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Catchword in the News

Washington Post, November 16, 2018
Catchword in Washington Post

Catchword in Washington PostWhen does a name become a thing?

For real estate types, “National Landing” sprang to life instantly.

“1 BR with DC monument view in sought-after National Landing!” read a Craigslist ad within hours of the words “National” and “Landing” appearing together publicly for the first time Tuesday in news releases announcing the coming of Amazon to the neighborhood formally known as Crystal City.

But for people who live in the region, National Landing was not so much “sought-after” after as “nonexistent.” …

“When they come up with a name like National Landing, it is not to serve the needs of the people who live there, it’s to serve the needs of the developer,” said Laurel Sutton, one of the founders of Catchword, a California naming and branding consultant.

When a new name is based on something percolating up from actual residents, it can work beautifully. Sutton cited the emergence of SoHo as a Manhattan neighborhood name decades ago. It was descriptive (the area is south of Houston Street) and evocative (it recalled the chic London district of the same name). It made people feel good about living there.

Will people feel good about living in National Landing?

“National Landing, what does that even mean?” asked Sutton, who was doubtful the name would stick. “It’s so bland it doesn’t tell you anything about the area. What? It’s an airport?” …

Still, the howls of protest and derision that greeted the name National Landing on social media were to be expected, according to Sutton. More often than not, renaming attempts don’t go over well with residents, who find the labels easy to avoid.

“Candlestick Park had so many names over the years,” she said, referring to San Francisco’s storied baseball stadium. The venue cycled through serial bought-and-paid-for identities, including 3Com Park and Monster Park, all of which the fans ignored.

“People here never called it anything but Candlestick Park,” said Sutton. …

“In general,” Sutton said, “people don’t like to have names imposed on them from above.”

Full story

“When they come up with a name like National Landing, it is not to serve the needs of the people who live there, it’s to serve the needs of the developer,” said Laurel Sutton, one of the founders of Catchword, a California naming and branding consultant.

Marketplace, October 10, 2018
Catchword quoted in Marketplace

Catchword quoted in MarketplacePresident Donald Trump, who created a business out of licensing his name, recently tried his hand at branding something else: the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The United States, Canada and Mexico struck a deal earlier this month to form the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, which still bears many similarities to NAFTA. Even though USMCA may give American farmers greater access to Canada’s dairy market or it may require more of your car parts to be made in North America, critics say it’s largely the same deal. …

The Obama administration had changed what was then-called the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition in order to emphasize healthy eating. In line with its reversal of other Obama-era decisions, the Trump administration then flipped the words “fitness” and “sports” to emphasize the latter. Ivanka Trump wrote an op-ed for NBC News back in February stating that “we must break down barriers to youth sports participation.”

Laurel Sutton, a linguist who co-founded the brand naming agency Catchword, said placing “sports” first may be a nod to Trump’s voter base. (Sports viewers, in general, lean Republican, according to a study from National Media Inc.)

Word order also mattered in the naming of USMCA, with Mexico and Canada trailing after America.

“He [came] up with a name that promotes his own ideology: Which in this case is ‘America First.’ So if it’s going to be an agreement, he’s gotta put the U.S. first over and above everybody,” Sutton said. …

Full story

“He [came] up with a name that promotes his own ideology: Which in this case is ‘America First.’ So if it’s going to be an agreement, he’s gotta put the U.S. first over and above everybody,” Sutton said.

NamesCon Global 2019, October 2, 2018
Maria Cypher Catchword

       Location: Oakland, California
       Time spent in the domain industry: Almost 20 years
       Favourite extension: .com
       Tell us which domain you wish you owned: would help the bank account
       Currently reading: “The Lessons of History” by Will & Ariel Durant
       Your mentor: My father

Describe your company. How long have you been there, and what led you to this career choice?
Twenty years ago, I co-founded Catchword Branding, and it’s become a leading, global naming firm. For me, it was the perfect blend of creative, strategy, playing with words, endlessly learning about new things, and having my own firm. A few years later, we launched a very natural offshoot, Just The Word, which is a marketplace of 1800 premium brandable domain names. I love the Wild West feel of domaining.

NamesCon is all about business networking. Can you tell us a story about the success of a meeting at NamesCon?
Because of NamesCon, my partner Mark and I have forged successful relationships with several domain brokers, with whom we’ve referred quite a bit of business from Catchword, and to whom we’ve sold domains from Just The Word.

Can you tell us about how your service or product helps deliver value to your customers?
Because Just The Word is part of Catchword (ranked as the #1 naming firm in the world), the domains we sell are truly creative and appropriate for startups and others interested in affordable brandables. Our names aren’t a random bunch of gobbledegook letters. Twenty years of work on hundreds of projects for blue-chip clients has resulted in an unmatched pool of domain names.

How does your career compare to what you envisioned in your youth?
Ha! I didn’t know this career existed. I think I gave the rote answers of “doctor or lawyer” when I was a kid, but in my heart I knew I’d be playing with words.
NamesCon Global 2019 Maria Cypher Catchword

How would you describe what you do in a single sentence to a stranger?
I create company and product names.

Full Story

Can you tell us about how your service or product helps deliver value to your customers?
Because Just The Word is part of Catchword (ranked as the #1 naming firm in the world), the domains we sell are truly creative and appropriate for startups and others interested in affordable brandables. Our names aren’t a random bunch of gobbledegook letters. Twenty years of work on hundreds of projects for blue-chip clients has resulted in an unmatched pool of domain names.

Catchword's Erin Milnes profiled by St. John's College

Erin Milnes (A88) loves to create new words.

Not words to be added to the dictionary, but brand names for new products and companies.

Milnes is the creative director for Catchword Branding in Oakland, California. The company has named more than 1,000 products for hundreds of clients over the past two decades. Milnes has been creative director for two-and-a-half years.

Erin Milnes (A88) uses the language skills she acquired at St. John’s College in her work as creative director of Catchword Branding.

Milnes leans heavily on the language skills she acquired at St. John’s—translating Greek and studying French—as she creates new brand names for clients. She used those skills in previous jobs during her 25-year communications career, too.

“The translating we did (at St. John’s) gave rise to a higher level thinking about language,” she says.

Milnes works with businesses in every sector, from technology startups in nearby Silicon Valley to automotive, lifestyle and food and beverage companies. Catchword’s clients include Corning, Starbucks, Walgreens and Wells Fargo.

Companies often come to Catchword when they haven’t been able to create brand names on their own.

“A brand name is a very, very short story,” Milnes says. “It’s a handle, an avatar, a vessel for your audience’s relationship with you. It is a powerful tool that can resonate with (or turn off) the people you want to reach.”

Full story       Catchword's Erin Milnes profiled by St. John's College

Erin Milnes (A88) loves to create new words.

Not words to be added to the dictionary, but brand names for new products and companies.

The Holmes Report, February 2, 2018
Catchword in The Holmes Report

In September, 2017, Hitachi launched its newest business, Hitachi Vantara, at its Las Vegas NEXT conference, capping a whirlwind buildup that started with the company’s inception just five months earlier. Driving anticipation throughout, Vantara, which harnessed existing capabilities to provide data-driven solutions, debuted with relative fanfare for a tech company, complete with robust press coverage and parties for Hitachi employees around the world. Communications, led by CCO Mary Ann Gallo, was at the heart at the initiative, playing an integral role at touch points from coining a brand of value and naming it accordingly to getting buy-in from individuals inside and outside century-old Hitachi. Gallo spoke with the Holmes Report about what went into making it a success. 

Tell us about the name, Hitachi Vantara.
Naming a company is not an easy proposition and it was something that we wanted to do differently. Within Hitachi we have a very straight forward descriptive naming. But with this new company we wanted to paint a very interesting future that would not be limited by who we are today, but have room for growth. We wanted to take a leap and take a new name that didn’t have any associated meaning to it, a name we would create over time.

We worked on a name with (the naming agency) Catchword. We also wanted people to know that while we were creating something new, our offerings…social innovation, data-driven solutions, virtualization technology…were going to come with us and be a key part of our strategy. Advantage was another element, that everything we do at Hitachi Vantara is rooted in customer value. Vantara is having a vantage point, having insights into data.

Full story  Catchword in The Holmes Report

…We worked on a name with (the naming agency) Catchword. We also wanted people to know that while we were creating something new, our offerings…social innovation, data-driven solutions, virtualization technology…were going to come with us and be a key part of our strategy.

Collective Hub, August 15, 2017
Catchword founder Maria Cypher featured in Collective Hub

With two decades in the name game behind her, co-founder of Catchword, Maria Cypher, has christened countless products … She takes us through the process of finding the perfect name for yours.

Android Headlines, July 24, 2017
Catchword quoted about company naming in Android Headlines

Catchword quoted about company naming in Android HeadlinesSilicon Valley puts an incredible amount of thought into naming their products and services, and is especially careful when it comes to naming new brands, subsidiaries, or start-ups.The story of how Google got its name is well-established in the industry nowadays, with Larry Page reportedly being fascinated with googol, a number consisting of one and a hundred zeros, and ultimately deciding for a play on that word as the name for his Internet search company.

The industry changed a lot since the mid-’90s and entrepreneurs now hire experts to come up with unique names for their companies and products that they believe do a good job of reflecting both their offerings and actual values; experts like Operative Words, an Oakland, California-based naming company whose COO Anthony Shore personally named everything from Qualcomm’s Snapdragon system-on-chip (SoC) lineup to Samsung’s Instinct phone and a number of Fitbit-made wearables like the Blaze and Surge. …

…Depending on the project, hiring a team of independent naming experts can cost between $6,000 to over $100,000, as recently revealed by Catchword Branding’s Creative Director Maria Cypher….

Full story

Silicon Valley puts an incredible amount of thought into naming their products and services, and is especially careful when it comes to naming new brands, subsidiaries, or start-ups.

Mental Floss, July 19, 2017
Catchword's Mark Skoultchi on professional naming

mentalflossbiggerWhen it comes to companies and products, names matter. A slick name makes a company sound trendy and cool, while a terrible name can have customers running into the arms of the competition. Unsurprisingly, many companies take the process very seriously, hiring outside naming consultants who either work within creative agencies or at agencies devoted entirely to naming. We got a few to give us the scoop on how their job really works.


“The notion that namers are hippies and poets jotting down names on cocktail napkins couldn’t be farther from the truth,” says Mark Skoultchi, a partner at Catchword, the agency that named the Fitbit Flex and Force and Starbucks’s Refreshers line….

Full story

…  “The notion that namers are hippies and poets jotting down names on cocktail napkins couldn’t be farther from the truth,” says Mark Skoultchi, a partner at Catchword, the agency that named the Fitbit Flex and Force and Starbucks’s Refreshers line….

Catchword in San Francisco Chronicle

Catchword in San Francisco ChronicleDandelion. Snapdragon. Plume.

The words evoke images of flowers or a bird spreading its wings. But they’re names in the tech industry, too — a company that will focus on bringing geothermal energy systems to homes; a Qualcomm processor; and a Palo Alto business that sells Wi-Fi signal boosters.

Companies can spend thousands of dollars on experts to come up with names that sometimes seem crazy. Finding a winner is increasingly difficult, especially as domain names for websites fill up. At the end of 2016, there were 142 million domain name registrations ending in .com and .net, up from 114 million in late 2011, according to VeriSign, a domain name registry….

Full story

…The budget for a naming project can range from $6,000 up to six figures, according to Maria Cypher, creative director of Catchword Branding, which works with both startups and global corporations. …

Washington Post, March 23, 2017
Catchword in Washington Post

Washington Post logo from retrieved 3/23/17If Samsung has its way, we’ll all be bellowing voice commands to “Bixby,” the company’s new voice assistant. Yet Bixby could be hard for some users to call upon because of the placement of one letter: the “x.”

The “x” in Bixby sounds essentially like a “k” and an “s” combined, which is difficult for many people around the world to say, according to linguists, including for those in Samsung’s native South Korea.

“Lots of languages do not allow for certain kinds of consonant clusters,” William Idsardi, head of the linguistics department at the University of Maryland, said in an email.

Samsung logo from Wikimedia Commons retrieved 3/23/17Bixby can also be a good brand for Samsung because it doesn’t have many preexisting associations with it, said Laurel Sutton, co-founder of the naming firm Catchword, linguist and information officer for the American Name Society. Sutton said that some may remember “Incredible Hulk” actor Bill Bixby, or know another person with that name, but it’s not a particularly common word. …

Read the full story

… Bixby can also be a good brand for Samsung because it doesn’t have many preexisting associations with it, said Laurel Sutton, co-founder of the naming firm Catchword, linguist and information officer for the American Name Society. …

NCR Silver , February 13, 2017
Laurel Sutton, naming expert at Catchword
Laurel Sutton, Catchword

It is a mistake for businesses to leave naming to the end when starting a business, says Laurel Sutton, principal at Catchword Brand Name Development. (Photo: Laurel Sutton)

From researching web domains to avoiding made-up words, follow this expert’s advice.

When it comes to naming their small business, many owners think all they need to do is jot down a few ideas on a napkin.

“People leave the naming to the end or don’t put enough effort into it,” said Laurel Sutton, principal at Catchword Brand Name Development, a business naming agency with branches in Oakland, California, and Tenafly, New Jersey.

Don’t go with the first creative and witty name that pops to mind. Review Sutton’s tips before you even start brainstorming.

Keep it simple

Zappos, Skype, Google — these are some businesses that come to mind when we think of brands with made-up words as names. Some names are derived from real words (Zappos is a play on zapatos, the Spanish word for shoes), while others are totally random.

Should a small business follow the lead of these successful brands? Sutton says no, and here’s why: Small businesses lack the marketing dollars to turn these words into household names.

Instead, she recommends choosing a name people can easily pronounce and spell. “If your customers type things in on Google and can’t get the spelling right, they won’t always find you,” she said.

Make the name connect to what you do

Sutton said a common mistake small businesses make is choosing a name that’s a little too creative. The goal, she said, is to pick a name that suggests what the business is or does. If you’re going to open a restaurant, for instance, pick a name with some connection to the kind of food you’ll be serving or the ambiance you’re striving for.

“It may be less creative, but it’ll help people understand what your business is and does so you don’t have to keep explaining it,” Sutton said. “It’s all about using your marketing dollars most efficiently, and the way you do that is to get people to understand what you do as quickly as possible.”

Brainstorm, then brainstorm some more

To come up with a good name, Sutton said, you need to spend a lot of time making lists of words. “People should treat brainstorming as a job.” She recommends setting aside one to two hours a week to do nothing but research.

According to Sutton, the best brainstorming involves figuring out what you want the name to say to customers before you hit the dictionary.

“You need to first figure out what you want to push to people,” she said. “Is it the atmosphere, food, drinks or you as the owner? Figure out what makes you better than the competition and that will help you find the message you should focus on.”

With that in mind, you want to make lists upon lists. Ask friends and family for ideas. Check the dictionary and thesaurus. Research what names your competition uses. Think of places, things, colors, foods and other ideas that are related to your business.

“The longer you keep listing, the more interesting the names become.” -Laurel Sutton

“The first 20 names you come up with will be boring names everyone has heard of. Get them out of your system, then keep listing.”

Try crowdsourcing

Not a whiz with words, or hitting a mental roadblock? Sutton recommends trying a few crowdsourcing resources, some of which are free or low cost.

Wordlab, for example, allows people around the world to chime in with suggestions. Squadhelp lets business owners solicit ideas via a contest. You pay the inventor of the winning name for his or her idea (usually between $100 and $300).

You can also crowdsource with your friends, family and community. Ask others for feedback on potential names. If they can’t spell or pronounce a candidate, or if they point out negative connotations with the name, scrap it.

Evaluate trademarks

A search on the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office’s website or through a lawyer will reveal whether a name has been trademarked. Avoid trademarked names entirely or you may face cease and desist letters or worse.

Also search your state’s corporation and business entity databases to see if there is company registered with the name you want.

Small businesses typically don’t trademark their names, but Sutton said if you have plans to expand or franchise, it’s worth the time and money to file early on.

Check the web

When you’ve settled on five to ten top options, Sutton advised checking social media and search results pages.

“If you’re in California and there’s a restaurant with the same name in Georgia, that’s probably fine,” she said. “But if it’s in the next town over, that will be confusing.”

According to Sutton, a lot of small business owners get caught up trying to find a domain name and social media handles that are not already taken. These days, it is fine for URLs and handles to include a descriptor or location. That is, if you want to name your restaurant Ravioli and you’re in New York City, or is a great domain.

“It will help your SEO for those trying to find you, and it’s a cheap way to maximize your marketing,” Sutton said.

When it comes to naming their small business, many owners think all they need to do is jot down a few ideas on a napkin. “People leave the naming to the end or don’t put enough effort into it,” said Laurel Sutton, principal at Catchword…

CBC News, October 29, 2016
CBC News

In the high-stakes world of internet domains, .eco was a dream green prize — and is now finally going online

CBC NewsImagine sitting across from your friend at a pub, several pints in, with a big idea — one that could change the internet and maybe even help the planet. The prelude, perhaps, to nothing but a hangover.

But for Trevor Bowden and Jacob Malthouse, that night in 2007 was the start of a multi-year quest to secure soon-to-be-released online real estate: the domain of .eco, which they believed could be an asset to the environmental movement.

“We knew that there was this opportunity coming up,” recalls Malthouse. “Four or five pints later, we were like, you know what? We’re probably the only two environmentalists on the planet who know this is happening. If we don’t try and do something about it we’re never going to forgive ourselves.”

Finally, after eight years of high-stakes internet bureaucracy — and a fight famously linked to Al Gore and Mikhail Gorbachev — Bowden and Malthouse won stewardship of the .eco domain, with the backing of dozens of environmental organizations.

Now, from their one-room office in Vancouver’s Chinatown, they’re doling out the very first .eco sites — not via big-money auctions common in the domain-name industry, but on the basis of an environmental track record.

New territory online

The backdrop to this battle is a long-awaited explosion of new top-level domains, made available by the U.S. non-profit that decides these things, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

A top-level domain is the suffix of a web address, such as .com, .org, or in Canada, .ca. Like sought-after downtown real estate, these classic domains have become rather crowded, making territory scarce and sometimes pricey. So in 2014, ICANN began allowing a flood of new top-level domains — which now include anything from .pizza to .fail.

Big money is at play, at least for the most desirable new suffixes. Earlier this year, .shop sold at auction for $41 million US, and .web shattered records with a $135-million US price tag.

It’s hard to say which new domains will catch on, and “.com is still king,” said Maria Cypher, principal and creative director at Catchword Branding, who has created names for Starbucks and Fitbit, among others.

“We feel [.eco] stands a really good shot of being one of the real successes,” she wrote in an email, “because it’s short, pronounceable and meaningful. It’s a term that is widely understood to mean environment, sustainability, green … things that are important to a huge number of people.” …

Full story

Imagine sitting across from your friend at a pub, several pints in, with a big idea — one that could change the internet and maybe even help the planet….

It’s hard to say which new domains will catch on, and “.com is still king,” said Maria Cypher, principal and creative director at Catchword Branding …

NamesCon, August 31, 2016
Catchword and Just The Word principal Maria Cypher


Maria Cypher, Principal and Creative Director at Just the Word and Catchword Branding

Maria Cypher

Principal, Creative Director

Just The Word, Catchword Branding



Fast Facts

Location: San Francisco Bay Area & New York City

How long have you been in the domain industry? Since 1999, when a naming client got up in the middle of a meeting to register a dozen available domains we’d just presented to him.

Favorite extension: Dot-com!

Domain name you wished you owned: Any short, real word with positive associations. would be nice. ☺

Now reading: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, and Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast.


Describe your company, business, or vocation.

Just The Word is the domain-sales division of Catchword Branding (, a leading naming firm. We list over 1500 brandable domains, categorized by industry, that make for excellent company and product names. I oversee Just The Word and am the founding partner and creative director of Catchword.

How does your service or product helps deliver value to your customers?

The fact that Just The Word is a part of a serious naming firm means that we fully understand the kinds of names that work for products or companies. We like to think we have the best brandables in the business, and have had domain brokers tell us that!

We don’t list other people’s domains or take a commission. Instead, all our domains are carefully chosen from two decades of naming work. As a result, entrepreneurs and marketers can find the right domain without having to sift through lots of gobbledygook and inconsistent pricing.

What fact about you would surprise people?

I am the lead singer of a Bay Area cover band called Highway 13. We gig every month or two at local restaurants, festivals, charity events, and private parties.

What is something you have tried, but will never do again?

Singing “Billie Jean” and trying to sound like Michael Jackson. I might try singing “Billie Jean” again, but I will never again try to sound like the king of pop!

Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you?

My father, Richard Williams. He was a child prodigy on the popular radio program Quiz Kids in the 1940s and later became a career diplomat and U.S. ambassador. Despite his illustrious childhood and career, he’s the most unpretentious, thoughtful, and light-hearted person I know.

He taught me the value of humility (though he’s way better at it), curiosity, kindness, and laughing to the point of tears.

What’s your most vivid childhood memory?

Meeting my Chinese relatives in Tianjin, China in 1979. The U.S. and China had just re-established diplomatic relations after 30 years, and my Chinese mother had not seen her brothers or sisters in all that time. I got to meet cousins, uncles and aunts living in 2 rooms with no private bathroom or TV. A completely different world had opened up.

Latest and greatest accomplishment in your career?

Both Just The Word and parent-company Catchword have reached a great place in their evolution. We have an amazing team, top-tier clients, and a culture of fun and innovation. Not to say that there aren’t new worlds to conquer—there always are—but I am really proud of the company and culture we’ve created.

What would you do if you just inherited a pizzeria from your uncle?

The MBA in me would spend serious time with the books to make sure it was being well-managed. And then I’d watch a few episodes of Restaurant Impossible to make sure we weren’t making obvious mistakes. But mostly I’d leave it to the manager and staff and try to avoid eye-contact with all that pizza!

What are three albums that have shaped you as a person?

It’s torture being limited to three, but sticking to the criteria of actually shaping me as a person:

1) Give Up the Ghost (Brandi Carlile) — Brandi’s voice is incredible in its expression and pitch-perfection. She inspires me to be a better singer.

2) Rumours (Fleetwood Mac) — This album is really a proxy for all the great rock of the 70s and my love for music that came out of it.

3) The Honest Hour (Assembly of Dust) — One of the best live recordings ever, showcasing incredible musicianship and poetic lyrics. This band and the songs on this album helped make me a lover of live, jammy music.

Where is your favorite place to escape?


NamesCon, the world’s largest domain industry conference, profiles our very own Maria Cypher.

Bustle, March 2, 2016
John Oliver "Drumpf" segment

John Oliver "Drumpf" segmentOn the latest episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver issued a challenge to the nation to “Make Donald Drumpf Again,” referring to the Trump family’s former, significantly less regal-sounding surname. Trump (or Drumpf, whichever you prefer) hasn’t yet issued a response on this topic. But he definitely should and probably will, especially considering the savagery of Oliver’s attack.

Knowing Trump, any rebuttal to Oliver won’t be in some kind of official statement. He is the master at slipping insults and retorts into interviews and speeches. For example, there’s his infamous “blood coming out of her wherever” remark about Megyn Kelly. And don’t forget that the whole semi-feud between Trump and Oliver got started when Trump backhandedly insulted Oliver during an interview, describing the critically-acclaimed show as “boring” and claiming that he had turned down an invitation to appear on it (Oliver has denied this). It makes sense that Trump might respond in similar way now that Oliver has laid down the gauntlet.

The funniest scenario would probably be Trump threatening to sue Oliver. Much of the LWT segment focused on Trump’s predisposition toward somewhat hasty legal action which he only haphazardly follows up on, so if Trump warns of a possible lawsuit, it would be simply amazing. The problem for Trump is that there’s actual science to support Oliver’s argument that the name “Trump” gives him undue credibility. The Boston Globe interviewed some name experts back in September, and they determined that Trump’s career might have taken a much different path if the Drumpf name had been passed down to him.

<iframe width=”700″ height=”394″ src=”” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

[Trump is an] unusual name … a single-word name, which sounds very grounded, very firm,” said Laurel Sutton of the Catchword naming agency. “It’s not a multisyllabic Romance-type name, [so it’s more] masculine-sounding.” Naming and branding expert Nancy Friedman added to the newspaper, “[Drumpf sounds] almost comical in English. That ‘pf’ combination is tough for English speakers and ‘dr’ doesn’t have the same effect on the ear as ‘tr.’ It’s not as sharp, it sounds like ‘drug’ and ‘drop.’”

That’s a powerful claim for Trump to refute, but his success in business and politics does seem to have a lot to do with his name. If that gets tainted, it could mean a potentially huge change in his standing in the race. Trump might have a somewhat legitimate grievance with Oliver’s expose of the psychological power behind his name, but Oliver told the truth. Unfortunately, the truth has never really stopped Trump from saying he wanted anyway.

The Drumpf joke is hilarious in general, and the longer it keeps going, the more ridiculous and amusing it’s bound to become. If you’re really committed to #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain, you can visit and download the Donald Drumpf Google Chrome web extension, so that every instance you find of “Donald Trump” on the Internet will automatically become “Donald Drumpf.”

