club owner Wade Salchert swears he hadn't heard of them. The name came to him at the Calgary Stampede, where he and a business partner started tossing around ideas for a new country bar. “We just laughed our butts off,” says Salchert. “It's playful, it's funny. Sure, I thought that some older patrons could find it offensive. But you can't please everybody all the time.”

The good: Surprised? You aren't the only one. Even Salchert asked twice for confirmation when we told him that Strategic Name Development gave Whiskey Dix a double thumbs-up. But Lozito and Prange found lots to love in the lurid moniker.

“The 'whiskey' makes it approachable, but the 'dix' makes it contemporary,” says Prange, noting that the name also testeClassic Cruising / Larry D'Argisd well among the 20-somethings they surveyed. “The metaphor makes it something people can talk about and laugh about.”

Lozito appreciates that the sexual innuendo is obvious but “not vulgar,” and confirms the point Kives made in his May 24 column: In an industry where most new brands have a lifecycle only slightly longer than a mayfly, it makes sense to go big or go home. Nightclubs, he says, are an area like energy drinks (think bevies like Cocaine, Balls, Blow), where controversy works. “The objective is to get the attention of the audience early. Controversial attention is better than no attention at all.”

That's exactly what Salchert has found. “Even if they aren't liking the name, they're talking about it. And word has traveled like crazy. We've only been open four weeks, and things are really cooking.”


The bar: Perched over Osborne Village, the intimate 200-person venue (which once housed the Die Maschine) targets a hip, electronica-savvy crowd.

The back story: Owner Aaron Faybush (who also runs the nearby Noir Wine Bar) first saw the name while traveling, but the space almost named itself. “I chose it because I'm higher up,” he says of the second-floor dance club. “You have to walk up three floors to get to my club.”

The good: Prange picked up a sexy retro vibe -- a perfect fit, she says, for Hi-Fi's underground appeal. “It's a little old school that's been resurrected,” she says, recalling the days when hi-fidelity stereos were lovingly called hi-fis.

“We had hi-fis in our youth, and now they're cool again.”

It's also practical.

“In retail, shorter is better,” says Lozito, pointing out bite-sized brands like The Gap. “The shorter the name is, the taller you can go with your sign, and the farther away you can read it from.”

That bodes well for the future, when Hi-Fi actually gets its name in lights.

“I haven't spent a dollar on advertising. I don't even have a sign,” says Faybush. And yet, crowds have been lining up to get into the low-key club since its opening in late April.

Alive in the District

The bar: Situated on one of The Exchange District's beautiful cobblestone corners, the 21+ club packs in revelers with Top 40 and live cover bands.

The back story: “It's time to be reborn. It's time to be ALIVE,” blares the club's website, which describes how it aims to get young professionals out to dance in a safe and, dare we say, slightly more mature environment than your average teen watering hole.

The good: Prange and Lozito appreciate that the website gives an interactive story behind the name, while affirming the brand. Even better, unlike most clubs, it isn't named with a simple noun.

“It has some energy behind it, it's action oriented,” raves Lozito, even though he agrees that it isn't quite as provocative as other picks.


The bar: Located in Canad Inns Transcona, the Regent Avenue club bills itself as a mature and casual neighborhood dance destination.

The back story: Canad Inns representatives could not be reached for comment; the bar's focus on “a home for locals” may explain the name.

The bad: Seriously, like, you know, the “my” stuff is so 2005.

“It feels so overused by MySpace and things like that,” says Prange, noting that there are probably 10,000 names starting with 'my.' This one, she says, just feels “incredibly dated. It feels like the only reason they came up with it is to get a URL, but then they don't even have their own URL. So I'm not sure what they're trying to do.”

What's In A Name

Behind every brand, there's a story: more often than not, it's a long one. It's “not uncommon to come up with 800 to 1,000 names on one naming assignment,” says Lozito. So if you're driving home tonight and checking out the ads around you, keep these bits of brand-name wisdom in mind:

1. If it feels familiar, it probably cost $1 million.

“Don't let simplicity fool you,” says Lozito. “If you see a brand name out there and think, 'I could have done that,' then it was a very difficult naming assignment.” This seems contradictory, but given how much is invested in finding a name that consumers instantly and subconsciously associate with the promised experience, you'll see what he means: the hardest thing to do is make people feel at home.

2. You can't spell “explosive” without “plosive.”

Plosive consonants -- sounds made by stopping the airflow, like D, B, T and K -- play big roles in a disproportionate number of top brand names: for instance, Kodak and Coca-Cola. That plosive bite gives a name better tractability in consumer mouths, says Prange. “We still don't know well enough why that is,” says Prange. “But people will say, 'it just sounds right to me.'” To test if a name meets the plosive challenge, hold a lit match in front of your lips and say the brand: if it blows out, it's plosive-rich.

3. Don't follow the crowd.

The hardest part about brand naming, says Lozito, is anticipating where the market is going... and acknowledging where it's already played out. For instance, when Strategic was drumming up a name for a new premium white rum, it found that “everyone who names in liquor wants a name that attracts people to the idea of it being refreshing,” says Prange. “If it's all differentiated by being refreshing, then it's not differentiated at all.”