August 11, 2006
Company Naming: What’s in Your Portmanteau?
It 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.
There 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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