On the latest episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver issued a challenge to the nation to “Make Donald Drumpf Again,” referring to the Trump family’s former, significantly less regal-sounding surname. Trump (or Drumpf, whichever you prefer) hasn’t yet issued a response on this topic. …

[Trump is an] unusual name … a single-word name, which sounds very grounded, very firm,” said Laurel Sutton of the Catchword naming agency.

More, February 2016

The name of your business is the first thing customers see and hear. Choosing the wrong one could spell disaster for your new company or lead to stalled growth later on.

Think about what you want to represent now and in the future, says Maria Cypher, principal of Catchword, a naming firm in San Francisco.

STAT, December 7, 2015
Google logo

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Google Life Sciences, the Silicon Valley giant’s new foray into health and medicine, announced a new name Monday that slips easily off the tongue but might sound antiquated to a high-tech, life-sciences ear: Verily.

“Verily, I swear,” as Shakespeare wrote in Henry VIII.

The word means “truly” or “certainly.” It dates back to 13th century Middle English and fell out of common use … well, a while ago. It often pops up, however, in the still very popular King James Bible.

So why would future-focused Google Life Sciences adopt a name that recalls an era of knights and pestilence?

CEO Andy Conrad told STAT that the name is aspirational. “Only through the truth are we going to defeat Mother Nature,” Conrad said.

He said Verily’s focus is a shift from conventional medical technologies, “from reactive to proactive, from intervention to prevention.”

Brand consultants said the Biblical connotation could be a hurdle for Verily, but could also work to its advantage.

“I can’t think of another association for verily but the Bible,” said Greg Balla, creative director of Zenmark, a San Francisco firm that was involved in the naming of Google’s spinoff Calico, focused on aging and longevity. “The challenge for them is to try to move away from the heavy-handed quality attached to Verily from association with the scripture — due to everything that’s happening in our world right now.”

But if they can deliver on the promise, “you can trust what we are doing,” Balla said, “then it fits perfectly.”

Verily logo

The new logo for Verily, formerly known as Google Life Sciences

Kristen Pembroke, client services director at Catchword, an Oakland branding firm that serves many tech and life sciences companies, said in an email that the obscurity of “verily” could foster the company’s ability to “evolve its mission and vision over time.”

“Verily is easy to pronounce and approachable,” she said. “However, some may find the tonality to be light and whimsical — verily sounds similar to merrily, for instance.”

The company was spun off from Google a few months ago within Alphabet, a holding company for Google itself and affiliated entities. Verily has built a multidisciplinary team of doctors, engineers, chemists, and data gurus to tackle big mysteries of disease prevention and health. As a sign of seriousness about the bigger picture, Verily has a staff philosopher. “We have to understand the ‘why’ of what people do,” Conrad said. “A philosopher might be as important as a chemist.”

Verily evolved out of a Google-designed contact lens for diabetics that continuously monitors glucose in tears. The company is targeting health issues that affect millions, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and mental health. It’s producing other wearable medical devices and miniature sensors, such as a nanoparticle-based diagnostic tool to detect cancer or other ailments at very early stages.

Verily’s “baseline” study of human health, chief medical officer Dr. Jessica Mega said in a recent interview with STAT, is an effort to grasp what we call “healthy.” A goal, she said, is to prevent disease by understanding human variability well enough to create individualized treatments that might be based on biological, genetic, behavioral, and environmental data.

Verily’s ambitions dwarf its staff of a few hundred employees on the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif., and at a small office in Cambridge, Mass. Conrad and Mega said they plan other collaborations like those they have in progress with pharma giant Novartis to commercialize their contact lens, and with universities such as Stanford and Duke on the baseline study.

For all of Verily’s grand ambitions, Conrad hinted at caution, if not humility, paraphrasing Clarence Darrow, the great lawyer and civil libertarian: “We don’t claim to know what other ignorant men are sure of.”

Google Life Sciences, the Silicon Valley giant’s new foray into health and medicine, announced a new name Monday that slips easily off the tongue but might sound antiquated to a high-tech, life-sciences ear: Verily. …

Kristen Pembroke, client services director at Catchword, an Oakland branding firm that serves many tech and life sciences companies, said in an email that the obscurity of “verily” could foster the company’s ability to “evolve its mission and vision over time.”

Wordnik, November 5, 2015

We here at Wordnik love talking to professional namers about the naming process. So we were delighted to have the chance to chat with Mark Skoultchi, a partner at Catchword, a full-service naming company founded in 1998.

Mark spoke with us about Catchword’s naming process, some of his favorite (and not so favorite) types of names, and what playing Scrabble can teach you about naming.

What are some of the reasons that bring folks to the naming business, and in particular, Catchword?

Most namers follow a rather circuitous route to the profession, making stops as brand managers, advertisers, linguists, editors, creative writers, and lawyers (not surprising when you consider the importance of intellectual property law to the field of naming).

Regardless of background, almost every namer is a word lover with a passion for branding and an appreciation for how effectively a great name can influence customer loyalty and differentiate a product. In addition, namers enjoy the diversity of responsibilities that the business tends to provide. Certainly naming is a creative exercise, but it’s really so much more than that.

On top of the variety of responsibilities that working in this industry generally provides, folks gravitate toward working at Catchword because, at the risk of sounding immodest, we’re a leader in this business space, and we promote a culture of innovation. In fact, we hold quarterly Innovation Weeks during which we ask and try to answer how we, as a company and an industry, could be evolving and doing things better.

What types of customers and clients do you work with?

We’ve named pretty much everything you can think of, having worked with over 500 clients in all sorts of industries, including Canon, Chipotle, eBay, Fitbit, Intel, and Starbucks.

In general, we tend to service larger, multinational organizations that have broader naming needs, such as naming strategy, architecture, and protocol as well as global linguistic analysis and international trademark counsel. Sure, we come up with cool names for products that span technology, healthcare, F&B [“food and beverage”] and everything in between, but our clients require more than just a cool name. They require strategic guidance and help ensuring names are available and non-offensive in the global markets in which they compete.

Lately, we’ve worked with many more tech and healthcare clients, as those industries are really flourishing. In fact, the naming industry is a pretty useful barometer of which industries are doing well.

Please describe your naming process. Do you usually start with ideas, or do you find your customers often have their own ideas already?

Catchword’s naming process involves both strategic and creative phases. At the outset of an assignment we’re focused on understanding our client, their portfolio of products, the space in which they compete, and how they position themselves in the market. It’s imperative to understand their business and overall branding objectives before beginning any creative work!

Once we have a really solid understanding of their business, we’ll develop a range of strategies and approaches to naming the brand in question, and codify all the information (including messaging, style and tone) in a creative brief for the assignment. At that point, we can begin the actual creative work, which involves the development of literally thousands of names.

Catchword is a strong proponent of quantitative creativity – i.e., the more is more approach. Given the enormous legal, linguistic, and subjective hurdles names must clear, it’s essential to exhaust every creative avenue, and ideate as many names as possible!

Over the course of several name review meetings with our clients, we’ll present a selection of names that map to our strategies, reflect the creative parameters, and have cleared a preliminary trademark screen. Depending on the client, we’ll often conduct either linguistic and cultural screening on preferred names, or customer research to gain further insight to assist with the decision making process.

The goal is to help guide our client toward a shortlist of viable brand name solutions that can advance to a comprehensive trademark evaluation.

How do you use linguistics and psychology in the naming process?

This question is interesting because it demonstrates how the best naming process takes on a multidisciplinary approach.

From the outset of a project, we make sure we know exactly how our client identifies themselves and how their audience perceives them and their products or services. When we really understand the target demographic, we gain insight into what motivates them to make a purchase and the factors that might influence a purchase decision.

For example, if our client’s target demographic is highly educated, sociable young women, we know that we’ll want to focus on names that suggest femininity and fun, but only with a sophisticated and mature tonality. In short, we use psychology to understand what types of names will most resonate with the audience in question.

Our inner linguist comes to the forefront when we perform a linguistics screen near the end of the naming process. We’ll ask respondents in relevant foreign languages to help us determine if name finalists have unforeseen connotations or are difficult to pronounce because of things like consonant clusters or nonnative vowel sounds. If a company is going to release a product in Germany, they want to ensure that it doesn’t sound like the German word for ‘vomit.’ Equally often, though, linguistics screening will uncover unintended positive associations that might make a name an even stronger candidate in that particular region.

In addition to looking at semantic associations of a name in a particular region, we’ll often evaluate the name’s compatibility with a brand’s pre-existing associations as well as the new concept being marketed there.

What are some mistakes you’ve seen companies make in terms of naming?

There are countless mistakes companies make when attempting to name their products, services, or themselves! The most common mistake is underestimating the enormous challenge of legally clearing a name, developing too few ideas, and ending up with no viable name options after comprehensive legal evaluations.

Another mistake is becoming fixated on adopting an obvious real English word for a brand. Certainly real English words are great and oftentimes viable name options for brands, but expecting a name like “Beacon” to be available as a trademark in the financial business space, for instance, is setting yourself up for naming failure.

Another common mistake companies make is to pigeonhole their products and services by adopting names that are appropriate today and even next year, but perhaps not in five years. When naming, it’s critical to plan for the future and try to anticipate shifts in business and product focus. You don’t want to outgrow and have to rename your products just as they’re achieving market success!

What’s one of your favorite naming stories?

In the 17 years since Catchword’s founding we’ve collected countless naming stories. From the time we were invited to Ben & Jerry’s almost magical Vermont office to present wacky and wonderful name ideas for a new ice cream sandwich (“Cookie Wookie” was a big hit), to working with Meg Whitman of eBay to develop a name for an international online classifieds business (i.e., “Craigslist” for the rest of the world), we’ve had our share of fun, funny, exciting, and sometimes weird experiences.

However, the most memorable naming stories are probably the ones that involved the most exceptional outcomes. That is, projects that presented huge challenges and delivered incredible results.

One recent example is Premise Health. Premise Health is a merger of CHI and Take Care, the two largest companies in the onsite healthcare space. The client team included the top executives and boards of both companies as well as the investment firm that was financing the merger. The size and complexity of the project team alone qualified this assignment as unusually challenging. Add to the project team makeup an incredibly saturated set of trademark classes (both healthcare and technology classes, yikes!) and we knew we had our work cut out for us.

Amazingly, we were able to reconcile the varying name preferences among the team members, navigate the choppy legal waters, and guide the group toward not just one name that everyone loved and that was available as a trademark, but SEVEN. That sort of outcome is unusual, even for Catchword!

What are some names that you particularly like?

Naturally, we love so many of the names we’ve developed, from the highly intuitive and descriptive names, to the suggestive, to the more abstract and fanciful. Certainly we adore the assignments that allow us to stretch our creative wings and produce really clever pieces of wordplay, coinings or linguistic manipulations, but we’re no less proud of the more straight ahead names we’ve created that serve as smart business solutions for our clients.

With that in mind, some of the names we’re particularly proud of are Crazy 8 (Gymboree’s children’s clothing store), Dreamery (Dreyer’s ice cream brand), Javiva (Peet’s blended iced beverage), Refreshers (Starbucks’s beverage line), Photoshop Elements (the lighter version of Adobe’s leading image editing software), Upwork (Elance’s freelance platform), Mochidoki (a premium mochi ice cream product), Vudu (a streaming video service), and all the Fitbit fitness trackers we’ve named, including Zip, One, Flex, Force, and Surge.

Are there any naming trends you’d sooner see die off?

The names that try to be so unique that they sacrifice all meaning, ability to be spelled, and memorability are not long for this world. We recognize that many naming trends stem from the challenge that new businesses face of obtaining a domain name and trademark, but there are ways to get around these obstacles that don’t involve using a combination of letters you’d normally exchange in Scrabble.

We make sure to steer our clients clear of naming trends, because a name should allow you to stand out, not show how you’re the same. Nevertheless, there are certain ‘trends’ that are timeless, such as short, real-word nouns (e.g., Nest, Apple, Clover) and smart wordplay. The best names tell a story that is unique to the client’s brand, resonate with audiences and therefore stand the test of time.

Now for the most important question of all: please tell us about your stress reduction specialist, Doogie.

Doogie is our best compensated employee at Catchword, receiving far and away the most hugs. An expert in the “arf” of naming, he often inspires the creative team with his diligent, prolonged meditations on his favorite chair and his dogged pursuit of the UPS man.

Few people know that he is actually an intergalactic superhero from the planet Endor (he misses his Ewok brothers dearly). One day he forgot to switch back to his alter ego before coming to work and we snapped this picture of him still dressed as SuperDoogie.

We here at Wordnik love talking to professional namers about the naming process. So we were delighted to have the chance to chat with Mark Skoultchi, a partner at Catchword, a full-service naming company founded in 1998…

Reuters, October 14, 2015
Reuters logo

Will a beer colossus by any other name taste as sweet?

For the executives preparing a merger worth over $100 billion, a not inconsiderable question is what to call a company that will brew almost one in three of the world’s pints.

The current names of the firms, Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI.BR) and SABMiller(SAB.L), are the acronym-heavy result of years of dealmaking. While neither trips off the tongue, each resonates with its thousands of employees and, to a lesser extent, millions of consumers.

A new name isn’t just a marketing exercise – it’s about both recognizing the history and setting the future direction of the freshly-combined companies, industry experts said.

“A sure fire way to create friction among a newly unified employee population is to tip your hat to one of their businesses and heritage but not the other,” said Mark Skoultchi, Partner at U.S. naming consultancy Catchword.

Poll: What would you name the new beer giant?

In this case, paying homage to any of the predecessors – Anheuser-Busch, AmBev, Interbrew, South African Breweries and Miller Brewing – is bound to be a mouthful.

Drinks industry sources suggested names to Reuters including SAB InBev, ABSAB, Globev, SABI and Omnibrew, while analysts labeled the combination MegaBrew throughout the nearly month-long courtship.

Catchword has opened up a forum on for suggestions. Contributions so far range from the wacky – MegaKega, Beerhemouth – to the finance in-jokes – Hopportunity, M&(IP)A.

Sadly, corporations are generally less in thrall to puns and more subject to rather more prosaic considerations, especially in the consumer sector where brand recognition is key.

Those include the direction the firm aims to grow in, how to distinguish itself from rivals, whether it is compelling from a marketing perspective, and the ability to trademark.

That’s not to say a complete revamp can’t be done.

“Now might be the time to go to something totally different, which is not related,” said naming consultant Benedicte Windle of It’s Raining Names. “There are a lot of issues that are overcome by having a completely new name that nobody associates with any power struggle.”

The consumer sector has a track record of complete rebranding, with varying success.

The 1997 merger of Guinness with Grand Metropolitan resulted in a company now called Diageo (DGE.L), thought up by branding firm Wolff Olins to communicate the idea of “everyday pleasure everywhere”.

And when Kraft split off its snack foods business in 2011, it held a company contest the following year to find a new name. The winner was Mondelez (MDLZ.O) – “pronounced mohn-dah-LEEZ”, it clarified in its announcement – from a combination of “monde” (“world” in French) and “deliz” (delicious).

But you can’t please everyone. “Catchy name – NOT,” said one commenter on USA Today at the time.

The snappy new acronym EY chosen by management consultant Ernst & Young also happened to be the title of a Spanish gay interest magazine, with colorful photos online to match.

“It will be apparent to individuals looking for EY, the professional services organization, that the images are not related to us,” a spokeswoman told Gay Star News in 2013.

While it will doubtless seek to avoid such coincidences, AB InBev’s reputation as a cost-cutting machine means an expensive revamp may be unlikely.

“They’re not going to have an army of consultants doing this for them,” said a banker, noting also that if the combined company exits the U.S. MillerCoors joint venture, as expected, it could drop the Miller name.

ABInbev said it was too early to speculate on possible names.

At the end of the day, it might all come down to how creative each side is ready to get.

“Given recent history – Interbrew, InBev, AB-InBev – I think it would be fair to assume they won’t spend long on this,” said a source close to one of the companies, referring to AB InBev’s earlier iterations from previous deals.

“But then again, SABMiller was simply the project name the banks gave to the combination of Miller Brewing Company and South African Breweries. So I don’t think there is much creativity on either side.”

For the executives preparing a merger worth over $100 billion, a not inconsiderable question is what to call a company that will brew almost one in three of the world’s pints. …

“A sure fire way to create friction among a newly unified employee population is to tip your hat to one of their businesses and heritage but not the other,” said Mark Skoultchi, Partner at U.S. naming consultancy Catchword.

BrandChannel, September 25, 2015
new gTLDs

The past two years have seen a dramatic expansion of domain-name alternatives. Before the rollout of hundreds of generic top-level domains (gTLDs) that began in 2014, new businesses looking to secure a web address typically faced the gold-standard (but often expensive or unavailable) choice of .com or a country code TLD (ccTLD) co-opted to have meaning beyond its country of origin—like .ly, .me, .io or .tv.

The new gTLDs, however, suddenly gave new businesses and individuals alike countless options to state outright—via letters to the right of the dot—a business sector (.furniture, .cpa), a personal passion (.photos, .gripe) or a geographic location (.sydney, .miami).

In fact, as of September 1, there were 741 fully functional gTLDs, with 597 more on the way. These new gTLDs can be categorized into three types:

  • Generic (.mom, .pizza, .law)
  • Branded (.google, .microsoft, .ipad)
  • Geographic (.nyc, .france, .london)

While most gTLDs will likely fall by the wayside, a handful have garnered significant attention, The most popular, .xyz, has secured just over 800,000 registered domains and Google caused a stir (and spike in registrations) when it announced that its new Alphabet holding company would reside at

Consider, however, that, as of the same date, there were over 119 million registered .coms, with roughly 8 million new registrations coming online per year (and that many .xyz domains are thought to have been registered by .xyz’s owner or given away for free).

How do we make sense of this new domain landscape? And what are the right strategies for owners of brands large and small?

gTLD Strategies for Major Companies and VC-backed Start-ups

Make no mistake: Dot-com still reigns supreme. With more than two decades of worldwide recognition and countless marketing dollars behind .com, it is the downtown of the internet and will remain so for businesses of all sizes. Regardless of which gTLDs gain traction, won’t be changing what’s to the right of the dot anytime soon. Dot-com simply has too big a headstart and even the most popular new gTLDs will find themselves competing against each other in a divided market of domains with restricted meanings.

That said, when the dust clears, the most versatile and logical of the extensions are likely to see the light of day; the success of extensions like .ly, .tv, and .io are an indication that there is demand for variants beyond. com. So it only makes sense for large companies to register such variants, if for no other reason than to prevent a competitive or unsavory usage or to hedge against the possibility that Google will change its search algorithm to favor, for example, a .law extension in a web search for a lawyer. While this is unlikely to happen in the near future, it’s worth mentioning that Google itself applied for 101 new gTLDs, such as .youtube, .earth, and .search—a strong endorsement of the viability of new extensions.

All major companies should think about registering versatile extensions like .website, .blog and .app, in addition to relevant industry-specific domains, such as .health for healthcare companies. Here at Catchword, our strategy has been to register URLs like,, and In registering these domains, we’re not betting these gTLDs will surge—just registering what makes sense for our brand…and holding.

gTLD Strategies for Smaller Businesses

While registering an exact .com is always the ideal, for a smaller business, it’s perfectly acceptable to add a descriptor to secure a domain. Catchword has done just fine with, thank you. It’s common these days to see domains like, or even

In addition, small businesses can consider using new gTLDs (and some of the existing ccTLDs) that make sense for their brands. Extensions with good prospects for small businesses include the premium geographic players, like .nyc and .london, as well as the most elegantly phrased, industry-specific gTLDs, such as .health (versus .healthcare) and .law (versus .lawfirm or .lawyer or .attorney).

But there’s no need to go overboard snapping up gTLDs. No matter which ones take off, the way that customers find small- to medium-sized businesses—via search engine—will remain unchanged. Whether Luigi’s Pizza in NYC is at,, or, customers aren’t going to type in a domain name—they’re simply going to search keywords, period.

The past two years have seen a dramatic expansion of domain-name alternatives. Before the rollout of hundreds of generic top-level domains (gTLDs) that began in 2014, new businesses looking to secure a web address typically faced the gold-standard (but often expensive or unavailable) choice of .com or a country code TLD (ccTLD) co-opted to have meaning beyond its country of origin—like .ly, .me, .io or .tv.

The new gTLDs, however, suddenly gave new businesses and individuals alike countless options to state outright—via letters to the right of the dot—a business sector (.furniture, .cpa), a personal passion (.photos, .gripe) or a geographic location (.sydney, .miami).

Boston Globe, September 9, 2015
Donald Trump

DONALD TRUMP — TYCOON, TV personality, and Republican front-runner — has been long preoccupied with putting his name on things. A Sept. 3 profile in Bloomberg Businessweek described the teenage Trump attending a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge back in 1964. When no one mentioned the designer’s name at the ceremony, Trump learned his lesson: “I realized then and there something I would never forget,” he told The New York Times in 1980 regarding the incident. “I don’t want to be made anybody’s sucker.”

From then on, Trump has placed his name front and center. Thanks to his July financial disclosure, we can tally the results of that effort. Of his current holdings — 515 entities — more than half bear his name, including Trump Ice (bottled water), Trump Classic Cars, Trump Drinks Israel, Trump Education, Trump Identity, Trump Marks Fine Foods, Trump Marks Mattress (recently dropped by Serta), Trump Marks Mortgage Corp., Trump Follies, and Trump on the Ocean. We hear Trump so often as a brand that we’re almost desensitized to it, the name or the word. But its highly ambivalent history and connotations spill over into how we understand Trump the person, too — and may even have something to do with how Trump got so very Trumpian.

Trump’s German wine-growing ancestors were named Drumpf, according to journalist Gwenda Blair’s book “The Trumps: Three Generations That Built An Empire.” The family changed the name at some point during the Thirty Years’ War. America was first introduced to the Trump brand, however, by Donald’s father, Fred C. Trump, who named his real estate company and supermarket chains “Trump” and drove a navy blue Cadillac with “FCT” license plates.

Donald, though, took name-branding to a 5-foot-tall, shiny-brass-letters, next level. “I put my name on something when I really feel that it is going to be right,” Trump said at a 1989 news conference to announce the launch of Trump Shuttle. (Of course, Trump Shuttle was one of Trump’s great flops, along with Trump Vodka, Trump Steaks, Trump: The Game, and Trump University, embroiled in multiple fraud lawsuits and now called the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative.)

We’ve become so accustomed to the Trump brand that it’s hard to imagine The Donald by any other name. Yet, had he been born Donald Drumpf, his path might have been quite different. Trump, according to Laurel Sutton at the Catchword naming agency, is an “unusual name, . . . a single-word name, which sounds very grounded, very firm. It’s not a multisyllabic Romance-type name,” which makes it more “masculine-sounding.”

“There’s something about the ‘p’ at the end, the plosive,” added naming and branding expert Nancy Friedman, whereas Drumpf sounds “almost comical in English. That ‘pf’ combination is tough for English speakers and ‘dr’ doesn’t have the same effect on the ear as ‘tr.’ It’s not as sharp, it sounds like ‘drug’ and ‘drop.’ ”

That’s not merely an aesthetic problem if you’re trying to sell luxury hotels — or yourself as a presidential candidate. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that people with easily pronounceable names were judged to be more likeable.

How it sounds isn’t the only aspect of naming that matters when judging a person. The meaning is important, too, notes one of the study’s coauthors, Adam Alter, a psychologist at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “We’re sensitive to associations — positive and negative — between any two concept,” Alter said. The effect “is probably small, but it’s automatic and we’re unlikely to be able to avoid it completely when we consider people by their names.”

The name Trump carries a range of strong associations, veering on being an aptonym — a name whose definition is uniquely appropriate for someone’s profession, like urologist (specializing in vasectomies) Dr. Richard Chopp or the late Filipino Cardinal (Jaime) Sin. As Alter points out, the word “implies victory and dominance.” The “trump card” in bridge and other card games is a card of a suit that temporarily ranks above any other and is derived from “triumph,” a name for an early card game. Underneath that confident note there’s also the golden blare of “trumpet”: “Tharfor trump vp, blaw furth thyne eloquens,” as the OED quotes a 16th-century translation of the Aeneid. Trump himself may derive confidence from these strong, positive meanings to trumpet forth his own eloquence, Alter suggests — although he added, “Of course the effect of [Trump’s] name is likely to be far weaker than the effects of his inherited wealth and self-assured personality.”

Then again, the verb “trump” also once meant to fabricate or deceive (from French “tromper”). The phrase “to trump up” still means “forge” or “invent,” as in “trumped-up charges” or the many, many headlines punning on “Trumped-up rhetoric” or “Trumped-up politics.” If last week’s Washington Post report suggesting that Trump is a compulsive golf cheat is any measure — “the worst celebrity golf cheat,” according to Alice Cooper — this definition of “trump” may be as essential to Trump’s identity as the other.

