- Norman's World - Tom Peters shares that a recent L.L.Bean order of his was N.I.S. (not in store.) What's interesting is that Leon Leonwood Bean (L.L.Bean) has turned over the reins to his nephew, whose name happens to be Norman Ignatius Stephen Bean (N.I.S. Bean). I don't think Norman has any plans on changing the company name.
- Concatenation of letter strings can get you into trouble - Geoffrey K. Pullum at Language Log reports on an interesting story regarding the embarassing intersection of linguistics, company naming, and domain names. Italian battery company Powergen Italia's website URL is www.powergenitalia.com. Yes, they have since changed their company name. Pen Island is a company selling customized pens, and really does have a current web site called www.penisland.com.
- Pretentious names for trim - Jack Yan talks about those tricky car names and levels denoted by letters such as L, GL, and S, or a combination, like the Camaro Z-28. These letters or words following the brand name denote how well equipped a car was. Now, Jack says, auto makers are denoting extra levels of quality with created names such as Focus Platinum, Ford Zetec, Renault Scénic, or Commodore Omega. Do you think pretentious names inform the consumer?
Product Naming: July 2006 Archives
Motorola has just introduced a slew of new cell phone brands.
- KRZR, pronounced Crazer, perhaps based on the popular phrase "crazy cool"
- RIZR, pronounced Riser, a slider phone
- RAZR MAXX, a quad-band phone with music player
- RAZR XX, a tri-band phone with a 1.3 megapixel camera
- RAZR V3b, uses bluetooth for voice calls with a home network
I am beginning to wonder if Motorola is taking a good thing too far.
The RAZR brand name makes a lot of sense, but the KRZR and RAZR XX, for instance, seem to have taken Motorola from distinctive brand names, de facto back to an alpha or alpha-numeric nomenclature.
I think Motorola runs the risk of encountering what Lincoln just had to deal with. Their MKZ, MKX, and MKS nameplates were changed after only 6 months in the marketplace because the consumer wasn't getting it. More accurately, they're changing the pronounciation from [mark-zee] to [em-kay-zee].
Admittedly, the Lincoln target market is quite a bit older than Motorola's, but I think it's fair to consider the possibility of Motorola experiencing the same fate as they continue to introduce new phone brand names.
Motorola is a great company with some great phone products, and is on a roll (50 million RAZR phones sold worldwide.) I, for one, hope it continues on that trajectory.
To read more about Motorola's new RIZR and KRZR phones, check out these recent blog posts:
- Phone Scoop - Eric Lin has some inside information straight from Motorola's global launch in Cape Town, South Africa
- Talkin' Tech - Berniej says GDBY RAZR HLLO KRZR
- Good Morning Silicon Valley - John Paczkowski reports that "Motorola CEO to change name to Ed Zndr"
- Mobile World - Detailed specs on the KRZR, RIZR, maxx and V3xx
One of the fascinating things about languages, English, French, and almost all others, is how they evolve and change over time. Languages are very elastic and accommodating.
For instance, if you were to watch the 1940's movies on the American Movies Classics channel, you would hear James Cagney and others referring to women as "dames" and a good situation as "swell." Today, "sweet" has replaced "swell", and I'm not sure what's replaced "dame." Any thoughts here?
Earlier today, I blogged about the possibility of Microsoft's new Zune brand name being considered a profanity in French-Canadian slang.
Our linguist language professor partner in Montreal says otherwise. Some 40 years ago, when a mother referred to their son's penis, she was not comfortable calling it that and substituted a made-up word, zoune. For instance, she would say, "Va laver ta zoune", or "Lche de jouer avec ta zoune", which translates to "Go wash your whatchamacallit" and "Stop playing with your whatchamacallit," respectively.
Times have changed. Language usage has changed. Nowadays, French-Canadian moms are comfortable using the word penis with their sons, therefore zoune has lost its reason for being.
Furthermore, the Canadian French speaker would never pronounce ZUNE to sound like ZOUNE, since U and OU are two entirely different vowel sounds in French, but the American pronunciation of ZUNE to rhyme with TUNE would sound vaguely like ZOUNE to a French speaker.
Keep in mind that the next time you're travelling to Montreal and are talking about your new Microsoft Zune, there may be, there just may be, someone thinking you're talking about your penis.
