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Product naming is the discipline of deciding what a product will be called, and is very similar in concept and approach to the process of deciding on a name for a company or organization. Product naming is considered a critical part of the branding process, which includes all of the marketing activities that affect the brand image, such as positioning and the design of logo, packaging and the product itself. The process involved in product naming can take months or years to complete. Some key steps include specifying the objectives of the branding, developing the product name itself, evaluating names through target market testing and focus groups, choosing a final product name, and finally identifying it as a trademark for protection.
A key ingredient in launching a successful company is the selection of its name. Product names that are considered generally sound have several qualities in common.
- They strategically distinguish the product from its competitors by conveying its unique positioning
- They hold appeal for the product’s target audience
- They imply or evoke a salient brand attribute, quality or benefit.
- They are available for legal protection and "trademark".
- They allow companies to bond with their customers to create loyalty.
- They have a symbolic association that fortifies the image of a company or a product to the consumers.
- They help motivate customers to buy the product.
- They can be legally acquired and developed.
Types of names
Brand names typically fall into several different categories.
Acronyms and Abbreviations
Names created by taking parts of words and putting them together: Nabisco (National Biscuit Company).
Alliteration and Rhyme
Founders' Names (Eponyms)
Chose a name associated with company/product location: eBay for Echo Bay (a fictional place as well as the shortened form of "Echo Bay Technology Group," the name of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar's consulting company, according to the List of company name etymologies), Fuji for the tallest mountain in Japan, Cisco for San Francisco.
For a name with personality: Yahoo!, Cracker Jack. For example, Yahoo comes from Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, where Yahoo is a legendary being with the following characters: rude, unsophisticated, uncouth. Later the name Yahoo was popularized as an bacronym for Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle.
Product naming techniques
Morphemes differ from words in that many morphemes may not be able to stand alone. The Sprint name is composed of a single word and a single morpheme. Conversely, a brand like Acuvue is composed of two morphemes, each with a distinct meaning. While "vue" may be able to stand as its own word, "acu" is seen as a prefix or a bound morpheme that must connect to a free morpheme like "vue."
Phonemes are minimal units of sound. Depending on the speaker’s accent, the English language has about 44 phonemes. In product naming, names that are phonetically easy to pronounce and that are well balanced with vowels and consonants have an advantage over those that are not. Likewise, names that begin with or stress plosive consonant sounds B, hard C, D, G, K, P or T are often used because of their attention-getting quality. Some phoneme sounds in English, for example L, V, F and W are thought of as feminine, while others such as X, M and Z are viewed as masculine.
Syntax, or word order, is key to consumers’ perceptions of a product name. Banana Republic would not carry the same meaning were it changed to "Republic Banana." Syntax also has significant implications for the naming of global products, because syntax has been argued to cross the barrier from one language to another. (See the pioneering work on Universal Grammar by Noam Chomsky)
Some specific product naming techniques, including a combination of morphemes, phonemes and syntax are shown in the graph below.
|Description||Cinnamon Toast Crunch|
|Reduplication||Spic and Span|
Owning a name: Trademarks, URLs and beyond
A consideration companies find important in developing a product name is its "trademarkability". Product name trademarks may be established in a number of ways:
- In many countries, including the United States, names can be used as trademarks without formal registration through first use or common law—simply to protect an established product’s name and reputation.
- Product names can be formally registered within a state, with protection limited to that state’s borders.
- In the United States, a federal trademark registration is filed with the USPTO and offered protection for as long as the mark is in use.
- The preeminent system for registering international trademarks in multiple jurisdictions is the Madrid system.
In addition, protecting a trademark is just as important as the initial process of registration. Trademark rights are maintained through actual use of the trademark, and will diminish over time if a trademark is not actively used.
Companies need to consider whether they can own a name in the digital realm. Securing a domain name, particularly with the globally recognized dot-com extension, is critical for some companies. It has also become increasingly important for firms to interact with their audience through social media websites. Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram all have procedures for acquiring a name on their sites. In modern communication, the trademark is just the start of owning a name.