DONALD TRUMP — TYCOON, TV personality, and Republican front-runner — has been long preoccupied with putting his name on things. …

We’ve become so accustomed to the Trump brand that it’s hard to imagine The Donald by any other name. Yet, had he been born Donald Drumpf, his path might have been quite different. Trump, according to Laurel Sutton at the Catchword naming agency, is an “unusual name, . . . a single-word name, which sounds very grounded, very firm. It’s not a multisyllabic Romance-type name,” which makes it more “masculine-sounding.”

MarketingProfs, August 5, 2015
Exact .com domain or creative alternative

Exact .com domain or creative alternativeOne of the hardest financial decisions you’ll face when naming or renaming a company or product is whether you should splurge for the exact .com domain name—and, if not, how you should adapt the URL so that it fits with your brand and allows consumers to easily find your site.

On the one hand, buying an exact .com domain makes finding your website much easier for customers and lends invaluable prestige to your company. On the other hand, purchasing an exact .com domain can be very expensive, especially if you are looking for a real English word.

Furthermore, limiting yourself to just exact .com domains will likely exclude names that otherwise would work well for your brand but are simply unavailable for purchase as a domain.

Here is my advice for anyone struggling with such a decision.

Buying the Exact .com Domain

You should probably pursue the exact .com domain in the following three situations:

1. If your company is involved in online commerce, or consumers make transactions through your website, then invest in the exact URL. Retailers benefit from the cachet of an exact domain. Also, you don’t want customers to have difficulty finding you; if they have to google you, they can be potentially siphoned away by ads or other search results.
2. If you are renaming an established company that previously had an exact .com, you should procure the exact .com for your new name as well. Opting for a modified URL in that situation would be a step toward lower prestige and could exacerbate a (fairly unavoidable) period of confusion after the renaming.
3. If you are the sole heir to the fortune of Mrs. Moneybags—or you’re VC-backed—and you have ample funds at the ready, then go for it! You might as well give your company as much of an advantage as possible.

The reality is, however, that most startups or SMBs don’t have the money to pay for a premium domain—and that’s OK. They still have some common options for finding an available, affordable Web address:

  • Modifying a .com domain
  • Using a country code top-level domain (ccTLD)
  • Using a global top-level domain (gTLD)
Modifying a .com Domain

If done right, modifying a .com domain won’t inhibit a good company from growing and succeeding. Famously, Dropbox started at, Square started at, and plenty of companies that never even dropped the modifier—such as Method at, or us here at

If this is going to be your approach, first identify modifiers common to your industry, such as “health” or “medical” for healthcare services; using such modifiers will make your website address easier to remember for consumers.

Alternately, there are plenty of common and accepted modifiers that are almost universally applicable, such as inc, systems, solutions, company, network, or team. If you want a particularly active- and often imperative-sounding address, try a modifier before your name, like one of these:

More common is using a modifier after the name. Here’s a long but not exhaustive list of the ones we regularly recommend to clients:

Of course, there are plenty of other options; you just need to find the one that fits best with your name in tonality (Inc sounds more corporate, Go is active, Planet is friendly), sound (maybe one is alliterative, or simply more euphonic), and of course, budget and availability.

It’s likely you’ll find some options that are unregistered, and some that you would have to buy.

Using an Alternate ccTLD

Another route you can take for a more reasonably priced domain name is to use a TLD. Country-code TLD extension, such as .ly (Libya), .co (Colombia), and .me (Montenegro) have become prolific and accepted by consumers in recent years.

Some of those extensions will need to be incorporated into your name (Instagram started out as (Armenia), for example), and you probably shouldn’t use a domain with .ly if you don’t want it to be part of your name when spoken aloud. Other extensions, such as .co, can simply replace the .com.

As with the modifiers, certain extensions are linked with certain industries; for example, .io (British Indian Ocean Territory) extensions are being used by technology companies, because “io” is shorthand for input/output, and .tv (Tuvalu) is associated with—you guessed it—television or video streaming sites.

The danger with using alternate TLDs is that they are trendy, and trends go in and out of style. The .ly extension is already beginning to feel shopworn ( is now, and new companies with -ly names can seem uncreative. In the future, .ly domains may feel as passé as .net and .biz.

Using a New gTLD

Finally, consider finding an available domain among the hundreds of new global top-level extensions becoming available:

  • Keyword extensions such as .law, .health, and .food
  • Location-specific extensions such as .NYC and .Vegas
  • Branded extensions such as .IBM and .YouTube

Though consumer acceptance of these nascent domains has yet to be established, the recent enthusiastic embrace of select ccTLDs is an indication that the more intuitive and practical gTLDs will be accepted as well.

So, especially for individuals and small businesses, consider choosing a descriptive extension like .pizza or .photo. Or, if your business is located in New York City and you don’t plan to expand beyond that region, consider a .nyc domain. (In fact, that extension has grown the fastest so far.)

Alternately, many of the modifiers I mentioned in the previous section exist or will launch soon as gTLDs, so you could register your domain at, for example, a .company, .app, .world, or .zone URL. (See this comprehensive list of available gTLDs.)

* * *

Finding the right URL can be daunting, but with a little time and effort you can absolutely find a domain that works for your brand—and your wallet!


One of the hardest financial decisions you’ll face when naming or renaming a company or product is whether you should splurge for the exact .com domain name—and, if not, how you should adapt the URL so that it fits with your brand and allows consumers to easily find your site.

MarketingProfs, March 18, 2015

A good company name doesn’t have to tell customers exactly what you do. Names that hinge on a compelling narrative are often far more powerful. So approach your naming needs with the following tips in mind, and your brainstorming will be much more likely to yield a robust list of captivating names.

1. Know Thyself

Levi’s, Peet’s, Hewlett-Packard, and Disney are all names that allude to the history of the companies through their founders. They seek to start conversations centered on the company’s origin story.

Highlighting the vision and influence of your company’s founders builds an air of trust and relatability among customers. However, this strategy limits options and says little about your company’s mission or positioning.

To dive into subtler naming territory, examine your founders’ interests and common values. Consider the software company Asana, which refers to a restorative pose in yoga—a meaningful practice of the company’s founders.

Sometimes the greatest names come from within a company.

2. ¿Cómo Se Llama?

At a namer’s right hand is the thesaurus, but at a namer’s left are English-paired dictionaries of many foreign languages.

Although a name could be taken from any language, Swahili and Hawaiian are worth listing because they have regular, pronounceable word constructions. Many successful companies have built a unique tone with foreign names, such as the online payment service Boku (from the French “beaucoup,” meaning “much” or “many”) or the tomato sauce Prego (Italian for “please”).

Such names, when chosen well, can pique interest in your company and make customers ask what language your name comes from or what it means. Those questions are not signs of confusion; they are signs that your company’s name has captured customers’ curiosity.

3. In Touch With Nature

Humans’ innate fascination with the natural world makes it a great place to look for names packed with story and emotion. Nature provides great messaging fodder in the form of purity, goodness, ruggedness, climate (cold or hot), or even a down-home quality.

Amazon, for example, evokes wildness, wonder, and large scale much more effectively than a name like Bargainland would. And whether the name Apple is meant to evoke freshness, Isaac Newton, Adam and Eve, or education, the name starts a conversation. Burt’s Bees pays homage to the founder’s bee colonies, which he cultivated to make honey and candles to sell at farmers markets, later producing a full line of natural products and sharing his love of nature with customers.

Nature names can serve to set your company apart from the competition and bring your message down to earth.

4. Location (Location, Location)

Like nature, the names of places and the planet’s physical features are a great place to look for naming inspiration. Cisco (from San Francisco) and Fujifilm (named after Mt. Fuji, in Japan) are companies that looked to geography in the naming process.

Geographical names connect you to a community and can evoke a variety of emotions. A mountain name is majestic while a city name is cosmopolitan. And what do you think of when you hear Chevy Tahoe? Timbuk2? Yukon?

Taking a good look at a map is a worthwhile step in any naming journey, but keep in mind that geographically descriptive names are not trademarkable unless customers specifically associate the term with your products or services.

5. Know It, You’re a Poet!

A good metaphor, when used strategically as a name, can speak volumes. Vudu (a name we created at Catchword) delivers online movie and TV content. Derived from “voodoo,” the name aptly conveys the magical qualities of the delivery mechanism, high definition, and surround sound—in just four letters! Other great metaphorical names are Amazon Kindle and Ford Mustang.

Metaphorical names stand for something larger than themselves, and they work for companies that want to do the same.

6. Your Inner Goddess

Mythology and religion are humanity’s standbys. Virtually every culture has a collection of symbolic stories full of explanations for life’s great mysteries. Those stories are also full of great name ideas.

Nike is named after the Greek Goddess of victory, and Oracle is named after the Oracle of Delphi. From Egyptian to Inuit and Norse to Navajo, there are countless stories to pore over.

A word of advice: mythology is a well-trodden area of naming, so dive deeper than the names of characters to find fresh and exciting naming inspiration.

7. Celebrity Shout-Outs

We pay homage to the great achievers of the world by naming things after them. Sometimes we get lucky and the great achievers have nice names.

Consider electric car company Tesla. When Elon Musk decided to name the company after the great inventor Nikola Tesla, he weaved a story of innovation and divergence into his cars.

Who was the first person to summit Mt. Everest? Who discovered bacteria? The answers might just be great names. Just remember to honor only those who are no longer with us; and, even then, exercise caution, because some names are licensed and otherwise protected by the estates of the deceased.

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Too often, companies want a name that will encapsulate their entire business philosophy. Besides the obvious truth that doing so is impossible, names that try to say too much often end up saying nothing at all.

Deep-naming is the art of choosing a specific message and generating an extensive list of names to convey it in countless different ways (we usually create over 2,000 names for a naming project). The deeper your company’s name and its message, the more you stand out from the competition. The tips in this article are avenues that can lead you there.

A deep name makes your customers ask, “Where did your name come from?”—a question you can then answer with a compelling story.

Read more:

A good company name doesn’t have to tell customers exactly what you do. Names that hinge on a compelling narrative are often far more powerful. So approach your naming needs with the following tips…

The New York Times Magazine, January 15, 2015


The announcement came in November with two names attached: one famous, one not, or at least not yet. The famous name was Paul McCartney. Anyone who wanted to try a virtual-reality experience starring the former Beatle — replicating the sensation of standing center stage with him as he sang “Live and Let Die” to 70,000 screaming fans — had only to download a special video file, put the file into an app for their Android phone and slip the phone into a cardboard headset designed by Google. The not-yet-famous name was of the virtual-reality production process that created this experience. Reviewers said it was “mind-­blowingly cool” and an “exciting preview of the future,” but it was also so novel that it had been hard to think of a word to label it. Its inventors had wanted a name that would lodge in the public consciousness the same way Dolby and Imax and Blu-ray had. A name that could become a verb as well as a noun. An iconic name. A name for the ages.

Finding such a name wasn’t easy. Starting in April 2013, the production process itself went through what has become a fairly standard development story for tech start-ups: The three founders — Tom Annau, Jens Christensen and Arthur van Hoff, all computer scientists and “resident entrepreneurs” at a venture-capital firm called Redpoint — began with a flash of insight, then wrote code for the software, then assembled a hardware prototype, then raised more than $34 million from investors, including Google. But initially, they couldn’t come up with a name. The three batted around a few possibilities, Christensen says, but it “very quickly became apparent we weren’t going anywhere. We really needed help.” They had already hired a San Francisco-based branding and design agency called Character to help shepherd their production process to the marketplace, and it was Character that took them to Anthony Shore.

Shore, 47, is what is known in the arcane world of corporate branding as a namer. He is boyish, ebullient and voluble, which is only natural for someone who makes his living from words. As a child, Shore found himself entranced by language, and when he received the American Heritage Dictionary as a birthday present, he pored over a supplement on the roots of Indo-European words in much the manner that other kids memorized batting averages. (He still has the book on a shelf in his office in Oakland, Calif.) He studied linguistics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and wrote a senior thesis on Latin and moraic theory. There wasn’t a lot of work for linguists, so he fell back on another preoccupation, fonts, and became a typesetter for a real estate magazine. Typesetting led him to graphic design, graphic design led him briefly to advertising and advertising led him to naming, beginning with cocktails at Hotel De Anza in San Jose. Shore spent 13 years at one of the oldest and largest branding firms, Landor Associates, and a year at the branding behemoth Lexicon before deciding in 2009 to open his own one-man naming agency, Operative Words.

Now he met the three entrepreneurs at their office in Menlo Park. They showed him their 32-lens camera — “something that looked like Sputnik,” Shore says — then he put on a headset, and they fired up a standard-issue V.R. demo. He was immediately teleported to a computer-generated Tuscan villa. Shore was impressed. But still, it looked like a computer game.

The engineers then loaded a new file, and when Shore looked around the room through the headset, he saw the three inventors tossing a Nerf ball. Only they weren’t. Shore was watching a virtual-reality movie of them tossing a Nerf ball. This time Shore was astonished. “It was completely real,” he says. “It was transportive.”

Shore had named everything from companies to products to websites to ingredients to colors. He was responsible for some 160 distinct names in all, including SoyJoy (the health bar), Lytro (the camera) and Yum! (the parent company of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell), as well as lesser-known names like Avaya, Enormo, Fanhattan, Freescale, Homestyler, Kixx, Mylo, Pause, Rig, Scribe, Spontania, Valchemy, Wanderful and Zact. But the new V.R. production process posed a particular challenge. It was manifestly different, Shore told himself. It could have a profound influence on entertainment culture and on how people connect with one another. He needed a name that would convey its magnitude — a great name.

For decades, corporations have turned to creative people for their naming needs, with varying results. In 1955, a Ford Motor marketing executive recruited the modernist poet Marianne Moore to name the company’s new car. The marketing department had already created a list of 300 candidates, all of which, the executive confessed, were “characterized by an embarrassing pedestrianism.” Could the poet help? In a series of letters, Moore proposed dozens of notably nonpedestrian names — Intelligent Whale, Pastelogram, Mongoose Civique, Utopian Turtletop, Varsity Stroke — but the marketing team rejected them all, instead naming the new car (in one of the great disasters, naming and otherwise, in corporate history) after Henry Ford’s son, Edsel.

Today roughly 500,000 businesses open each month in the United States, and every one needs a name. From Dickens with his bitter Gradgrind to J. K. Rowling with her sour Voldemort, authors have long understood that names help establish character. Politicians know that calling a bill the USA Patriot Act makes it a little harder to vote against. The effects of strategic naming are all around us, once we begin to look for them. “You go to a restaurant, and you don’t order ‘dolphin fish,’ ” Shore points out. “You order ‘mahi-mahi.’ You don’t order ‘Patagonian toothfish.’ You order ‘Chilean sea bass.’ You don’t buy ‘prunes’ anymore; they’re now called ‘dried plums.’ ” Maria Cypher, the founder and director of the naming agency Catchword, which named the McDonald’s McBistro sandwich line, will tell you that names “give us a shared understanding of what something is.” Paola Norambuena, the executive director of verbal identity at Interbrand, says they give us a “shortcut to a good decision.”

Most people assume that companies name themselves and their products. True, Steve Jobs came up with the name for Apple and stuck with it despite the threat of a lawsuit from the Beatles, who had already claimed the name for their record label. Likewise, Richard Branson chose the name Virgin, and namers venerate him for it. “Virgin gets a reaction,” says Eli Altman, the head of A Hundred Monkeys, a naming agency. There is no “way that would get through a boardroom.” Most executives aren’t as imaginative as Jobs or Branson. And that’s where namers come in. Some work within larger branding agencies, like Landor or Interbrand. Others work within boutiques, like Catchword, A Hundred Monkeys (put 100 monkeys at 100 typewriters, and eventually they’ll write a Shakespearean tragedy, or a name), Namebase and Zinzin (French for “whatchama­callit”). Some, like Shore, are lone operators.

For the process that leads to a single name, companies can pay anywhere from $3,000 to $75,000. If that name becomes the foundation of a branding campaign, they can pay tens of millions of dollars more to establish its presence in the commercial firmament. The results can be inspired, but they can also be laughable. When Stephen Wolf took over USAir in the late 1990s, he concluded that the name sounded like that of a regional carrier, and he hired the branding firm Luxon Carra to find him a new name that fit his larger aspirations. The new name was unveiled in February 1997 to great fanfare. USAir was now . . . US Airways. The process of rebranding, from reprinting the stationery to repainting the planes, took nine months and, by one account, eventually cost the company nearly $40 million.

The namer’s craft may attain its highest expression in the pharmaceutical industry, in large part because namers have to work within so many government restrictions. Every drug name must be analyzed by the F.D.A.’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research to make sure that it doesn’t make extravagant claims — the hair restoring medication Rogaine was originally named Regain, until the F.D.A. nixed it — and that it cannot be mistaken for any other medication, which is how Losec, a heartburn treatment, became Prilosec, so as not to be confused with Lasix, a diuretic. (The F.D.A.’s guide on Best Practices in Developing Propriety Names for Drugs is a dense 33 pages.) The F.D.A. even runs handwriting tests on potential names to see if pharmacists might mistake one scribbled drug name on a prescription for another.

The oddity is that for all the weight a company places on choosing names, the decisions arise from a process that couldn’t be less corporate. There are no naming metrics, no real way to know if a new name helps or hinders. The field attracts people who are comfortable with such ambiguity. Jay Jurisich, the founder of Zinzin, is a painter with an M.F.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles. Jim Singer, who founded Namebase, was a jingle writer, and Margaret Wolfson, who now runs naming at Namebase, still splits her time between naming and performing one-woman shows around the world in which she recites classical myths. The renowned pharma namer Arlene Teck (coiner of Viagra, from “vigorous” and “Niagara”) writes haiku. Maria Cypher of Catchword fronts a rock band. Other namers are stand-up comics, photographers, rappers, linguists and poets. “A good name has the potency of any piece of art,” says Martin McMurray, a partner at Zinzin. Wolfson’s friend Jonathan Galassi, the president and publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, has told her that she is engaged in creating “practical poetry,” an assessment that Wolfson embraces, though she says she doesn’t use the term with all her clients.

What namers share is a love of words and a sensitivity to them, and they will tell you that that sensitivity is what separates them from amateurs. At Interbrand, they administer a test to aspiring namers. One question asks candidates to choose from a short list of names for a new margarine. Many select “Margi-Gras,” because it is festive and different. But, Norambuena says, a professional namer would see the negative associations with Fat Tuesday and reject it.

After Shore had his virtual-reality encounter, he got to work. The first thing he wanted to know was how the inventors defined the most salient characteristics of their production process: What made it new, different, amazing? In the naming business, this sort of interrogation is known as the brief. When namers ask these questions, companies often respond by giving them hundreds of pages of research or even slickly produced videos. But too often the executives struggle to articulate what makes their companies or products distinctive, and so namers must draw it out of them — which is why Jay Jurisich of Zinzin calls this first phase “corporate group therapy.” Shore learned that the inventors wanted something short, preferably one word. It needed to convey the idea of transport and also seem hip and consumer-­friendly, in a manner that suggested advanced technology. The founders wanted it to have a science-fiction feel to it. When Shore asked them about names they liked, Christensen said Tesla and Imax.

That was enough to get started. Shore settled into his home office in the hills above Oakland and considered his naming objectives, or what the name ought to do. Taking off from the inventors’ comments, he kept returning to the idea of transport: “It puts you somewhere else.” Shore says he always starts with a simple, concrete idea and then tries to “elevate it to some overriding, overarching idea that is much more abstract.” So he began riffing. Change of place elevated to motion, then motion elevated to speed, then speed elevated to physical space, then physical space elevated to just plain space. “So now I’m thinking about space and location.”

Eventually, he settled on six elements that would serve as the basis of his names. He calls these concepts his creative directions, though other namers call them buckets, places they can dump names that they associate with a given concept. Shore’s were: change (in location and time), entertainment, experience, immersion, presence and reality and, finally, WOW!

With his creative directions established, he set out to find names that gestured in those directions. He asked himself: What would be the sound of going from one place to another instantly? He began mapping the concept of instant travel to the sounds he decided upon. He knew that speed could be conveyed by what linguists call fricatives, which are consonants produced by forcing air through the narrow channel between tongue and front teeth or tongue and upper palate or tongue and molars: f, s, v, z. And he knew that the point of arrival could be conveyed by stops or plosives, which are consonants in which the air flow is blocked: b, d, p, t. The exercise produced names like Slide or Slyde.

The techniques Shore was using are a relatively recent innovation — one that makes the messy process seem more scientific. Will Leben was a linguistics professor at Stanford in 1988 when he got a call from Lexicon asking if its partners could visit him. At the time, Leben was teaching a course on the structure of English words, and Lexicon recruited him for a project: to create a list of morphemes, those parts of words that contain meaning. Using a thesaurus, Leben generated a long list of morphemes and the meanings of each — “pages and pages of morphemes,” Leben says, which Lexicon could then draw upon to create names that would express the nature of a particular product.

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A few years later, David Placek, Lexicon’s founder, asked Leben what he thought of a name they had conjured, Triples, for a new cereal from General Mills that contained three different grains. “It sounds like something that’s light and crunchy,” Leben recalls telling them. He says their jaws dropped. Could the sound of a word say as much as its content? The idea of sound symbolism went back to at least Plato’s “Cratylus,” in which he associated sounds with physical characteristics, but linguists tended to discredit it. It had long been a fundamental tenet of linguistics, Leben says, that “the association between the meaning of the word and its pronunciation is an arbitrary one. The reason why we call a piano a piano has nothing to do with the sounds p-i-a-n-o.”

But Placek was intrigued, and he asked Leben to conduct a study to determine whether sounds did indeed convey physical properties. Leben called his study Sounder. He administered a questionnaire to 150 Stanford and Berkeley students, asking them questions like: Which sounds faster, “fip” or “fop”? Leben found a consensus. “Fip” was faster than “fop.” Why? Because of the way the sounds were generated in the mouth, Leben says. “Fip” feels lighter and faster because the vocal tract is open only a small amount. There is less acoustic substance for “fip” than there is for “fop,” the pronunciation of which causes the jaw to drop and the tongue to lower, creating a heavier, more powerful sound. There were many similar discoveries among fricatives and plosives, leading Leben to conclude that “the physical characteristics of sound are what determine associations.” Significantly, Leben got the same results when the study was conducted overseas. Lexicon took the idea and ran with it. “Pentium” began with a plosive that signified energy, power and dynamism. The “S” of the Swiffer mop made it sound fast and easy. The “D” of Dasani water made it sound heavier. Leben says: “It doesn’t say ‘refreshing.’ It says ‘slow down,’ ‘cool off,’ ‘relax.’ ”

Next, Placek asked Leben if he could conduct a study to see if there might be an association between sounds and emotional states. That was Sounder II, conducted in 2002. “The results came out so clean, it was hard to believe,” Leben says. Certain sounds, for example, were associated with daring or liveliness or sadness or insecurity. But Sounder I and II concentrated exclusively on the initial sounds of a word — its first consonant or vowel or both. Sounder III, just concluded last summer, asked whether consonants and vowels in other positions in a word might have a similar or additive effect. They did.

Among the discoveries Leben made: Fricatives convey “faster” and “smaller” — as do vowels that are voiced near the front of the mouth, like the a in “bat” or the i in “hid.” Plosives, or stops, convey “slower” and “bigger” — as do vowels that are voiced at the back of the throat, like the o in “token” or the double o’s in “food.” So-called voiceless stops like k, p, and t are more alive and daring than voiced stops like b, d and g, while the voiceless convey less luxury than the voiced. And all sound-symbolic effects manifest differently depending on context. They take on properties of the product being named.

In his search for just the right sounds, Shore used an app, called Universal Text Combination Generator, to create a list of 7,500 names combining fricatives and stops. Getting some help from computers has become de rigueur among namers, who — perhaps in part to reassure their corporate clients — have devised proprietary and often highly confidential software to assist in the naming process. Some of these programs mash together roots of words to form new words. Some find rhymes. Some focus on speech. One company, Idiom, promotes a system it calls Lingtwistics, which, according to its website, is an algorithm that “deconstructs these naming ingredients, then reassembles them in unexpected ways.” (The name Lingtwistics was itself generated by the algorithm.)

Like most namers, though, Shore doesn’t believe that computers can replace human creativity. For Shore, sound symbolism was only the beginning. He didn’t just want words that sounded right. Shore liked “natural words,” words that carried semantic and even historic meaning.

He kept coming back to the notion that this invention was like something out of science fiction. Looking for inspiration, he watched the movie “Jumper,” which is about teleportation, and began examining a website called the Glossary of Science Fiction Ideas, Technology and Inventions. There were 2,400 entries, and Shore studied them all. Two, however, popped out. One was “Jumpdoor,” which referred to a teleportation device, still Shore’s go-to idea. And the other was “Jaunte Stage,” described as a “little place to teleport,” first used in a 1956 novel, “The Stars My Destination,” by Alfred Bester, which served as inspiration for a Stephen King story titled “The Jaunt.”

