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Does a brand name have to have meaning? | Slangbusters Blog
Apr 17, '20

Does a brand name have to have meaning?

Exploring how brands name; is there more to it than what meets the ear?

I wrote this piece while I was working from home because of the quarantine. In my free time, I thought of starting a personal blog, to utilize the free time and channelize my creative energy into something. I began with the process of naming the blog. I reminisced over multiple names over days after I was done writing such pieces for Slangbusters. I filled a wall with post-it notes with names on it over the weekend and over time, I finalized something which did not matter as much. Now, I have a name, but there are no blogs in the Medium publication that I created with that name, and I sit here wondering, if only I had invested that much amount of time into brainstorming topics that I could write about, the idea of writing the blog would have solidified into something more than just a name.

Names, huh.

How did we begin naming anyways?

Linguists have developed theories that suggest young ones were given names out of affection, rather than for its function of addressing people. These theorists say, once we started building communities and started settling down instead of aimless wandering, we started having fixed roles in the communities compelling us to assign names/sounds. There are more theories about how we communicated in the prehistoric era. We used single word systems, songs, and many other systems of communication just like the rest of the animal kingdom does even today. We evolved and created complex systems of communication like language and detailed facial expression, but one thing remains common. Sounds and the association with the sounds.

How we name today is not just complex but also diverse based on practices that the society we are born in follows. There are practices of naming based on traits, characteristics, cultures, sequences, families, pseudonyms, religions, mannerisms, traditions and many other aspects.

In India, it is common to find nominative determinism in surnames. Which is just scientific jargon for names influenced by work. A lot of surnames are just professions that traditionally families used to indulge in, throughout generations. It is still very common to find in rural settings. For example, Suthar is a common family name which translates to a carpenter in Hindi. It is an obvious traditional branding strategy to name yourself after your profession. Another common sighting is geographical family names, like Amravatiwala, Literally meaning, the one from Amravati, a city in India. Even first names in India usually have meaning, unlike the western naming practice which are usually biblical references. Or derived with the new trend, probably started with the Kardashian names like West, Saint, Psalm, and Chicago.

In other news, twins in India were named Corona and Covid. We can only imagine how difficult high school is going to be for them. Their parents’ motive was to name them with words that were memorable and unique.

Whatever your name is, Starbucks baristas are all ready to mess them up for you.

(Photo by David Hurley on Unsplash)

In the world of branding,

There is a lot that goes into the naming process. There are various types of brand names and they could be descriptive, evocative, invented, lexical, acronyms, geographical, etc. But unlike human names, the focus is not always on the meaning entirely. They are more sound-based.

The brand name is the first audio-visual association that a consumer has with the brand. The brand name as a word is a shape and a sound. It utilizes two of the 5 senses making it one of the most important aspects of memorability along with being a part of the first impression of the brand identity. The consumer will start making judgments here, without even having to do anything with your provision.

So yes, naming matters.

But branding agencies have come up with their own set of ideal ways to name a brand. Most believe that a brand name must have the least amount of syllables possible, ideally not more than two, a story behind the name, just one meaning associated with the word, and something that is not restrictive in case you want to expand in the future. These are principles that are supposed to ensure memorability and success.

Although these naming strategies might work, they are not the only way to increase the recall value of a brand name.

Bang & Olufsen, Harley Davidson, (previously) Ogilvy & Mather, etc. are successful brands that defy most of the principles mentioned above. What matters is something that is more primal to the human psychology of names- Sound.

Yes, the story behind the name matters when we build the brand, an esoteric brand name might raise some brows and give you mentions in multiple blogs like these, but the end-user, a person who makes the purchase might not care that the shoe he bought has the name with the hidden meaning of the Greek mythic goddess of victory. For her, Nike is a nice memorable sound and the brand delivers quality along with utmost comfort for her feet.

‘Samsung is Korean for 3 stars, Nivea is derived from the Latin word Niveus used for Snow White, and Adobe is a name kept after the ‘Adobe Creek’ located behind its co-founder’s home. It is not why Adobe is such a widely used product. As much as the story matters, it is not always the factor for a successful brand name.

What is the significance of sound in the name?

The Kodak Moment is a tagline as memorable as the 36 pictures we used to click in a roll before smartphones with the ability to save more than 3600 photos became commonplace. The brand name Kodak essentially has no meaning. In fact, the founder George Eastman had to say that he just wanted the name to be distinguishing and nothing else. But the sound has a great association with what the brand is. It is a sound that occurs when we click a picture, and the shutter opens and closes back again in a matter of less than half a second.

Apple, a brand that has been successful to create one of the most powerful identities has associated the freshness that comes with the word apple, adding fresh innovation to the brand attributes. It is a tech company that has no relation with the fruit and then too, it was named after the founder, Steve Jobs visited an apple orchard and associated it with Newton’s moment of discovery.

Something known as the bouba/kiki effect also comes into play in naming. In 1929, a German-American psychologist named Wolfgang Köhler conducted an experiment by presenting Spanish-speaking participants with two images.

Do this exercise yourself also, name one of these images ‘baluba’ and the other, ‘takete’. You are likely to fall into the category of the majority of participants who named the second one ‘baluba’ and the first one ‘takete’.

Many words already possess meaning. For the words that do not exist, how the words make our mouths feel gives a cue to our brains to visualize shapes. Some of these brand names are so good, they make their ways into vocabulary as verbs! Even if words do not have meaning, our brains are wired to extract some meaning from those sounds.

Then what is the anatomy of a good sound-conscious brand name?

Well, for starters, it is not a name based on trends, puns or references from other brands.

The name is probably the most enduring asset of the brand. Timelessness becomes obligatory.

Check legal, registration, searchability and all other aspects of the name that might stop it from becoming a household name. It should be authentic to the personality of the organization.

Mull over your options, screen and filter them through tests and IRL scenarios.

A good sound-based brand name uses characteristics of naming. It could be descriptive, abstract, suggestive, inventive, rhythmic, alliterative, rhyming, and most importantly, it ideally should elicit mental imagery for better association and memorability.

Sound is very important. The reason why alliteration and rhymes work is because it is primal to us. As babies, we begin speaking with repetitive words like Mama, Papa, Dada, and Nana. Language evolved, it still is. Sounds have always been around.

Test your brand name out, casually drop the brand name in conversations to experience and study reactions from acquaintances. Ask them the name a while later to see if they could recollect the name. Do not ignore the non-verbal aspect of the word, ideally, the word also must be visually balanced, to add aesthetic value apart from the logo. Words are shapes also. It makes the signage even more appealing to the eye. Use both- sound symbolism and visual association to make maximum impact on the consumer’s mind.

Do you want to have a name that is literally one in thousands? Any brand that undergoes the naming process at Slangbusters is finalized after exploring thousands of name iterations. Have a strong brand identity and live up to your name. Contact us now.

— by Manas, Content Strategist, Slangbusters Studio

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