Looking For Names in All the “Wrong” Places: The Power of “Borrowing” Names

By Mark Skoultchi

October 27, 2008

BlackBerry, Apple, Macintosh – Some of the most successful product names and company names have unexpected roots.

How do you reconcile the tart sweetness of blackberries picked on a lazy summer afternoon with a multitasking cell phone? At first glance, product names and company names like BlackBerry and Apple have nothing to do with the companies or products they brand. So why do they work? Because strategic naming rarely requires a literal descriptive name. In fact, if you want to set a brand apart and make it fresh and memorable, an evocative name borrowed from another field is often far more powerful. Especially if you dig deep to create a name that’s rooted in the brand’s essence. Here are some rules for successfully “borrowing” a name from an unexpected source-in this case, the garden.

1. Make it relevant.

BlackBerry – At first blush, BlackBerry is just plain fun. Yet look closer, and the connection between RIM’s BlackBerry smartphone and its natural inspiration becomes clear…. The cluster of black keys on the phone is reminiscent of the blackberry fruit itself. On a subtler level, the name also suggests wholeness and life: a nice touch for a device designed to bring all of life’s activities together in one small device. And the moniker stands out amidst more formally named smartphones and similar devices because it’s so friendly sounding and emotionally engaging. Sweet.

2. Make it work for you on more than one level.

Apple – Apple’s unique company name – adopted in 1977, when food names for tech brands were virtually unheard of – shows how willing Apple has always been to “think different.” With five letters, this simple company name humanized a technology that was a scary black box to most people back then, and made it sound accessible and fun. It also went a long way towards establishing the brand as engaging, innovative and refreshingly user-friendly. (Just imagine if Apple had called itself Accessilon, for instance. One shudders to think.) And its allusion to the famous fruit of the tree of knowledge makes this company name a powerful metaphor for a brand that continues to open up a world of knowledge to ordinary mortals. The product name “Macintosh” (a type of apple) was a natural extension, pairing seamlessly with the mother brand.

3. Make it speak to what’s unique about your product or company.

Tealeaf Technology For a software technology that’s all about gaining insight into customers’ online experience – and foreseeing and managing future experiences – Tealeaf Technology is a disarmingly intuitive name. Here, digitally-enabled prescience is linked to a much older practice of gaining foresight and wisdom: reading the pattern of leaves in the bottom of a teacup. And the fact that the name evokes the tranquility of settling down with a hot cup of tea doesn’t hurt either. Small wonder the company has become the leader in online customer-experience management.

Bottom line? Don’t underestimate the power of the unexpected. As long as it helps tell your story, there’s no reason why a juicy fruit can’t be a cool cellphone, or a tea leaf an oracular website solution. In a desert of dry and abstract tech product names, it’s hard to resist the appeal of something truly tangible and alive.

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