Wordcraft: The Art of Turning Little Words Into Big Business
By Alex Frankel
Published by Crown Publishing Group
241 pages, $24.00
Reviewed by Laurel Sutton
Very few books have been written exclusively about naming, so it’s a pleasure to read a book so concerned with our little corner of the branding industry. Wordcraft is not a how-to guide, but rather an insider’s look at how naming gets done by the pros. Author Alex Frankel was a freelance namer for a while and helmed the short-lived naming firm Quiddity at the height of the Internet boom. For the most part, Frankel knows his stuff, and in the course of his research, he was granted unprecedented access to the innermost workings of naming firms like Lexicon and Wood Worldwide. These chapters are the best thing about Wordcraft, as we get to see firsthand the methodology involved in creating the names BlackBerry and Viagra. The quantity of work that went into creating, refining, and researching these names is a testament to the difficulty of creating new names that are appropriate and available; it may therefore be something of a surprise to the layman (but not to me) that both names were originally created for different products. But that’s the way it is in the naming biz – you never know where the right name will come from.
Frankel also investigates the stories behind Porsche’s Cayenne SUV (there was no story), Landor’s involvement with the creation of Accenture (submitted by an Andersen Consulting employee), and the promotion of IBM’s e-business concept (five billion dollars later, it’s their brand). The book suffers from Frankel’s infatuation with Lexicon, his shallow discussion of linguistics, and his tendency to wander away from naming into elliptical branding discussions. It’s also clear that Frankel included a lot of padding to make this book 241 pages. And don’t books include separate bibliographies anymore?
Wordcraft is an excellent introduction to naming, despite its flaws, and seems to be generating a lot of interest in the media. Perhaps one day people won’t look at me so quizzically when I tell them what I do for a living.