The Noah Project

Rebuilding a sustainable world.

How Products Get Named

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Excerpted from Dr. Ong’s article The Poetry of Brand Naming in Business World On-line:

In “Famous Names: Does it matter what a product is called?” (The New Yorker, Oct. 3, 2011), John Colapinto reports that product proliferation has made creative brand-naming a growing necessity. In 1980, fewer than 10,000 hi-tech trademarks were registered in the USA; 30 years later, the number topped 300,000.

Colapinto’s piece centers on Lexicon, a California- and London-based boutique firm founded by David Placek in 1982 on the premise that a distinctive brand name confers a competitive edge. What to call a two-way device that sends and receives email wirelessly? EasyMail? ProMail? MegaMail? In the digital revolution’s early days, consumers were chary about getting excessive email; it would raise blood pressure. “Megamail,” connoting an avalanche, was out. Lexicon employs two linguists in-house and consults 77 others around the world to screen for unintended cross-linguistic gaffes (such as Chevy Nova, which means “no go” in Spanish) and unconscious resonance of particular sounds (which imply meanings across multiple languages: “p” uses the lips, and is slower and more luxurious than “t” which uses the tip of the tongue; “b” sounds even more reliable).

A Lexicon project begins with free-association Mind Maps on a board — diagrams of brainstormed words branching out from a central theme. For the two-way device, teams worked on “things that are natural,” “fresh,” and “enjoyable.” The creative process plays with stimuli that may seem irrelevant to the problem at hand. Someone wrote the word “strawberry.” Placek drawled out the word, found it too slow-sounding for an instantaneous technology. Someone else wrote “blackberry,” which pronounces faster and has two “b’s.” Choosing among hundreds of options comes down to a combination of instinct, abstract reasoning, and client idiosyncrasy. In this case, the client decided that fruit lowers blood pressure, black is the color of hi-tech devices, and the gadget’s oval keys look like a blackberry’s fleshy drupelets. BlackBerry (both b’s capitalized), launched in 1999, is now the best-selling smart phone.


Dr. Ong teaches marketing management and literature at De La Salle University (DLSU). The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administration. – See more here.

Author: Daniela

I will forever be grateful that I was introduced to the utility and beauty of hand crafted products early in life - from the symbolic motifs sewn into the coarse linen fabric of Croatian traditional wear to the colorful Kilim carpets that decorated the parquet floors in my grandmother's living room. I treasure the memories of my grandfather teaching me how to protect myself against the "evil eye," the smell of the flower stalls in the open air market where my grandmother bought produce early every morning for the day’s meals and the summers spent at my great grandmother's where the village wags would come to gossip over thick, black Turkish coffee in her cool stone kitchen. Someone noted that "For all of us that want to move forward, there are a very few that want to keep the old methods of production, traditions and crafts alive." I am a fellow traveler with those who value the old traditions and folk wisdom. I believe the knowledge they possess can contribute significantly to our efforts to build a more sustainable world - one that values the individual over the corporation, conservation over growth and happiness over wealth.

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