What's in a name?
September 7, 2006 2:43 PM   Subscribe

Thousands of new products and businesses every year need names. The creation of these names, is a business in itself, and is usually a pretty secretive process. But Igor, a naming and branding agency, offers a surprisingly detailed and illuminating primer on the naming game. Igor describes how they do it and who they’ve done it for. Igor’s naming taxonomy charts for various products (including one for the company names of naming companies) help illustrate the research portion of the process. Check out: studies of successful names like Pepperidge Farm’s cookie names, and why AT&T Canada’s name change to Allstream was a bad idea. And don’t miss Igor’s two blogs (metablogged here): Snark Hunting, “all about naming and branding in popular culture” and Wordlab, on “naming and branding issues.” For fun, try Wordlab’s own tongue-in-cheek naming tools, like the Drug-o-matic drug name generator, Name Your Band, and the Morpheme generator.
posted by beagle (25 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

The facets of the business world that I am interested in are few and far between. Naming just happens to be one of them, though. Which is why I actually sat down and read (most of) Wordcraft :The Art Of Turning Little Words Into Big Business. I got lost in this post, too, especially with the Snark Hunting blog.

The fact that entire companies are paid to come up with a name? It's still one of those grossly overkill things I believe portents the demise of humanity, though.
posted by redsparkler at 2:56 PM on September 7, 2006

Cool, thanks!
posted by blahblahblah at 3:10 PM on September 7, 2006

Cool post. I just finished reading Colson Whitehead's new novel, Apex Hides the Hurt, wherein the unnamed narrator is a nomenclature consultant. Aside from the riffs on product naming, I don't particularly recommend the book.
posted by WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot at 3:31 PM on September 7, 2006

Ruth Shalit's The Name Game is another great primer on the subject.

Oh, and Snark Hunting? Too funny.
posted by O9scar at 3:44 PM on September 7, 2006

Thank you! I'm in library school and any time I can get my hands on something like a toothpaste name taxonomy, I get a strange feeling. Sort of on the border between being in love and eating moldy food.

For the truly obsessed: Taxonomy Boot Camp!
posted by rachelpapers at 3:47 PM on September 7, 2006

Believe it or not, I'm in the middle of giving names to a new product family which my company recently acquired. If you've never done it, believe me, it's harder than it seems. Thanks!
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:54 PM on September 7, 2006

What's interesting is the name they've chosen for themselves: Igor is usually pronounced in the West as "EE-gore," but Mel Brooks fans will honor strabismic Marty Feldman with "EYE-gore." And in Russian, it sounds awfully close to the word eager.

Deliberately confusing?
posted by rob511 at 4:08 PM on September 7, 2006

You'd think a company in the business of choosing attractive names for products and companies would have chosen a better one for themselves.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:36 PM on September 7, 2006

what Steven C. said
posted by dminor at 4:45 PM on September 7, 2006

July? Seven? Vanilla?

The rational behind Igor's naming process is pure bullshit. Unless they can demonstrate in a measurable way how a given name benefits a product or company, I don't see why someone shouldn't name their company after a type of fruit. It worked for Apple.
posted by disgruntled at 4:50 PM on September 7, 2006

I eat Pepperidge Farm cookies--the ones with Macademia Nuts and chocolate chips--because they taste delicious. Not because of their brand or their name. I can't even remember the name of the ones I like.

I also eat Matt's Cookies (Chocolate Chip!) and have a REALLY hard time not finishing the bag 10 minutes after I've opened it. Because they are MORE than good. They are goooooooood. They are freaky good. I think they put drugs in them. And I'm betting Matt spent $0.00 on branding/and naming.
posted by jeanmari at 5:13 PM on September 7, 2006

It is definitely bullshit, but they're very good at bullshit. Just looking at the ridiculous lengths they go to justify 'July' is really impressive—it immediately summons of images of a slick con man in a suit selling it to a board of directors.

I'm sure they make quite good money.
posted by blacklite at 5:33 PM on September 7, 2006

I'm not entirely sure it's all bullshit. I can imagine the annoyance of coming up with a new name and spending up large on marketing and promotion only to discover some little mom and pop outfit is taking you to court and likely to win. People pay for that kind of diligence all the time, because the professionals have the necessary tools, constructed over longer periods of time, to determine any overlap.

