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Donald J. Trump, a man who needs no introduction, is gearing up to launch a new line of hotels in 2017. They’re called “Scion Hotels.”

The most conspicuous part of the name is actually an absence… where’s the T word?
Why not give some nod to the name Trump, which has been the cornerstone of Donald’s entire brand (and brand naming strategy) for his entire life?

Some were speculating that this is because Mr. Trump’s name has been sullied. After all, the enormous Trump Place apartment complex in Manhattan just announced that it will be removing the Trump name as soon as this week after more than 600 residents signed an online petition to the landlord. Plus, several travel sites have stated that occupancy at Trump hotels has been down since he declared his candidacy, though the Trump organization refutes that.

However, it doesn’t appear that consumer anger at the man who carries the name is the reason for its absence in the new hotel line. Consider that even if only 40-something percent of the electorate are loyal supporters of Trump, that’s an enormous consumer base to sell to — any brand would kill for that type of following. And lest we forget, the median household income of a Trump supporter (in the primaries) was $72K a year – that’s some serious buying power in most of the country. Yes, Trump’s brand has evolved, and his newer ventures have to reflect that.


The primary reason the Trump name is absent is kind of boring: he already has a line of luxury hotels with his name on them. Trump’s business advisors don’t want there to be any confusion between the extremely expensive Trump hotels and this more moderately priced brand (though at $200-$300 per night, these rooms are not what I usually think of as mid-price). Ensuring that a sub-brand is distinct from the parent is smart marketing.

Scion means “a descendant of a wealthy family,” and therefore suggests that this brand is an offshoot of the existing Trump hotel line, and also cleverly conveys luxury without being absolutely top of the line. Further, I would argue that Scion actually does play into the global Trump brand, despite the absence of the Trump name.

It’s hard not to think of Scion as also referring to Trump himself, who, though his personal wealth has vastly surpassed that of his family by now, was/is a scion (and famously received a million dollar loan from his father which started his empire). This allows the hotel chain to be completely divorced from the existing luxury brand, but still feel a part of the Trump universe, which is all about opulence and flash.

Beyond that, the Scion name is reminiscent of the other short, punchy names of new “lifestyle” hotel lines that have been created by the major hotel players in the last five years, like Hyatt Centric, Best Western Glo, Best Western Vib, Hilton Tru, Radisson Blu and Red, Marriott Moxy, but it isn’t quite as annoyingly trendy-feeling. I like that.

For some, the word scion may carry a hint of prodigality. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Scion doesn’t have the temperament to be a leader in the hotel world, but there’s a small part of me that thinks “wasting money” when I hear scion. Or at least, I think that a scion is usually not deserving the wealth, not having earned it themselves. Wasting money isn’t a good connotation when trying to get people to pay a little more for something.

Another negative for this name is the word’s obscurity. Many mid-range consumers will not be familiar with it and find no meaning there other than a vague recollection of science. They also may not know how to pronounce it, which is a tremendous challenge when building brand equity.

And what about Scion the car? You may recall that Toyota rolled out this line of compact cars in 2003. The product never gained traction with younger consumers, to whom it was marketed, however, and the company announced in August that it would be discontinuing the brand. There may be some negative associations now while the marque’s demise is in the news, but in the long run, the hotel should be able to make the name its own. (In general, Catchword advises clients not to reject a possibly fantastic brand name solely because it is being used in a different space.)

Will the public like Scion because of, or in spite of, its Trump connection? Certainly, any brand associated with the president-elect will be unpopular with a large chunk of the U.S., but hey, like the presidency, a brand’s name is not decided by popular vote.

Donald J. Trump, a man who needs no introduction, is gearing up to launch a new line of hotels in 2017. They’re called Scion Hotels. And, the most conspicuous part of the name is actually an absence… where’s the T word?

Werner Brandl and Maria Cypher at Catchword Oakland

img_7492Catchword had the pleasure and honor of hosting our good friend and German naming partner Werner Brandl last week. We spent four days sharing views on creative, linguistics, client service techniques, and global naming practices.

Plus we introduced Werner to a few of Oakland’s fabulous restaurants (as well as brand successes Chipotle and In & Out), hiked Mt. Diablo, and toured the brand wonderlands known as American supermarkets.

We’ve been very happy to count Werner a global naming partner for many years. Based in Munich, Werner has offered top-tier naming services since 2000. His work for international heavy hitters like Toyota, Audi, Wrigley, and Bosch Power Tools, includes the Toyota Aygo, a small car for young European drivers.

Werner Brandl at Catchword Oakland

Catchword HQ group selfie: Werner, Maria, Erin, Kristen, Tamar

Hope you can come again soon, Werner!

