The shortened form of a written word or phrase (compare Acronym, Initialism, and Nickname). Inc. magazine is an excellent example of an abbreviation that outdoes its full form by conveying an insider image.
A word formed from the initial letter or letters of a series of words in a phrase, as in GEICO and IKEA (compare Abbreviation and Initialism). The acronym form of a long name often falls into common use unintentionally. For example, most people don’t recall that scuba was once an acronym (“self-contained underwater breathing apparatus”), and Beverages and More! didn’t start out as BevMo!.
[noun] In English, a noun denoting the agent or doer of an action, typically formed by adding the suffix -er to the verb in question. The advantages of a name of this sort are clarity and energy. Ford Explorer, for example, makes a clear statement about the aspirations of its driver.
The repetition of the same consonant sounds or of different vowel sounds at the beginning of words or in stressed syllables. Examples are Dreyer’s Dreamery or MCI’s Friends and Family.
An implicit reference to a culture’s classical literature. Honda Odyssey references Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey.
A name consisting of some combination of letters and numbers. There have been a plethora of alphanumeric names, particularly in the transportation and tech spaces—Boeing 747, Lexus ES 300, iPhone 6s.
The blending of two or more meanings into one name. Dodge Caravan is a serendipitous amalgam of car and van, in addition to being a fitting name in its own right (see also Blend and Portmanteau).
A name whose use is chronologically incongruous. The appeal of Orville Redenbacher’s gourmet popping corn, for example, is inextricably tied to its 19th-century name even though the brand debuted in 1970. Roman Meal (bread) is another case of this technique.
The process of creating or modifying a particular name on the basis of an existing name or pattern in the language. For example, the Mrs. Tea teamaker is analogous to the Mr. Coffee coffeemaker.
A name derived from a word written backward. Oprah Winfrey’s production company Harpo isn’t related to the famous Marx brother.
The insertion of a vowel or vowels to break up a troublesome consonant cluster. This happens frequently when English words are borrowed for use in foreign languages with specific consonant-vowel rules of pronunciation. An example is the candy name M&Ms, which exists in Japanese as emuandoemu.
A trademarked brand name that is now used generically (e.g., kleenex, aspirin). (See also Genericide and Verbify.)
A name meaning the opposite of another. For instance, the nickname of 7-Up—The Uncola—depends upon its antonym; the product is defined in terms of what it is not.
The omission of the initial part of a common phrase, as in “Morning” instead of “Good morning.”
A name or descriptive epithet or nickname. The Uncola is an appellation of 7-Up.
An apt name: a name that fits a person’s nature or occupation. The names of poet William Wordsworth, tennis champ Margaret Court, and White House spokesperson Larry Speakes are all examples.
A name that bears no logical relationship to the company, product, service, or attribute it describes. For example, the Native American chief Cadillac had no reason to believe he would live on in the form of an automobile. Arbitrary names can also be made-up words having no intrinsic meaning like Exxon, Kodak, and Avaya.
A name that is antiquated in style or meaning (compare Anachronism). For example, Clabber Girl recalls the earlier time in which the baking powder brand was born.
A set of names connected in form, meaning, or both (compare Semantic Field). The commercialization of the Internet, for example, has given rise to a host of names that contain the components net or cyber (compare Clutter).
A noun that directly precedes the noun it modifies, without the necessity of a linking verb. For example, the word London in the name London Fog is an attributive noun.
The creation of a new word from an existing form assumed, incorrectly, to be its derivative. For example, the word edit was actually formed by dropping the suffix -or from editor, not the other way around.
[back + acronym] A word reinterpreted as an acronym by inventing an expansion of the letters. For example, Yahoo! is now said to stand for “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle,” although the founders claim they just liked the word. Often, backronyms are useful as mnemonics.
In commercial terms, the ceremony in which a name is bestowed upon a new company or product, generally in the form of an advertisement.
A new word created by combining parts from different words (see also Amalgam and Portmanteau). For example, the word smog is made up of the words smoke and fog, and the name Petopia is made up of the words pet and utopia. Although comparatively rare in English, this process is a common means of word formation in several language families.
The adoption of a word from one language into the lexicon of another (compare Calque). An example of borrowing in English is the Japanese word tsunami, the massive tidal wave that frequently follows an earthquake.
The name of a product or company. More broadly, the collection of attributes, usually of a product or company—from name and logo to personality, advertising, messaging, reputation, and other consumer perceptions—that constitute its public persona.
