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August 11, 2006

Company Naming: What’s in Your Portmanteau?

Accenture logoIt was Lewis Carroll who first used the word “portmanteau” to describe a word made up of other words - in this case, the words he had invented for the poem “Jabberwocky.” While some portmanteau words, like “guesstimate,” have an immediately obvious meaning, “brillig” and “slithy” are not so obvious.

Portmanteaux may come about from the need to name something which is itself a combination of existing items (“moped,” “brunch,” and “spork” fall into this category), a desire to shorten a long compound description (e.g. “modem” from “modulator-demodulator”), or from the creator’s desire to be humorous, clever, or make a political point (“Reaganomics,” “Franglais,” “Californication).

Portmanteau names for celebrity couples (such as “Bennifer,” “Brangelina,” and “TomKat”) have been particularly popular in the tabloids in recent years. Those that catch on, like “electrocution,” and “motel,” eventually become invisible, their portmanteau origins forgotten.

VerizonThere are two reasons portmanteaux make good company names. The first is that, as coined words, they are much easier to trademark than natural words. (But you still need to check the trademark database to make sure no one else invented the word before you did.)

The second reason for choosing a portmanteau name is the ability to evoke two or more concepts with one word:

  • Verizon, for instance, is a combination of the Latin word veritas, meaning “truth,” and the English word “horizon.”
  • Rolodex is a “rolling index” - a name which describes the product itself, rather than its benefits.
  • Microsoft, Accenture, Amtrak, Intel, and Texaco all have portmanteau company names.

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Posted by Diane Prange at August 11, 2006 8:27 AM
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1 Comment

Thank you for linking to my recent Brangelina post, about portmanteau names, and your recent kind email about it.

I shall certainly keep watching this space, as since I have long had an interest in name development in the guise of ethnology and linguistics.

Here is one person who used to read Mario Pei's "The Story of Language" under the cover of her bedsheets, aged 12.


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