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September 29, 2008

Consider the Future for Species Naming Just as You Would Brand Naming

owlspeciesbutterfly.jpgIf your product were an animal, what would it be?

We often ask that question of our clients, because it helps us understand how they perceive their brand and more importantly how they want the target market to perceive it. If your customers, or customers in the case of B2B, would answer that question the same way you do, then your branding efforts have been successful.

Sometimes, however, the target market would liken your product or service to quite a different animal. For instance, most of us would not be too happy to find out that someone had named a beetle after us, particularly a beetle that lives on slime mold.

Nevertheless, when Quentin Wheeler dubbed three new discoveries Agathidium bushi, Agathidium rumsfeldi, and Agathidium cheneyi, he intended it as a compliment. President George W. Bush graciously took it as such. Professor Wheeler likes beetles, and he's a Republican.

But a hundred years from now, or even a generation, the significance of those particular names will be lost to all but a few, just as most of those who use the herb Siegesbeckia have no idea that Carolus Linnaeus (the 18th Century Swedish botanist, physician and zoologist), named it after a critic because he considered the plant, like the critic, to be an insignificant weed.

trilobite1.jpgSpecies outlast individuals and even civilizations. Within the context of a scientist's own time, naming a trilobite after Sid Vicious or Johnny Rotten may give some clues to its characteristics.

Outside that context, however, such names are merely baffling. It's almost certainly better for future generations of biologists and paleontologists to use a more descriptive name.

Of course, that does require some understanding of Greek and Latin, but not very much, as any classicist will tell you while chortling at the bastardization of ancient languages common to scientific and medical terminology.

Though perhaps we could put a more positive spin on that process, and refer to such names as "mashups."

Thanks to NPR for the inspiration for this post.

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Posted by Diane Prange at September 29, 2008 10:03 AM
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