Homophones are words which have the same sound but different spellings, such as “paws” and “pause.” English has a phenomenal number of these, though none of them start with X or Z, at least according to Suber & Thorpe’s online English Homophone Dictionary.
Homophones are one of the primary sources of puns. If your company’s name has a homophone, it increases the ease with which people can make jokes about it. Some companies deliberately call on the humor of homophones in naming their businesses, like the eyeglass merchant Site for Sore Eyes or a local alterations shop called Sew What.
As I mentioned in my post last week; Brand Naming: Students Know Technology, Not Branding; the name of the fictitious company S.O.R.E. was an attempt to invoke the connotations of “soar.” Even if the students had named their project “Soar,” however, the fact that the name sounded like “sore” would have been a drawback. Nintendo’s “Wii” has come under fire as a homophone not only of “we” but of “wee.”
In addition to the potential for ridicule, homophones leave consumers open to confusion and could hamper brand recognition. A 2000 Brandweek article reported that only 20% of respondents surveyed by Doremus recognized Sysco as a food products distributor, whereas 60% appeared to mistake it for tech giant Cisco.
One suspects most American consumers would mis-identify the shipping company Cosco as the discount retailer Costco. Even though none of the four companies has a natural word for a name, they are still homophones.
Having your brand mistaken for someone else’s is never good. The point of filing a trademark is to protect your company from this kind of consumer confusion. The USPTO’s trademark search function is actually pretty good at uncovering homophones for search terms, but it’s perfectly legitimate for two companies in different industries to have names which sound alike.
It’s just not good for brand recognition. To avoid confusion when naming your own company or product, stay away from homophones unless you’re making a deliberate play on words.
The Inquirer, a UK business publication that’s part of VNU Business Media, which also publishes Adweek in the U.S., is reporting that Microsoft’s “iPod killer”, Zune, may be French-Canadian slang to describe parts of the male anatomy. The French-Canadian slang might actually be spelled “Zoune”.
Is Microsoft running the risk of stubbing their toe in Canada much like Buick did when they introduced the LaCrosse in Canada? LaCrosse, as it turns out, is French-Canadian slang for “masturbation”. Buick quickly changed the name to Buick Allure.
Our linguists are currently analyzing the French-Canadian slang and I will report on their opinion later today.
Stay tuned...or should I say stay zuned?
Lincoln is changing the name of its new MKZ nameplate.
More accurately, they're chaning the pronunciation from [mark-zee] to [em-kay-zee]. There's a very well-written article by Bryce G. Hoffman, in The Detroit News detailing the change. Also changing are the 'MK' components of the MKX and MKS brand names.
I guess MKZ is no RAZR. The latter is easier to pronounce because only the vowel is missing. On the other hand, to pronounce MKZ as Mark Z is perhaps asking too much of the consumer with both a vowel and consonant removed from Mark.
As successful as Motorola has been with RAZR, ROKR, and PEBL, in all cases, removing the vowels, Motorola's planned SCPL (for scalpel cell phone) may encounter the same fate as the Lincoln MKZ. See my May 30th blog post, Brand Naming: Is Motorola's SCPL Cutting Too Much?
Apparently, in the brief 6 months of the Lincoln MKZ and Lincoln MKX brand nomenclature, dealers complained about the brand architecture approach.
For both the MKZ and MKX, keeping the nameplate but pronouncing them differently, which is more in keeping with European and luxury auto nomenclature, it is probably a good compromise. I could just imagine the cost of changing the nameplate to something entirely different and the additional confusion that would create.
Additionally, our proprietary research of all the consonants in the English language has indicated that both the letters X and Z are perceived as innovative. Fortunately, for Lincoln, both letters are used and should work to convey that Lincoln is offering innovative automobiles.
Could this brand naming "stubbing of the toe" have been avoided with some brand name research?
- Knight Errant - In a case of couture in court, Susan Scafidi writes about luxury brand Burberry, and how its revived knight brand logo may be just as tempting to counterfeiters. In a recent case, however, Marco Leather lost its trademark application, a copyright, and $100,000 to Burberry.
- Side by side comparison doesn’t decide likelihood of confusion - Ron Coleman points out the similarities between Louis Vuitton (LV brand logo) and Dooney & Bourke (DB brand logo) handbags and the resulting trademark infringement case. The lesson for brand name development? If the differences between two trademarks are “memorable enough to dispel confusion on serial viewing” there’s no likelihood of confusion - no trademark infringement.