Catchword was honored and happy to host our good friend and German naming partner Werner Brandl last week…

MOCHIDOKI - 500x325

LIA Awards 2016The prestigious London International Awards (LIA) announced Monday that Catchword’s Mochidoki is a 2016 silver winner in the category of Naming (there were no gold winners in the category this year).  More than 30 entries from around the globe vied for the coveted awards in the brand new category of brand naming.

Catchword developed the name for Gordon Dessert’s mochi (a combination of premium ice cream and other tasty ingredients wrapped in sticky rice dough) as a play on “okey-dokey” that sounds bite-sized and delicious while clearly communicating what the product is and how it makes you feel.

Mochidoki Mochi Ice CreamCatchword founder and creative director Maria Cypher remarked, “We have always loved this playful and distinctive name and are so proud and pleased that the LIA judges recognized how evocatively this name speaks to the target audience.”

The prestigious London International Awards (LIA) announced Monday that Catchword’s Mochidoki is a 2016 silver winner in the category of Naming (there were no gold winners in the category this year) …


presidential-1311753_960_720As we learned last time, onomastics is the linguistic study of names. The impact of names in the political realm is a topic of recent studies and is right up our alley at Catchword.

Kaysitch? Kahsick? Pronounceability of candidate names
Given the lowest-common-denominator nature of national politics, unusual names are clearly something to overcome at the national level. In part, at least, because unusual names are typically hard to pronounce.

According to several studies, having an easily pronounced name offers a definite advantage. “Candidates with names that were hard to pronounce received, on average, 5% fewer votes than candidates with easier names,” wrote Danny Oppenheimer and Mike Edwards in Democracy Despite Itself: Why a System That Shouldn’t Work at All Works So Well. “In fact, so many politicians were legally changing their names to try and get an electoral advantage that in 2007 Illinois passed a law expressly designed to counter that strategy.”

Research by psychologist Adam Alter of NYU suggests an easy-to-pronounce name can make us more likeable. Further studies indicate that pronounceability of a person’s name affects perception of their truthfulness and trustworthiness — a definite disadvantage for job, as well as electoral, candidates.

(The positive impact of easy pronunciation in brand recognition and acceptance is no surprise to Catchword. When naming a company, service, or product, it’s critical that the target audience knows how to say the name, whether speaking aloud or reading.)

Interestingly, at the local and state level, names that are unusual, hard to pronounce, or have negative associations have not been an insurmountable challenge for many candidates. Perhaps because of greater homogeneity of the region or because candidates are more able to make a personal connection with the electorate. Ask these current and former office holders:

John Kasich (Ohio representative 1983-2001, governor 2011-present and failed presidential candidate)
Rod Blagojevich (Illinois governor 2003-9, and felon)
Mike Crapo (US Senator from Idaho since 1988)
Frank Schmuck (running for Arizona Senate and serving his seventh term as Arizona Precinct Committeeman for the Republican Party)
Robin Rape (Constable for Brazoria County, Texas, since 2000)
Mike Hunt (Aiken County, South Carolina, Sheriff since 2003)
Janelle Lawless (Circuit Judge in Michigan since 2003)
Dick Swett (Congressman from New Hampshire 1991-95, US Ambassador to Denmark 1998-2001)
Ben Bushyhead (Swain County, North Carolina, Commissioner)
Young Boozer (Alabama State Treasurer since 2010)
From abroad: Mark Reckless (UK Independence Party Member of the National Assembly for Wales and former Member of Parliament)

Last time, we observed that multi-syllabic names appear to have an advantage in presidential races. So, overall it appears that a presidential candidate with a two-syllable, Northern European name that is easy to pronounce and has no negative associations may have an advantage.

For local and state offices, however, a candidate’s name, whether unusual, non-Northern European, long, or wildly vulnerable to puns, seems to have less impact on success.

How might candidate names play out this time?
NYU psychologist Alter noted in the Boston Globe that the Trump name carries strong associations that are mostly positive: trump card, triumph – implied victory and dominance. But trump once meant to deceive and we still say “trumped up” for forged or invented, so the name’s connotations are not all favorable.

Catchword’s own linguistics expert Laurel Sutton has noted that Trump is an “unusual name, a single-word name, which sounds very grounded, very firm.” It’s brevity and consonant punch make it more masculine and forceful sounding.

Linguist George Lakoff concurs. He published a lengthy analysis of the Trump name and concluded that it “is a perfect last name for a presidential candidate who offers himself as the ultimate authority.” Sounds like a great fit for voters who wish to be ruled.

On the blue side, The Clinton name certainly did well for Bill. (Less well for 1792 candidate George Clinton, but when you’re facing off against George Washington, John Adams, and James Madison, you deserve a pass.)