That said - the rest of it is like graphic design for words and can sod right off.
posted by Sparx at 6:58 PM on September 7, 2006

This is great! As Zen said, naming products is a lot harder than it looks.
posted by dejah420 at 7:19 PM on September 7, 2006

O9scar: I liked The Name Game too, enough that I followed it up five years later to see what had become of the companies mentioned in it.
posted by dansdata at 7:43 PM on September 7, 2006

Has Popco been mentioned yet?
posted by uosuaq at 8:04 PM on September 7, 2006

You ought to see what drug companies go through to pick names for upcoming drugs, which they have to do long before they get FDA approval, and which they do for a lot of drugs that don't actually get approved. For every drug they have to pick two names, one for the generic and one for their own brand name. The two will be similar but not identical, and they have to be completely different than any other product name ever used anywhere for anything. It's hardly any wonder most of them are a mouthful -- usually three or four random syllables strung together, likely created by something such as Dan's random-name-generator script.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:48 PM on September 7, 2006

Here's some Japanese Product names. They've left out some classics, however, like the disturbingly shaped (like a cutaway-view intestinal tube) snack food known as "Colon". Then there's the coffee creamer, "Creap". Also noteworthy is the commonly used (official) abbreviation for Broadcast Satellite TV, which is, of course, "BS".

Companies trying to move into foreign markets face a whole extra slew of naming problems. This article makes some interesting points and has some funny examples.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:32 AM on September 8, 2006

A cursory search for other corporations in the digital information sector with "stream" in their names turns up:

Stream, CapitalStream, On Stream, I-Stream, Bean-Stream, Silver Stream, Rapid Stream, Stream Theory, Health Stream, Digital Stream, Island Stream, Stream Down, Stream Logic, Streamlogics, Data Stream, Stream Soft, Jet Stream, Stream Software, Metric Stream, Packet Stream, Stream Box, Vital Stream, Code Stream and X-Stream Audio.

The use of words such as "stream" that have already reached saturation in the culture...

Ah, so what if I find "Allstream" more generic and less personal even though I had not heard of ANY of these other companies? No saturation effect for me. Allstream just sounds like some kind of herbicide. How would I even know what it was?

I'm not entirely sure it's all bullshit. I can imagine the annoyance of coming up with a new name and spending up large on marketing and promotion only to discover some little mom and pop outfit is taking you to court and likely to win.

A good lawyer will do this for you without the psychobabble. It reminds me of dream interpretation -- it could mean something, but not likely the same thing as it did to the author of whatever flakey book you've picked up. There's checking to ensure that the name isn't taken, and there's "appeal research". The latter is on shaky ground. The former isn't.

And Japanese names rock. Pockari Sweat is a favourite sports drink of mine, and the other day I saw a curvy Naked on the road.
posted by dreamsign at 5:57 AM on September 8, 2006

I have to take exception to Igor's claim that "Sausalito" is a great name for a cookie; it just doesn't conjure up the right associations for me. The fewer syllables a cookie moniker shares with the word "sausage," the better.
posted by Iridic at 6:59 AM on September 8, 2006

I have to take exception to Igor's claim that "Sausalito" is a great name for a cookie; it just doesn't conjure up the right associations for me. The fewer syllables a cookie moniker shares with the word "sausage," the better.

But note that Igor specifically debunks the idea that consumers will deconstruct names that might logically conjure up these negative kinds of associations. For example, Caterpillar: --Tiny, creepy-crawly bug --Not macho enough - easy to squash --Why not "bull" or "workhorse"? ----Destroys trees, crops, responsible for famine -- logic argues against the name, but with proper positioning, it works.
posted by beagle at 7:39 AM on September 8, 2006

Whatever happened to just calling something what it is? Mrs Baird's Bread. I'm assuming there was at one time a woman married to a guy named Baird. Originally, Sam Walton called his original five and dime store "Walton's" which makes sense. His name was Walton, and it was his store. "WalMart" is an abbreviation of that.
posted by ZachsMind at 9:47 AM on September 9, 2006

Or even names that aren't what they are, but some important feature, like 7-11, which was named that because it originally opened at 7 and closed at 11.
posted by Bugbread at 1:50 PM on September 9, 2006

A worthwhile listen is This American Life's show this week called Getting and Spending. There is an interesting story within about the effects of branding and advertising on the buying decisions of a few individuals that were the opposite of what a brand manager/ad exec might expect.

It should be available for free listening within a few days. Or! Tune into your favorite public radio station if they run the show.
posted by jeanmari at 3:21 PM on September 9, 2006

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