Lee Gomes, of the Wall Street Journal, today published a fascinating article on domain names.
The source of his information is Dennis Forbes, an analyst with Vastardis Capital Services, a New York mutual-fund service company.
Although, being a naming company, anecdotally, we are aware of many of these findings. But not to the degree and thoroughness that are reported in the Journal article.
Hats off to Dennis for analyzing this information and Lee reporting on it:
- There are roughly 47 million domain names that end with ".com".
- For every possible 2-character and 3-character combination, including both letters and numbers, all possible domains are taken.
- The most common word, four letters or longer, is "home" - 719,000 domains have some sort of home in them.
- "Sex" appears in 257,000 domains; "Imagine" appears in 3,700.
- The average length of a domain name is 13 characters long - half are between 9 and 15.
- A domain can have, at most, 63 characters, and there are 550 such domains.
- Each of the 26 letters of the alphabet have a domain in which the letter is repeated 63 times.
- Most people now search for Web sites using a descriptive word or phrase...
We especially understand that last point. We recognized, years ago, that potential clients were searching by a descriptive word or phrase. That's why we chose www.namedevelopment.com for our domain name.
Every year the National Youth Leadership Forum on Technology collects some 1200 high school students in San Jose for an intensive series of site visits, seminars, workshops, labs, and presentations by representatives from major technology companies and universities.
And every year the students are divided into teams to work on Future Solutions projects to solve real-world dilemmas “through the creative use of existing or future technology.” Yesterday, judges from the likes of Microsoft, Google, and HP convened to award prizes in categories such as “Best Business Solution,” “Greatest Global Impact,” and “Best Expansion of Existing Technology,” with one overall winner out of the eleven category winners.
All of the projects were good, but some had better names than others. “Sewergy” and “LugEx” show a better grasp of the importance of branding in today's marketplace than “Implementation of Nanosensors in Regards to Insulin Control.”
The two top contenders for overall winner were both renewable energy solutions. Runner-up TerMight used termites and yard waste to create high-grade ethanol to fuel cars, while the winning project harvested wind power by putting turbines on floating frames tethered to oil derricks.
The name of this project? S.O.R.E.
That stands for Solutions of Renewable Energy, and with the gull-like logo the students drew, it was clear they wanted people to think of the homophone for their acronym: “soar.”
Unfortunately, if the judges are anything to go by, that wasn’t what came to mind. There were numerous “don’t get sore if we don’t vote for your project” remarks from the judges on other teams when it came time to choose the overall winner. If S.O.R.E. had been a real company, its name would have been a serious liability.
They would have done better just to call the project “Soar,” making up a new acronym if they felt they had to. (Acronyms are not the best choice for names, but are pretty common for non-profit and research institutions: think of SETI, or of NYLF for that matter.)
Fortunately for Team S.O.R.E., the project’s name was not one of the criteria the judges used to determine the best project.
These students understood the technology of what they submitted, but like many companies, they overlooked the importance of an appropriate brand name.
- Aquapod Hits the Road - The packaging is certainly cool, but is the Aquapod brand name cool enough to convert kids?
- How to Name a Web 2.0 Product or Company - Chris Tingom asks what makes an effective product name and lists a variety of name development techniques. Is created or descriptive the better communicative route to take? - That depends on the brand strategy...
- Product name starting with an A: Good idea? - Johan Beyers discusses the considerations for naming a new product called Abbackup. Read the comments to this blog post for some insights and creative advice on product naming.
Just yesterday, Tuesday, July 11, I read about two name changes.
What struck me about these name changes is that both of the changes were forced by a large corporation against a smaller company.
In the UK, Burger King has stopped Wholebake from using the Whopper brand name for its vegetarian flapjacks. I fully understand this, since both companies are in the food business and many restaurant product brands end up in the supermarket, from Stouffer’s to Starbucks.
I can see Managing Director of Wholebake Mark Gould’s point when he says “Once again, it’s a case of a big company using its financial muscle to squash the little guy." However, I think it is very justifiable and appropriate for Burger King to protect its Whopper trademark.