This is the point in his search at which Shore sits at his computer and opens window after window, making lists of words and then trying to make connections among the words on those lists and then putting potential candidates for the final name on a master list. It is an act of computerized mind meld, and it goes on for hours every day for days at a time. If the search seems chaotic, that is the point. The idea is to do everything — to leave no word unturned. He visits the website, which shows how words work with other words, or, which combs texts and concordances, flags parts of speech and shows how a specific word appears in billions of words of text. He visits to find all the words that rhyme with a word. That is how he came up with the name for an ideation application for the Palm Pilot — he began with “brain,” looked for rhyming words and concluded with BrainForest. For this project, he thought of words about travel, but also about entertainment, the sense of engagement, connection, energy, even spheres. And he laid them all out on an Excel spreadsheet — 1,200 names in all by the time he had finished.

For a single project, namers can come up with as many as 6,500 names. Big naming companies will do anywhere from 40 to 50 projects a year, and smaller ones 15 to 20, which adds up to a lot of names. Of course, only one name will be chosen for each project, and that is the only one the client will own. The rest, however, won’t necessarily go to waste. Every naming agency keeps a list of its discards in a computer program. These are then classified by message (at Catchword); by distinctiveness, appeal, memorability and concept (at Interbrand); or by whatever other way the namers might want to retrieve them. Catchword has 650 of these categorized lists. And many of the names will be recycled, which suggests that there is a kind of Platonic ideal of good names, independent of products good or bad — a name so good that it could work, if not on anything, than at least on many things.

Three weeks after he first experienced the results of the new virtual-reality production process, Shore paid a second visit to Menlo Park — this time with 61 names he had culled from his master list of 1,200. Using PowerPoint, he presented the names one by one with an explanation of the meaning of each. And he presented them in what amounted to a narrative, bunching all the names that connoted one characteristic and moving from that characteristic to the next in an arc that he thought had a strong beginning and a boffo ending.

The first name was Virch, for “virtual” reality. Then Amuzium (he thought the “ium” read “elemental”). Then Thrall, which was “emotive” but also had a negative suggestion of surrender. Then Thrillium. Howl. Mezmer. Joyager (the inventors immediately liked that one). Livit. Physic. Tactene. Tether (“tying one to an experience”). Lash. Splicefield. Velop. Engulf (“very direct”). Respace (another favorite). Skylume. Coil (“potential energy”). Midst (“I was interested in repurposing words from another era”). Zyde (from “reside”). Jaunt (“a short journey for pleasure”). Trav. Trave. Translo. Zonic (“sonic but faster”). Popover (“they loved this name”). When he was done, two hours later, Christensen, van Hoff and Annau listed their favorites, compared them and then handed the winners to Shore.

That was the end of Round 1.

Typically there are two rounds in each naming project, though larger clients and tougher jobs may require three or four. With the lists in hand, Shore retreated to his home to generate a revised set of 50 names, now that he knew what sorts of names the inventors seemed to like (Glidesight, Latch, Plasm, Sheen, Splicewire and Telescape, among others).

Getting clients to accept a name is the hardest part of a namer’s job. Shore calls it the brander’s paradox: Having asked for a whole new identity, the client is terrified to accept it. “We’re taxed with doing something different,” Shore says, “yet those are the very things that might be off-putting or scary.” This is one reason namers make a point of discussing the origins of their names; explaining the chain of reasoning behind an unfamiliar word can make it come to sound not just natural but inevitable. Even so, some of the best names wind up in the bin, which is why Paola Norambuena of Interbrand says she makes it a practice never to argue for a name or to fall in love with one. Naming will break your heart.

Then there is the issue of trademarks. Before any company or product name can be registered and legally protected, it must pass an evaluation by the Patent and Trademark Office to determine whether it has already been taken. Almost every naturally occurring word has been claimed, which is why namers so often arrive at portmanteaus (Accenture derives from “accent” and “future”) or drop vowels (Flickr and Tumblr) or change letters (Lyft). “Coming up with a good name is hard,” Margaret Wolfson says. “Coming up with a great name is even harder. Coming up with a name that passes trademark! . . . ” There are roughly two million active trademarks in the United States, and 5,000 new applications are filed with the trademark office each week. At least half do not pass, often because they happen to be merely similar to another name. Shore’s Respace, which the inventors liked, would be deemed too close to a digital-services firm named Redspace, so the name eventually dropped out. A company can try to buy out another company that has a name it covets, but it can get messy. That is why Shore and other namers subject their candidates to a preliminary trademark screening before a client becomes attached to a name it cannot have. And trademarks don’t have to be cleared only in the United States. For companies and products overseas, they have to be cleared in each country.

Vetting names internationally means considering cultural issues as well. Lexicon has 84 linguists around the world who make sure names don’t ruffle local sensitivities. By one account, linguists rejected the drug name Soarus because it sounded like tsouris, Yiddish for “trouble.” Similarly, Wolfson once had to convince a client that a product named Care 4 would not sell in China because the number 4 signifies death. One American company, Good Characters, is devoted entirely to coming up with Chinese names for other American companies wanting to do business in China.

In pharmaceutical naming, the hurdles are, of course, even higher — which has led some pharma namers to abandon semantically grounded names altogether. At ixxéo, a naming firm based in Switzerland, Denis Ezingeard, the managing director, has devised a method that focuses entirely on visual and aural names, on the principle that the less semantic freight a word carries, the better. He says his process draws on jazz, nonrepresentational art, bird-watching and Darwinian evolution. His rationale is that the names don’t mean anything in linguistic terms, which makes it easier for them to pass regulation. Ezingeard may be onto something in a business in which companies are running out of words. The company’s own name, ixxéo, is a product of its method. It looks and sounds right, but it isn’t a real word. It is an impression — something Ezingeard made up.

With the prescreening completed late in August, Shore returned to the inventors’ office for the last time with his 50 final candidates. Once again, he projected the names on a screen in context and explained his reasoning for choosing each. But by this time, Christensen, van Hoff and Annau were seasoned evaluators. “The names were even better,” Christensen says.

After Shore left, they wrote the finalists on a whiteboard on their office wall and began deliberating. The contenders included Popover, FarAcross, Jaunt, Jumpdoor and Lunge. Christensen lobbied hard for Jaunt, which had grown on him because of its science-fiction origins. But one partner thought it was too high-toned, too British-sounding. Jumpdoor was still a favorite, and Respace hadn’t yet fallen out. For days, the partners debated the possibilities, and the weight of the decision was considerable. “It is kind of all or nothing,” Christensen says about their name choice.

What Shore didn’t tell them was that even if the name they chose received a tepid reception, the power of their production process could still overcome it. Most namers will tell you, as Paola Norambuena puts it, that a “great name can’t fix a bad product. A great product can fix a bad name.” Accenture was met with derision for reminding people of dentures. Gap was an empty space. Yelp was a dog in pain. The iPad was confused with a tampon. Now these names have no odd connotations at all, thanks to the success of the things they name.

So it may have been that after hours upon hours of brainstorming and hours more of deliberations and still hours more of trademark searches, and after the expenditure of tens of thousands of dollars, not as much was at stake as Christensen, van Hoff and Annau thought — at least not in commercial terms. Personal and emotional stakes were a different story. Christensen says selecting the name was a milestone, though he doesn’t remember exactly how or when they settled on their choice. Shore got the news via an email telling him that they had chosen a name and that it had been granted trademark approval. Now it was theirs.

It would be seven more months before the company was ready to come out to the public. In that time, the inventors moved their operations to Palo Alto. They formed a board of advisers, which included the chairman of Imax. They began making arrangements to record events like the McCartney concert and even make V.R. movies. And then, when they were ready, one afternoon last April, they invited the press to their unveiling. Reporters who entered the office were greeted by a large sign affixed to the wall with the company’s name in a futuristic-looking font. Of course, they had no idea what went into selecting the word on that sign. It simply said:


The announcement came in November with two names attached: one famous, one not, or at least not yet. The famous name was Paul McCartney. Anyone who wanted to try a virtual-reality experience starring the former Beatle — replicating the sensation of standing center stage with him as he sang…

Curbed San Francisco, October 21, 2014

5cd2ca6d.building01_color.0Amero. Vida. 8 Octavia. NEMA. Lumina. The names unfurl easily, with a kind of sensual appeal that’s almost embarrassing. Say them often and they start to feel like a private incantation that conjures some pure plane of existence, never an actual place. Each one sounds vaguely Latin and definitely alluring—is it a nightclub, a boutique hotel, a tapas bar? No, wait: Vida and Octavia are definitely supermodels. NEMA is a sexy operating system, like Scarlett Johansson in Her, and Amero is a party drug.

Residential nomenclature is an art as old as homeowners’ associations, but the buildings now rising in San Francisco aren’t exactly taking their cues from the Brocklebank. Like “Toyota Celica,” these condos (plus the aspirational rentals at NEMA) have a soothing, if wholly fabricated, savor—a fantasy calibrated to inspire prospective buyers to drop a million or five on what is, at the moment of sale, still largely a marketing concept. So what gives? Why do all of San Francisco’s new developments sound like they were plagiarized from a spa menu?

The current crop of names clusters around the same set of attributes: they’re abstract, easy to pronounce, and hard to pin a precise meaning on. They sound feminine. Multisyllabic. Vaguely European. Not unlike a car, in fact. If Toyota Celica were not already taken, Trumark Urban would probably be building it somewhere in South Beach.

Among professional naming consultants, that rounded, rhythmic formulation is known as consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel. Words that follow this pattern are “very easy and can be unambiguously pronounced by a speaker of just about any language,” says Maria Cypher, principal and creative director ofCatchword, a naming agency with offices in Oakland and New York. “Something that comes out of that structure—romance-language-type names, Italianate or Spanish or Latinate in feel—lends an air of sophistication.” From a purely structural standpoint, Christina Aguilera is an ideal condo name. Lady Gaga isn’t bad, either. Lorde, not so much.

Actually, the car analogy isn’t far off. We’ve remarked before on the propensity of Tishman Speyer, the developer behind Lumina and the Infinity, to select names already claimed by certain sedans (Infiniti being a homophone). But Cypher doesn’t see a potential for brand confusion, because a mixup of the products of Chevrolet and Tishman Speyer is unlikely. “People are very quick to get over it because the car association is not enough to matter,” she says.

For Cypher, it makes sense that automakers and developers would want to pull from the same source material. “Car names can be evocative in the same way that condo names are trying to be,” she explains, noting Lumina’s Latin translation: “lights.” “With Lumina, you’re getting a sense of infinite exploration. There’s no limit to what you can do; it sounds intelligent—all these associations you’d love to have in your condo brand as well.” Everyone, it seems, is constantly dipping into the same lexicon of vaguely optimistic root words. “If you searched the trademark database for Infinity, you’d probably see many hundreds of uses in different markets,” says Cypher. “It’s such a positive, unbounded kind of word that a lot of folks are going to use it.”

Amero, Trumark Urban’s luxury 27-unit building in Cow Hollow, unites the classic consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel construction with a very popular prefix. To be honest, our mind went straight to the bar—where the liqueur amaro kicked up requisite Italianate, sophisticated associations—but Cypher and her Catchword colleague, client services director Kristen Pembroke, detected more patriotic overtones. “Kristen and I both felt it was a strong American association,” says Cypher, “but also a bit of a blank slate. It has a nice high-end, airy kind of feel, a recollection of American, but it also felt more like an empty vessel.”

Meanwhile, Oyster Development’s Vida leaves less room for interpretation. “Vida,” the Spanish word for “life,” from the Latin “vita,” gestures so neatly at the identity of the Mission that it almost feels like an overreach—but not before handing off the metaphor to the marketing copy, which describes the zigzagging facade as “literally weaving the urban fabric of the Mission into the building itself.”
Then there’s the category of condos that prefer numerals to words, not unlike a BMW Z4 or a Porsche 911. DDG and DM Development’s 8 Octavia and JS Sullivan’s Fifteen Fifteen use stylized names of their street addresses, but those choices aren’t any less deliberate, notes Cypher. At some numeral buildings, numerology may play an auspicious role. “In Chinese culture, eight is a really lucky number,” she says, noting the digits of both 8 Octavia and Summit 800. “I don’t think any developer who has an eye on the Chinese market would have an address with a four”—a number that, when spoken aloud in Mandarin, sounds very similar to the Mandarin word for “death.”

Two outliers in the current batch of condos are Arden and LuXe. “We were trying to figure out why the ‘X’ was capitalized,” says Cypher. “The only thing we could surmise was that it was to make an oft-used word stand out. ‘Luxe’ is great, but it’s so clichéd at this point.”

Arden is clearly the more thoughtful of the pair. Cypher and Pembroke place it in vaguely British, and even aristocratic, territory. But not so much that other, equally pleasant associations are ruled out, says Cypher. Though some people might be reminded of Elizabeth Arden, “garden,” or even the French “jardin,” she explains, “for most folks it would be viewed as a sophisticated-sounding empty vessel.” That open-endedness makes the name an ideal building block for the emotional appeal to be filled in later by the developer’s marketing team. Or make it Ardenly and you have a startup. Opt for Ardenophren and you have a pharmaceutical.

Cypher and Pembroke also approved of the name NEMA. It follows that familiar consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel pattern, derived this time from the aspirational phrase “New Market.” But Cypher took exception to the building’s choice of domain name: “It’s not the most high-end domain,” she says. “The word ‘rent’ makes it seem lower end than something renting for $9,000 a month.” Cypher thinks something like would be more evocative. It would also be harder to skewer.

· Buyers Unfazed by Dizzying $2000-per-Square Prices at Lumina[Curbed SF]
· Photo-Stalking the Rise of Lumina, SF’s Priciest Condo Tower[Curbed SF]
· Catchword Branding [Official Site]
· Past Coverage of the Infinity [Curbed SF]
· First Look Inside Amero’s Super-Sized Cow Hollow Condos[Curbed SF]
· Vida Unveiled Its Zigzagging New Facade and It’s Totally Loca[Curbed SF]
· Previous Coverage of 8 Octavia [Curbed SF]
· Inside Fifteen Fifteen, the Mission’s Newest Condo Development[Curbed SF]
· Previous Coverage of Summit 800 [Curbed SF]
· Arden’s Amenity-Laden Condos Ready to Sell in Mission Bay[Curbed SF]
· So Very Retro: Renderings Emerge for LuXe at 1650 Broadway[Curbed SF]
· Those $8,950/Month 3-Bed Rentals Are Still Available at NEMA[Curbed SF]
· ENEMA Lux Apartments [Twitter]

Amero. Vida. 8 Octavia. NEMA. Lumina. The names unfurl easily, with a kind of sensual appeal that’s almost embarrassing. Say them often and they start to feel like a private incantation that conjures some pure plane of existence, never an actual place…

99% Invisible, April 8, 2014

Catchword Featured on 99% Invisible’s Design Podcast

This blog originally appeared at Slate as a transcript of the 99% Invisible Podcast Episode 109: Title TK.

Roman Mars’  podcast 99% Invisible covers design questions large and small, from his fascination with rebar to the history of slot machines to the great Los Angeles Red Car conspiracy. Here at the Eye, we cross-post new episodes and host excerpts from the 99% Invisible blog, which offers complementary visuals for each episode.

This week’s edition about naming products—in which 99% Invisible producer Avery Trufelman spoke with Laurel Sutton, co-founder of Catchword Branding, Eli Altman, creative director at A Hundred Monkeys and author of the naming book Don’t Call It Thatand catchword namer Alex Kelley—can be played below. Or keep reading to learn more.

The name is important. It’s the first thing, the tip of the spear with any product you use or buy or see. You are bombarded by thousands of names every day.

In this daily barrage, only the names that are most interesting and most pleasant on the tongue can survive in your memory. So it’s no surprise that companies—especially large ones like Sony or Procter & Gamble—hire naming companies.

That is, there are companies that come up with names for things. Cars, lines of yogurt, iPhone apps, small businesses, sodas, movies, and even theories have all been named by professionals.

Now, we’ve all come up with names before—for pets, or children, or bands, or blogs. But when it comes to designing a name for a business or a product, there are a number of additional factors to consider.

Case study: Photoshop Elements.

The word “Elements” took a lot of work.

Photoshop was looking to market a less expensive version of its software, which it wanted to market as having all the capabilities of regular Photoshop but without many of the “bells and whistles.” Adobe hired Oakland-based naming company Catchword to come up with something. Catchword went through a monthlong exploration of every word that might apply: “essentials,” “basics,” “light,” etc., but they all sounded compromising. Finally, they came across Elements, which implies both simplicity and necessity; the parts that are basic but important.

(Catchword, by the way, got its name from the guiding words at the top of the dictionary pages. Those are the catchwords.)

There are really only a handful of businesses that deal exclusively in names, and their services can cost thousands of dollars. In addition to coming up with names, they also determine what names are available for trademark, which URLs are available, and they conduct linguistic checks to ensure that potential names are pronounceable, unique, and appropriate in languages around the world.

Linguistic checks can be vital: Catchword was once naming a toy and one of the names they had come up with for it turned out to mean “a small device that doesn’t work” in Japanese. So they ruled that option out.

More than anything else, Catchword just produces a ton of names. They see a direct relationship between quantity and quality, and casually remark that the first 500 names anyone comes up with are going to be obvious and uninteresting. Catchword will generate more than 2,000 names per client, 30 to 50 of which they will present as viable options.

And they can come up with so many names because they make names across a naming spectrum.

At one end of the spectrum you have descriptive names, which just describe what the thing is—like Raisin Bran, and Shredded Wheat.

Descriptive names can be great because they’re self-explanatory. But they are also hard to own. In fact, neither Raisin Bran nor Shredded Wheat is trademarked. Anyone can make a cereal and call it raisin bran or shredded wheat.

The other big drawback to descriptive names is that they can be limiting. National Public Radio changed its name to NPR so that they wouldn’t be limited to just one medium.

Descriptive names contributed to the downfalls of a lot of specific startups in the ’90s, like, which had trouble expanding services beyond its name.

All the way on the other end of the spectrum are so-called arbitrary names, which don’t tell you anything about the product or service. Like Apple.

Arbitrary names allow for flexibility—in Apple’s case, the name allows them to make anything.

Arbitrary names can also be completely made up. These kinds of names are called “empty vessels.” Names such as Hulu, Exxon, and Kodak mean nothing on their own, and were largely chosen because they are short, unique, and sound appealing..

Arbitrary names and empty vessels are easy to trademark, easy to get the domain name for, and are usually good in languages around the world.

Drawback: They are hard to market. You have to put a lot of money behind these kinds of names to tell people what they mean. You would have no idea what Amazon sells or does if it didn’t have the budget to tell you about all its services.

Most names fall somewhere in between the two poles of descriptive and arbitrary names. These are “semi-descriptive” or “suggestive” names. Like Microsoft, which kind of says “software for microcomputers,” but not explicitly. Microsoft is a “coined word”—a word that doesn’t exist in an English dictionary but is made up of familiar words, word parts, or sounds. Spotify, Nespresso, and Netflix are also coined words.

A few miles away from Catchword is another naming company called A Hundred Monkeys. (A Hundred Monkeys got its name from the idea that if you put a hundred monkeys in front of a hundred typewriters, you’re bound to get a good name. It’s a joke about the process.)

A Hundred Monkeys doesn’t make coined words or empty vessels. They prefer to come up with names based around a narrative, inspired by anatomical charts, constellations, secret service code names, rundown theaters, types of wind, and ocean currents. They strive for names that lead to conversation. They have named Front Porch Senior living communities; The Lot (Rhode Island’s state lottery); and Start Here 
Microsoft Windows tutorial. They also named Conditioned Hypereating, a theory for how fast food companies design food to make it irresistible.

Rather than a naming spectrum, A Hundred Monkeys sees more of a sort of name taxonomy, in which classifications break down into 25 categories of names. Some examples:

Names of real people (Tesla Motors, Jack Daniels, Newman’s Own)

Names of imaginary mascots (Jolly Green Giant, Dr. Pepper, Captain Morgan)

Americana names (Baby Ruth, Dixon Ticonderoga, 76 Gasoline)

Mythical names (Nike, Pandora, Hermès)

Foreign-feeling names (Clinique, Häagen Dazs, Tazo)

Lifestyle statement names (Forever 21, True Religion, Livestrong).

The takeaway is this: If you have enough money, the name can be anything. When the iPad was about to come out, everyone thought it was a really silly name. You heard all kinds of sanitary napkin jokes.
The iPad name was once the butt of many now-forgotten jokes.

Now, through sheer force of will and advertising dollars, you don’t think twice about the word “iPad.”

To learn more, check out the 99% Invisible post or listen to the show.

99% Invisible is distributed by PRX

The name is important. It’s the first thing, the tip of the spear with any product you use or buy or see. You are bombarded by thousands of names every day In this daily barrage, only the names that are most interesting and most pleasant on the tongue can survive in your memory…

Press Democrat, January 10, 2014
Duckhorn v. Duck Commander

Duckhorn Wine Company has a history of going after wineries that dare to use a duck in their names or labels.

But this time, the winery is hunting a potentially tougher target: the self-professed “redneck royalty” of the hit A-E TV show “Duck Dynasty.”

The Napa Valley winery is going after the Duck Dynasty folks because they’ve used the word “Duck” and an image of a duck on their wines.

That’s right: the reality TV stars with the motto “Faith, Family and Facial Hair” who made their fortune selling duck hunting gear have launched a wine brand, called “Duck Commander.”

In November, the Robertson family of Duck Dynasty fame collaborated with Trinchero Family Estates to produce three wines from California grapes: Triple Threat red blend, Wood Duck chardonnay and Miss Priss pink moscato.

“We decided to create Duck Commander Robertson Family Wines because we know that many of our customers and our viewers choose to celebrate family moments with wine,” Duck Commander CEO Willie Robertson said at the time.

Then the bearded, brawny men became the latest in a string of targets for Duckhorn Wine Company. The St. Helena winery, which produces wines that largely sell for $50 and up, has taken on a number of what it deems to be trademark violators in recent years, although not always successfully.

“It turns out that Duckhorn doesn’t own the word ‘duck,'” said Jay Behmke, an intellectual property attorney at Santa Rosa law firm Carle, Mackie, Power – Ross. “I know that Duckhorn has an interest in trademarks, and I’ve seen their interest, but there are a lot of duck trademarks, so they don’t have an exclusive on that.”

Duckhorn took aim at Duck Pond Cellars in Oregon in the mid ’90s, but that case settled. Greg Fries, president of Duck Pond Cellars, confirmed the case was resolved, but said he was bound by the settlement not to comment.

In 1999, Duckhorn contacted Cecchetti Sebastiani Cellar when it released a Smoking Duck brand of wine, according to the New York Times. Sebastiani agreed to rename the brand Smoking Loon, the Times reported.

Two years later, Duckhorn got into a legal battle with Long Island’s Pindar Vineyards and its Duck Walk Vineyards brand. Under a 2003 settlement in U.S. District Court, Duck Walk was allowed to continue producing wine, but it agreed to clearly label the wines’ place of origin, according to the Napa Valley Register.

Plenty of wine companies have registered trademarks for names that include the word “duck” before Duckhorn, including Duck Pond Cellars, Behmke said as he scrolled through a trademark database.

But that doesn’t always stop companies from trying to protect their trademarks, which often are more valuable than the rest of a winery’s assets combined.

“There is a large application of the golden rule in trademark law, where if you have the money, you can get what you want,” Behmke said.

Duckhorn may have the money to bury many competitors in litigation, but Duck Commander isn’t exactly hurting for cash. said Duck Commander’s revenues from product sales would reach $400 million by the end of 2013. Phil Robertson’s book “Happy, Happy, Happy” has been on the New York Times Best Seller list for 29 weeks.

Of course, Duck Commander has been in the spotlight since Phil Robertson, patriarch of Duck Dynasty, was suspended from the show in December for comments linking homosexuality to bestiality.

But nothing seems to stop the Robertsons for long. A-E relented on its position and reinstated him on the show just weeks later.

Has Duckhorn Wine Company finally met its match?

In its November complaint, Duckhorn accused Duck Commander of trademark infringement and dilution of its brand. The suit targeted Duck Commander, Inc., the Louisiana company specializing in duck hunting gear that was started by Phil Robertson in 1972; Trinchero Family Estates, the St. Helena wine company that sells and markets its wine; and Wal-Mart, which also sells the wine.

“Duckhorn is committed to protecting its family of duck related marks and labels,” wrote Henry Bunsow, attorney for Duckhorn Wine Company, in a letter to Trinchero.

In the letter, Bunsow complained that the Robertson family was in the Napa Valley for a launch party and didn’t respond to Duckhorn’s requests to resolve the issue.

“Duckhorn is very disappointed by your lack of response to this serious matter,” Bunsow wrote.

In a November reply, attorney J. Scott Gerien called Duckhorn’s trademark claims overreaching and unsupported.

“Duckhorn’s ownership of the DUCKHORN mark for wine does not provide Duckhorn with a monopoly on the word ‘DUCK’ as to wine,” Gerien wrote.

Alex Ryan, president and CEO of Duckhorn, and Bunsow, Duckhorn’s attorney, did not respond to repeated calls for comment. Gerien, lawyer for the defendants, also didn’t reply, nor did Trinchero Family Estates.

“They’re going to have to do a lot of legal work if they’re going to want to own all ducks,” said Laurel Sutton, strategist and linguist with Oakland-based naming company Catchword, which recently helped name Agilent Technologies’ spinoff company, Keysight Technologies.