The structure of a company’s brands, that is, the way the brands in the company’s portfolio relate to each other (compare Naming Architecture).
The prestigious associations one culture has with another culture. Häagen-Daz, for example, plays on associations of quality, taste, fine chocolate, and luxury ascribed to Scandinavian countries.
The literal translation of a word from one language into the lexicon of another (compare Borrowing). One example is the Mandarin Chinese term nan pengyou (literally, “male friend”), a direct translation of the English word boyfriend.
The natural tendency of a language to branch into a set of regional dialects (compare Centripetal Force). The development of distinctive dialects of American English (Southern, Northern, Northeastern) is an example of centrifugal force.
The cultural tendency of a set of regional dialects to coalesce into a standard language in response to a center of gravity (compare Centrifugal Force). The standardization of the Mandarin dialect of Chinese, particularly after the influence of mass media, is an example of centripetal force.
The proliferation of indistinguishable names within a particular product category. The high-tech industry is considered cluttered with net and tech names.
The deliberate or accidental creation of a new, artificial name. Exxon, Cysive, Cambira, and Attenza are examples of coinage.
The likelihood that a particular word will occur in the neighborhood of another word. This tendency can be exploited by commercial names. The words spick and span are an example of collocation. We also associate baa with sheep and moo with cow.
An informal word that is frowned upon in formal speech or writing. The word ain’t is a colloquialism.
A word’s extrinsic, figurative sense, including its overtones and shades of meaning (compare Denotation). For example, the word travel can connote different things to various people—some may think of driving in a car, while others think of journeying to exotic locations, while still others think of the hassle involved with getting from airport to airport.
The repetition of a consonant sound. Cracker Jack is the exemplar of consonance among brand names.
A word’s intrinsic, literal sense, excluding its overtones and shades of meaning (compare Connotation). For example, various connotations of travel are possible, but the denotation is “to go on a trip or journey” (from Merriam-Webster).
A word or phrase that describes literally the product or service being identified, generally employed in conjunction with a fanciful, arbitrary, or suggestive name (compare Slogan and Tagline). Kleenex
Any suffix that denotes smallness, youth, familiarity, or affection. Huggies diapers and Wheaties breakfast cereal come to mind.
The likelihood that a given name will stand out in the course of normal speech (see also Textual Visibility). The discourse audibility of the name Yahoo! is high.
A harsh or disagreeable combination of sounds. Some native English speakers consider various Southeast Asian languages to be dissonant, based on the unfamiliar tones and consonant combinations.
The practice of using nonstandard spelling to achieve a desired effect or to otherwise distinguish a name (also called invented spelling or sensational spelling). KrispyKreme is an invented spelling of CrispyCream.
A pair of words that share a common origin, but that have distinct shades of meaning. The words vibrate and vibrant are both derived from the Latin word vibrare, “to vibrate, shake,” but whereas vibrate means “to shake, quiver,” vibrant means “vigorous, energetic, radiant.”
The neural change hypothesized to account for the memorability of a name in the mind of a hearer (compare Psycholinguistics). Particularly memorable names such as Monster.com trigger specific engrams.
A noun whose single form can designate either a male or a female. The words author and poet are both examples. (Note that gender-specific words such as authoress and poetess are seen as sexist in contemporary American English, though actress and waitress are still commonly used. See Gender-Neutral Language.)
A name derived from a person, without regard to whether he or she is fictitious, mysterious, or legendary. Aunt Jemima, Betty Crocker, Michael Jordan, and Barbie are eponymous trade names.
An inoffensive substitute for a term considered offensive or inappropriate. For example, bathroom tissue for toilet paper or previously owned for used.
A smooth, mellifluous sound effect, irrespective of meaning (compare Dissonance). For example, to most English speakers, the name Charmin is pleasant to the ear, regardless of its meaning.
A phrase designed to express an emotional reaction to the product or company, as in Yahoo! and BevMo!.
A complete exclamation designed to express an emotional reaction to the product. The advantage, and disadvantage, of this approach is that it fully states its message, leaving nothing to the imagination of the consumer. Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific! and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! are exclamatory sentences.
A name invented without apparent reference to any other word in the lexicon, as in Kodak and Exxon.
A popular but false notion of a word’s origins, such as linking asparagus with sparrow grass.
An affix that unites a set of otherwise unrelated names, as in McDonald’s McChicken and McNuggets.
A traditional turn of phrase, often dismissed as a cliché, but in origin a mnemonic device. The singsong children’s alphabet chant is an example.