However, I have a harder time understanding why Avon would consider a magazine, ANEW, a conflict with their ANEW skincare products. In my opinion, the odds of consumers confusing a magazine title and a body lotion brand are quite remote.
But, what this does illustrate is that if you’re a big company with deep pockets, like an Avon, you can challenge the trademark, and a smaller company, even if they have the right to use the name, usually doesn’t have the financial resources to fight for it.
On the other side of this issue is a Microsoft that just decides to use an existing trademark owned by a small company. That's what they did with Internet Explorer. In the end, Microsoft paid the company $5 million, which equates to about 10 cents to us.
I find one of the challenges in using foreign words to create new product names is the way sounds shift shape across languages.
Linguists call a unit of sound a “phoneme,” from the Greek word phone, meaning “voice.” And right there we have a demonstration of the problem. English “phone” is a one-syllable word, but Greek phone is two syllables, since the “e” at the end rhymes with “way.”
English has one letter, “e,” to represent the two Greek “e”s: Epsilon (the short e, pronounced like the “e” in English “bed”) and Eta, which is pronounced like a long English “a”. Not only that, but English uses “e” to represent at least two other sounds as well: the “uh” of “the” and the long “e” of “Steve.” And then there’s the silent “e,” at the end of “Steve,” which isn’t pronounced at all.
All of which means that English speakers might not be sure how to pronounce a new name with an “e” in it, unless the “e” is part of a word or name they already know.
I feel if people can’t pronounce a brand name, they’re not going to talk about it - and those who hear them might not realize which product they mean if they do. Look at the problem Nike (another Eta word, this time the name of the Greek goddess of victory) had convincing the American public that its brand name didn’t rhyme with “bike.”
This problem with the changing shape of sounds rules out a lot of otherwise good name candidates, at least for English names. Languages like Italian, Spanish, and German are much more a case of “what you see is what you get” when it comes to pronunciation and spelling.
But English, precisely because it has roots in so many languages and uses so many imported words, has many ways to represent every sound and many sounds for every combination of letters (called a “morpheme,” from the Greek word for shape).
The moral of the story? Watch out for Etas when naming.
What would we do without frozen foods today?
Ever since Clarence Birdseye invented frozen foods, they've become an integral part of our lives. Yes, a few might disagree with that. However, frozen food penetration in the U.S. is almost universal.
The Frozen Food category is one of the most, if not the most, competitive in the food business. There's limited freezer space and new products are being presented to the grocery trade daily.
There are many elements that go into the marketing mix that impact the success of a frozen food product. Although not one of the 4 P's, a product's brand name is a critical element of the marketing mix.
With that in mind, our proprietary English language consonant research has revealed that a brand name beginning with the letter "S" is very appealing to female shoppers (think Sara Lee and Stouffer's).
On the other hand, brand names beginning with the letter "K" convey dependability. What could be more dependable to consumers than the Kraft brand?
For more insight into how English consonants influence consumer perceptions of frozen food brands, please see the recent Frozen Food Age article that more fully discusses our proprietary research findings.
Dominating the market for a product or service has its down side.
Once people associate your brand name with a particular function, they start using it to describe any product of that type. “Thermos” is the classic example: Merriam-Webster defines “thermos", with a lower-case “t,” as “a container (as a bottle or jar) with a vacuum between an inner and outer wall used to keep material and especially liquids either hot or cold for considerable periods,” relegating the trademark “Thermos” to the etymology section.
Now it’s officially happened to Google. Ever since Google became the predominant search engine, people have been using the verb “to google” to mean “look up in Google.” We've said it before that Google is worried about the genericization of its name. Now “google,” again with a lower-case G (because English doesn’t capitalize verbs any more than it does generic nouns), has also made it into Merriam-Webster.
Why is this a problem? Just as “thermos” now applies to insulated flasks made by any manufacturer, “google” could easily mean “look up in any search engine.”
Within the high-tech community, the verb “google” is often shortened to “goo.” The abbreviation leaves the trademark protected, but has much less flattering connotations. I might prefer having my brand eroded a bit, myself.
Just about everyone knows that Kleenex, Band-aid, and Xerox were once brand names.
Lesser-known are the following names that were once trademarked and have now become genericized:
- Infusion Deluge - This post by Paul Williams illustrates a trend in naming products with the words fusion or infusion. Paul advises against using these words in product naming, since they’ve lost their meaning.