“I’m looking at a picture of the two bottles side by side,” Sutton said. “And the claim is that the consumers are confused and buying the cheap one instead of the expensive one … and honestly I don’t buy that.”

The publicity from the trademark dispute could be a boon or a bust for Duckhorn.

Few wineries have the distinction of getting a write-up by TMZ, but going up against heavyweights like Duck Dynasty landed the winery in the headlines at the gossip website.

Behmke has seen this happen before, when he defended the former Belvedere Winery’s trademark from a new vodka that was going on the market by the same name. Belvedere Vodka took off, eventually usurping the winery’s place in Belvedere-drinking consumers’ minds.

“I can see why Duckhorn may be concerned about all this publicity,” Behmke said. “Duck Commander may be the first competitor that’s come along that’s looking like they might be the most famous duck wine.”

Duckhorn Wine Company has a history of going after wineries that dare to use a duck in their names or labels. But this time, the winery is hunting a potentially tougher target: the self-professed “redneck royalty” of the hit A-E TV show “Duck Dynasty.” The Napa Valley winery is going after the Duck Dynasty folks because they’ve used the word “Duck” and an image of a duck on their wines. …

“They’re going to have to do a lot of legal work if they’re going to want to own all ducks,” said Laurel Sutton, strategist and linguist with Oakland-based naming company Catchword, which recently helped name Agilent Technologies’ spinoff company, Keysight Technologies.

Press Democrat, January 7, 2014

It may seem like a simple name: Keysight Technologies. It couldn’t be that hard to come up with. Right?


There were 4,500 contenders when Agilent Technologies executives began the hair-splitting process of choosing a new name for its electronic measurement division, which will be spun off into a new company later this year.

On Tuesday, Agilent announced it had selected a name for the company, which will be based in Santa Rosa.

Keysight Technologies.

The new name had to convey a message. It had to be easy to pronounce. And it had to be a name that wouldn’t cause unintended embarrassment when translated into another language.

So that long list of creative ideas was hacked down quickly after the many monikers were checked for website availability, possible trademark violations, and the potential of unflattering translations in dozens of other languages. A pile of about 30 survivors remained.

“Picking a standard, off-the-shelf word is almost impossible,” said Ron Nersesian, the Agilent executive who will become CEO of the new company. “The first thing was to really figure out what do we stand for as a company, and to really understand what our values are.”

So Nersesian tasked Mike Gasparian, vice president of marketing for the electronics measurement division of Agilent, with assembling an international name-vetting team within Agilent and finding an expert to help tag the budding company, which traces its roots to Hewlett-Packard.

“The internal naming team was multi-regional, cross-functional, cross-level and multi-generational,” Nersesian said. “I wanted to make sure we had people who were relatively new employees as well as people who were very seasoned represented.”

A day or two after Agilent announced the spinoff in late September, Gasparian got on the phone with Laurel Sutton, principal at Catchword, a naming company in Oakland that he’d found through his research. Sutton drove up to Santa Rosa and the naming team debriefed her on the company and what it wanted to convey.

“I would definitely describe it as a wild ride, three months of insanity,” Gasparian said.

They began with six or seven possible directions for the name, and for each of those areas the Catchword team came up with hundreds of possibilities.

“There were a number of names we kicked around that would have been related to our early days, our history with Hewlett-Packard,” Gasparian said. “The older employees really thought that was cool. The younger people, they didn’t know anything about it. Like the street that Hewlett-Packard started on. They didn’t know anything about the street.”

Then came the tedious process of elimination. The Agilent employees around the globe logged onto their computers at a designated time, and then the monikers got their global critique.

Gasparian found that the lawyer in the Belgium area was more conservative than the lawyer in Russia, so he played referee between the two.

Then came a name that the team really liked, but the Internet domain name was taken.

“We hired a private investigator to find out who the person was, and whether it would be available for purchase,” Gasparian said. “It turned out to be a religious evangelist who was writing a book, and the book wasn’t published yet, but that was going to be the domain.”

And there was the name that had a meaning in Japanese with an inappropriate sexual connotation.

“We really dodged a bullet with dropping that one off the list,” Gasparian said. “You just run into all sorts of things you wouldn’t anticipate.”

Finally, the team had a list of about a dozen names which it presented to Nersesian, who had the final say. None of them worked.

“Talk about a hollow feeling in the stomach,” Gasparian said. “The first list had 10 or 15 names on it, and he came back instantly to his iPhone like, ‘I don’t like any of these.'”

So the team went back to the drawing board, literally. They decided that rather than coming up with just words, they would present mock-ups of billboards and logos to go with the names.

“It’s really hard to just take a bunch of letters and put them together, and have somebody identify with them right away,” Gasparian said.

In the end, the word “Keysight” conveyed what executives wanted: the sense that the company has the ability to see what others cannot, and that it unlocks insights for its customers, Nersesian said. Its tagline, “Unlocking measurement insights for 75 years,” commemorates its history with Hewlett-Packard, from which Keysight originated.

The logo, designed by Landor Associates in San Francisco, is a stylized waveform, which is the shape and form of a common electrical signal, said Jeff Weber, Agilent spokesman. The symbol represents the company’s undivided focus on electronic measurement once it separates from Agilent, Weber said.

Keysight Technologies will begin operating as a company within Agilent on Aug. 1, and will separate from Agilent in November. The company, which will have 9,500 workers in 30 countries, employs 1,175 people in Sonoma County.

In the meantime, business cards will bear both names. Signs will be changed in August, Nersesian said.

“It’s really an exciting time here. The employees are very jazzed,” Nersesian said. “Myself and all the employees are excited about taking Keysight to the next level.”

The company’s website is

It may seem like a simple name: Keysight Technologies. It couldn’t be that hard to come up with. Right?


There were 4,500 contenders when Agilent Technologies executives began the hair-splitting process of choosing a new name for its electronic measurement division, which will be spun off into a new company later this year.

On Tuesday, Agilent announced it had selected a name for the company, which will be based in Santa Rosa.

Forbes, October 14, 2013

Serial entrepreneur Mike Rauta took eight years to figure out an appropriate name for his last startup, an after-school tutoring service.

He started with Foundations for Education. A couple of years later, that name was shortened to a combination of letters and numbers that did not make much sense.

Eventually, though, Rauta settled on Think. “Still, it took us eight years to get there,” he says.

For his next startup, Rauta consulted Lynn Nichols, a name development consultant. After a process that involved extensive discussions and analysis of his company’s goals and objectives, Nichols offered a couple of choices to Rauta. He chose Pivvit (a play on pivot) because it captures the changed nature of his commerce platform, which combines shopping with social causes.

“Just like in retail (where physical location is considered important), a name is like an address for a startup,” says Rauta.

Names might seem like simple things. But, in an increasingly cluttered information highway, startup names are important markers for startups to distinguish their products from competition. A new breed of consultants – name developers – are helping startups come up with the right name that fits their product and brand.

“Names generate emotional responses,” says Paul Parkin, creative director of San Francisco-based SALT branding. Parkins agency is responsible for  terms such as Wifi (which was developed for the Wifi consortium) and company names such as Jawbone (a product design agency that designed one of the first wearable technology products). “They are incredibly personal things, as anyone who has named a child knows,” he says.

However, there is a difference between personal names and company names.

Children grow up to have personalities that help distinguish them from other adults with similar names. For example, my namesake is the first Indian astronaut in space. Despite the balding pate that we share, it is fairly easy to distinguish between us (the main point of reference being that he made history while I am history).

Plus, personal names are not used as verbs. As attractive as it may sound, “to armstrong” is rarely used for someone who is aspiring to become an astronaut. However, we Google, Facebook, and Tweet all the time.

Those names are an evolution for technology products.

Previously, technology companies rarely experimented with names. International Business Machines or IBM’s name does not leave much doubt about the company’s business. Although it entered daily lexicon as a synonym for photocopying, Xerox hardly sounds like a consumer product. With its unconventional name, Apple broke the naming convention (and mould) back in the 1970s. Since then, technology companies have mainstreamed their names and products. Consumers have responded accordingly.

In fact, twenty-five technology companies, including well-known brands such as Apple and Google, made the cut recently in an Adweek survey that measured emotional responses from consumers to major brands. However, brands are an eclectic collection of characteristics. Names are an important one of those characteristics.

Good Names And Bad Names: A Case Of Priorities?

“If there is only one thing that you could tell your audiences, what would it be?” is Lynn Nichols value proposition to startups. I met her at the recent Inside 3D printing conference in San Jose. In a conference that was about hardware and 3D printers, she was selling a soft skill: name development.

Nichols, who is a former Harvard and Berkeley linguistics professor, started her company in 2011 after helping a student name his startup. According to her, name development is a combination of competitive analysis, positioning, and a brand story. “So startups looking for “just” a name in fact get more than a name,” she says.

After attending a conference recently, Nichols told me that 75-80 percent of startup names there were “poor.” She is not fond of acronyms as names. Fanciful takes on daily objects are also out. For example, Korean company Samsung’s attempt to conflate a smartphone with the inter-galactic vastness of our galaxy does not impress her. “No one’s going to say, “Hand me the Galaxy,”” she says, referring to a colloquial use of the product’s name.

Apple’s iPhone wins her approval. “That (Apple) is the gold standard,” she says.

Apple, however, is the exception rather than the rule in a tech industry dominated by companies with unimaginative names. Consider the functional- and prosaic-sounding Microsoft, arguably one of the most successful technology companies of all time. Or, the more recent Salesforce, a name that conjures legions of sales teams marching as soldiers.

Part of the problem for this is due to the low value accorded to names in a startup’s scheme of things.

After spending “a few hours over a couple of days,” Paul Baumgart, cofounder of the no-nonsense-named, came up with a name that was “reasonably relevant and memorable.”

“It wasn’t a very involved process,” he says.

Mihir Sarkar, co-founder of Musikara, a music technology startup, took a more personal approach. The MIT graduate wanted a unique name that combined his Indian roots with the startup’s domain: music. “I think a name should mean something to the founders,” he says.

Two notable companies – Google and Twitter – both mean something to their founders. The former is a misspelling of a large number while the latter was named after an extensive dictionary search.

“Short bursts of communication, like a birdsong,” is how Laurel Sutton, principal at Catchword Branding, characterizes Twitter’s name. “It is also fun and playful, which is a good match with the company’s personality,” she adds. Of Google, she says it can be an “an empty vessel who don’t know what a googol is.” “The repeated letter “o” could look like eyes; the name itself could be that of a children’s toy,” she says.

According to her, good company names share common characteristics. “They are memorable, easy to spell and pronounce and reflect something important about the entity name,” she says.

To that list, Parkin from SALT adds other adjectives. They roll off his tongue with the practised ease of a human thesaurus: descriptive, suggestive, arbitrary, and fanciful. Some names, according to him, last despite lagging product sales. As an example, he says he didn’t expect RIM’s flagship product name – Blackberry – to last. “But, it has lasted inspite of their product,” he muses.

On the other hand, bad names are, well, just bad.

Sutton points to Zaarly (which is hard to spell), Clinkle ( which has negative associations, according to her) and, my personal favorite, Shodog.

At first glance, that name sounds like a rapper’s name. Picture a hip bro, talking cool jargon, and spinning awesome beats. Closer inspection, however, reveals that the startup is, in fact, a staid mobile communications platform.

This is not to say that being different is not good. Distinctiveness (of the Google and Twitter variety) is good and can add to a product’s value.

During the previous dotcom boom, Parkin’s branding agency worked with the oddly-named Fatbrain, an online bookstore for professional and technical books. The name, according to Parkin, was deliberately provocative. Fatbrain got fat returns when the startup was acquired for $64 million by Barnes & Noble.

So, how do you name a startup?

In their broad outlines, name developers follow a similar process.

An initial consultation and analysis of the company’s goals and objectives is followed by a linguistic and context analysis. In the former, language patterns are analyzed while the latter resolves cultural nuances of a name.

For example, Nichols contextualized Baungart’s startup name across multiple contexts. “Did you check (on) whatweorder? Did you check (on) what we ordered? Or, did you look at whatweorder,” she reasoned (I did not inform her about the actual domain for his startup). “There could be some misunderstanding in spoken language here,” she concludes. “I would guess they are changing it in a couple of years,” says Parkin, adding that the name does not have lasting value. For his part, Baumgart welcomes the latter conclusion because it presupposes success. “It’s a good problem to have down the line,” he says.

Sarkar’s approach resonates with Nichols. “Nice stress pattern (strong weak strong weak) very sayable.” she says. “Good sayable rhythm in a name is a plus for a music platform name.” Remember, however, this is only part of the analysis.

From these analyses, a list is constructed and, after consultation, whittled down to a few names. More analysis (this time for legal issues, domain availability and trademark issues) follows.

Although it might sound long, the time period for the entire process is flexible. For example, Nichols says that, although she prefers four to six weeks of lead time and consultation, she can work with startup founders to reduce it to a week.

With average costs that range between single thousands to tens of thousands of dollars, name development is not cheap. As a result, several agencies. such as SALT, offer the service as part of a larger branding initiative. Some, such as Sutton and Nichols, prefer to offer it as a standalone service. The delineation between name development and branding works well for startups, according to Nichols. “They (startups) can shop a range of styles,” she says, referring to the range of name developers available for startups.

Would You Pay For A Name?

“I believe people can get used to any name,” says Sarkar, adding that while their company’s individual products might differ, the company name will remain “as is.” But, his approach to naming remains personal; as such, he is not in favor of paying a name development consultant.

Baumgart, on the other hand, says he might consider the idea after a series B investment for his company. His list of priorities is simple: product followed by cost-effective pricing and, subsequently, effective branding through name development.

That list of priorities is not necessarily wrong.

Sutton and Nichols says they have worked with several entrepreneurs who have been asked to change their names after receiving venture investments. However, both agree that naming is only part of the game.

“A good name cannot substitute for a crap product,” says Parkin from SALT.

Serial entrepreneur Mike Rauta took eight years to figure out an appropriate name for his last startup, an after-school tutoring service.He started with Foundations for Education…

The Wire, July 18, 2013

The latest start-up boom has led to the creation of at least 161 companies that end in “ly,” “lee,” and “li,” which is, naming consultants tell us, 160 too many. There’s feedly, bitly, contactually, cloudly, along with a bunch of other company-LYS, all of which you can find on this Pinterest board, and all but the first ever “ly” name are “just lazy,” Nancy Friedman, a naming consultant, told The Atlantic Wire. The same goes for all the “ify,” “square,” “box,” any made up words, words spelled with extra letters, and the all caps, no vowels start-up names out there. They’re bad names and there’s no excuse for it.

In an attempt to rationalize some of the terrible naming trends that have popped up of late, The Wall Street Journal‘s Lindsay Gellman, puts forth the following theory: Companies pick their names to get good URLs, which is harder and harder as all the good ones get claimed. “The only practical solution, some entrepreneurs say, is to invent words, like Mibblio, Kaggle, Shodogg and Zaarly, to avoid paying as much as $2 million for a concise, no-nonsense dot-com URL,” she writes.

“This is a very old argument by now,” counters Friedman. With names like those it seems like these  companies have picked weird names to be weird. “I think sometimes people just want to have something goofy because that’s what start-up companies are supposed to do,” added Laurel A. Sutton, a naming consultant at Catchword Brand Name Development. “They want to show that they’re creative and different and they’re breaking away from the pack — they are all these things that regular big businesses aren’t.” The flip-side of that, though, are names that don’t convey what the company is all about. Do you know what Mibblio, Kaggle, or Shodogg do?

Plus, there are better ways to get around the .com shortage than making up names that make no sense. For starters, the web address does not have to match the company name. A lot of companies put “go” in front of the company name for the official business website. Or, Whisper, an anonymous thought sharing app (like Post Secret), has the URL, a clever usage of the St. Helena domain. “These country codes are a very rich source of creative options,” noted Friedman. And they aren’t that expensive, either.

Using a different country code, however, doesn’t necessarily make a start-up name creative. All those “ly” company names, for example, were motivated by Libya’s country domain, .ly. So, a company like Bitly, then, gets the pretty URL: Unfortunately, that only justifies a tiny portion of “ly” names and an even smaller group of start-up names in general. Not all “ly”s take advantage of the Libyan country code. See here andhere, for example. “There’s just kind of this move out there: ‘Let’s make it an adverb and that will sound active,'” said Friedman. But, it doesn’t really make sense. “Maybe the first one was good, but it’s very lazy at this point.”

The same goes for a lot of the other naming trends that have popped up of late, like “ify,” popularized by Spotify. (A name that came about by accident, by the way!)  But just because Spotify happened to turn into a big business, that doesn’t make it a good decision for the 100 other companies that tacked it onto the end of the brand-name. “As soon as it becomes a trend you get lost in the noise,” said Sutton. These companies just start to look like copy-cats, and why would any consumer want something that already exists.

In the age of mobile, companies also have to consider: How much does the URL matter? In naming, Sutton argues getting a legal trademark is much more important than the domain. Anyway, most web addresses for app based start-ups lead to a site with a link to the iPhone and Android app stores. Most users don’t type in and visit that web address every single day. They just download an app and tap an icon, or click a link on Google. There’s no need to pick a name like Kaggle just because is available for $7.99.

Then again, some start-ups don’t care to put much thought into a name for more practical reasons. “They’re planning on getting bought in a year, their name essentially doesn’t matter,” noted Sutton.

The latest start-up boom has led to the creation of at least 161 companies that end in “ly,” “lee,” and “li,” which is, naming consultants tell us, 160 too many. There’s feedly, bitly, contactually, cloudly, along with a bunch of other company-LYS, all of which you can find on this Pinterest board, and all but the first ever “ly” name are “just lazy,”…

Modern Farmer, June 13, 2013

In 1970, an organic chemist named John E. Franz was working at Monsanto when he and his team made a remarkable discovery: that synthesizing N-(phosphonomethyl) glycine produced glyphosate, a systemic herbicide that had the potential to rule them all. In 1974, the herbicide hit the market as “Roundup”, and since then the chemical has become the most-used herbicide in American agriculture.

Monsanto’s glyphosate patent expired in 2000, and since then dozens of glyphosate formulations have flooded the market, each differentiated by a host of brand names that represent their products with all the subtlety of a monster truck rally.

As with the original Roundup, a burly wild west ethos predominates with names like Ranger, Rascal, Rattler,Honcho and Rodeo. Just what do cowboys have to do with killing plants? “They both evoke nature and a kind of ‘do-what-it-takes’ mentality, masculine strength, and determination pitted against nature and outlaws of all kind,” says Laurel Sutton, Principal at Catchword Branding, who points out in the “lawless West” it was the lone rangers (so to speak) who brought order and justice to the land. Sure enough, if you add other herbicides besides glyphosate into the equation, you find the names Lasso, Bronco and Lariat to boot.

Still shopping for the perfect herbicide name? Try out the law and order angle of Prosecutor and JuryR or the military tinges of Prowl, Stealth and Stinger. And let’s not forget the strange romance of being swept away by Buccaneer,Silhouette, Tango and Escort, which are more reminiscent of Harlequin titles (or condoms) than weed killers.

Why all the brawn and bluster? “Names like these that use metaphors or evocative language are a good way to get at unpleasant concepts like killing and death in a less offensive way,” says Sutton. “They definitely convey an independent American feeling — they’re tough, but not in a bloody or violent way.”

These herbicides may serve to reinforce the image that farmers, like rangers and prosecutors, are professional tough guys willing to do what it takes to keep their crops safe. Substitute “crop” for “daughter” or “wife”, and you’ve got the plotline of a dozen action movies in the last few years alone.

But while we agree that farmers are badasses, they’re also control-freaks, aware that the slightest detail can affect the year’s crop outcome. Their business is often at the mercy of economic, political and natural forces outside their realm of influence. And in a world where things like climate change and herbicide-resistance are taking power from farmers and into the unpredictable hands of the elements, the sense of control — or illusion of control — can mean a lot. What’s in a name? The ability to turn an anxious farmer into a self-assured head Honcho.

Herbicide names share glaring similarities with SUVs like Explorers, Tundras and Range Rovers. “With both types of brands you want to communicate a sense of being in command, whatever the natural environment,” says Sutton. “They’re designed to appeal to a male audience, and they reflect the theme of independence that Americans are so in love with. They’re all about projecting an image and making reality — like driving a car or putting chemicals on your lawn — sound a whole lot sexier.”

Herbicides, SUVs and action movies may all share the same names because they share the same aspirational DNA. Driving an Explorer or Yukon doesn’t actually make you more adventurous, but it might make you feel like it. And when Arnold strafes the opposition in a movie like Commando, don’t you kind of wish solving all your problems could be that simple? Herbicides like Roundup are named to reflect the same wishful thinking: that we could someday, somehow be totally in control.

In 1970, an organic chemist named John E. Franz was working at Monsanto when he and his team made a remarkable discovery: that synthesizing N-(phosphonomethyl) glycine produced glyphosate, a systemic herbicide that had the potential to rule them all. In 1974, the herbicide hit the market as “Roundup”, and since then the chemical has become the most-used herbicide in American agriculture…

Mashable, April 10, 2013

Expecting parents have enough to worry about: buy a crib, find some tiny shoes and, oh, give your baby a name that will last him or her a lifetime. No pressure.

Initially, we relied on baby name books. Then, the Internet empowered couples with access to online communities and helpful data. (Each year, the U.S. Social Security Administration updates statistics with the most popular baby names.) Now with the prevalence of mobile, dozens of apps can help newbie moms and dads select names for their children.

Some apps explain the meaning and etymology behind names; others can generate a name based on the baby’s kick. Check out our list of 10 baby name apps above.

Online Roots

Some of today’s digital baby naming resources are rooted in online communities from years past.

Jennifer Moss founded popular site back in 1996. She tells Mashable that the Internet has allowed parents to get feedback on names from people “outside their own circle,” in a version of crowdsourcing.

“I think the importance of getting feedback from people who are not in your family is that there’s not a lot of baggage that comes along with it,” Moss says. is just one example of the vast array of sites and apps that feature name ideas, histories, popularity and discussion outlets for parents to swap thoughts and suggestions. Today, logs over 1.5 million unique visitors each month. Moss notes that an increasing percentage of its traffic comes from mobile.

Choosing That Unique Name

Whitney Moss, a Berkeley, Calif., mom of two, tells Mashable that, while family names are still a huge source of inspiration for people, there is “increasingly more desire to choose a name that is special or unique.”

“It’s sort of a moment where you’re defining your taste,” says Moss, who is also co-founder and blogger at “You’re putting [your taste] out there in a pretty permanent way that impacts somebody else’s life.”

Moss notes that online resources (e.g., can help parents find specific names that meet a couple’s criteria: a certain number of syllables, types of sounds and other “self-imposed rules.”

But she adds that she doesn’t necessarily recommend apps and services. Instead, each parent should consider making a list of names they love and comparing them.

“I think that’s a way to not be influenced by what anyone else likes except yourself,” Moss says. “I also think it would make a whole lot of sense to just decide, ‘You know this is our absolute favorite name and we don’t care how many other kids have this name already.’”

SEE ALSO: Nametrix App Predicts Your Baby’s Career

Going to the Pros

But when couples just can’t decide or need help narrowing, some sites offer premium paid services like baby name consulting. For example,’s staff — which includes two name scholars — offers a name suggestion service for about $30.

“We never name their baby — it’s not ours to name,”’s Jennifer Moss clarifies. “But we will help them through the struggle or what’s going wrong.”

Moss also started personal consultations with parents about five to six years ago, as a way to support frustrated parents who just can’t decide — even at the last minute.

Naming expert Laurel Sutton agrees that there are a lot of resources for parents to draw from these days: family history, Social Security data and baby naming sites. Sutton, who is co-founder and partner at professional brand naming firm Catchword, says there are three simple rules to follow, no matter what resource parents use:

  • Don’t gather too much public opinion while pregnant: “It’s easy to get distracted when you start hearing a lot of negative comments from people about why they don’t like a certain name, because to them it means something bad,” Sutton says. “That’s just noise.”
  • Don’t pick the baby’s final name until after birth: Sutton believes that with a short list of names ready to go, a few days after birth will allow time to get to know the baby’s temperament, making the final choice obvious.
  • Don’t give the baby the name you wish you had: Sutton notes that trends and fads change over time. “The baby’s name should be appropriate for the baby, and also for the time and the place.”

Whatever your situation and the apps and sites you do or don’t use, it’s ultimately a subjective, personal decision. Happy name searching!

Expecting parents have enough to worry about: buy a crib, find some tiny shoes and, oh, give your baby a name that will last him or her a lifetime. No pressure…

Toledo Blade, March 24, 2013

In automotive circles, the Cherokee name has a lot of history and brand equity.

For almost 20 years, Cherokee carried a certain rugged, functional swagger for Jeep, featuring a simple squarish design that grew old but never seemed dated.

When it was time for a new model in 2002, Jeep put the Cherokee name in storage, choosing to call its new Toledo-built vehicle the Liberty. Now as Jeep launches its next-generation SUV, the company is dusting off — and redefining — the Cherokee for North America.