A compound whose meaning in toto is not predictable from the meanings of its individual components. The English word pumpkin does not mean “pump” and “family.”
Language that avoids bias toward a sex or gender. (Compare Epicene.) in contemporary American English, gender-specific words such as authoress and poetess are seen as sexist (though actress and waitress are still commonly used).
The process by which a trademark becomes synonymous with its associated product, to the point it may cease to be protectable. Although Xerox was once exclusively a brand of copy machines, it is now used to refer to any copied document, and the word’s usage has extended to a verb form: "to xerox something" means “to photocopy it.” (See also Anepronym, Verbify, Xerox.)
A word that is derived from a verb but functions as a noun (compare Verbal Noun). In English, gerunds are formed by adding –ing to the stem, as in branding. The advantage of this form is its immediacy. Martha Stewart Living magazine is a case in point.
A sporadic sound change characterized by the omission in speech of one of consecutive identical sounds or syllables. For example, instead of pronouncing three individual Ws to describe the “www” of a URL address, people may only pronounce one or two Ws.
A word identical to another in its written form, but different in sound and meaning. The present tense verb read (as in, “Let’s read this story together”) and the past participle of the same verb, read (as in, “He read me a lovely poem”) are heteronyms.
A name derived from myth or religion, as in Saint Brendan’s Irish Cream Liqueur, and Zeus salad dressing.
The likelihood a name will be readily visualized by its intended audience. Apple lends itself easily to iconicity.
A complete command that exhorts the consumer to action. For example, the thinkThin brand of snacks for foodies on the go.
A group of initial letters used as an abbreviation but that do not form a word (compare Acronym), as in CVS, BMW, and HSBC. The advantages are that it may challenge the consumer to “solve the puzzle” (e.g., TCBY, The Country’s Best Yogurt) or present the consumer with a prefabricated bit of slang (e.g., MGD, Miller Genuine Draft). The chief disadvantage is that it may be unintelligible and forgettable without a significant investment in marketing. (It took James Earl Jones to make “This is CNN” a meaningful phrase.)
A complete question designed to involve the consumer with the product. Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? educational TV program and software is an example of this approach.
The practice of using nonstandard spelling to achieve a desired effect or to otherwise distinguish a name (also called divergent spelling or sensational spelling). Froot Loops is an invented spelling of Fruit Loops.
The specialized vocabulary or set of idioms shared by a particular profession. The various acronyms and idioms used by the U.S. military forces would be considered jargon.
The use of literal expressions as opposed to figurative ones.
The inventory of words in a given language. The English lexicon can be found in a comprehensive unabridged dictionary.
Any language used as a medium of communication between peoples of diverse speech. Somewhat incongruously, English has become the lingua franca of Asia, although many Americans might not recognize some of the words or expressions used.
The science of language, especially the nature and structure of human speech.
The consumer’s interpretation or analysis of an unfamiliar name, the process of which may include folk etymology, analogy, etc. For example, many people associate the term java with coffee, instead of the Indonesian island from which the coffee comes, and after which it is named.
A figure of speech in which one object or concept is likened to another. For example, Fruit of the Loom is a metaphor for underwear.
The literal translation of a phrase from one language into another. Translating Spanish “mi casa su casa” into English “my house, your house” would be a metaphrase.
The substitution of one word for another of similar meaning (compare Synecdoche). Using the term Washington to refer to the U.S. government is an example of metonymy.
Word A word formed in imitation of another word: e.g., litterbug, on the analogy of jitterbug.
A meaningful linguistic unit that cannot be further subdivided into smaller meaningful parts. In English, the letter s in final position (at the end of a word) is a morpheme indicating plurality.
The affectation of the distinctive linguistic habits of the lower social classes in order to curry favor with those classes (e.g., the adoption of a Southern accent by a native New Yorker country singer).
The value a company or product name has in the minds of its customers. Name equity is a critical consideration when deciding whether to rename.
The ability of a commercial name to trigger a response in the mind of the consumer (compare Engram). Microsoft has considerable name recognition.
The organization of a company’s existing names, and provision of rules by which future products are named and how they are named (compare Nomenclature). For example, should a new product employ a proprietary name or a descriptor? Should the name relate to other company/product names? Rapid7, a cyber security company, uses an architecture that neatly segments its various products into two suggestive buckets: Threat Exposure Management and Incident Detection & Response.
The strategic thinking behind naming a company, its products, and any other components of the organization.
A newly and deliberately coined word, as in Cysive and Dreamery.
