In the noisy and often contentious land of branding, there is a community of elite specialists who work in studied tranquility as they apply themselves with monk-like devotion to their task.
This is the domain of Professional Namers, the linguistic storm troopers of branding. They are summoned at a moment’s notice to create names for things – products, technologies, small businesses, global corporations, places. Anything that needs a name. They work collaboratively, often anonymously, and usually against impossible deadlines.
Such is the pivotal primacy of a name in brand building that all other traffic stops while these verbal conjurers work their magic. Not much else can happen until that name is place.
It is their job is to find that one nugget – the verbal coinage, unique and ownable, capable of containing multitudes of meaning while pinning that which is named with immediate relevance. Conditioned as they are by the vicissitudes and prejudices all namers have to deal with, namers usually work in fraternal harmony. Naming is hard, criticism is easy, and they tend not to throw stones at the work of others.
But, every now and then, a name comes along that offends their professional sensibilities to the point they feel obliged to pick up a rock.
Such a name is Kyndryl.
It was recently announced by IBM that Kyndryl will be the name of its IT infrastructure services business when it is spun off later this year as an independent company.
IBM says the “kyn” part of the name is derived from is the word “kinship,” and “dryl” comes from tendril, which it said should bring “to mind new growth and the idea that … the business is always working toward advancing human progress.”
Somehow, the explanation made things worse.
“Naming is tough. But I’m delighted to say I’ve never used “tendril” as a rationale for any name I’ve developed over the years”, said Martin Tipping of TippingGardner on LinkedIn. He added, perhaps somewhat defensively: “I’m also proud that Altria and Verizon have stood the test of time.”
Many other namers agreed with him.
It set me thinking – are there any names produced by others that namers actually admire? To find out, we invited them to name the names they wish they had thought of. And here’s what came back.
One of my all-time favorites is Diehard—the battery brand, not the movie (although I also love the movie). It’s such a strange word to begin with, and I like how the brand uses it as sort of a double-negative approach to saying “lasts a long time.” I love seeing interesting, real words used in unexpected ways.
A recent favorite is Recess, the CBD soft drink brand. It’s simple and speaks to the emotional benefit (relaxation, calm) in a fun, indirect way. And it doesn’t hurt that the surrounding brand identity—wordmark, color palette, packaging—are beautifully executed to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
Tea Party – Powerful appropriation of a phrase / event that all Americans know and are proud of. Positions a political party as being on the “right” side of history, before the history is even made.
Twitter is the quintessential example of a suggestive name that’s the perfect metaphor for a constant stream of quick, easy chatter. It also led to such natural extension vocabulary (tweet, retweet, fleets, etc.).
Shatterproof: As a fresh, clever, and edgy metaphor for strength, this name tells the story of a company that’s addressing the opioid crisis by creating stronger lives, stronger families, and stronger communities.
Trailhead (Salesforce’s developer resource site): “Why was it so great? It communicated the start of a journey in a fun and engaging way, and led to the coinage of Salesforce developers as Trailblazers. Salesforce then used this simple idea and created an entire world of national parks filled with critters to create a sense of community (or Ohana, as their values state) and to make these external Trailblazers feel part of the extended Salesforce family. While it began as a discrete effort, the name and the meaning it conveyed created a movement of true believers that continues to build momentum for Salesforce – as thousands upon thousands build new business applications on their platform. A Trailhead indeed.”
I nominate Wawa, a chain of more than 720 convenience stores on the central East Coast, primarily for its staying power as the rare empty vessel (or abstract name, depending on who is analyzing it) that once seen or heard is always recognizable and very hard to forget. The name of the 218-year-old company, which went from steel to dairy farming to convenience stores (all in the same family), is taken from the unincorporated township of Wawa, in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, which itself took the Ojibwe word “wawa,” which had come into general use in the area, for the Canadian geese who settled there biannually while migrating, when the township was officially named in 1884. The company has used a goose as part of their visual logo from the very start.
I love Twitter, and always have. It’s perfect for what the service started out to be (no matter what it’s become). It whimsically conjures up users sharing short little bursts of information (like birds twittering in a tree)—as well as excitement (“all atwitter.”) It’s extendable, too: tweets and tweeps and twitpics. How often does a real English word capture the spirit of a product so well?”
“Kodak – It’s the granddaddy of modern brand naming. As an entirely made-up name, Kodak broke free of corporate and product naming conventions rooted in founder and place names, or basic functionality. It gave the world of naming permission to become all that it is today. That’s big! All from five letters!!”
Well, I gave this a little thought, but I keep coming back to the name that drove and captured the remaking of the computer from an engineering device into a household object. For me, that’s the Macintosh. It changed the language of PCs from numerical and spec-driven to approachable and human. If you weren’t a geek, you probably couldn’t get warm feelings for a ZX80 or a Model 5150. But a Macintosh? From a company called Apple? Sure! A prime example of how naming can reframe popular perception, and the whole future of an industry. Hell, it’s still out there 35 years later!
Mine is Kryptonite, the bike lock (and other locks) company. It speaks volumes about repelling even the strongest bike thieves and is absolutely unforgettable. Ironically, years ago, a video surfaced that showed how anyone could jack one of their U-locks with a Bic pen. They fixed the problem and, if you mailed them your lock key, they sent you a brand-new lock. Great name. Great company. What’s not to love.
While hardly the most elegant-sounding name (I still hear ‘censure’ wedged in it), the principle of construction is what makes ‘Accenture‘ an instance of “I wish I’d thought of that”–or rather, “I wish I’d thought like that”. Accenture is the product of a two-part process that involved taking the formulation of a broad strategic intention or proposition–‘accent on the future’–pruning it, then compressing or reassembling it into a bespoke noun–a crisp, sharp-cornered neology.
RayBan is pure genius–it accomplishes two essential naming errands in one stroke: it describes in the most novel, parsimonious terms, the function of the product –‘namely’–blocking (‘banning’) the rays of the sun, while at the same time painting an eponymous persona–the cool-sounding Ray Ban. Cool-style + Function + Personality in one compact verbal artifact. Bravo.
Lego – the Danish manufacturer of plastic bricks. The word comes from the Danish phrase leg godt, which translates to “play well”. Lego is the present tense of a Latin verb which means “to put together”. Simple, short and with a root meaning that represents an idea that can stretch and grow with the business without losing its core.
I love Swiffer as a brand name. It is fun, friendly, approachable, and adds a bit of whimsy to an otherwise tedious daily chore of cleaning floors. The name directly evocative of the sound that the product makes (it is onomatopoetic), making swift work of tidying via a revolutionary dust collecting pad.
P.S. And for me, while not a professional namer but somewhat of a connoisseur of fine names, I was always a fan of Aleve. The name captures the primary benefit of the product with a snapped off piece of the word crafted into a unique coinage. But my award goes to PairTree, a platform founded by former colleague Erin Quick that, quite literally, pairs families eager to adopt a child with expectant mothers. PairTree is heavy with good, positive meaning.
What about you? Namer or not, if you have a favorite name, let us know what it is and why you like it.