The new Cherokee is more streamlined, more car-like, and much more focused on creature comforts and fuel economy. While it’s certainly not the Cherokee of old, Chrysler Group LLC executives have offered assurances the vehicle they’ll officially unveil Wednesday at the New York Auto Show is still very much a Jeep, and one worthy of the Cherokee name.

But what’s really in a name? And how does a carmaker take a name from the past and apply it to an all-new new model?


  • Cherokee to be unveiled at 1:45 p.m. Wednesday at the New York Auto Show.
  • Production is scheduled to start May 23 at the Toledo Assembly Complex.
  • The vehicle is expected to go on sale in the year’s third quarter.

David Placek, the president of Lexicon Branding in Sausalito, Calif., said building that bridge is dependent on the story that Jeep tells.

“You have to ask yourself, what’s our message going forward here?” he said. “How do we link the future with the past of Cherokee and the image of what it stands for. That is the ultimate frame of reference they have to think about. If it’s just putting an old name on a new car, all they’re doing is driving into the future looking through the rear view mirror.”

In that regard, Mr. Placek said the look and design of the vehicle matter less than the values for which the vehicle stood.

“If they can take those and say we’re pulling those values forward, yes it’s a different look, it’s different performance, it’s different materials, but those underlying values, that heritage is still there,” he said.

Mr. Placek, whose firm helped name the Subaru Outback and Forester and created the Scion brand for Toyota, isn’t particularly fond of reviving old names for new cars, but said Cherokee has potential to work. Chrysler has reused other names from its past in recently years; its Dodge brand has brought back the Challenger, Charger, and Dart.

What cars are called can make a big difference in how consumers view them. Ford realized that a few years ago, admitting it had made a mistake dropping the Taurus name for its family car in favor of the Five Hundred. It quickly brought the Taurus name back.

One of history’s best examples of a poorly named car was the Edsel, which Ford introduced as a mid-level brand for the 1958 model year.

“It didn’t say anything particularly positive and didn’t say anything cool, even in 1957 terms of cool,” said Jack Nerad, market analyst and executive editorial director at

The name wasn’t the only thing that plagued the Edsel brand, which was gone by 1961, but it certainly didn’t help.

Likewise, a bad car can be a poison pill for an otherwise good name. Ford’s Pinto and Mustang shared much by the way of name. But while the Mustang closes in on its 50-year anniversary, its a safe bet we’ll never see another Ford Pinto.

“They have very different reputations not because of the name, but because of the car,” said Laurel Sutton, a founder and partner of Catchword Branding in California. “The Pinto wasn’t a car that failed because the name was bad. It failed because they were terrible cars.”

Ms. Sutton said a good product name — automotive or otherwise — has to match up with the product, even when it’s a made-up word. It also has to be appealing to the target audience. Sound easy? It’s not.

“People are always astonished when we tell them how much work goes into it,” she said. “Part of it is availability issues. As the world becomes more globally connected and there are more products for us to buy, it’s much, much harder to find a name that’s appropriate and matches up with the product that’s also available.”

Choosing and establishing a new name can be a long and expensive process. Some are done in house, others rely on consultants. Focus groups are often used. Chrysler isn’t commenting on exactly how the company came to pick the Cherokee name, though it’s been clear for some time that the new SUV would be called either the Liberty or Cherokee. Officials said a year ago they weren’t really considering anything else.

Between the two, Mr. Nerad thinks they made the right choice.

“I don’t know that Liberty resonated the way Chrysler executives hoped it would,” he said. “We at Kelley Blue Book expect the new Cherokee is going to do significantly better than the Liberty.”

Expectations high

Chrysler’s expecting that, too. Jeep brand Chief Executive Mike Manley told The Blade in January the Cherokee is very important to the company’s sales goals both in the United States and internationally.

“It has a huge role to play,” he said. “It’s one we have to get absolutely right.”

Officials haven’t given any sales projections, but they are hiring 1,100 new workers at the Toledo Assembly Complex to meet the expected demand. No specifications or pricing have been announced yet, though Chrysler did say the Cherokee should get 45 percent better fuel economy than the Liberty.

The company released that information along with a handful of photos last month, a move prompted by unofficial photos leaking on an automotive Web site.

Analysts say there’s little risk for Jeep in bringing back the Cherokee name. The biggest danger of recycling a name of yore is bringing back the baggage comes went with it. In the case of Cherokee, there’s not much worry there.

“The previous Cherokees weren’t the most wonderful of all vehicles ever made, but they were very successful for Jeep, carried the Jeep name well, and were successful as a sales product,” Mr. Nerad said.


Though there has been chatter — much of it online — that Jeep is doing itself a disservice and disgracing the legacy of the old Cherokee by putting the name on a vehicle so different from the original, analysts say that’s not likely to hurt Jeep’s sales.

“It’s something the majority of buyers will not consider, and I think those people who are saying that probably wouldn’t consider this product anyway, no matter what the name was,” Mr. Nerad said. Dirk DeYoung is on the board of directors of the North American XJ Association, a nationwide club for Jeep enthusiasts that centers on the Cherokee. Jeep’s code name for the Cherokee was XJ.

Over the years, Mr. DeYoung, who lives in Tennessee, has owned three Cherokees, including a 2001 Cherokee Anniversary Edition he uses for off-road trail runs.

Speaking for himself and not the group, Mr. DeYoung said it doesn’t bother him that Jeep is using the Cherokee name again — but he’s not about to rush out and buy one. “At first glance I’m not a big fan of the vehicle itself, but I haven’t been a big fan of the Jeep brand since the Liberty came in anyway, with the exception of the Wrangler and the Grand Cherokee,” he said.

Those two vehicles, he said, are the ones that continue the brand’s go-anywhere tradition. And while he understands that most buyers don’t take their four-wheel drives off the pavement, he does wonder what enthusiasts like him will turn to when the supply of original Cherokees dries up.

“I don’t know that [Jeep] would have expected 11 or 12 years after the demise of the XJ that there’s still be such a huge following and such aftermarket support for that particular vehicle,” he said. “As they start to take vehicles out of production, they need to look ahead 15 years [and ask] are there still going to be available vehicles for enthusiasts?”

To be fair, this will be the third Jeep Cherokee sold in the United States. From 1974 to 1983, the Jeep Cherokee was a full-size SUV.

Also, the recently discontinued Liberty was called the Cherokee outside of North America.

In automotive circles, the Cherokee name has a lot of history and brand equity. For almost 20 years, Cherokee carried a certain rugged, functional swagger for Jeep, featuring a simple squarish design that grew old but never seemed dated…

Fast Company, March 8, 2013

Warner Bros.’s newest CGI-laden fantasy film, Jack The Giant Slayer, opened last week, and while it led the earnings among weekend competitors, its box office haul was far from Gargantuan. The film had a $190 million budget. It saw a return of $27.2 million for the weekend. The Los Angeles Times called it the “first big-budget disaster of 2013.” And the New York Times called it a “fee, fi, fo, fizzle.”

Blame it on a lack of star power that didn’t extend far beyond Ewan McGregor or a premiere that came during the post-Oscar malaise. Consider the change in release date from June of 2012 to March of 2013, often the harbinger of a troubled project.

But one of the film’s most revealing, last-minute alterations passed by mostly unnoticed. Sometime around last October, the title was changed from Jack the Giant Killer to Jack the Giant Slayer. A rep from Warner Bros. tells Fast Company via email that the name change was intended to make the movie—which draws from a mixture of two fairy tales, “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Jack the Giant Killer”—more “family friendly.” In doing so, the studio seemed to assume the word “slayer” was more family friendly than “killer.”

Or more parent friendly.

If Jack were a “giant hugger,” the algorithm says the phrase would have a less positive connotation than “giant slayer.”

“The nuances of the title change will be lost on children,” explains Laurel Sutton, principal at Catchword Brand Name Development, a naming company that creates names for various things from products to companies. “Kids will call it the ‘Jack and the Beanstalk movie’ or ‘the giant movie.’” A studio’s concern about family friendliness stems from the belief that the movie will appeal to a young audience that relies on its parents for ticket purchasing and chauffeuring. If a parent feels that a movie has an objectionable title, or that the title suggests objectionable content in the film, they’re not going to be as inclined to facilitate a viewing.

From that perspective, the name switch appears to have been prudent. “The word ‘slayer’ has definite associations with fairy tales and knights and dragons, and seems much more at home in the world of fantasy,” says Sutton. “‘Killer’ is far more realistic: There are killers in everyday life. We read about them in the paper. The word elicits a much more visceral response.”


That emotional response to the word “killer” could be enough to scare away wary parents. But can we use numbers to predict how words will make us feel? That’s where Yejin Choi, an assistant professor of computer science at SUNY Stony Brook, comes in. She and a team of researchers put together an algorithm to teach machines how positive or negative a word is. Choi uses a set of words, or corpus, from Google, which includes sequences of words. Using those sequences, the research team put together an algorithm to build graphs, teaching machines how positive or negative words tend to be.

According to the algorithm, the word “slayer” possesses a moderately positive connotation, while killer is strongly negative, suggesting the studio was right. It seems likely that the word set is drawing on popular usage of the two words, as Sutton mentioned: “Slayer” is fantasy, but “killer” is real. However, the data is complex, and can produce results that are commensurately difficult to interpret. For example, if Jack were a “giant hugger,” the algorithm says the phrase would have a less positive connotation than “giant slayer.” The challenge is illustrated by looking at a word like “execution,” which could refer to execution, as in putting someone to death (generally regarded as a negative event), or the execution of a task (a positive occurrence, especially in the eyes of employers). “[The algorithm] cannot figure out which sense of the word is being used,” Choi says. When one considers that a warden might remark on the execution of an execution, it’s clear how context can become confusing.


What that confusion does is reinforce the larger point here: that focusing on just one word is never the best way to proceed. “It seems crazy, but a slight title change can make a big difference, mostly on the down side,” says Brent Scarcliff, creative strategy director at Scarcliff Salvador Inc., which has helped studios such as MGM, Lucasfilm, and even Warner Bros. The title, Scarcliff says, is one of the five main tenets of theatrical marketing—the others being timing, trailer, talent, and tribe (aka built-in audience)—but is the one that studios spend the least time and money on, “probably because there’s no award for a great title.”

Last year’s Oscar-winning animated film “Brave” was initially “The Bear and the Bow.” “Pretty Woman” was “Three Thousand.” Even “Drop Dead Gorgeous” was “Dairy Queens” until just months before its release.

(Arguably the best example of the short shrift titles receive—and the impact they can have—is The Shawshank Redemption, which kept the name of its source material, a short story by Stephen King, when it was released in 1994. The movie was a box office flop, initially grossing little more than $18 million in theaters—not even enough to recoup costs. But seven Oscar nominations, critical acclaim, and years of cult success later, Shawshank is ranked No. 1 on’s list of 250 top movies, as rated by users. Hope is a good thing; The Shawshank Redemption as a film title is not.)

It’s not that films don’t change titles on the fly, or shouldn’t. It happens fairly regularly for a number of reasons, such as rights and trademark issues. Last year’s Oscar-winning animated film Brave was initially The Bear and the BowPretty Woman was Three Thousand. Even Drop Dead Gorgeous was Dairy Queens until just months before its release. But those were all significant changes, something Scarcliff says is necessary if any tweaking is going to be done. “When it comes to titles,” he says, “no change or complete change is often better than halfhearted change.”

In the case of Jack and his Giant noun, what the swapping of a single word accomplished was drawing attention to the change—which could be exactly what the studio is trying to avoid. That raises questions of why the switch was made, potentially eliciting cries of cheesiness or unnecessary political correctness. There’s also the risk of pissing off the purists—Jack the Giant Killer was the title of the source material. Can today’s audiences really not handle it?

But that’s all still making the assumption that a more family-friendly title is a better title. That assumption was a riskier one. As many reviewers noted this week, it’s unclear why there would be such a desire to appeal to a family-friendly audience in the first place, given the rather violent trailers and PG-13 rating. And as it turns out, CinemaScore reports that 56% of the crowd this weekend was over the age of 25. Safe bet they bought their own tickets.

Warner Bros.’s newest CGI-laden fantasy film, Jack The Giant Slayer, opened last week, and while it led the earnings among weekend competitors, its box office haul was far from Gargantuan. The film had a $190 million budget. It saw a return of $27.2 million for the weekend…

Crains New York, February 11, 2013

When Gabriel Shaoolian started his Web design and online marketing company in Manhattan in 2001, he followed tradition and named it Gabriel Productions. But as time went on, he wanted a different handle. “Some clients were still nervous about the Internet,” Mr. Shaoolian recalls. “We wanted a name that would help them relax.” In 2003, he was considering a vacation at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, whose name means “blue fountain” in (misspelled) French. “I thought, why not call the company Blue Fountain Media?” he says. “It’s both soothing and suggests a spring of fresh ideas.” The moniker seems to have been good for business–the client list for Blue Fountain includes luminaries such as Martha Stewart, as well as the United Nations–but Mr. Shaoolian regrets choosing it. “This one seems to be hard for people to remember,” he says. Maybe so. When Mr. Shaoolian gave a speech at the New York Public Library, he was introduced as the chief executive of “Blue Mountain Media.” Naming a company is a critical marketing decision, but how do you pick from the staggering array of possibilities? Of course, if you buy a business with a loyal clientele, the decision is made for you: Keep the name it’s got, as Rob Kaufelt did when he took over Murray’s Cheese in 1991. The eponymous founder, Murray Greenberg, started the store in 1940, retired in the 1970s and died before Mr. Kaufelt ever even met him. But Murray’s, at the corner of Bleecker and Leroy streets, is such a Village institution that renaming it–Rob’s Cheese, for instance–would be crazy. Some entrepreneurs seem drawn to clever plays on words, like Betterfly. Founder Josh Schwadron designed his online company, which has a stylized butterfly for a logo, to be a central source for consumers seeking what he calls “betterists”: people like hairstylists, piano teachers, personal trainers and financial advisers who can make one’s life, well, better. The disadvantage of a neologism like betterist is that people aren’t likely to know right away what it means. On the plus side, maybe they’ll log on to the website out of curiosity. Having trouble figuring out what to dub your company? You can hire professionals to do it for you. “Volume matters. We make a list of at least 1,500 to 2,000 names,” says Mark Skoultchi, co-owner of Catchword, a seven-person naming firm with offices in the Chrysler Building and in San Francisco. “If you have a list of, say, 100 possible names, keep at it.” Catchword’s clients are mostly huge companies like Coca-Cola and Johnson & Johnson that are seeking snappy brand names for new products, but Mr. Skoultchi also advises startups on what to call themselves. The biggest mistake that entrepreneurs make, he says, is investing lots of money in a name–creating signs, business cards, stationery, a website–and then finding out that someone else is already using the moniker. “Before you decide on any name, get a good intellectual-property attorney to check it out and make sure it’s available,” Mr. Skoultchi suggests. A good company name, he says, “doesn’t pigeonhole you. Try to think of something that is not so literal that it won’t describe what you do in 10 years’ time.” Calling your company Sid’s Widgets won’t seem so smart in 2025, when Sid is long gone and the firm has diversified way beyond widgets. As with anything else, the name game has certain rules that seem made to be broken. An example: “Don’t give your company a name that is hard to pronounce,” says Mr. Skoultchi. “This is especially important for small businesses. Verizon has millions of marketing dollars to spend on teaching the public that it’s Ver-EYE-zun, not VER-i-zon. You don’t. “People don’t like to seem dumb,” he adds. “If they’re not sure how to pronounce your name, they just won’t say it, and there goes your word-of-mouth advertising.” OK, but in rare cases, a tongue twister of a name may actually lend a business a certain je ne sais quoi. ConsiderMagasin Totale, a Brooklyn designers’ cooperative that Michelle Casciolo started last year. Magasin Totale–which recently landed a juicy deal to sell its wares through Neiman Marcus–means “total store” in French. “We wanted a name that is unique enough to stand out from the gazillions of design studios with the word design in their names,” Ms. Casciolo explains. Do people have trouble pronouncing it correctly? “Yes, they do,” she says. “But once they get it right, they don’t forget it.” Touché.

Naming a company is a critical marketing decision, but how do you pick from the staggering array of possibilities?When Gabriel Shaoolian started his Web design and online marketing company in Manhattan in 2001, he followed tradition and named it Gabriel Productions…

MarketingProfs, September 19, 2012

This blog originally appeared at MarketingProfs.

Naming or renaming your business or product can be one of the toughest challenges you face. Whether you decide to do it yourself or hire help, you need to know some basics before launching out into the wide, sometimes-weird world of naming.

  1. Know what you’re (re)naming

You’d be surprised at how often people don’t really know what they’re naming or renaming—or whether they really need a new name at all.

Often, a new name seems the obvious solution; it’s the big, shiny thing that grabs people’s attention and gets them excited. But you need to dig down to the justification for a new name. Remember that creating and launching a new name takes substantial resources and effort, and although it might be fun to create new name, it might make more sense to use one you already have.

But once you’re sure you need one, it’s time to figure out the exact nature of your offer. Is it a product? Vudu and Roku, both streaming media players/boxes, are clearly products. A feature? A service? A platform? A new program? Taco Bell’s menu of lo-cal items, confusingly called both the Fresco Menu and Drive-Thru Diet, are both products and advertising concepts.

Is it some combination of a product, service, and platform? For example, eBay is simultaneously a website, a shopping mall, and an auction house. Remember that the nature of your offer may change over time, and any names you consider should be flexible enough to accommodate such variation.

So, consider not only what your thing is, but where it will live. In other words, where will your offer appear in relation to your other products/services? What is its place in your portfolio? Is it a standalone? Or is part of a line of related offers? Sub-brands or brand families can really help tie related products together. For example, under the overarching Budweiser brand, you find Budweiser, Bud Light, and Bud Light Platinum.

  1. Know your target audience

Remember who you’re naming for. It’s your target audience—and you may not be part of that audience. So don’t let your personal preferences get in the way. It’s not about what you like; rather it’s about what attracts and appeals to your customers. After all, your name is your first and last opportunity for customers to notice and engage with your offer.

So identify the single most crucial audience for your new name. That audience will include some part of your key customer base, since they’re the people you do the most business with. Put yourself, as they say, in your customers’ shoes, and try to figure out what’s the most important part of your business for them. Why do they come to you over a competitor? What naming messages do you think they’d favor? What kinds and styles of name?

And keep in mind that while your name can’t appeal to everyone in your audience, at the very least, it shouldn’t offend them.

Here are some examples of names that successfully appeal to their target audiences: Abbot Downing (mega high-worth investors), Gilt (sophisticated shoppers), Monster High (preteens with ‘tude), Axe (20-something men who wanna impress), Jot (financial customers constantly pressed for time).

  1. Know what you need the name to do

Remember that a name can do lots of things–communicate what you do, differentiate your product or service in the marketplace, establish your offer’s relationship to other things–but it can’t do everything. Expecting your name to do all the communication heavy lifting is just unrealistic, so you’ll need to figure out what other marketing tools you might want to use. Taglines? Descriptors? Other short verbal blurbs?

Let’s say you want your name to “pop” on the shelf, so customers are more drawn to your product over a staid competitor. An evocative, quirky name like Lucky Charms does this quite well, as it’s much more likely to catch the eye of a hungry kid than the more generic (and BOR-ing!) Kellogg’s Raisin Bran. On the other hand, imagine a customer who just wants something semi-healthy for her kid. Well, the descriptive “Raisin Bran” says exactly what it is–and that customer, spying it on the shelf, might well respond to that precision and drop a box in her shopping cart.

Beyond helping you stand out from the crowd, names can engage your customer by being easy and fun to say—cue Etsy and Droid. Such names help the customer identify and establish a relationship with a strong and bankable masterbrand, such as the little “i” casts the halo of Apple around iMac, iCloud, iPhone, and iPod. You can even use names to minimize negative publicity, as when Blackwater changed its name first to Xe and then to Academi. (Although to make a shift in public perception possible, you usually need major overhauls in company policies, not just a name change.)

* * *

So, you may have been a know-nothing when it comes to naming, but now you’re a know-something, and when it comes to naming, every little bit of know-how helps.

Naming or renaming your business or product can be one of the toughest challenges you face. Whether you decide to do it yourself or hire help, you need to know some basics before launching out into the wide, sometimes-weird world of naming…


Even if a tech product is aimed only at certain markets or regions such as Asia, choosing a name that is simple and has global appeal helps maximize the product’s reach with consumers.

In today’s globalized and increasingly digitized world, a tech product with a highly localized name would be unnecessarily restrictive and counterintuitive, said Prem Shamdasani, associate professor of marketing at National University of Singapore Business School.

It makes more sense for companies to have product names that are globally and universally appealing, even if a product is sold only in specific or domestic markets. This will raise the company’s brand profile worldwide, Shamdasani said, noting how western brand names remain dominant in the competitive technology marketplace.

For instance, Samsung brands its handsets Anycall in China and South Korea, but realized a simpler name in English imbues a Western and more global connotation, he said, pointing to the company’s range of Galaxy devices.

Tech products built only for certain regions are increasingly rare, said Alistair Harding, head of Asia operations at brand agency, FST Singapore. Unless it relies heavily on language, such as China’s Baidu search engine, it is important products carry names that appeal in a global fashion, Harding pointed out.

Ronan Gruenbaum, marketing professor at Hult International Business School Names, said names that are easy to pronounce in English, regardless of native tongues, tend to more quickly gain global appeal and are more easily memorable.

That said, he noted there are “no hard or fast rules” about what works and what does not, and no guarantee whether a particular product name will catch on positively among customers.

Gruenbaum explained: “Some try to exude power and passion like Apple’s OS X Mountain Lion, while others try to suggest a sense of fun like Google’s Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean. Some came about because no one else had them before, such as Firefox. Some are frivolous–the sound of birds led to the name Twitter–and some are compound puns like Pinterest or Instagram.

“One can go through a complex branding exercise to try and suggest a name that summarizes the essence of the product, or name it after their children. In short, there are no rules or limitations,” he said.

Names more important, difficult
Other observers stressed the potential of a good product name, and the painstaking effort in creating it, cannot be underestimated.

Jeff Goh, managing partner and brand consultant at Scorch Identity, said there are tradeoffs when a name is either highly localized or global, whether it appeals to a smaller audience size or is “too bland”.

Another challenge is balancing the “look, hear and feel” of a name. For instance, Goh noted the “number and acronym fetish” means a bigger marketing budget is needed to educate users on a product’s unique selling points, and companies also tend to overlook how a product name sounds when pronounced in different tongues and accents.

Laurel Sutton, founder and principal at Catchword Branding, said linguistic appropriateness is one of many factors that have made naming tech products today harder than in the past.

Companies also need to worry about intensified competition and crowded trademark categories amid an increasingly litigious world on an international level, Sutton noted.

With current economic uncertainties squeezing marketing budgets, product names must shoulder more of the “heavy-lifting” to help a product stand out from the array of alternatives and communicate its benefits or essence, she added.

Sounding a nice ring
Given these difficulties, Shamdasani said it is not surprising some companies, particularly in enterprise IT, “cop out” and choose to use a product’s serial code as its actual name.

Even with corporate clients, good product names should be user-friendly because of IT consumerization, the NUS Business School professor said. The aim is to resonate with end-users directly, rather than IT buyers whom he said are less likely to get lost in product codes but are getting sidelined in terms of tech buying decisions.

Sutton added that even if names for enterprise IT products such as servers are typically long and unwieldy, they should still be adequately clear and descriptive.

“IT chiefs have limited time to research products when making purchase decisions, so they don’t want to work hard just to understand a name,” she noted.

Ultimately, good names are critical for both consumer and enterprise tech products, said David Placek, CEO and president of Lexicon Branding, which past works include RIM’s BlackBerry and Apple’s PowerBook.

“It’s the company and the product’s permanent media,” Placek said.

“Names make the first impression and are self-expressive, creating feelings of prestige, performance, reliability and value–all of which important in both business-to-consumer and business-to-business technology markets,” he said.

There are no rules when naming tech products, but monikers that are simple and have global appeal create maximum resonance among consumers. Even if a tech product is aimed only at certain markets or regions such as Asia, choosing a name that is simple and has global appeal helps maximize the product’s reach with consumers…

The Oakland Standard, June 11, 2012

Joseph R. Knowland built the 21-story Tribune Tower in 1923, on top of a six-floor furniture store that had opened in 1907. For much of the 20th century, it was Oakland’s real seat of political influence—the original Tower of Power.

Knowland was the publisher, editor, and president of the Oakland Tribune, and a kingmaker in the Republican party. Earl Warren was one of his many protégés; Knowland’s second son, William F. Knowland, became one of the most powerful Republicans in the US Senate, and—after a failed bid to become California’s governor—went on to run the Tribune.

Joe Knowland died at home, in Piedmont, in 1966. Bill Knowland died by his own hand on February 23, 1974, just two days after the Tribune celebrated its 100th anniversary.

The Oakland Tribune was sold and resold, multiple times. The Tribune Tower was damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake, and abandoned for much of the decade that followed. The massive neon signs that had turned the building into a physical beacon, as well as a landmark and symbol of the city it served and presided over, went dark.

