What’s in a Name?Linguistics demystifiedfor brandsCreating and managingbrand value TM
Interbrand | Pg. 1What’s in a Name?Linguistics demystified for brandsBy Paola NorambuenaWhen most people think of linguistics – two possible directions to take: one is to and rich in meaning. Andaz benefits fromif they do at all – they likely picture stuffy select an existing word or words, the other an association with Romance languagesacademics waxing obscure about the roots is to conjure a new name from raw linguistic (the Spanish “andar” and the Italianof language. Seminar tables and lecture materials. Both approaches involve a “andare” – both verbs meaning “to go” –halls, earnest students and musty library detailed process. resonate with a travel-oriented brand). Yetshelves full of arcane texts gathering dust. it was chosen because it is an Urdu word Say you want to use a real-word name.What they most certainly do not picture meaning “personal style” – an apt choice for Linguistics suggests that limiting yourselfis cutting-edge commercial creativity or a a hotel that celebrates its clients’ personal to the English language may also limit yourroute to success in the crowded marketplace preferences at every turn. appeal – and your market share. That’s partlyof products and services. because English is full of consonant clusters For mass appeal, linguisticsYet linguistics is just that – a tool for that are simply hard to pronounce for a large would steer us towardnarrowing in on the kinds of names that portion of the world’s population.will make your product or service a world constructions of words While English words often get stuck on otherchanger, for finding the moniker that can and sounds rooted in the mother tongues, words from the Romancehelp you grab the public imagination. languages tend to have fewer consonants. real but with a new identityLinguistics and the naming process Furthermore, Spanish, French, Italian – even all their own. Romanian – and other Romance languagesPut simply, linguistics is the study of the Coining names and linguistics all share Latin as their common ancestor.structure and development of language. So many of their sounds are not only Just as linguistics can help with findingIt encompasses a number of sub-fields – easier to pronounce, but also comfortably a real-word name, it can be equallyincluding sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, interchangeable to the more than 600 valuable when inventing , or coining, aand historical and computational linguistics. million who speak them. name, an approach that has the potentialSome are more theoretical, others more advantages of ownability, distinctivenessapplied. But linguists share a widespread Looking to less common languages can be and (near) universal appeal.agreement that human beings have an equally inspiring. Hasbro’s Parker Brothersinnate ability to acquire and use language, Games turned to Swahili when naming A coined name is a name that cannotbased on our shared biology. This makes their popular stack-and-build block game be found in the dictionary – includinglinguistics a crucial asset for generating Jenga (“to build”). Similarly, the Swahili word anything from a playful twist on a realnames that are both meaningful for the for “village” – Kijiji – became the name of a word (“googol” becomes Google), tobrand and memorable in the mind of website offering free local classified ads. something entirely made up (such asthe consumer. the Eee computer by Asus). One example of using real words to create aWhen a company has a new product or distinctive – and ownable – name is Hyatt’s A common frustration is hitting on theservice it needs to name, there are basically hotel brand Andaz, which is both easy to say perfect real-word name, only to have
What’s in a Name? Linguistics demystified for brands Interbrand | Pg. 2If you can’t own it, itdoesn’t matter howgreat a name is.legal tell you it’s not ownable; with over 21 potential, but they also must consider thinner every minute.million registered trademarks and counting, specific cultural cache and appropriateness For instance, the United States has achances are someone else got there first. across all the markets the brand will touch. growing number of multilingual residents,By contrast, coining involves creatively Linguists have done extensive research into each with purchasing power and culturalcombining, refining or dicing words – both of these territories and their work that prestige – and each posing uniquesignificantly narrowing the chances that can help us balance the two. opportunities for marketers to get it wrong.your preferred name is already taken. Universal appeal That’s why working with linguists whenWhile that last tactic has become highly evaluating brand names is essential. Linguists can offer marketers valuableimitated in the digital space, one of the insights into the kinds of associations Consider that the top five languages inmost successful global brands is 124 that certain words and sounds have the U.S. besides English are Spanish,years into demonstrating the impact and across a broad swath of the polyglot Chinese, French, German, and Tagalog. Ifmemorability of two easy sounds: Coca- global marketplace. For example, an “R” your name is targeting these non-English-Cola’s alternating vowels and singsong-y sound is often perceived as conveying speaking populations in the U.S., let alone inpronunciation are a proven way to spread motion – think of words like river, ripple, international markets, it’s key to do linguistichappiness