The connection between the members of a semantic field, as in the meaningful connection between the words kitten, cat, and feline.
The familiar form of a proper name. The wise company considers its products’ likely nicknames (e.g., Bud for Budweiser, T-bird for Thunderbird, and Sunny D for Sunny Delight).
A word free of any taboo in the languages under consideration, meaning that it may be employed without reservation in the creation of a commercial name (compare Taboo Word).
A naming specialist (compare Nomenclature). A number of firms, including Catchword, specialize in the creation of commercial names.
A system of names, used in business or otherwise, serving to identify the individual elements within a family (of products, services, etc.), and how they relate to each other. General Mills, for example, has a line of cereals based on the names of monsters: Count Chocula, Frankenberry, Boo Berry, and the sadly departed Fruit Brute and Yummy Mummy.
A word that denotes a person or thing, an action, an idea, or a quality, in contrast to a relational word, which expresses a grammatical relationship between notional words. In the sentence “She has a book,” the word has is notional (it expresses the idea of possession). In the sentence, “She has gone away,” has is relational (it’s part of the construction to express the present perfect tense; it doesn’t have any independent meaning). In brand names, words are used notionally.
The study of names and naming practices.
The creation of a name that sounds like what it refers to. The Rice Krispies’ cartoon characters Snap, Crackle, and Pop are famous examples.
The art of spelling.
A figure of speech containing an apparent contradiction. Jumbo shrimp is an often-cited example.
A word formed from another word in a foreign language. Many fragrances take advantage of both the cachet of French and the fact that English and French share a considerable vocabulary. Trésor perfume, where trésor is the French source of the English word treasure, is a clear example of this strategy.
The attribution of human emotions to an inanimate object such as a product, as in Cheerios.
A regional dialect, such as the distinctive New Orleans dialect of American English.
A named derived from a paternal ancestor. Leif Ericson’s surname, literally “Eric’s son,” is a patronym.
A semantic shift that results in a less favorable connotation. For example, the word villain originally meant “farm laborer,” but now refers to an evil person or hardened criminal.
A figure of speech in which a product is given human form (compare Eponym), as in Mr. Clean and Nintendo Game Boy.
A meaningful sound, the smallest unit of speech that distinguishes one word from another in a given language. In the pair of words bat and mat, the distinguishing sounds b and m are both phonemes.
A consonant cluster apparently associated with a particular semantic field, but with no distinguishable independent meaning. Some English examples are gl- (as in the words glitter, glisten, gleam, and glow, which all relate to light or vision) and -ash (as in the words smash, bash, mash, and crash, which all relate to destructive contact).
A character or symbol used in lieu of a word. The famous @ sign is a phonogram.
A synonym. (Yes, this is a synonym for synonym!)
The use of multiple names for the same person or thing (e.g., the many names for the Hindu god Vishnu, also called "Narayana" and "Hari" and many other names).
The proliferation of words sharing a single, ancestral root. Examples include English variations of the Latin root procedere, “proceed,” such as process, processional, proceeding, etc.
(from a type of suitcase that opens in two sections) A
A name capable of being owned and trademarked, as opposed to a descriptive name. Cysive is a strong example of a proprietary name.
The study of the psychological factors involved in the perception of, and response to, language (e.g., studying language acquisition in children).
Non-numerical research, usually involving a small group of subjects, used to gain understanding and insight about opinions and behavior (compare Quantitative Research). In naming work, qualitative research can be carried out using tools such as focus groups or personal interviews to better understand customer attitudes and responses.
Numerical research, usually involving a large group of subjects and significant amounts of data (compare Qualitative Research). In marketing and branding, quantitative research is carried out with tools such as polls and surveys to reveal customer opinions and motivations. This sort of statistical research is not generally effective in naming work.
The repetition of syllables within a name, such as the initial two syllables of Boboli Italian bread crust.
The object symbolized by a name. The referent of Sun Microsystems is, obviously, the sun.
A mnemonic device in which two or more words correspond in sound.
The semantic kernel from which a set of words is derived by phonetic change and/or extension. For example, the root child has evolved into multiple variants, including child-like, childish, children.
A set of words connected in meaning (compare Associative Field). The various terms used relating to movies (e.g., cinema, theater, film, reel, soundtrack, etc.) form a semantic field.
The degree to which a name is perceived to fit with the object it identifies. For example the kind of computer called a laptop does indeed fit on one’s lap, hence the name conveys a high degree of semantic fitness.