Because English is widely viewed as a global language, with over 380 million native speakers, many international trademarks are created in English. Still, language differences present difficulties when using a trademark internationally.
Product naming faux pas
Many companies have stumbled across the importance of considering language differences in marketing new products.
- Audi named their hybrid models e-tron, étron meaning "excrement" in French.
- The Mitsubishi Pajero SUV is called Montero in Spanish-speaking countries as pajero is a commonly used as a pejorative to mean "wanker".
- Reebok named a women’s sneaker Incubus. In medieval folklore, an incubus was a demon who ravished women in their sleep.
- The Honda Fitta was, according to a popular urban legend, renamed Jazz after discovering that fitta is Norwegian and Swedish slang for the female genitals.
- A drink in Japan called Calpis, when pronounced, sounds like cow piss. The product is marketed in North America under the Calpico brand.
- Bimbo is a Mexican baking conglomerate; in English the term describes a woman who is physically attractive but is perceived to have a low intelligence or poor education.
Notable naming companies
- Addison Whitney
- Catchword Branding
- Interbrand (Omnicom)
- Landor (WPP)
- Lexicon Branding
- Siegel+Gale (Omnicom)
- Onomastics, the science of proper names (including names for products, companies, etc.)
- Brand architecture
- Brand development
- Corporate identity
- List of company name etymologies
- List of renamed products
- Name generator
- Naming firms
- Product naming convention
- Project code name
- Seasonal packaging
- Kohli, C., & LaBahn, D.W. (1997). Observations: Creating effective brand names: a study of the naming process. Journal of Advertising Research, 37.
- Fred Barrett, "Names That Sell: How to create Great Names for Your Company, Product, or Service", 1995
- "Styles and Types of Company and Product Names « Merriam Associates, Inc. Brand Strategies". Merriamassociates.com. 15 November 2012. Archived from the original on 22 August 2009. Retrieved 7 November 2013.
- Bloomfield, L. (1984). Language, University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-06067-5
- Sousa, D. (2004). How the brain learns to read, Corwin Press. ISBN 1-4129-0601-6
- Guth, D.W. "A Few Words on Words." Archived 30 January 2005 at the Wayback Machine
- Snyder Bulik, B. (2006). What’s in a name? More than you might think, study says. "Ad Age" Archived 20 March 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
- Cook, V.J., & Newson, M. (1996). Chomsky’s Universal Grammar: An Introduction, 2nd ed., Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0-631-19556-4
- "Oh, Crap: Audi mucks up e-tron name in French". Retrieved 21 January 2017.
- The Journal Record (Oklahoma City). February 20, 1997. Reebok has devil of a time with demonic shoe name.
- "fitta - engelsk översättning - bab.la svensk-engelskt lexikon". Retrieved 14 July 2012.
- "watashi to tokyo: Calpico, Calpis, Cow piss?". Smt.blogs.com. 28 July 2004. Retrieved 7 November 2013.
- "Funny Brand Names: This Bimbo Isn't Stupid « Merriam Associates, Inc. Brand Strategies". Merriamassociates.com. 19 October 2010. Archived from the original on 24 December 2013. Retrieved 7 November 2013.
- What Entrepreneurs Need to Know About ... Naming Your Company, Innovation Magazine, October 2006.
- Choosing a Company Name, The Sideroad, 2006.
- 8 Mistakes to Avoid When Naming Your Business, Entrepreneur.com 7 April 2005
- Venture Capital: Renaming company entails risks, by JOHN COOK, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER, February 28, 2003
- Monday name change for PwC, BBC NEWS, 10 June 2002
- "What's in a name? For the pros, big bucks", U.S. News and World Report, 10/13/97
- "Change your business' name? 7 issues," Microsoft Small Business Center
- small business resource for product naming IYBI 2013
- In the name of the brand, m+a report 2008
- The 2017 Igor Naming Guide