Developer John Protopappas bought the tower for $300,000, in 1995, and sold it for millions more, in 2006. The Oakland Tribune, which had moved back into its offices in 1999, moved out for good in 2007.

The building eventually went into foreclosure. Today, it’s home to a few small businesses, lawyer’s offices, and non-profits.

The Tribune Tower isn’t quite a zombie building, as it was for much of the 1990s. But most of it is empty.

The Tower changed hands again last December. Earlier this month, we contacted the building’s new owners, who plan to open a call center on the lower floors, and asked if we could tour the tower. Neither of us had ever been inside of the building. But on June 6th we woke up at the crack of dawn, took an elevator to the 20th floor, and climbed up to the tower’s highest parapet.

There, we watched a steeplejack named Jim climb to the top of an 86-foot flagpole.

At one point, the tower had served as a docking station for dirigibles. Now, as Jim climbed, a blimp flew past us.

We admired the view.

Later, we had coffee with the Jim, who told us that he retired a few years ago. These days, he takes just a few jobs a month.

For most of that morning, we were accompanied by John Law, a Bay Area artist who maintains the tower’s neon signs and keeps a small, unbelievably cool office high up in the building’s rafters. (Among other things, John is known as a founder of the Burning Man festival; he’s the man who first lit the Burning Man statue in neon, turning it into a physical beacon in the Nevada desert.) John Law is not a steeplejack. But we weren’t surprised to hear that he, too, has climbed to the top of the Tribune Tower’s flagpole.

That afternoon, we visited some of the building’s other floors, checked out the immense machines that used to run the building’s elevators, and walked around the 16th floor parapet, behind the giant neon letters that spell out TRIBUNE.

The Tribune Tower is almost ninety years old (it’s a lot older, if you count the original stories) but, like Oakland itself, it’s still a work-in-progress.

Joseph R. Knowland built the 21-story Tribune Tower in 1923, on top of a six-floor furniture store that had opened in 1907. For much of the 20th century, it was Oakland’s real seat of political influence—the original Tower of Power…

American Express, May 11, 2012

Shakespeare once asked, “What’s in a name?” Though he was writing about roses in Romeo and Juliet, it’s a question that should be in the heads of anyone brainstorming business name ideas.

A name is your business’ first impression and can instantaneously convey quality, trustworthiness, and reliability—or the opposite. With Google searches replacing yellow page ads, names need to send the right message.

“Gone are the days when you could write down ten ideas on an envelope and pick the one you liked best,” says Laurel Sutton, principal at Catchword Brand Name Development, a professional naming company.

If you’re still searching for a name for your business, follow these five tips to get you the perfect one a little easier.

Clarify your branding initiative. To even begin brainstorming, you must have a clear picture of what you’re hoping to achieve with your name and how it fits the company’s mission. Zoe Sexton, managing director at Igor International, a naming and branding agency, says business names can have a slew of purposes, from free PR to demonstrating what sets your company apart.

“The key is to find a fresh way into the hearts and minds of your audience and engage people on as many levels as possible,” she says. “The best names accomplish all of these goals and are advertisements in and of themselves.”

Phillip Davis, president of Tungsten Branding, a name development firm, recommends creating a “pivot point,” a quality or core attribute that everything in the company revolves around, such as speed, price, leadership, or innovation.

“From there, you can use any number of naming strategies to convey this central theme,” Davis says. “You can use metaphors, (Jaguar, Amazon, Monster), or positive connotation blends (OnStar, TruGreen, Bright House), or descriptive hybrids (CarMax, JetBlue, LendingTree,) or key attributes (Sir Speedy, Priceline, Service Masters).”

Separate your business from your competitors. A business’ name should make it stand out among the competition. Sexton recommends compiling a list of competitors’ names to ensure your possibilities are different.

“Naming is a competitive sport,” she says. “Names don’t exist in a vacuum.”

Sutton says that businesses should not only check out their competitors’ names, but the styles, tonality and messaging of their brand. Find what makes your brand totally different, and base everything on that.

Sexton warns, however, that small businesses should avoid falling into the trap whereby their names’ sole purpose is to describe what the businesses do.

“A descriptive naming strategy overlooks the fact that the whole point of marketing is to separate yourself from the pack,” she says. “It actually works against you, causing you to fade into the background, indistinguishable from the bulk of your competitors.”

Also, if your business is looking to form an LLC or incorporate down the road, checking to make sure a name is not already taken now will prevent headaches when it’s time to start the registration process. You can search the availability of a name through your state’s secretary of state office.

Pick a flexible name. A successful candidate for a business’ name is not finite, but malleable enough that it can still stand as the business grows and changes. Davis says Midas is a great example of a flexible business name, because using the name of a mythical Greek king with the golden touch positioned the company based on quality service, not on mufflers specifically. This then allowed the company to transition to other automotive repair services without expensive rebranding.

“What you do is typically not as important as how you do it,” Davis says. “And your main products and services are likely to change and evolve.”

Treat the brainstorming process like a marketing decision. Certainly, picking a business name is fun and exciting, but the process should be taken as seriously as any other business decision, says Michael Barr, president of NameLab. Often the names people like aren’t actually the best fit.

Barr adds that this should not be a subjective decision. Ask yourself whether it accomplishes what you need to do. Then you can ask which one you like better. You should look for the unexpected name that expresses a feeling and positive brand experience, says Alexandra Watkins, chief innovation officer at Eat My Words, a brand naming company. Watkins says these are the questions you should be asking when choosing a name:

  • Is it meaningful to my customers and not just to me?
  • Does it make an emotional connection?
  • Is it easy to pronounce and spell?
  • Is it a copycat name or it is original?
  • Does it make people smile or scratch their head?

Also, one of the first things you should do is to check online to see whether domain names are available for your top choices. But if you’ve found the perfect brand name and the domain is already taken, don’t fret unless a competitor already took it, Watkins says. Many successful businesses have worked around their URL.

Avoid making up words. While this technique has worked for huge companies like Yahoo! and Xerox, it’s often not beneficial for small businesses.

“It sounds obvious, but I find a lot of small business people I speak to often want empty vessel names, meaning that you have to fill it with meaning,” Barr says.

Though naming your business should be treated with as much seriousness as drafting your business plan or budget, it should not be viewed as a panacea. Even a great name also needs great people and healthy sales to make it fly.

How did you come up with the name for your business?

A name is your business’ first impression. Here’s how to go about choosing one that works. Shakespeare once asked, “What’s in a name?” Though he was writing about roses in Romeo and Juliet, it’s a question that should be in the heads of anyone brainstorming business name ideas…

Business Interviews, November 21, 2011

Laurel Sutton is a leader and veteran in the worlds of linguistics and branding. She was the first person ever to receive a B.A. in Linguistics from Rutgers University. However, the love of language is not the only thing that drives Laurel. Creating product names and company names satisfies her creative urges, while helping companies organize their names into a naming architecture allows her to put on her analytical thinking cap. She co-founded Catchword in 1998 and has a strong client base with innovative brands like Cisco, Adobe and Roche.

Catchword is a full-service naming firm. They have offices in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York, and an international network of naming partners. Their mission is to help clients connect with their customers through brand names that are memorable, engaging, and rich in meaning. For over ten years, Catchword has been helping companies big and small develop great ideas into names that command attention and engage customers.

MO: How did you initially become interested in linguistics and language? Then how did you later bridge your love of language to co-founding Catchword?

Laurel: I first took linguistics classes while I was earning my BA in English. I loved it so much that I ended up with a double major in English and Linguistics. I was just fascinated to learn how language works – where it comes from, how languages are related, how we produce and perceive speech. After a few years in the working world (managing a record store), I went back to school to get my PhD in Linguistics at UC Berkeley and, like most poor grad students, I had to support myself with a variety of jobs. That’s when I discovered that naming companies existed! I was amazed to find a career in which I could use my degree. My co-workers and I loved naming and decided we wanted to strike out on our own, and so we founded Catchword in 1999.

MO: What’s the process involved in finding the perfect name for a product or brand? Is the process the same each time?

Laurel: Thirty or forty years ago, it might have been possible to come up with appropriate and available names over a few drinks at the bar. But now, the marketplace is so crowded that it’s very difficult to find names unless you throw a lot of creative power at the project. At Catchword we believe that a successful naming project is the result of a structured process: setting objectives, creating a lot of names (sometimes more than 2000!), rigorous screening, and evaluating names based on their fit and potential as a brand – not just “do you like it?” We follow the same process for every project, big or small.

It’s important to understand that the “perfect name” isn’t one that jumps off the page – because if you fall in love with a name, it usually means you’ve seen it before, which then means it won’t be available for you to use. Your name becomes the “perfect name” after you’ve chosen it and start to build a brand around it. Two weeks later you won’t be able to remember the other candidates!

MO: You’ve been in an industry for 13 years where it’s important to remain fresh and relevant. How do you manage the very challenging process to stay engaged with consumers who are constantly evolving and what’s important to them?

Laurel: All of us at Catchword are culture mavens – we’re always reading, watching, and browsing the internet to keep up on what’s happening in the world. We pay close attention to new names and brands in the marketplace. And in our creative work, we’re not tied to any one style or tone – we’ll explore all kinds of words, languages, metaphors, and spellings to find the right name. And of course, we’re consumers, too, and we think it helps us to bring a needed perspective to our clients (who are sometimes too focused on the inner workings of their company, rather than how they appear to the outside world).

MO: What specific trends in the last 5 years have you seen really impact how we connect with companies and their products?

Laurel: Mobile devices and their apps are ubiquitous now – people can interact with companies at any time, anywhere. People are much closer, emotionally, to brands, and are able to evangelize about brands they love in so many ways. Also, the internet really has made the globe a smaller place: now we can find offerings from companies all over the world, for just about anything you could ever want. The amount of choice is tremendous. It allows consumers to be choosier about how they spend their money, and it forces businesses to differentiate from the vast number of competitors out there. Competition is fiercer than ever (and the lousy economy means you have to make your marketing dollars work even harder).

MO: Do you think that Social Media has changed the relationships that people have with corporate entities? If yes, how does that change how you do business?

Laurel: Definitely! Consumers are able to interact with brands in many more ways than they used to – via Facebook, Twitter, mobile devices, etc. It means that companies can really focus on their target audience, and precisely define their space in their competitive set. For Catchword, this means that the name can be very carefully tailored to the audience – relevant vocabulary, tonality, and spelling only have to be appealing to the right demographic. It does make legal clearance more difficult, since all brands are global now, and reach across many different channels (print, internet, TV).

MO: How do you separate yourself from the other naming companies out there?

Laurel: We like to say we bring the joy back to naming – for so many of our clients, finding the right name can be so painful! They’ve tried to do it on their own and struggled to come up with names, only to find that none of them are legally available. When companies work with us, they can relax, enjoy the meetings, and get to choose their name from the many options we present. We take away their pain. And we always bring candy to the meetings.

MO: I see that you’ve just launched Could you tell me more about the concept behind it?

Laurel: PopNamer is a site where anyone can play at the naming game. Every couple of weeks we post a new game and let the whole world try to come up with the best name for a current event (like the Occupy Wall Street movement), a badly-named product (remember Qwikster?), or other newsworthy item (such as the Google/Motorola deal). You can also vote on other people’s entries. It’s a great way to show your creativity – and who knows, the best names might show up in the news one day!

Laurel Sutton is a leader and veteran in the worlds of linguistics and branding. She was the first person ever to receive a B.A. in Linguistics from Rutgers University. However, the love of language is not the only thing that drives Laurel. Creating product names and company names satisfies her creative urges…

More, October 5, 2011

This economy is a little like Teflon — labels just won’t stick to it.

All sorts of names have been tossed at the nation’s current financial circumstances, attempts to sum up the situation or illuminate its essence.

There is no consensus — and it looks like there’s not going to be one.

Some call it recession — but that’s not correct, at least not when the economy is growing. On the other hand, calling it a recovery doesn’t feel quite right either — not with hiring anemic, 14 million people looking for work and millions more giving up the search.

“I was talking … to the owner of a business — a small business — and he called it a frustrating economy,” said William W. Beach, director of The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis. “Business people don’t call it a slowdown. They don’t call it a speed-up. They don’t call it a recovery. They don’t call it a contraction.”

The economy began shrinking at the end of 2007. A year later, the slide had turned to a free fall in what is often called the Great Recession. The bottom wasn’t reached until mid-2009, when the economy started expanding again.

And that is when the recession ended, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, semi-official arbiter of such things.

Usually the period after a recession is one of strong growth and there isn’t much confusion about names. After all, with companies hiring and wages rising, who much cares what you call it?

But that’s not what we’ve got. Instead, since the recession we’ve had:

— An economy expanding, albeit weakly

— An abysmal housing market with an epidemic of foreclosures

— Elevated unemployment

— High household debt and weak consumer spending

— Very low short-term interest rates, while gold prices skyrocket amid insecurity and inflation fears.

Finding the right label can promote understanding and calm, said Edwin D. Lawson, psychology professor emeritus at the State University of New York at Fredonia and past president of the American Name Society.

“There may be a name that would be reassuring to the public,” he said. “Of course, the name matters. ”

A combat veteran of World War II, Lawson said he prefers accuracy in his labels. “You can call it a strategic withdrawal, but it’s a retreat.”

To capture it all, sometimes it is useful to choose a euphemism, said another Name Society member, psychologist Herbert Barry III at the University of Pittsburgh. He recalled a discussion with his father about the 1933 “bank holiday” during the depths of the Depression.

“I said they should have called it a ‘suspension of bank payments,’ and he said, ‘They couldn’t call it that because it would have frightened everybody.’”

The word “depression” itself came into vogue because President Herbert Hoover did not want people comparing it to previous financial crises, Barry said. “Hoover didn’t want to call it a panic. He said it’s only a depression.”

Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff has quarreled even with the term Great Recession — as well as with the idea that it’s over. Comparing this crisis to the 1930s, he wrote in August that the key element is imbalance between lenders and borrowers.

Credit has been contracting and that must continue, so the balance can shift back to borrowers, he said. “A more accurate, if less reassuring, term for the ongoing crisis is the ‘Second Great Contraction.’”

Rogoff argued that choosing the right name is crucial.

“Why argue about semantics? Well, imagine you have pneumonia, but you think it is only a bad cold. You could easily fail to take the right medicine, and you would certainly expect your life to return to normal much faster than is realistic.”

Semantics or not, there are differing takes:

— PepsiCo.’s chief financial officer called it stagflation.

But that word connotes a toxic mix: weak growth, unemployment and inflation. We’ve only got the first two.

— Commentator Richard Posner said it’s a depression.

That seems like an exaggeration — where are the bread lines? Plus, about one in 10 workers are unemployed, not one in four. A few weeks later, economist and columnist Paul Krugman referred to it as a “lesser depression.”

Is that better?

— Non-economists sometimes say we’re in a double-dip recession, but so far it still looks like the economy is growing, albeit weakly.

— Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has called it a “moderate recovery.”

In a technical sense he may be right — at least so far. The economy for two years has been expanding, although the word “moderate” may be an overstatement. It’s adding jobs slower than it’s adding new workers. And job growth in August was zero.

“A recovery usually entails higher than average growth to pull the economy up from the recession trough. However, this recovery has lower than average growth,” said Karen Campbell, senior economist at the World Economic Forum. “It is as if the economy is not recovering, but rather merely limping along. Maybe it’s a depressed recovery?”

Many refer to the Great Depression as a benchmark.

University of Texas economist James Galbraith said that even though the economy faces some of the same challenges of the Depression, it has averted the plunging incomes of the 1930s.

Programs like food stamps, unemployment insurance and Medicaid have made up for at least some of the lost paychecks. Meanwhile, consumers are trying to pay down what they owe while their main asset — the home — has been losing value.

“We’ve seen a one-time massive drop in output followed by no expansion,” he said. “So in the aggregate, there’s income. But there is no incentive to invest in new business.

“So it’s debt deflation or it’s a high-income depression,” Galbraith said.

And maybe depression isn’t hyperbole after all, since there is no technical definition, said economist Menzie Chinn of the University of Wisconsin. From 1933 through 1936, the economy grew solidly, yet the period is considered part of the Great Depression, he said.

Chinn sides with Rogoff: “A Second Great Contraction is a pretty good moniker, in my view, if one doesn’t want to call this a depression. Adjustment in the wake of such episodes — a combination of housing bust, financial system crisis and recession — usually entails years and years of slow paced, if not halting, recovery.”

Hmmm. The Great Adjustment?

In the end, it is hard to predict which name will catch on with the general public, said Laurel Sutton, co-founder of San Francisco-based Catchword which advises companies on naming products.

But that doesn’t mean that any name will do.

“Because we are human and language is very important to us, the name you give something is not just a word,” she said. “We form emotional attachments through language, so words are really important.”

Among the economists’ offerings, her favorite is one endorsed by Beach at the Heritage Foundation, who saw a parallel to a scene in the Dr. Seuss book, ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go.’

“Everybody is hesitating,” Beach said. “If no one is willing to take risks, if banks are not making loans, if households are not willing to put money on credit cards, how is the economy going to move?

“I think we are in The Waiting Place.”

This economy is a little like Teflon — labels just won’t stick to it. All sorts of names have been tossed at the nation’s current financial circumstances, attempts to sum up the situation or illuminate its essence…


Small Business Legal Services was a name that said it all, but maybe too much. The problem: Many companies on the larger end of the small-business spectrum didn’t classify themselves as small at all.

“We thought we were closing the door on a lot of the potential clients we wanted to work with just by using that name,” says owner and managing attorney Michelle Bomberger.

So in 2009, she changed the name of her Bellevue, Wash., boutique firm to Equinox Business Law Group and began building the new brand through social media and other vehicles.

“[The new name] definitely sends a different message,” Bomberger says. “Without question it’s been the right move for us.”

Your company’s name is the core of its identity, which makes it one of your greatest assets. Replacing a name can be downright risky, especially if it has strong brand equity.

But there are good reasons to justify a switch. A new name that’s carefully chosen and successfully marketed could be the fresh start your company needs to thrive.

Reasons For Renaming

To be sure, not all name changes are voluntary.

Several months after Wendy Kalif and her husband, Francis Devilliers, opened a bistro called Bouchon in Richmond, Va., they encountered a naming problem. Another restaurant that does not operate in Virginia accused Bouchon of violating its trademark on the name

The family business fought the accusation, believing that “bouchon” is a generic French term for a “Lyonnaise-style diner.” But ultimately, they decided to change the name rather than engage in a costly court fight. In December 2010, the restaurant became Bistro Bobette, a name that honors a family dog.

Trademark infringement (or the potential for it) is just one reason to consider a name change for your business. But, there are many others.

A name may no longer reflect the business, for instance. A moniker could be too limiting if it describes just a single offering when the product line has expanded. Or perhaps the products or services have changed altogether, and the name is out of sync.

Your name could also sound like those of your competitors, or it could be too hard to pronounce, spell or understand over the phone.

An eponymous name can produce its own problems. For one, it may not say enough about the company.

When Alexandra Watkins switched from being a copywriter to a naming specialist in 2005, she also stopped operating under her own name and called her new San Francisco firm Eat My Words.

That name “has a personality to it,” Watkins says. “It’s unexpected, it’s playful, it’s creative, it’s fun, and that’s what our business is.”

Likewise, what if you want to sell the company one day? There’s a reason attorney Michelle Bomberger doesn’t share a name with her entity.

“I was intentionally trying to create a firm that was not about me because I want to create something that has value to transfer to somebody else in the future,” she says. “With my plans to grow the firm, the vision very much is that, ‘Michelle is not your lawyer, Equinox is your law firm.’”

Choosing A New Moniker

If your name seems worthy of replacement, don’t limit the pool to a few possibilities.

Laurel Sutton says the naming firm she co-founded, Catchword in Oakland, Calif., typically generates 2,000 or 3,000 name candidates for clients.

Sutton says that an ideal name should:

■ Appeal to your target audience

■ Identify something unique about your business

■ Set you apart from your competitors

■ Establish an engaging connection with customers

■ Work with your overall brand

It should also be easy to remember, hard to mispronounce, and void of a negative meaning in languages used by your customers.

You may also want to pick a name that you can legally protect.

Your customers, partners, vendors, investors and even friendly competitors can all offer useful feedback. Don’t rely too heavily on input from family and friends, however.

“The worst thing you can do is to invite the opinions of people who don’t know what you’re doing, don’t understand your business, and are not your target customers,” Sutton says.

Check for possible legal conflicts after you’ve got a short list in hand. You can research trademarks on the website of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

To see if your potential names are already being used as either legal names or trade names, do a thorough Internet search that includes online state databases, like those of your secretary of state or licensing agency.

Then search every other resource you can think of that may contain business names. Trade journals and phonebooks are a good start.

Bomberger says you should look not only at whether a name is being used, but also whether it’s being used in the same or similar industry as your company. The issue is whether the names are “confusingly similar” to a customer.

But even with thorough due diligence, it’s a good idea to hire an intellectual property attorney who can help you navigate potential legal troubles related to choosing a name and protecting it.

There’s a lot a gray in this area.

For instance, take the name of Bomberger’s Washington firm, Equinox Business Law Group. There are other companies that use the name Equinox in Washington, including a horse boarding facility. That didn’t present a conflict to Bomberger because customers aren’t going to confuse her law office with a farm or ranch.

But would she have had a problem if there were an Oregon law firm called Equinox that had already done business in her state? Potentially, she says.

Making The Change

Once you’ve settled on a new name, you’ve got to let people know about it, and that can be costly.

Though your own expenses could be lower, Lee Roberts says he spent $250,000 when he changed his company’s name in 2006 to Merchant Metrix. The change was prompted by Apple’s demand that he stop using its name in his primary product, Apple Pie Shopping Cart.

Roberts expects to shell out even more for another name switch he made in September—to Ascender Commerce— because he’s pursuing trademarks. (He says Merchant Metrix confused some prospects who didn’t understand what metrics were. And the new name reflects the ability of the Norman, Okla., company to help clients ascend through search results.)

Many of the costs of amending a name come from necessary changes to business licenses, letterhead, websites, signage, uniforms, bags, product labels and any other item that features a name.

You may have attorney fees, too.

Renaming And Rebranding

Costs can also rise if you simultaneously rejigger the look and feel of your company’s brand rather than simply plugging in the new name.

“If the name is changing, then what you’re communicating about the brand needs to change as well,” says Maria Ross, author of “Branding Basics for Small Business” (Norlights Press, 2010).

You can borrow from some branding elements you’ve been using, but Ross warns, “You’re going to want to show there’s a shift from what you were to what you are now.”

She says, for instance, you could use the same colors but create a logo with a new typeface.

Regardless of the extent of your rebranding, you’ll want to invest in marketing your name change by using tools like press releases, advertising and social media. You may need to include phrases like “formerly known as” in communications until your new name feels established.

“A confused customer is your competitor’s customer,” says Ross, who is also the founder and chief strategist of Red Slice, a Seattle-based branding and marketing consultancy. “[Customers] don’t have time to try to figure things out, so make it easy for them to connect the dots.”

For instance Kalif, owner of Bistro Bobette’s, made it clear in a press release that “nothing but the name will change.”

She says, “We have a very loyal clientele, and I don’t want any customer confusion or for anyone to think the restaurant had changed hands or had gone out of business.”

When Not To Rename

Given the risks, costs and headaches, a name change may not ultimately be the right solution for you.

“If you have a name with a lot of public recognition, many loyal customers, and the exact dot-com domain, you might want to keep the name and rely on other marketing channels to balance any negatives,” Sutton says.

You can even use some negatives to your advantage.

Yes, the surname in Gianfagna Strategic Marketing is hard to spell and pronounce. But the Cleveland firm celebrates its moniker with the tagline, “Tricky name, terrific results,” and advises people that Gianfagna rhymes with lasagna.

“We decided to make a joke out of it, and people have really warmed to that,” says founder and President Jean M. Gianfagna. “It’s built a unique identity that is very valuable.”

Small Business Legal Services was a name that said it all, but maybe too much. The problem: Many companies on the larger end of the small-business spectrum didn’t classify themselves as small at all…

The New York Times, March 26, 2011

When tech companies engage in legal squabbles about who gets to use our everyday words, what are ordinary speakers of the language to make of it all?

Microsoft is suing Apple, and Apple is suing Amazon, all over the right to use a simple two-word phrase: “app store.” Apple got there first, introducing its App Store in July 2008 as a marketplace for mobile applications. In January, Microsoft disputed Apple’s trademark claim, arguing that “app store” had already become a generic expression. And last week, Amazon announced its own “Appstore” for Google’s Android devices, prompting an infringement suit from Apple.

It’s not the first time the tech industry has claimed commonplace language as its own.

Facebook has been notorious in this regard, filing trademarks on an array of common four-letter words: “like,” “wall,” “poke” and, naturally,“face” and “book.” Last year, two small Internet start-ups, the travel site Placebook and the educational site Teachbook, learned the danger of using “book” for online services when Facebook’s lawyers came calling. (Placebook renamed itself, while Teachbook continues to fight it out.)

