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In honor of World Nursery Rhyme Week (a UK event celebrating the importance of nursery rhymes for early learning), we spotlight these company and product names that were inspired by our favorite characters from childhood.

Simple Simon’s Pizza, an Oklahoma franchiseSimple Simon's Pizza

 

 

Humpty Dumpty Snack Foods, chips and more from Maine since 1947Humpty Dumpty snack foods

 

Old Mother Hubbard Baking Company, out of Gloucester, Mass, purveyor of fine pet treats for 80 years

 

 

 

 

And our favorite, because who doesn’t like a little payback?

Miss Muffet’s Revenge, spider killer

In honor of World Nursery Rhyme Week (a UK event celebrating the importance of nursery rhymes for early learning), we spotlight these company and product names that were inspired by our favorite characters from childhood.

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Rabobank sign

Great names can themselves inspire action. “Nest” makes you want to get cozy at home. “The North Face” makes you want to climb something. So where does that leave “Rabobank”?

Financial company Rabobank is a big deal in the Netherlands, where there’s no implied crime in combining Raiffeisen-Boerenleenbank. It has since expanded to the U.S. and grown in California, even purchasing the naming rights to Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield.
So is the name “Rabobank” a naming felony? Or is it just fun to say?

Great names can themselves inspire action. “Nest” makes you want to get cozy at home. “The North Face” makes you want to climb something. So where does that leave “Rabobank”?

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Tapestry logo

Tapestry logo

Fashion powerhouse Coach surprised the world by announcing that its parent company — which recently acquired Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman — will be changing its name to Tapestry.

Nary a name change escapes lampooning on Twitter, and after the requisite ridicule, Chief Executive Victor Luis quickly clarified that the Coach brand will not be changing; the company is merely creating a new corporate identity for its collection of brands.

In this case, I think Coach made absolutely the right decision.

from www.coach.com

Tapestry has a spot-on message — bringing us to fabric, fashion, and a kind of a collection or assortment, which speaks directly to its nature as a parent company of many brands (much like Google’s parent, Alphabet). Tapestry is soft and supple, yet balanced by the weight it carries from the T in Tap and the fact that it is three syllables long.

And perhaps thanks to Carole King and a healthy metaphorical use of the word in our lexicon, Tapestry feels classical, not outdated — it evokes a historical authenticity, like the Coach brand itself.

The company expresses its rationale for the change this way: “The name Tapestry reflects our core values of optimism, inclusivity, and innovation and speaks to creativity, craftsmanship, and authenticity on a shared platform” (from its FAQ for investors). I don’t particularly get optimism, or innovation (weaving is an ancient art form), but the other traits come across well.

The name and choice to create it also succeed from a naming architecture standpoint. Firstly, I think there is great value in keeping the Coach product brand on the same plane as the new acquisitions. Coach is known for bags. The creation of a separate parent entity allows the Coach brand to remain clearly associated with what it does best. Equally so, it allows the other brands to better keep their autonomy — which is important when your magic derives from what is portrayed as a single entity or even single designer’s vision. (Just ask fans of Pixar after Disney bought it.)

Secondly, when acquiring brands or spinning out many complementary products — as Tapestry’s strategy seems to be — it can get confusing if you don’t establish a clear system. The name Tapestry allows them to move forward with a, well, tapestry of acquisitions and new brands without confusion or conflict. Heck, they can now even acquire other brands that primarily do bags, which would have been weird had the umbrella company remained Coach.

Fashion powerhouse Coach surprised the world by announcing that its parent company — which recently acquired Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman — will be changing its name to Tapestry. … In this case, I think Coach made absolutely the right decision.

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Jet, the aspiring giant online retailer trying to swipe a slice of Amazon’s (organic) Whole Foods pie has just launched a slightly upscale house brand for food and other household essentials. They’re calling it Uniquely J.

Jet.com spokeswoman Meredith Klein told the New York Post, “Uniquely J is yet another way Jet.com is innovating for the metro millennial. From the boldly designed packaging, to the fun, witty label copy and quality ingredients – everything was designed with this metro consumer in mind.”

Color me unimpressed.

From TechCrunch.com

If you can ignore the (perky smiley incongruous) Jet sticker, the packaging for many of the products is edgy and arresting. It’s not your average snacks and sundries packaging, and situates them squarely in the Trader Joe’s arena in terms of branding.

But the name? When I first read Uniquely J, I assumed it was a house-brand clothing line. Or a Uniqlo and J.Crew merger. I went to clothing because to me, foodstuffs isn’t an area where overt “uniqueness” makes sense. I’m into clothes that make me feel special. Not as true for tissues and corn flakes.