Professor Grant Smith, an expert in onomastics, has asserted that Clinton is more predictable and therefore comforting based on the name’s rhythm, basic poetic appeal, and predictability of sounds.

Both candidates’ names are easy to pronounce and spell, and both names are English, so no advantage or disadvantage there. The main differences between the names are length and association/connotation.

So, will the multi-syllabic success correlation continue with a Clinton triumph tonight? (Will we even find out tonight who won?) Will Commissioner Bushyhead continue to serve his county? Will Arizona welcome a Schmuck to its state senate? Stay tuned… and don’t forget to vote!!!




There’s actually lots more cool name stuff to talk about with this election. Candidates’ use of first names rather than surnames for campaign materials was a notable departure from centuries of tradition. This practice emphasizes candidate approachability and humanity and distinguished Hillary, Jeb, Rand, and others from family members who have held office. However, referring to candidates by first name only can result in diminished respect and gravitas, which can be politically damaging, particularly for women candidates, who are too often taken less seriously than men to start with.

The appearance and disappearance of Rodham during Hillary’s career is a revealing lens through which to view US attitudes toward women, and their view of themselves. No doubt, Clinton’s presidential candidate moniker, sans maiden name, was informed by polls that showed voters still prefer the traditional husband-surname formula. Retaining one’s surname after marriage is reportedly on the rise but still not a majority.

Fascinating stuff, but we’ll have to save these conversations for another time.

The impact of names in the political realm is a topic of recent studies and is right up our alley at Catchword. According to several studies, having an easily pronounced name offers a definite advantage. …


trump__clintonOnomastics is the branch of linguistics that deals with names. (Yes, “onomastics” — slip that one into your next cocktail party conversation!) But the influence of names in the political arena has an effect far beyond that of linguistic observation.

Studies of elections in California, North Dakota, Ohio, and other states have shown definitively that the order of candidate names on the ballot has an impact on election results – a small effect but one potentially greater than the margin of victory in some tight races. As a result, some states have developed methods to select candidate order fairly. California, for example, randomizes order by district.

But what about the candidate’s name itself? Its sound, ethnicity, length, associations in the minds of voters? I was unable to find research to show unequivocal causation between name and outcome, but I did find some interesting correlations.

Candidate name length (in syllables)
If we take a look at presidential election results since the country was founded, we find a striking preference for longer names. Of all the presidential elections in which the candidates’ names differed in number of syllables (42 of them), the candidate with more syllables in his name won 29 times — 69% of the time. That number is striking but could be coincidence. (I discovered this correlation on, a site I know nothing about other than Mr. Anesi finds some interesting trends. His data was a little off, so I confirmed the numbers above via Wikipedia’s election results.) Why might longer names appeal?

Candidate name connotations
Anesi argues that one-syllable names are more likely to carry existing associations (good or bad) because they are often real words: Dole, Gore, Cox, Clay, Trump. Multi-syllabic names leave the voter (and the candidate’s campaign team) free to create associations. These names are empty vessels, ready to be filled. Sounds like a good theory.

Somewhat less convincing is Anesi’s theory that multi-syllabic names get a bump because they are generally considered more aristocratic in sound – Clinton, Roosevelt, Wilson. (However, this difference would not come into play in the races where a three-syllable name defeated a two-syllable name.)

Note that Dukakis is a glaring exception to the multi-syllabic bump (1988 defeat to George H. W. Bush). One might argue that the aristocratic association of his longer name is lost because of its Greekness. Before Barack Obama, no other presidential candidate had carried a non-British Isles, German, or Dutch name.

In fact, Obama and Dukakis are the only candidates with ‘ethnic’-sounding names to make it past the primary, which certainly suggests that such names are a disadvantage for presidential candidates. (But we probably didn’t need a linguist to figure that out.)

How about inventing a name for the ballot?
In San Francisco, Los Angeles, and some other municipalities with a large Chinese-speaking electorate, candidates must provide Chinese versions of their name for the ballot or the Department of Elections will provide a straightforward transliteration. Candidates for Board of Supervisors use this to their advantage by choosing names that translate to “honesty and refined,” for example, or “correct and fair.”

Perhaps a candidate’s positioning begins not with a platform but with their own name. So far we at Catchword have not been asked to consult on any political campaigns, but we are intrigued. The next presidential election is only four years away…

Next time, we’ll look at name pronounceability and the possible impact of candidate names on this year’s contentious election!

Onomastics is the branch of linguistics that deals with names. (“Onomastics” — dazzle your friends at cocktail parties!) But the influence of names in the political arena has an effect far beyond that of linguistic observation.