The perceived position of a proposed name in a continuum of competing names. Some companies use semantic position as a criterion in selecting a new name—one does not want a name that sounds weaker or slower than the name of a competing product.
The study of meaning in language, including the relationship between language, thought, and behavior.
The practice of using nonstandard spelling to achieve a desired effect or to otherwise distinguish a name (also called divergent spelling or invented spelling). KrispyKreme is an invented spelling of CrispyCream.
Trademark for a service rather than a product.
A figure of speech in which an explicit comparison is made between two unlike objects via a construction such as like, as, than, similar to, resembles, etc.
The nonstandard vocabulary of a given culture or subculture, typically consisting of transitory coinages and figures of speech.
A catchphrase, as in Lay's' “Betcha Can't Eat Just One” or Nike’s “Just Do It” (also called a tagline). (Compare Descriptor.)
The study of the sociological factors involved in the use of language, including gender, race, class, etc. Books discussing the communication aspects of relationships between men and women, such as You Just Don’t Understand, by Deborah Tannen, delve into sociolinguistics.
The permissible combinations of phonemes in a given language. For example, “sl-” fits the English sound pattern and does not look unusual or pose pronunciation difficulties, whereas “sb-” does not fit the English sound pattern and would therefore be considered foreign and/or difficult to pronounce.
The semantic qualities a given sound suggests in and of itself. Many linguists have concluded that the high vowel /i/, as in pea, is “small” in its connotations and conversely that the low vowel /a/, as in father, is “large,” although many exceptions to this rule exist. Any attempt to go beyond these findings has been met with considerable skepticism.
A name that suggests the goods or services in question without actually describing them, as in Spalding Infusion (ball-pump technology) and BlueArc (high-speed data storage).
A figure of speech in which a part is used to represent the whole (compare Metonymy). Staples, for example, sells a wide variety of office supplies, not just staples.
A word having the same meaning as another.
The tendency for those subjects of great interest to the community to attract a large number of colorful synonyms. For example, consider the variety of terms we use for friend, money, intoxication, and sex.
A word to be avoided because it is sacred, politically incorrect, vulgar, or otherwise inappropriate (compare Noa Word). For example, Iran’s Barf detergent and Ghana’s Pee Cola would probably not appeal to English speakers.
A catchphrase, as in Lay's' “Betcha Can't Eat Just One” or Nike’s “Just Do It” (also called a slogan). (Compare Descriptor.)
The likelihood that a given name will stand out within a block of text. Many factors can contribute to a word’s textual visibility, such as its length, initial letter, and spelling (see also Discourse Audibility).
A name derived from an animal, as in Ford Mustang and Dodge Viper.
A name derived from a real or imaginary place or geographic feature, as in Burlington Coat Factory, Boston Beanery, Shasta (soft drinks), and Hidden Valley.
A word or symbol that identifies a company or a product that can’t be used by others without permission, may apply nationally or internationally.
Letter used as an abbreviation for you to create distinction and enhance memorability in many brand names, as in U-Haul.
A noun derived from a verb that exhibits all the properties of ordinary nouns—it can be made plural, be modified by an adjective, etc.—and retains no properties of verbs, such as taking an object (compare Gerund). Verbal nouns are often but not always formed by adding -ing to the stem: “The poetry reading was an inspiration,” “My mother’s savings were depleted by the recession.”
To make a noun, such as a brand name, into a verb, as in “We Googled the company yesterday,” “Skype me when you get there,” and “Please xerox the agreement” (compare Anepronym and Genericide).
Language native to a region or community.
A sentence that has the form of a question but the force of a command, as in “Would you take out the garbage?”
A visual identity (logo) consisting of a distinct, text-only typographic treatment.
A letter used in brand names to mean “extreme” (Xbox) “former/not” (Gas-X), or “unknown/mysterious” (X-Files) and as a way to increase textual visibility and memorability. It is also commonly used in invented spellings to replace cks, as in Chevy Trax.
Classic example of Genericide, the process by which a trademark becomes synonymous with its associated product, to the point it may cease to be protectable. Although Xerox was once exclusively a brand of copy machines, it is now used to refer to any copied document, and the word’s usage has extended to a verb form: "to xerox something" means “to photocopy it.”
A letter used to begin brand names (YouTube, Yahoo! Yoo-hoo), or as a substitute for i in invented spellings (SyFy, The Byrds) as a way to increase textual visibility and memorability.
A phrase in which one word applies to two others in different senses, as in “He took his coat and his leave.”