Do I think that a brand that evokes uniqueness is right for the audience? Sure. But telegraphing its uniqueness is not the right move and undermines the mission. Why? Their target audience cares deeply, deeply about discovering their passions rather than being told. All advice about marketing to millennials deals with this (Want a good intro to how to gently help millennials discover a brand? Read the story behind PBR’s massive resurgence.) It is impossible to discover how cool and unique a brand is if they are calling themselves just that. In fact it feels like pandering.

That’s not to mention the Naming 101 reasons Uniquely J doesn’t shine.

For one, it’s unwieldy — a borderline tongue twister (Uniquely J Uniquely J Uniquely J). And for two, it harkens to the stock –ly names of the past, the mere allusion to which should be avoided at all cost.

And I will end with this: though the adverb + noun construction was perhaps once raffish and fun, now it feels really 90s, a la “Suddenly Susan.” (I thought that trend ended with “That’s So Raven.”) The fact is, branding strategies are different now than they were even 20 years ago, driven by changing tastes, increased marketing saturation, and a search for domain names, among other things. This name doesn’t feel quite with the times.

A tourist town boutique could easily get away with a name that felt a few decades late. I could see Uniquely J as Jay-Z’s (ironic) response to Snoop Dog and Martha Stewart’s cooking collaboration. But it doesn’t work well for chasing the elusive metro millennial.

When I first read Uniquely J, I assumed it was a house-brand clothing line. Or a Uniqlo and J.Crew merger. I went to clothing because to me, foodstuffs isn’t an area where overt “uniqueness” makes sense.

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Bodega cabinet stocked with snacks

Bodega cabinet stocked with snacksAs you’ve no doubt heard, Bodega is a new company with plans to install internet-connected pantry units, stocked with non-perishable convenience store items, in apartments, gyms, and workplaces across the country.

For those not familiar, a bodega is a corner store often found in urban neighborhoods. The word is Spanish (with multiple meanings: cellar, warehouse, pantry), and many are owned and operated by immigrants. Often these stores, which offer a variety of items from food-to-go to toilet paper, are considered neighborhood institutions and social hubs.

New York bodega

When we write name reviews, we like to talk about how the name differentiates the product, fits with or bucks naming conventions, or captures the imagination. But in the case of Bodega, any name evaluation cannot be separated from a discussion of the company — and company name — roll-out. As Elizabeth Segran of Fast Company stated in her piece bluntly titled “Two ex-Googlers want to make bodegas and mom and pop corner stores obsolete,”

Some might bristle at the idea of a Silicon Valley executive appropriating the term ‘bodega’ for a project that could well put lots of immigrants out of work.

You don’t need to be a newshound to know that race and ethnic relations in the U.S. are tense these days. The DACA phaseout, white supremacist violence, and the oft-discussed border wall should give anyone pause about using the name of a beloved Latino institution for their company, especially if it could possibly be asserted that putting said institution out of business was part of the game plan. In the words of Bodega founder Paul McDonald, “Eventually, centralized shopping locations won’t be necessary, because there will be 100,000 Bodegas spread out, with one always 100 feet away from you.”

McDonald penned an apology after the criticism hit, stating that the company did “some homework” about the name, “speaking to New Yorkers, branding people, and even running some survey work asking about the name and any potential offense it might cause.” But it’s clear that, even after the online firestorm, the company remains tone-deaf to cultural carpetbagging.

But all of this raises the question: Could the name Bodega be used under any circumstances without being deemed an offensive appropriation? Sure. At Catchword, we have even discussed it a few times. It’s all about context. And culture and current events are critical contexts to consider when naming.

Trader Jose beer

Take Trader Joe’s, whose store brand names include Trader Giotto for pasta, Trader José for Mexican-style beer, Trader Ming for pad thai, and Trader Joe San for soba noodles. Is this tribute or appropriation?

TJ’s uses words playfully in many of its product names and advertising. The Trader “X” line includes products from a variety of cultures—developed and developing countries, East and West, white/European and people of color. The labels do not include cartoonish images or other stereotyped cues. Given this context, people see the naming practice as playful and fun, not disrespectful or cooptive.

English-speaking professional namers must be especially careful when looking to other languages. Names derived from Latin or Ancient Greek are generally safe. With living languages, the namer must evaluate the meaning of the word in question and how it is used contextually, alongside whether there is socio-economic disparity between the culture of the source language and that of the client/consumer. And names touching on religious or cultural institutions must be evaluated especially thoughtfully and handled with great respect.

In sum: Always consider whether a name could be seen as appropriating, trivializing, or attempting to profit off another culture.

Let’s be honest. This is tough stuff, even for language and branding experts — and ever-evolving. Not every customer will interpret a brand the way you expect no matter how carefully you have vetted it.

For the folks at Bodega, it’s unclear whether they’ll be able to ride out the storm. And the name may be beyond rehabilitation.

Tribute or appropriation? For startup Bodega, the name evaluation can’t be separated from a discussion of the company — and name — roll-out.

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