July 25, 2006
Brand Naming: Watch Out For Paws and Pause
Homophones are words which have the same sound but different spellings, such as “paws” and “pause.” English has a phenomenal number of these, though none of them start with X or Z, at least according to Suber & Thorpe’s online English Homophone Dictionary.
Homophones are one of the primary sources of puns. If your company’s name has a homophone, it increases the ease with which people can make jokes about it. Some companies deliberately call on the humor of homophones in naming their businesses, like the eyeglass merchant Site for Sore Eyes or a local alterations shop called Sew What.
As I mentioned in my post last week; Brand Naming: Students Know Technology, Not Branding; the name of the fictitious company S.O.R.E. was an attempt to invoke the connotations of “soar.” Even if the students had named their project “Soar,” however, the fact that the name sounded like “sore” would have been a drawback. Nintendo’s “Wii” has come under fire as a homophone not only of “we” but of “wee.”
In addition to the potential for ridicule, homophones leave consumers open to confusion and could hamper brand recognition. A 2000 Brandweek article reported that only 20% of respondents surveyed by Doremus recognized Sysco as a food products distributor, whereas 60% appeared to mistake it for tech giant Cisco.
One suspects most American consumers would mis-identify the shipping company Cosco as the discount retailer Costco. Even though none of the four companies has a natural word for a name, they are still homophones.
Having your brand mistaken for someone else’s is never good. The point of filing a trademark is to protect your company from this kind of consumer confusion. The USPTO’s trademark search function is actually pretty good at uncovering homophones for search terms, but it’s perfectly legitimate for two companies in different industries to have names which sound alike.
It’s just not good for brand recognition. To avoid confusion when naming your own company or product, stay away from homophones unless you’re making a deliberate play on words.
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