- The MasterCard OMG WTF Rebranding - Interesting post on the origins of the Mastercard brand name and logo development. Now, the Mastercard Worldwide family of brands has a new logo, too.
- Microsoft product naming fiasco continues - As the release of Office 2007 gets closer, the unofficial Microsoft weblog reminds us of Microsoft’s poor record of product naming. It’s becoming clear that internal politics and a complex brand architecture can sometimes hinder the development of simple and friendly branding.
- Your Driver - What's In A Name - Donn Glenn enlightens us with this funny list of product names that golf club manufacturers have devised to appeal to "golfing testosterone". Most of these names sound like a fast food hamburger to me.
Thanks to Lee Hopkins of Better Communication Results for reminding us of both the humor and the potential for disaster when using foreign words to name products or brands.
Some time back on this blog I discussed the phenomenon of "Konglish," in which Koreans (mis)use English for slogans and brand names.
The Japanese version, “Engrish,” has a long and hilarious history, chronicled at engrish.com by a dedicated webmaster who lived and worked in Japan for several years.
To be fair to the creators of the products displayed at the Engrish.com website, most are not meant for export, so there’s nothing particularly funny or embarrassing to the people buying them. As long as they’re kept out of the hands of English speakers, there’s no problem.
But such products as “Homo Soap,” “My Fannie” toilet paper and a few others I prefer not to mention but can be found here, remain an important reminder to check on the meaning of any cool-sounding foreign words before using them in public, never mind using them for naming a company, product or brand.
Naming, be it product naming, or creating a brand name, or company naming for that matter, can have unintended consequences. That appears to be the case with NASA’s spacecraft naming.
NASA insists, however, that in naming its new exploratory spacecraft the Ares I and II, it had no desire to invoke the concept of war and destruction. They found that Ares is the Greek equivalent of Roman Mars and decided it was a fitting name for spacecraft the final destination of which is the fourth planet.
Did the researchers at NASA forget, then, that Mars was the Roman god of war, and that its red color was reminiscent of blood to those who first named it? I think they may have.
Admittedly the Roman god Mars was a far more respectable deity than Greek Ares, but then again, the Romans were justly proud of their military might. They created a successful and generally well-run empire, while Greek wars tended to be internecine and leave everyone involved unequivocally worse off.
Because most of us in the modern world are introduced to Mars as the proper name of a planet before we learn any mythology, we don’t automatically associate the name with aggression. And it may be that the general public doesn’t associate much with the name Ares, except perhaps to confuse it with the astrological sign Aries.
But I think checking with a few classicists about a proposed name isn’t rocket science. I think it’s disingenuous of NASA to claim ignorance about the connotations of “Ares.”
Rockets can be and have been named after planets before (think of the Saturn series), so this isn’t like the Nyx/Nix case I recently blogged about. If they wanted a peaceful name for a Moon-Mars rocket, they could have chosen Selene, the Greek lunar deity. They didn’t.
And, I for one don't find it reassuring.
Note also that NASA is confusing matters with another pair of projects called ARES: a proposed Mars mission, dubbed Aerial Regional-scale Environmental Survey of Mars, and an office called Astromaterials Research & Exploration Science.
For other perspectives on the Ares name, see what other bloggers are saying:
Sony appears to be taking a leaf from Nintendo’s book when it comes to product names, dubbing the controller for their upcoming Playstation 3 “P oo S.”
The announcement has sparked a great deal of toilet humor (not to mention disbelief and disgust) among gamers. While the idea behind the name may have been to create a visual representation of the controller (rather like the way the “ii” of “Wii” duplicates the shape of the twin command sticks), Sony really should have thought this one out.
The least offensive association I can attach to “PooS” is a phonetic (from an English-speaking perspective) spelling of “poes,” the Dutch word for “cat” - though the Dutch would actually pronounce “Poos” to rhyme with the English word “pose.”
Not so the English speakers among Sony’s intended consumers. While the double-o in English admits to many pronunciations, most of them zero in on the crudest. One computer expert I know based his response on IRC slang and suggested “Piece of Obsolete ****.” Another was kinder and suggested “Piece of Outstanding ****.”
It’s difficult to imagine how Sony could have expected any other response.