Every January, we can count on good branding gossip from CES—formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show. At the annual confab, tech players large and small unveil a slew of new products and, along with them, a slew of new names.
At CES 2023 perhaps no name got more buzz than AFEELA (yes, all caps), the new electric vehicle brand jointly launched by Sony and Honda.
There are fine associations the name might conjure, from FILA (athletic wear) to Alfa Romeo (Italian cars) to Ophelia (The Bard). Yet those are subplots, likely to fall by the wayside as the name enters the popular consciousness. And in any case, they’re not what the electronics and automotive giants were going for. As the team explained, the name is a coinage built around the word feel—a contrivance that, unfortunately, isn’t nearly as compelling as the car itself.
Here’s the reasoning straight from the release: “AFEELA expresses an interactive relationship where people ‘FEEL’ mobility as an intelligent entity, and mobility ‘FEELs’ people and society using sensing and network IT technologies.”
Okay, so we get it, mostly. Sony and Honda want consumers to get all the feels about a car that feels through an impressive array of 45 sensors and cameras. But this is a convoluted story to tell—mobility does what exactly to society?—and the name recalls English phrases “I feel ya!” and “I feel a … coming on,” which makes the name just too easy a target for punsters.
Even if consumers process the name as Sony and Honda intend, a central question remains: is “feel” what we want from our car? Would we rather have something like luxury (Lexus) or accuracy (Acura) or capability (Land Rover)? Some existing car model names, like Challenger or Discovery, do hint at emotional experiences, but nothing in the marketplace puts the chips on sensation like Sony and Honda just did.
In that sense, the name is distinctive. And providing an effective and emotional sensory experience is a good engineering goal. Yet there are a lot of related messages—connection to one’s surroundings, intelligence, empathy—that the brand could have played on in ways that didn’t feel so awkwardly on the nose.
But it’s easy to throw stones at a parked concept car. What are some names we liked that came out of this year’s CES? Here are five.
AFEELA wasn’t the only electric vehicle unveiled at the 2023 show, which wrapped up on Sunday. Also taking the stage was the Ram Revolution, an EV concept truck whose name does its storytelling in a more subtly effective way. Revolution speaks to pushing the boundaries of what is possible in an industry experiencing upheaval. The word is easy and instant to process while channeling the fierce/slick/heroic/profound vibe the company is going for. It even as EV built right into it. Plus, the word revolution is associated with engine speed. So it feels (ahem) like a natural fit for the industry.
Sometimes literal names do the trick. Take Zero Connect. LG unveiled technology, in the form of a box, that enables people to wirelessly connect all the things that have historically required a cord running between them and the TV. The name clearly highlights the value of the product—getting rid of all those cords—while drafting off a word that is speeding through the culture. Far from the days when Billy Corgan reclaimed the word, zero is now an ultimate aim across industries (zero emissions, inbox zero, even zero heart attacks).
Withings, a company known for smart scales, also deserves a nod for U-Scan. At first glance, the name may seem like a generic, low-lift techie moniker that could apply to almost anything, until you realize it’s an artful appellation for a new gadget that goes in your toilet and scans your urine for health markers.
Withings wisely avoids using the actual (and pretty yucky) word urine but suggests it with the U while emphasizing that you are taking oversight of your health into your own hands.
A more evocative healthcare name that worked is the Movano Evie. The smart ring, which can measure things like heart rate and temperature, is being touted by the company as the first designed “uniquely for women”—a wearable that can help us better understand understudied-yet-widespread conditions like menopause. It smartly evokes the name Eve, the ultimate woman archetype, but in an intimate and friendly diminutive. The spelling subtly includes vie, which means “life” in French. As a whole the name can suggest an electronic account of your vital statistics or a pet name for Eden’s first lady.
A final name we liked came from another reveal Sony made at CES in 2023: the company’s first accessible hardware, a highly customizable controller for the PlayStation 5 that is meant to make it easier for people with disabilities to play video games. At least for now, the company is referring to this work and product as Project Leonardo. Sony hasn’t responded to a request from Catchword to explain where the name comes from, but one can imagine it’s conjuring an image of Leonardo’s Vitruvian man and his full range of motion. If so, it’s an apt allusion for an important product.