Abbreviation The shortened form of a written word or phrase (cf. Acronym and Nickname). Inc. magazine is an excellent example of an abbreviation which outdoes its full form by conveying an insider image.
Acronym [Greek akros, “topmost” + onuma, “name”] A word formed from the initial letter or letters of a series of words in a phrase (cf. Abbreviation). The advantages of a commercial acronym are that it may challenge the consumer to “solve the puzzle,” as if it were a vanity license plate (e.g. TCBY, The Country’s Best Yogurt), or else present the consumer with a prefabricated bit of upscale slang (e.g. DKNY, Donna Karan New York and MGD, Miller Genuine Draft). The chief disadvantage is that it may be unintelligible and forgettable without a prohibitive investment in advertising. It took James Earl Jones to make “This is CNN” a meaningful phrase.
Agentive [noun] In English, a noun denoting the agent or doer of an action, typically formed by adding the suffix -er to the verb in question. The advantages of a name of this sort are clarity and energy. The Ford Explorer, for example, makes a clear statement about the aspirations of its driver.
Alliteration The repetition of the same consonant sounds or of different vowel sounds at the beginning of words or in stressed syllables. Examples are Dreyer’s Dreamery or MCI’s Friends and Family calling circle program.
Allusion A reference, explicit or implicit, to a culture’s classical literature. The Honda Odyssey minivan references Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey.
Alphanumeric A name consisting of some combination of letters and numbers. There are a plethora of alphanumeric names on the market today—for example, WD-40 lubricant, Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet software, Lexus ES 300.
Amalgam The blending of two or more meanings into one name. The Dodge Caravan minivan is a serendipitous amalgam of “car” and “van,” in addition to being a fitting name in its own right. According to a Dodge ad, “We added ‘minivan’ to the English language; ‘car-like’ came from you.”
Anachronism [Greek ana- + chronos, “time”] A name whose use is chronologically incongruous. The appeal of Orville Redenbacher’s gourmet popping corn, for example, is inextricably tied to its old-fashioned moniker. Roman Meal bread is another clear case of this technique.
Analogy The process of creating or modifying a particular name on the basis of an existing name or pattern in the language. For example, the Mrs. Tea teamaker is analogous to the Mr. Coffee coffeemaker.
Anaptyxis The insertion of a vowel or vowels to break up a troublesome consonant cluster. This happens frequently when English words are borrowed for use in foreign languages with specific consonant-vowel rules of pronunciation. An example is the candy name M&Ms, which exists in Japanese as emuandoemu.
Anepronym A trademarked brand name that is now used generically (e.g., kleenex, aspirin).
Antonym A name meaning the opposite of another. For instance, the nickname of 7-Up, The Uncola, depends upon its antonym; the product is defined in terms of what it is not.
Aphesis The omission of the initial part of a common phrase. When people say “Morning” instead of “Good morning,” this is aphesis.
Appellation A name or descriptive epithet. The Uncola is an appellation of 7-Up.
Aptronym A name that fits a person’s nature or occupation. In the movie Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Mr. Smith was ostensibly an unsophisticated, naïve man from the country. His name functions as an aptronym.
Arbitrary Name A name which bears no logical relationship to the company, product, service, or attribute it describes. For example, the Native American chief Cadillac had no reason to believe he would live on in the form of an automobile. Arbitrary names can also be made-up words having no intrinsic meaning like Exxon, Kodak, and Avaya.
Archaism A name which is antiquated in style or meaning (cf. Anachronism). For example, Clabber Girl baking powder recalls an earlier time.
Associative Field A set of names connected in form, meaning, or both (cf. Semantic Field). The commercialization of the Internet, for example, has given rise to a host of names which contain the components “net” or “cyber” (cf. Clutter).
Attributive [noun] A noun which directly precedes the noun it modifies, without the necessity of a linking verb. For example, the word “London” in the name London Fog clothing is an attributive noun.
Back Formation The creation of a new word from an existing form assumed, incorrectly, to be its derivative. For example, the word edit was actually formed by dropping the suffix “-or” from editor, not the other way around.
Backronym [compound of back + acronym] A word re-interpreted as an acronym. In a backronym, an expansion is invented to treat an existing word as an acronym. An example is Yahoo!, now said to stand for “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle,” although the founders claim they just liked the word. Often, backronyms serve a useful purpose as mnemonics.