wherever you may roam. or even whirl, or brands like Range Rover cultural checks – not just with AmericanFor mass appeal, linguistics would steer us and Roomba. The “S” sound, of course linguists but by running shortlisted namestoward constructions of words and sounds communicates smooth, sleek, streamlined through in-country linguistic and culturalrooted in the real but with a new identity - like Silk or Swiffer. And “Z” often evokes checks as well. This will help you to keep anall their own. Take Olay’s “Definity” – which speed, energy or precision, hence its use by eye on the forest and the trees.combines “define” with the common suffix such brands as Zipcar, Zippity, Blazer and Late stage essentials“-ity” to create a new noun that looks like RAZR.a real word. This particular name gains Now that you’re armed with all this linguistic But linguistics, like naming, is not alwaysfurther credence because it contains insight, naming your product or service an exact science. Its greatest value may“finity” which we find in the word “infinity.” should be a breeze, right? lie in the deep understanding of specificThis type of coined name may be less languages, and the cultures it is part Not always, but a linguistic perspective candistinctive than an Eee – since the construct of. This is what a linguistic specialist can help get you out of a naming rut, even if itsis more expected – but it packs consumer bring to the table. late in the game.punch. Of course, adding to its appeal is A linguistic perspective on cultural diversity Let’s say you’re positioning a new productits very real potential for clearing any legal can help ensure a brand name won’t that is all about speed, energy and precision.hurdles, which is itself no small feat. offend, unintentionally amuse, or simply Logically, your shortlist is filled with ZThe importance of evaluation flop. In fact, linguistics can help maximize names – after all, sound symbolism and its your chances for success by honing a name many boosters tell you that Z implies speed,Naming professionals aim for near-universal for global markets as much as for local energy, and precision.appeal to maximize a brand’s marketing consumption, a distinction that is becoming
What’s in a Name? Linguistics Demystified for Brands Interbrand | Pg.3You realize there are just two obstacles These stories go a long way to reinforceto settling on your perfect name. One is the pitfalls that await overeager marketingdifferentiation – your category is saturated professionals. Offensive names are not with Z names and sounds. And the other is just problematic because of feelings, butownability – all the best Z names are taken. of how they can derail even the best laid marketing efforts.If you can’t own it, it doesn’t matter howgreat a name is. And if it won’t set you Of course the goal of every name is to stickapart in your space, what good is it? Brands with the target audience and deliver thelike FedEx, Red Bull, and Toyota RAV 4, kind of positive associations you want. In anhowever, don’t feature Zs in their names, increasingly small, overcrowded and fiercelyyet all of these brands communicate speed, contested market environment, this can beenergy, and precision. When faced with a daunting task. Linguistics can provide youlimited choice, linguistics will tell you to with proven advantages to help you find orlook farther afield, to other languages create a one-of-a-kind name and evaluateand cultures, to other roots, devices, and its potential when it is seen on shelf, on thestructures, to find a name that is both lot, online, wherever your brand competes.distinctive and meaningful. Whether real or coined, suggestive or descriptive, your name is your brand’s mostBesides ownability and differentiation, the essential asset, making it all the morenaming endgame is also about sensitivity. important to get it right the first time. ■In today’s shrinking multinational world,engaging linguists to run thorough culturaldisaster checks on your prospective brandnames is of the utmost importance....linguistics, like naming, isnot always an exact science.Its greatest value may lie inthe deep understanding ofdifferent languages, and thecultures they’re part of...Some cautionary tales include a major U.S.brand that went to market with a productnamed GECIS (pronounced JEE-kiss).Unfortunately, in Hungary, where thebrand conducted a considerable business,the GECIS name translated to an unseemlybodily fluid.In another instance, Coca-Cola went intothe Japanese market with the tagline “CokeAdds Life” – disastrously translated as“Coke Brings Your Ancestors Back from theDead” – particularly offensive to Japanesebelievers of the Shinto faith. And in another,the Russian natural gas giant Gazprominked a deal with Nigeria to start a jointventure earlier in 2009, the new entity wasnamed Nigaz.
Paola NorambuenaPaola Norambuena is Interbrand’s ExecutiveDirector of Verbal Identity, North America.She is passionate about language andbelieves it is a powerful tool that impactsbehavior and helps brands create anemotional connection with customers,employees, and key stakeholders.Combining her experience incommunications, brand strategy, andideation, Paola helps her clients harness thepower of language in compelling new ways,through naming, voice, messaging, andcreative writing—verbal identity strategiesthat help bring brands to life.Paola NorambuenaExecutive Director of Verbal Identity, North AmericaT: 212-798-7590Paola.firstname.lastname@example.org Creating and managinginterbrand.com brand value TM