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October 24, 2006

How Do You Spell Branding?

Yahoo!Including numerals and symbols in your brand or product name makes it easier to trademark and helps differentiate your company, but it also contains some built-in pitfalls and some potential for confusion.

Some people even question whether the word “spelling” is appropriate to describe names like this. And is it misspelling if you write “Wal-Mart” instead of “Wal*Mart?”

One obvious point of confusion is that people who hear the name might assume a different spelling, requiring you to spell the name when using it in an audio-only medium. “That’s ‘Blubrry’ with no Es,” podcasters say when recommending the network on their shows (

Prince symbolAnother problem is that while the Trademark Office is happy to include any number of symbols as part of a “Word Mark,” computers aren’t at all fond of non-ASCII characters. How would you put the squiggle by which performing artist Prince was known between 1993 and 2000 into an e-mail message?

AndpersandMany of the characters used in business names (including Yahoo!'s exclamation point) aren't permitted in domain names, even though they are valid ASCII characters. That means the new magazine “&.” has for a URL. And at least they used a symbol which has a name, which the ubiquitous “@” does not.

And let’s not forget what a hassle Slashdot’s name turned out to be for its would-be clever creator.

Don’t pursue trends or trademarks so far that your customers can’t find you or tell each other about you.

Posted by Diane Prange at October 24, 2006 10:45 AM
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4 Comments Maybe I'm just dull, but what the hell is that supposed to mean? Even if they couldn't get for some reason, this seems like a silly and confusing choice., - lots of better choices, no?

@ actually has a very similar naming scheme to the ampersand — which many people refer to as the “and sign” — though admittedly with a shorter history.

Commonly known as the “at sign,” the official Unicode (as well as ANSI) name for the symbol is “commercial at,” and many typographers refer to it by the name ampersat.

It seems to have made its first appearance sometime in either the 15th or 16th century, and was included on typewriters at the beginning of the 20th century with the name ampersat.

Since it has a long history, and is used in a wide number of languages — and has been long before the advent of the internet, as a substitution for the word at or the Latin ad — it has some interesting names in other languages as well. In Bahasa Indonesia, for example, it is called the “monkey a” and in Dutch it is simply the “monkey tail”— a theme repeated in Serbian, Polish, and Romanian; in Korean it's named after a snail, as it is in Turkish and Esperanto; the French follow the English tradition officially, calling it the “a commercial,” but in practice it is more common to hear it called either escargot after the snail shape, or queue de singe, the monkey's tail.

To answer the comment above: the name of the magazine (as pronounced) is, in fact, Andpersand Magazine. The origin of the symbol name comes from a practice now out of vogue of teaching it as a Latin/English hybrid of the phrase "the letter which is in-and-of-itself and". So you would pronounce that in the alphabet as "x, y, z, and per se and". Many different symbols were pronounced this way (hence the name for the @ symbol as "and per se at" or ampersat) or "and per se dollar".

Only quite a bit later (this practice was big in the mid-1800s) did the word get tweaked to the am- rather than and- beginning. The magazine, being tres chic and all, chooses to be snobby (or to distinguish themselves, might be a nicer way of putting it) by using a less-altered version of the original symbol name. So it's not simply a domain issue, it's actually a wider branding issue. Personally, I think it's a bad choice. They might be appealing to the die-hard typography historians among their demographic (guilty), but I imagine the number of people who will just think they can't spell probably outweighs that benefit substantially.

Then again, they seem to have done quite well with that little magazine of theirs. And I've certainly spilled some virtual ink on it, so maybe they win this round after all.

The URL for Andpersand Magazine, popularly known as "&" is actually

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