Baptism In commercial terms, the ceremony in which a name is bestowed upon a new company or product, generally in the form of an advertisement.
Blending The creation of a new word by combining the first part of one word with the last part of another (cf. Portmanteau Word). For example, the word smog is made up of the words smoke and fog, and the name Petopia is made up of the words pet and utopia. Although comparatively rare in English, this process is a common means of word formation in several language families (e.g. Austronesian); it is distinct from recombinant morphemics in that only a portion of each morpheme is used.
Borrowing The adoption of a word from one language into the lexicon of another (cf. Calque). An example of borrowing in English is the Japanese word tsunami, the massive tidal wave which frequently follows an earthquake.
Brand The name of a product or company. More broadly, the collection of attributes, usually of a product or company—from name and logo to price, advertising messaging, reputation and other consumer perceptions—that constitute its public persona.
Cachet The prestigious associations one culture’s language has for speakers of another language. Häagen-Daz ice cream, for example, plays on associations of quality, taste, fine chocolate, and luxury ascribed to Scandinavian countries.
Calque The literal translation of a word from one language into the lexicon of another (cf. Borrowing). One example is the Mandarin Chinese term nan pengyou (literally male friend), a direct translation of the English word boyfriend.
Centrifugal Force The natural tendency of a language to branch into a set of regional dialects (cf. Centripetal Force). The various distinctive dialects of American English (Southern, Northern, Northeastern) all display centrifugal force.
Centripetal Force The cultural tendency of a set of regional dialects to coalesce into a standard language in response to a center of gravity (cf. Centrifugal Force). The standardization of the Mandarin dialect of Chinese, particularly after the influence of mass media, is an example of centripetal force.
Clutter The proliferation of indistinguishable names within a particular product category. The high-tech industry is sometimes considered cluttered with net names.
Coinage The deliberate or accidental creation of a new, artificial name. Exxon, Cysive, Cambira and Attenza are examples of coinage.
Collocation The likelihood that a particular word will occur in the neighborhood of another word. This tendency can be exploited by commercial names. The words spick and span are an example of collocation. We also associate baa with sheep and moo with cow.
Colloquialism An informal word which is frowned upon in formal speech or writing. The word ain’t is a colloquialism.
Connotation A word’s extrinsic, figurative sense, including its overtones and shades of meaning (cf. Denotation). For example, the word travel can connote different things to various people—some may think of driving in a car, while others think of journeying to exotic locations, while still others think of the hassle involved with getting from airport to airport.
Consonance The repetition of a consonant sound. Cracker Jack is the exemplar of consonance in advertising.
Denotation A word’s intrinsic, literal sense, excluding its overtones and shades of meaning (cf. Connotation). While we listed various connotations of travel above, the denotation (from Webster’s Dictionary) is “to go from one place to another; to make a journey or journeys”.
Descriptor A word which literally describes the product or service being identified, generally employed in conjunction with a fanciful, arbitrary, or suggestive name. One example of this is Kleenex Facial Tissue, where Kleenex is an arbitrary name and facial tissue is a descriptor.
Diminutive Any suffix which denotes smallness, youth, familiarity, or affection. Huggies diapers and Wheaties breakfast cereal come to mind.
Discourse Audibility The likelihood that a given name will stand out in the course of normal speech. The discourse audibility of the name Yahoo! is high.
Dissonance A harsh or disagreeable combination of sounds. Some native English speakers consider various Southeast Asian languages to be dissonant, based on the unfamiliar tones and consonant combinations.
Doublet A pair of words which share a common origin, but which have distinct shades of meaning. The words vibrate and vibrant are both derived from the Latin word vibrare, “to vibrate, shake,” but whereas vibrate means “to shake; quiver,” vibrant means “vigorous, energetic, radiant.”
Engram The neural change hypothesized to account for the memorability of a name in the mind of a hearer (cf. Psycholinguistics). Particularly memorable names such as Monster.com trigger specific engrams.
Epicene A noun whose single form can designate either a male or a female. The words author and poet are both examples.
Eponym A name derived from a person, without regard to whether he or she is fictitious, mysterious, or legendary. Aunt Jemima, Betty Crocker, Michael Jordan, and Barbie are eponymous trade names.
Euphemism [Greek eu, "good" + pheme, "speech"] An inoffensive substitute for a term considered offensive or inappropriate. For example, Cottonelle UltraSoft Double Roll bathroom tissue is a lengthy euphemism for toilet paper.
