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June 15, 2007

Product Name Stress

Jaiku logo As you know, I have blogged before about how important it is to choose a company or product name that's easy to pronounce.

Avid users of are still debating how to pronounce its name. They obviously haven't read our post on it yet.

Part of the problem is that English is not a phonetic language.

  • How we pronounce words depends a lot on what language they came to English from, but even then English speakers don't pronounce imported words the way speakers of the export language do.
  • Even in English, "Nike" assuredly does not rhyme with "bike" — but the original Greek pronunciation would have been "NEE-kay," not "NYE-kee."

Worse yet, as John Xavier points out in his Linguistics Zone Blog, there are no set rules about where to put the stress in an English word.

We can guess where the stress goes in "Jaiku" because of the parallel with "haiku," but it's not always obvious which word should be the model for a coined name.

Verizon logo Xavier's example is "Verizon," which in fact rhymes with "horizon," but could theoretically rhyme with "Amazon" and have the stress on the first syllable.

That particular example seems to be stretching it a bit — I, at least, would not think of "Amazon" as a possible rhyme for "Verizon," but people did mispronounce it in the days before the ads saturated the TV networks, and many people mispronounce polysyllabic words when they see them written for the first time.

Does that mean you should stick with one-syllable names for your company or product?

Not necessarily. There's no way to guarantee that everyone seeing your product name will pronounce it the same way, even with a one-syllable name, as we said when the Wii first appeared.

"Verizon" is actually a great brand name. It may not make you think of cell phones, but if the network stretches from horizon to horizon, that's definitely a good thing. And "Jaiku" is witty and apt.

But if there's any chance people might mispronounce your product name, make sure you put a pronunciation guide — and better yet, an audio clip — on your website.

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Posted by William Lozito at June 15, 2007 11:34 AM
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Audio clip is an excellent idea. Next week, Leo Laporte hosts a party with Jaiku in San Francisco (more info). We need to record him pronoucing "jaiku" with his million dollar voice - that should end the speculations! :)

Hmm, I’ve never heard ‘Verizon’ prounounced, but I’ve come across it written lots—I don’t live in the US, but spend a lot of time online—and in my head it always rhymed with Amazon :-) .

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