The Science of Giving Names To Brands
In a famous passage, Confucius was asked by a disciple what his action would be if he were to govern a state. He replied, “Make right the names”.
The disciple was incredulous and asked, “Would you be as impractical as that?” Confucius rebuked his disciple and explained that proper NOMENCLATURE is the basis of language and that language is central to taking care of things.
Names have their root in LANGUAGE. Names of individuals have been used as DESCRIPTORS of genealogy, place of origin and profession. Names CHANGE too, depicting the EVOLUTION of the individual. Thus Siddhartha, the prince became the Buddha.
Sometimes a name has proved to be prophetic like a HERALD bringing a message from the future. Abram changed his name to Abraham, meaning father of a multitude, to eventually become the ancestor of all Arabs and Jews.
Brand names carry the fate of substantial investment in new business initiatives. Corporations spend millions to create brand identities with ENDURING character, promises and attributes. And it all starts with a MEMORABLE, evocative name.
Conventionally, marketers have looked at various methods to name a brand:
a) Denotation – The ingredients or process that can be attached to the name.
b) Connotation – The imagery connoting the attributes the brand is trying to project.
c) Evocation – The suggestion of certain attributes by evoking memory, impressions or imagination.
d) Association – Taking on the related name of an individual or entity.
e) Extensions – Using stems, prefixes and suffixes to connote a meaning.
f) Acronyms – Letters abbreviated to form a name.
g) Hybridisation – Combining two or more words to communicate enhanced imagery.
However, the above methods only refer to the SEMANTICS of naming a brand. As winning brand names conjured from varied semantic processes become scarce, marketers are tapping linguistic researchers who are linking raw SOUNDS to specific emotions.
Thus we are experiencing a bloom of new vocabulary, of words with no historical origin, which have no meaning outside of the brand itself. Yet, these names are globally decipherable, effectively communicating pure experience and energy.
Socrates said that good words are ones in which their sound and meaning are CONGRUENT. While semantics is the first leg a brand name has to stand on, phonetic symbolism is the second.
PHONETIC symbolism suggests that the mere sound of a word, apart from its definition, conveys meaning and evokes specific emotions. These sounds derive from phonemes, the smallest unit of sound. The sound of the letter ‘C’ can be called a phoneme.
As per phonetic symbolism, the sounds of interacting phonemes in a brand name communicate the underlying ESSENCE of the brand. This can systematically alter consumer perception and judgment of the brand.
Few consumers realize that Nokia originates from the name of a city in Finland. What they react to, is the beat of it – a SONIC INTERACTION that is quick and easy to pronounce. The attributes of the sound are thus transferred to the brand making the definition of the word ‘Nokia’, unnecessary.
The greatest advantage of using the principles of phonetic symbolism is that, it can lead marketers to create brand names that are GLOBALLY palatable.
Consumers from every culture react similarly to what linguists call, obstruents and sonorants in a particular sound. Obstruents are perceived as harder and sharper; sonorants as softer and smoother. Consider the two brand names, Persil, a hard-working laundry detergent, and Dove, a beauty soap. The obstruent, ‘r’ in Persil makes it sound sharper, while the sonorants in Dove make it sound softer.
After semantics and phonetic symbolism, what needs to be ensured, is reproducibility. A good brand name is easily reproduced in all media and conveys well enough to stand out in both spoken and written forms.
However, all of the above is an ORGANIC process that begins with the marketer’s INTENT for the brand. Researchers are yet to unravel the subconscious reach of ‘intent’.
However, if the brand name Google was a young jockey’s suggestion of a word, meaning, 1 followed by a million zeroes, there seems to be a PROPHETIC element to naming a brand.
As a brand manager, I wouldn’t mess with that.
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