Euphony [Greek euphonos : eu, "good" + phone, "sound"] A smooth, mellifluous sound effect, irrespective of meaning (cf. Dissonance). For example, to most English speakers, the name Charmin is pleasant to the ear, regardless of its meaning.
Exclamatory Sentence A complete exclamation designed to express an emotional reaction to the product. The advantage, and disadvantage, of this approach is that it fully states its message, leaving nothing to the imagination of the consumer. Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific! shampoo and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! margarine are exclamatory sentences.
Fanciful Name A name invented without apparent reference to any other word in the lexicon. Kodak and Exxon are the archetypes of this category.
Folk Etymology A popular but false notion of a word’s origins. Linking asparagus with sparrow grass is an example of this.
Formative An affix which unites a set of otherwise unrelated names. McDonald’s McChicken and McNuggets are examples.
Formulaic Phrase A traditional turn of phrase, often dismissed as a cliché, but in origin a mnemonic device. The children’s alphabet—a singsong chant of the letters of the alphabet—is an example of this.
Fused Compound A compound whose meaning in toto is not predictable from the meanings of its individual components. The English word pumpkin does not mean “pump”and “family.”
Genericide The process by which a trademark becomes synonymous with its associated product, to the point it may cease to be protectable. Although Xerox was once a brand of copy machines, it is now used to refer to any copied document, and the word’s usage has extended to a verb form: to xerox something means to photocopy it.
Gerund In English, the verbal form ending in -ing, conveying the meaning of the verb but used as a noun. The advantage of this form is its immediacy; Martha Stewart Living magazine is a case in point.
Haplology A sporadic sound change characterized by the omission in speech of one of consecutive identical sounds or syllables. For example, instead of pronouncing three individual “w’s” to describe the “www” of a URL address, people may only pronounce one or two “w’s.”
Heteronym A word identical to another in its written form, but different in sound and meaning. The present tense verb read (i.e. “Let’s read this story together”) and the past participle of the same verb, read (i.e. “He read me a lovely poem”) are heteronyms.
Hieronym [Greek hieros, "holy" + onuma, "name"] A name derived from myth or religion. Examples include Saint Brendan’s Superior irish cream liqueur, and Zeus salad dressing.
Iconicity The likelihood a name will be readily visualized by its intended audience. The name of the computer company Apple lends itself to easy iconicity.
Imperative Sentence A complete command which exhorts the consumer to action. Microsoft Picture It! personal imaging software is an example of this type of encouragement.
Interrogatory Sentence A complete question designed to involve the consumer with the product. Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego? educational software is an example of this approach.
Invented Spelling The practice of using non-standard spelling to achieve a desired effect or to otherwise distinguish a name. Cingular is an intentionally altered spelling of singular.
Jargon The specialized vocabulary or set of idioms shared by a particular profession. The various acronyms and idioms used by the US military forces would be considered jargon.
Lexicon The inventory of words in a given language. The English lexicon can be found in a complete dictionary.
Lingua Franca Any language used as a medium of communication between peoples of diverse speech. Somewhat incongruously, English has become the lingua franca of Asia, although in some cases, many Americans might not recognize some of the words or expressions used.
Linguistics The science of language, especially the nature and structure of human speech.
Metanalysis The consumer’s interpretation or analysis of an unfamiliar name, the process of which may include folk etymology, analogy, etc. For example, many people associate the term Java with coffee, instead of the Indonesian island from which the coffee comes, and after which it is named.
Metaphor A figure of speech in which one object or concept is likened to another. For example, Fruit of the Loom is a metaphor for underwear.
Metaphrase The literal translation of a phrase from one language into another. Translating Spanish “mi casa su casa” into English “my house, your house” would be a metaphrase.
Metonymy The substitution of one word for another of similar meaning. Using the term Washington to refer to the US government is an example of metonymy.
Mimetic Word A word formed in imitation of another word: e.g. litterbug, on the analogy of jitterbug.
Morpheme A meaningful linguistic unit which cannot be further subdivided into smaller meaningful parts. In English, the letter “s” in final position (at the end of a word) is a morpheme indicating plurality.
Mucker Pose The affectation of the distinctive linguistic habits of the lower social classes in order to curry favor with those classes. In the US, country music singers who adopt false southern accents speak mucker pose.
Name Recognition The ability of a commercial name to trigger a response in the mind of the consumer (cf. Engram). Microsoft has considerable name recognition.
