What’s in a brand name?

Corporate branding is now big business, and companies routinely spend tens of millions of dollars rebranding themselves or coming up with names for new products.

Yet, there are 20 naming companies – like Catchword on this 99% invisible episode Title TK where co-founder Laurel Sutton explains that they would generate more than 2000 names per client (as per the brand name spectrum), 30 to 50 of which they would present as viable options.


Listen to the podcast, it’s fascinating.

Back to the NewYorker, their article names research that showed that if customers feel your name is a good fit they’ll remember it better and even like it more. Another one showed that people who ate ice cream called Frosh (big, creamy vowel sound) liked it better than people who ate the same ice cream under the name Frish (icy, watery). On that basis, Häagen-Dazs is a stroke of genius—a double back vowel emphasized by a nonsensical umlaut.

Stop consonants—which include “k” and “b”—seem heavier than fricatives, like “s” and “z.” So George Eastman displayed amazing intuition when, in 1888, he devised the name Kodak, on the ground that “k” was “a strong, incisive sort of letter.”

In the case of existing words, connotations are crucial: a Corvette is a light, speedy attack ship; Tesla was an inventor of genius.

Made-up names often rely instead on resonances with other words: Lexus evokes luxurious; Viagra conjures virility and vitality. Bad names bring the wrong associations to consumers’ minds. In the nineteen-eighties, United Airlines tried to turn itself into a diversified travel company called Allegis. The move was a fiasco.