Naming Architecture Organizes a company’s existing names, and provides rules for which future products get named and how (cf. Nomenclature). For example, should a new product employ a proprietary name or a descriptor? Should the name relate to other company/product names? Telephia, a telecommunications research company, uses an architecture that neatly segments its many products into three buckets: Market Dynamics, Quality of Service, and Customer Insights.
Neologism A newly and deliberately coined word. Cysive and Dreamery are neologisms.
Nexus The connection between the members of a semantic field. An example of nexus is the meaningful connection between the words kitten, cat, and feline.
Nickname The familiar form of a proper name. The wise company considers its products’ likely nicknames (e.g. Bud for Budweiser, T-bird for Thunderbird, and Sunny D for Sunny Delight).
Noa Word A word free of any taboo in the languages under consideration, meaning that it may be employed without reservation in the creation of a commercial name (cf. Taboo Word).
Nomenclator [Latin nomenclator, "name-caller," a slave whose duty was to announce the names of the people his master met] A naming specialist (cf. Nomenclature). A number of firms, including Catchword, now specialize in the creation of commercial names.
Nomenclature A system of names, used in business or otherwise, serving to identify the individual elements within a family (of products, services, etc.), and how they relate to each other. General Mills, for example, has a line of cereals based on the names of monsters: Count Chocula, Frankenberry, Boo Berry, and the sadly departed Fruit Brute and Yummy Mummy.
Notional Word A word which denotes a person or thing, an act, or a quality, in contrast to a relational word, which merely expresses a grammatical relationship between notional words. Sister is a notional word.
Onomastics The study of names and naming practices.
Onomatopoeia The creation of a name that sounds like what it refers to. The Rice Krispies’ cartoon characters Snap, Crackle, and Pop are famous examples.
Orthography The art of spelling.
Oxymoron A figure of speech containing an apparent contradiction. Jumbo shrimp is an often-cited example.
Paronym A word formed from another word in a foreign language. Many fragrances take advantage of both the cachet of French and the fact that English and French share a considerable vocabulary. Trésor perfume, where trésor is the French source of the English word treasure, is a clear example of this strategy.
Pathetic Fallacy The attribution of human emotions to a product. Cheerios cereal is an example of pathetic fallacy.
Patois A regional dialect. Several dialects of American English could be considered examples; the distinctive New Orleans dialect is a patois.
Patronym A named derived from a paternal ancestor. Leif Ericson’s surname, literally “Eric’s son”, is a patronym.
Pejoration A semantic shift which results in a less favorable connotation. For example, the word villain originally meant farm laborer, but now refers to an evil person or hardened criminal.
Personification A figure of speech in which a product is given human form (cf. Eponym). Mr. Clean is a perfect example. Nintendo Game Boy game system is another example.
Phoneme A meaningful sound, the smallest unit of speech which distinguishes one word from another in a given language. In the pair of words bat and mat, the distinguishing sounds “b” and “m” are both phonemes.
Phonestheme A consonant cluster apparently associated with a particular semantic field, but with no distinguishable independent meaning. Some English examples are gl-, sn-, and sl-.
Phonogram A character or symbol used in lieu of a word. The famous @ sign is a phonogram.
Polyonomy A set of concrete, particular terms for a culturally significant object, reflecting the world view of the speakers of that language. Certain Japanese words which became taboo after World War II reflected the contemporary view of their nation as unique in the world—shimakunikanjo, which means roughly “the unique spirit of being an island nation”—is an example of this type of vocabulary.
Polysemy The proliferation of words sharing a single, ancestral root. Examples include English variations of the Latin root procedere, “proceed,” such as process, processional, proceeding, etc.
Portmanteau A whimsical blend, as exemplified in the works of Lewis Carroll (cf. Blend). Snapple iced tea is a good example of this practice commercially.
Proprietary Name A name capable of being owned and trademarked, as opposed to a descriptive name. Cysive is a strong example of a proprietary name.
Pseudo-Semantic Development The acquisition by a word of a new meaning under the influence of another word in the same associative field. As the word gay became a mainstream English synonym for homosexual, other words somewhat loosely related to gay also became associated with homosexual—for example, the word sweet is occasionally used in an ironic sense to describe a homosexual man.
Psycholinguistics The study of the psychological factors involved in the perception of, and response to, language. One example of psycholinguistic study is the retention (memory) of language.
Reduplication The repetition of syllables within a name, such as the initial two syllables of Boboli Italian bread crust.
Referent The object symbolized by a name. The referent of Sun Microsystems is, obviously, the sun.
Rhyme A mnemonic device in which two or more words correspond in sound.
Root The semantic kernel from which a set of words is derived by phonetic change and/or extension. For example, the root ‘child’ has evolved into multiple variants such as child-like, childish, children.
Semantic Field A set of words connected in meaning (cf. Associative Field). The various terms used relating to movies (e.g., cinema, theater, film, reel, soundtrack, etc.) form a semantic field.
Semantic Fitness The degree to which a name is perceived to fit with the object it identifies. For example the kind of computer called a laptop does indeed fit on one’s lap, hence the name conveys a high degree of semantic fitness.
Semantic Position The perceived position of a proposed name in a continuum of competing names. Some companies use semantic position as a criterion in selecting a new name—one does not want a name that sounds weaker or slower than the name of a competing product.
Semantics The study of meaning in language, including the relationship between language, thought, and behavior.
Simile A figure of speech in which an explicit comparison is made between two unlike objects via a construction such as like, as, than, similar to, resembles, etc.
Slang The nonstandard vocabulary of a given culture or subculture, typically consisting of transitory coinages and figures of speech. American usage of the term phat is an example of slang.
Slogan A catch phrase. Sun Microsystems’ “We’re the dot in .com” is a slogan.
Sociolinguistics The study of the sociological factors involved in the use of language, including gender, race, class, etc. Books discussing the communication aspects of relationships between men and women, such as You Just Don’t Understand, by Deborah Tannen, delve into sociolinguistics.
Sound Pattern The permissible combinations of phonemes in a given language. While “sl-” fits the English sound pattern and does not look unusual or pose pronunciation difficulties, “sb-” does not fit the English sound pattern and would therefore be considered foreign and/or difficult to pronounce.
Sound Symbolism The semantic qualities a given sound suggests in and of itself. Many linguists have concluded that the high vowel /i/, as in pea, is “small” in its connotations and conversely that the low vowel /a/, as in father, is “large,” although many exceptions to this rule exist. Any attempt to go beyond these findings has been met with considerable skepticism.
Suggestive Name A name composed of morphemes which singly or together suggest or refer to the goods or services in question, but which do not actually describe them. Spalding Infusion (ball-pump technology) and BlueArc (high-speed data storage) are just two examples.
Synecdoche A figure of speech in which a part is used to represent the whole (cf. Metonymy). Staples, for example, sells a wide variety of office supplies.
Synonym A word having the same meaning as another. The word nice is synonymous with one usage of the word kind.
Synonymic Attraction The tendency for those subjects of great interest to the community to attract a large number of colorful synonyms. For example, consider the variety of terms we use for money, intoxication, and sex.
Taboo Word A word to be avoided because it is sacred, politically incorrect, vulgar, or otherwise inappropriate. Spanish Bimbo bread contains a sexual, therefore lowbrow, English reference which would not likely be associated with a staple food like bread.
Textual Visibility The likelihood that a given name will stand out within a block of text. Many factors can contribute to a word’s textual visibility, such as its length, initial letter, and spelling.
Theronym A name derived from an animal. The Ford Mustang and the Mercury Sable are obvious examples.
Toponym A name derived from a place or geographic feature. Some examples of toponyms are Shasta soft drinks, the Chevy Tahoe sports utility vehicle, and Farallon Timbuktu remote control software.
Carroll, John M. (1985). What’s in a Name? An Essay in the Psychology of Reference. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company
Cottle, Basil (1983). Names. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.
Crystal, David (1987). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Fromkin, Victoria and Robert Rodman (1978). An Introduction to Language, Second Edition. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Levy, Sidney J. (1978). Marketplace Behavior – Its Meaning for Management. New York: AMACOM.
Morris, William, ed. (1979). The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, New College Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Pei, Mario (1966). Glossary of Linguistic Terminology. New York: Columbia University Press.
Perrine, Laurence (1977). Sound and Sense, An Introduction to Poetry, Fifth Edition. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.
The Editors of Inc. Magazine (1988). The Best of Inc. Guide to Marketing and Selling. New York: Prentice Hall Press.
Vanden Bergh, Bruce, Keith Adler, and Lauren Oliver (1987). “Linguistic Distinction Among Top Brand Names,” Journal of Advertising Research, August/September, 39-44.