Microsoft, of course, has long been playing this game by fiercely upholding prosaic brand names like Windows, Office and Word. The Linux-based operating system Lindows, for instance, agreed to change its name (to Linspire) in 2004 after years of wrangling over whether “Windows” was generic. Now, in the “app store” dispute, the shoe is on the other foot, with Microsoft taking the role of language loosener.

According to Christopher Johnson, a branding expert who runs the Web site the Name Inspector, “there’s a land grab going on” in the information economy, as “companies are trying to snatch up pieces of our cultural commons.” He lays much of the blame on the increasing scarcity of available names, whether for trademarks, domain names or Twitter handles.

Laurel Sutton, co-founder of the branding company Catchword, said she believed that the United States Patent and Trademark Office is “about five Internet years behind the times” in its willingness to allow companies like Apple to stake claims to generic words and phrases. “All kinds of stuff gets approved that probably shouldn’t have,” Ms. Sutton said. If Apple’s trademark is upheld, she reasons, it won’t harm the bottom lines of Microsoft and Amazon — but smaller companies could be hurt. “This type of appropriation of language is only going to continue unless the U.S.P.T.O. realizes the potential for damage,” she warned.

For what it’s worth, the facts in the “app store” cases don’t look terribly promising for Steve Jobs and his fellow Cupertino visionaries. “App” has been used by the computing crowd since at least 1985 as a short form of “application.” And as Microsoft lawyers were happy to point out in the January filing, Mr. Jobs himself has used “app store” in a generic manner. In a conference call with analysts last October, he was quoted as saying that “Amazon, Verizon and Vodafone have all announced that they are creating their own app stores for Android.” Blithely pluralizing “app store” like that is no way to protect a trademark that is supposed to be distinctive.

Though I don’t have a dog in this fight, Microsoft also quoted me in its brief, since as chairman of the American Dialect Society’s new-words committee I was responsible for making the announcement that “app” had been selected as the society’s 2010 word of the year. That ended up being another quiver in Microsoft’s bow, demonstrating how widespread the terms “app” and “app store” have become.

No matter the outcome of this dispute, you don’t have to worry that Apple’s lawyers will pound on your door with a cease-and-desist order if you mention that you want to download Angry Birds from an “app store” lacking the Apple seal of approval. “This is not something that the general public needs to get bent out of shape about,” said Jessica Stone Levy, a Denver-based trademark lawyer. “This is really corporate maneuvering.”

The greater concern among Silicon Valley observers is the vast amount of time and money that these companies are spending in trademark proceedings that may amount to little more than gamesmanship. Rather than fighting over little words, the innovators of the Information Age could be busy, well, innovating.

When tech companies engage in legal squabbles about who gets to use our everyday words, what are ordinary speakers of the language to make of it all? Microsoft is suing Apple, and Apple is suing Amazon, all over the right to use a simple two-word phrase: “app store.” …

Georgetown MLC Blog, November 1, 2010

One of the ways to plan a career in language, is to talk to employed linguists! I interviewed Laurel Sutton, co-founder of a naming company named Catchword, to find out how she went from student in linguistics to being her own boss.

(The questions listed here function as headings for each section and are not necessarily the exact questions that elicited the information).

Why a graduate degree in linguistics?

Laurel was one of the first undergraduate students to receive a linguistics degree at Rutgers University. She lists Susan Gal as her mentor for finding her way to linguistics (Sutton began as an English major). For three years after undergrad, Laurel ran a record store in New Brunswick. She enjoyed the work but eventually realized it would not lend itself to a career for her. So, she went back to see Susan Gal to ask for advice about how to keep pursuing linguistic training. Gal advised her to go to Berkeley, offering to write her a letter, and soon after, Laurel was a graduate student.

How did it get you to where you are?

Despite enjoying her studies and research and really being involved in the community at Berkeley, Laurel began realizing she did not want to be an academic. She referred to what happened next as “luck;” she had a friend who worked at a naming company who thought she would be good at it, so Laurel talked to the owner of the company and was hired because of her linguistic training and computer skills. She enjoyed the work and was excited to find she could use her linguistic expertise in a really practical way.

After several years at the company, she and a couple of coworkers decided to try starting their own naming business. That was the beginning of Catchword and of being her own boss.

How do you use your linguistics training?

Laurel says it simply helps to know how language works and be able to “talk off-the-cuff” with clients about language.

Laurel’s role in the company centers around project management and name evaluation. She meets with clients to collect information about the products, which she then passes on to the people who do the creative work. After they generate a list of several hundred names, Laurel goes through and picks out the top __. Because of her knowledge of linguistics, Laurel explains, she is good at knowing how the word(s) will look, sound, be pronounced, and the layers of possible meaning that exist.

During graduate school, Laurel did a lot of phonetic work and continues to be interested in sound perception. And she uses this for naming by, for example, explaining to clients where in the mouth velar plosives are produced and why this creates good acoustics. She says she has even offered to show clients a spectrogram! (though no one has yet insisted upon that level of analysis). Catchword, then, is able to distinguish itself from other naming companies that talk about language by referencing the actual science of linguistics.

She gave another example of using her phonetics background at work. A recent client with a mostly Asian market, came to Catchword assuming they should not have “l”s or “r”s in their names. But Laurel said she knew from a paper she did on Japanese speakers and flaps, that there is evidence Asian speakers know to substitute flaps in these situations. She said she remembered looking at the electropalatograms, and she was able to relay this to the client, that these consonants may be pronounced differently, but were not necessarily problematic.

Laurel said she still does some academic work. She is a member of the American Name Society which is made up of mostly academics. They have an annual meeting, usually held in conjunction with LSA, where she presents her latest work. She says this is a nice way to keep up the practice of putting together research for an academic audience.

How should students interested in naming learn more about it?

Laurel says many naming companies take on interns during the summer, which is an ideal way for a student to get a feel for what naming is like. She emphasizes that “naming” involves numerous tasks and skill sets, and that within the industry, there are a lot of different positions. She recommends students who are interested in this type of direction for their careers start learning a bit about trademarks and marketing, admitting that she would have taken more business classes, since understanding these aspects are just as critical to the business of naming as the language aspect.

What skills are important to focus on?

One thing Laurel emphasizes about graduate school is the training it provides students in presenting yourself and your work. She feels this is an invaluable tool that students should market. She said that someone who is smart and well-trained but unable to socialize and business-speak, may not be hireable in many cases. In short: Develop your BUSINESS personality.

Any final advice for students getting a Master’s in linguistics?

Laurel concluded the interview by saying that there are many places where a degree in linguistics can be helpful, and what is important is deciding what is interesting to you personally. She said, “It’s less about being a linguist and more about what’s exciting for you, and what you want to do,” and that linguistics is just one (interesting) way to get there.

One of the ways to plan a career in language, is to talk to employed linguists! I interviewed Laurel Sutton, co-founder of a naming company named Catchword, to find out how she went from student in linguistics to being her own boss…

New York Times, April 14, 2010

New team owners often have their hands full hiring executives, meeting fans and sponsors, and adding or cutting players. Michael Jordan, the new majority owner of the N.B.A. Charlotte Bobcats, is no different, only he may have something else on his to-do list: a new team nickname.

“If I get the understanding from the community, from the public, that we need it and it signifies change, yeah, I would do that,” Jordan told reporters in Charlotte, N.C., last month after he took over the team.

Ownership changes and relocations are rare chances to rebrand franchises, especially if poor play in the arena or outside scandal has dogged the team. But changing nicknames cannot assure a winning team, is expensive and can alienate fans, all things Jordan will have to consider.

Jordan will also have to weigh whether changing the team’s name makes sense when the Bobcats are finally having success. The team is enjoying its first winning season and will make the first playoff appearance in its six-year history. Then again, Jordan may decide to scrap the name to distance himself from the previous owner, Robert Johnson, whose team was known jokingly as Bob’s Cats. The Nets, too, will play the name game when they leave New Jersey in 2012. For now, the team plans to be called the Brooklyn Nets to capitalize on the borough’s basketball heritage, which has produced stars like Lenny Wilkens, Bernard King and Stephon Marbury. But with a new owner and a new arena, the team could opt for a full makeover. (The Nets began their life as the New Jersey Americans in the American Basketball Association.)

Most name changes happen when teams make clean breaks, as when the forlorn Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals in 2005, or when hockey’s Winnipeg Jets, after many mediocre years, moved to Phoenix and became the Coyotes in 1996.

Some teams on the move keep their nicknames, even if they make no sense. The Jazz, named for the musical heritage of its native New Orleans, remained the Jazz when it moved to Utah, which is not exactly known for its blue notes. The Lakers, too, kept their name when they moved from Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, to Los Angeles, the land of the Pacific Ocean.

There are also teams that change their city name, without changing cities, like the Angels (from Anaheim to Los Angeles) and the football Cardinals (from Phoenix to Arizona) for marketing reasons.

But few teams change names without moving. Fans, sponsors and city elders often have an intense, irrational attachment to their hometown teams. Franchises are usually privately held enterprises, yet they are treated like public institutions, so changing names can create an unintended backlash.

“For a team to step into that quagmire without a solid rationale would not be prudent,” said Allen Adamson, managing director in the New York office of Landor Associates, a naming consultant. “It’s really tricky, especially something where the public is involved because no name is going to be hands down better than another.”

Emotions aside, changing names alone does not guarantee positive results — usually. After 10 losing seasons in Tampa Bay, the Rays changed their uniforms and dropped the Devil from their name, which was not a hit in Florida’s Bible Belt. It worked, in a way: the Rays reached the World Series that year.

“This was a team that needed a rebranding, a total makeover,” said Rick Vaughan, a team spokesman.

In 1997, the Washington Bullets became the Wizards because of the negative association with the District of Columbia’s high murder rate. The Wizards’ record has been mixed since then. This season, the team’s biggest star, Gilbert Arenas, and his teammate Javaris Crittenton were suspended for taking guns to the locker room at the team’s home arena.

Either way, rebranding a team is a multiyear, multimillion-dollar process that Jordan figures could cost as much as $10 million — a reasonable estimate, according to branding experts. Given the logistics, a name change would not happen in time for next season.

The hardest part is typically the least expensive: finding a new name. Teams sometimes hire naming agencies to do market research, conduct focus groups and ask fans for suggestions or opinions on names that the teams drum up. Agencies charge about $50,000 to generate hundreds of possible names, said Laurel Sutton, a principal at Catchword Branding, a naming company in Oakland, Calif.

Good names should have grass-roots appeal, be alliterative, not conflict with another team’s name, and link to a team’s roots or be suggestive of its future, said Edward O’Hara, the chief creative officer at SME, which designs logos for professional and college teams.

“It has to serve as the anchor for all your marketing,” he said. “It has to signify a new era.”

O’Hara said that while Bobcats was a generic name, dumping it was risky because a new name was bound to offend someone.

Teams employ lawyers to make sure names do not conflict with those of other teams in the United States and overseas. Registering team names globally can cost as much as $1 million.

Graphic designers can charge $100,000 or more to create logos, names, fonts and color schemes, a process that can take months. Teams must also get approval from their league’s board of governors. In the N.B.A., a team must wait eight years between primary logo changes and four years between uniform changes. The N.B.A. has not commented on the possibility of a Bobcats name change because the team has not applied to the league to make a change.

Once approvals are obtained, the team has to replace merchandise, signs, media material, stationery and even cocktail napkins that have the team’s old logo. Then the team needs watchdogs to ensure the new name is being used properly and not being affixed to bootleg merchandise.

“You need to track every angle down,” Sutton said.

If Jordan decides to change the nickname, Charlotte Bobcats memorabilia will go into the trash bin of sports history, alongside New Orleans Jazz uniforms, Winnipeg Jets jerseys and Montreal Expos caps.

New team owners often have their hands full hiring executives, meeting fans and sponsors, and adding or cutting players. Michael Jordan, the new majority owner of the N.B.A. Charlotte Bobcats, is no different, only he may have something else on his to-do list: a new team nickname…

Marketing Profs, December 29, 2009

Like the internet phenoms they trumpeted, Internet company names of the last decade have been, by turns, wildly inventive, deeply troubled, breathtakingly silly, serviceable (if dull)— and, occasionally, brilliant.

Having christened our share of Internet phenoms, we at Catchword decided to looked back to identify the 10 biggest dot-com naming trends—and their best and worst examples.

(Although, frankly, it was hard to choose just one “worst” in some cases. There were so many Web 2.0 disasters! It was as though the rules of language had ceased to apply.)

Here are the trends and names that rose to the top (and sank to the bottom).

  1. The Hookup

Sometimes two words are better than one—especially to convey a new way of doing things. Serviceable hookups can range from descriptive (Facebook, StubHub) to suggestive (LinkedIn) to evocative (Snapfish).

But if two words don’t have a discernible relationship with each other—or the brand—it’s a Random Hookup. And we all know how short-lived those are—in this or any realm.

Win: YouTube

Intuitive, catchy, grassroots-y. The retro slang “tube” for TV evokes simpler times and ease of use: clever for a new app that could have been seen as intimidatingly high-tech.

Fail: TalkShoe

Say what? The name is a play on the use of Ed Sullivan’s pronunciation of the word “show” on his long-ago TV show. Like anyone is going to make the connection…

  1. The Conjurer

Evocative words can make memorable brand names when they relate to the core of a brand’s story (like Yelp). But the line can be fine between edgy and baffling.

Win: Twitter

Whimsically conjures up users’ sharing short little bursts of information (like birds twittering in a tree)—as well as excitement (“all atwitter”). It’s extendable, too. A whole vocabulary quickly takes flight—from tweet and twitfriend to twipic.

Fail: MOO

Great for cows, milk, cheese, ice cream. Not so great for a site offering printing services.

  1. The Letter-Dropper

The problem with this type of coinage is it’s so distinctive you’re almost bound to look like a copycat if you’re not the first out of the gate. And if you drop more than one letter, you’re asking for trouble. (Was Motorola’s SLVR cell phone meant to be Silver or Sliver? And what’s with Scribd?)

Win: Flickr

The image of a camera’s flicker is relevant for photo sharing and reassuringly familiar, while the dropped letter—a new naming convention—suggested cutting-edge technology.

Fail: iStalkr


  1. The Assembly Line

Names assembled from word parts with meaningful associations can be rich and unexpected (witness Gizmodo, the gadget blog). But tone and messaging need to be just right.

Win: Wikipedia

The unusualness of the name establishes it as a fresh player, while the evocation of both encyclopedias and speed (“wiki” is Hawaiian for “quick”) is spot on.

Fail: Nupedia

The flatfooted claim of newness sounds dated from day one. Plus it’s risky to stake an identity on newness in internet-land. Before long, this premise is far from “nu.”

  1. The Misspeller

This kind of brand name often spells disaster: hard to remember (Ideeli, Scrybe), confusing to pronounce and spell (Myngle, Wotnext, Gravee), and reeking of URL-search desperation (Itzbig, Profilactic, Fairtilizer).

Win: Boku

French word “beaucoup” is on the money for an online payment service—and for many Americans, the misspelling is actually more intuitive and inviting.

Fail: Cuil

Meant to be pronounced “cool,” but who’s gonna get that? Rule No. 1: Your name shouldn’t need to come with a pronunciation guide.

  1. The Wordster

Another convention that ages fast. And there’s nothing more pathetic in naming than a transparent attempt to appear cool (cases in point: Dogster, Agester, Talkster).

Win: Friendster

Not exciting, we’ll grant you, but the intuitiveness of the name helped usher in the era of social networking.

Fail: Napster

In light of its ensuing legal woes, to highlight the “kidnapping” of music is probably not the best idea (to put it kindly).

  1. The Double or Nothing

Doubling a letter in a real word only works when the word remains recognizable, and the addition of the second letter serves some purpose, other than to complicate spelling (as in Gawwk).

Win: Digg

Intuitive and evocative, the double “g” underscores the digging nature of research and is graphically interesting.

Fail: Diigo

A social bookmarking site, the double “i” destroys the semantic connection and confuses pronunciation. (Is it Dee-go or Dihgo?) Plus, coming on the heels of Digg, it seems hopelessly derivative.

  1. The eThing, the iThing, the meThing, the myThing

“e/i” shorthand quickly becomes redundant in the internet space, although it spawns many workhorse names: serviceable, if dull. The me/my thing (as in mySpace) tends to be similarly predictable and unremarkable. (Now, myBad—that would be interesting…)

Win: iContact

For a provider of email marketing, the “i” works on three levels: “I contact,” “eye contact,” and, of course, “Internet contact.”

Fail: eSnailer, eBaum’s World, eXpresso…

  1. The Empty Vessel

A word without recognizable semantic roots can be a useful umbrella name for a company that may want to branch out in different directions. But it needs to be pronounceable and have relevant sound symbolism. Otherwise, it’s not an Empty Vessel—it’s Alphabet Soup. Like Disaboom, Xoopit, Yebol, and Goozex. Cover your ears.

Win: Kazaa

Recalls huzzah or hurrah, conveying excitement. (Sample exclamation: “Kazaa! I just downloaded Season One of Six Feet Under, FOR FREE!!!”)

Fail: Eefoof

Vintage Web 2.0: hard to spell, silly—and utterly meaningless.

  1. The Foreigner

Words in little-known languages can also make good empty-vessel names, especially if their meaning provides a springboard into their brand story. The trick is to find words that are easy to pronounce and pleasing to the American ear (like Kijiji, a communal website with a Swahili name meaning “village”).

Win: Hulu

Good empty vessel name for an entertainment company that wants to keep its options open. (Interestingly, the word means “empty gourd” in Mandarin.) The rhyming word is playful, and by evoking hula hoops, it suggests fun.

Fail: Jwaala

Talk about a tongue-twister.

The Coming Decade As for Internet company naming trends of the coming decade: Companies will demand more meaningful brand names, as far from Web 2.0 flights of fancy as possible; they’ll be willing to pay a premium for real-word or lightly coined domain names; and they will be creative in the messages they explore—as long as they’re relevant to the brand.

Like Internet companies themselves, it appears, Internet naming will be coming back down to earth.

Like the internet phenoms they trumpeted, Internet company names of the last decade have been, by turns, wildly inventive, deeply troubled, breathtakingly silly, serviceable (if dull)— and, occasionally, brilliant…

Wired, December 4, 2009

THIS WEEK’S FLAP about Renault giving their new electric car a popular female first name piqued our interest in how cars get their names. From animal imagery to alphanumeric codes, a name is a car’s first opportunity to sell itself. It can become the stuff of legend or the butt of jokes.

Typically, an automaker’s product development team will name a car in the concept phase. If executives are fans of the name and it tests well, it may stay with the car through production. Other times, a carmaker will outsource name development to a naming firm. We wanted to find out just what some carmakers were thinking when naming their products (Ford Probe, anyone?) so we caught up with Laurel Sutton, a principal at the naming firm Catchword Brand Name Development in order to get a better idea of how cars are christened and what names do and don’t work.

Take AMC’s lineup in the mid ’70s, famous for quirky cars with fittingly bizarre names. “Gremlin is a terrible name and it’s surprising it was ever launched,” Sutton told Autopia. “Pacer and Matador are not terrible names at face value.” Still, the relatively more normal names weren’t enough to save lousy cars from the same ridicule associated with the Gremlin.

A naming trend popular with luxury automakers is the cryptic code, from the famed BMW 3- 5- and 7-series to the alphabet soup of Lincoln’s current lineup. Automakers such as Acura and Cadillac have followed the lead of Mercedes and Lexus, abandoning Coupe d’Elegance and Integra for CTS and TL. Sutton says such tactics convey an “insider” status for owners and help promote a brand over a particular model. Abbreviations and numbers are “like a secret language that you learn as an enthusiast and owner of the luxury car,” but “it also requires that the parent brand carries all the weight and communicates all of the brand message.”

THIS WEEK’S FLAP about Renault giving their new electric car a popular female first name piqued our interest in how cars get their names. From animal imagery to alphanumeric codes, a name is a car’s first opportunity to sell itself. It can become the stuff of legend or the butt of jokes…

New York Times, April 15, 2009

GENIUS, Thomas Edison said long ago, is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. Now, the geniuses on Madison Avenue are recalculating the formula to add a lot of stimulation.

As marketers remake campaigns to address the recession, advertising copywriters are liberally peppering prose with financial words and phrases, particularly “stimulus” and “stimulus package.”

The choice of language reflects, of course, the attention paid to the passage by Congress in February of the $787 billion economic stimulus measure. Like politicians, marketers like to ride coattails; the tactic of ads seeking to capitalize on news events or the popular culture is known as borrowed interest.

“It’s a bit of an opportunistic practice,” said Burt Alper, principal at Catchword Branding, a consulting company in Oakland, Calif.

“But if you’re not being sympathetic to what’s going on, your customers may view you as having blinders on,” he added.

As a result, there is no shortage of marketers trying to simulate the stimulation of a stimulus package. These are among scores of examples since the year began:

The CBS Television Network, part of the CBS Corporation, promoted its Monday sitcoms like “How I Met Your Mother” by calling them “the entertainment stimulus package.”

There was also a “late-night stimulus package,” composed of “Late Show With David Letterman” and “The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson.”

A commercial for Trojan condoms, sold by Church & Dwight, presented “our own stimulus package, the Trojan Pleasure Pack.” The spot was created by the Kaplan Thaler Group in New York, part of the Publicis Groupe.

Valpak Direct Marketing Systems ran ads that described its Valpak coupon packets mailed to consumers as “the original consumer stimulus package since 1968.”

Carmike Cinemas introduced a promotion, “Stimulus Tuesdays,” offering moviegoers discounted drinks and popcorn.

In a print advertisement with a $1 coupon for Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice, sold by a unit of Mars, the Uncle Ben character declared, “Consider this a part of the economic stimulus package.” The ads were created by the Playa del Rey, Calif., office of TBWA/Chiat/Day, part of the TBWA Worldwide division of the Omnicom Group.

Coincidentally, the ad is part of a campaign for Uncle Ben’s that carries the theme “Ben knows best” — no reference intended to Ben S. Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve.

An ad for a new business book, “The Carrot Principle,” published by the Free Press division of Simon & Schuster, redefines the incentive behind using carrots rather than sticks as motivational tools by asking, “Heard about the carrots stimulus package?”

The Baltimore Orioles have a “Birdland Stimulus Package” for the 2009 baseball season, which enables fans to celebrate birthdays with free tickets to games at Oriole Park at Camden Yards (

Gold’s Gym is introducing a “Fitness Stimulus Package” that includes free seven-day passes, health audits and exercise guides (

“Putting the stimulus spin on this is timely,” said Lisa Zoellner, chief marketing officer at Gold’s Gym in Dallas, because the state of the economy “is going to be absorbing people’s attention for quite some time.”

Most stimulus lingo is turning up in campaigns for marketers in categories hardest hit by the recession. They include automobiles, like invitations from the Volvo unit of Ford Motor to “stimulate your stimulus”; retail, like a “stimulus sale” at ABC Carpet & Home stores; and travel, like a “stimulus, recovery and rebound package” at the Mohegan Sun casino and hotel in Uncasville, Conn.

“When people hear ‘stimulus package,’ they think of the government,” said Tom Koenigsberg, chief marketing officer at CiCi’s Pizza in Coppell, Tex. “It’s time business provided stimulus packages to give consumers a chance to save money.”

CiCi’s recently began a promotion, the “Million-Penny Stimulus Package,” in which that many pennies — bearing stickers offering prizes like free meals — are being scattered around CiCi’s restaurants. The promotion is being advertised in a campaign celebrating “penny picker-uppers,” created by the Marina del Rey, Calif., office of Deutsch, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies.

“I think the way we’ve done it is to be a little different, a little more creative, hopefully separating us from the others out there,” Mr. Koenigsberg said.

That brings up a major drawback to ads that borrow interest: They tend to proliferate to the point they seem derivative and unoriginal.

“You can get lost if people think you’re just co-opting something they see on the news,” said Alain Sylvain, managing director at Redscout in New York, a brand strategy company owned by MDC Partners.

Rather, marketers ought to strive “to make it much more about empathy,” he added, “to say: ‘We understand what’s going on. We sympathize with you. We know what you’re looking for.’ ”

That is why Domino’s Pizza included value deals in ads featuring a make-believe federal secretary of taste offering a “Taste Stimulus Package” and a “Big Taste Bailout.”

“It seems like every ad starts out, ‘In this economy …,’ ” said Andrew Keller, partner and co-executive creative director at the Boulder, Colo., office of the Domino’s agency, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, also part of MDC.

“We have an opportunity to offer something around value,” he added. “It’s doing something, rather than just trying to ride the wave of news.”

GENIUS, Thomas Edison said long ago, is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. Now, the geniuses on Madison Avenue are recalculating the formula to add a lot of stimulation.

New York Times, November 13, 2007

Not that long ago, when it came to corporate branding the “I’s” had it, and so, too, did the “E’s,” as marketers sought to signal they were part of the Internet boom by starting their names with those vowels.

That was then and this is now, a business software company is declaring in a campaign to promote a rebranding. The campaign drops a name adopted in 1997 in favor of one meant to be more contemporary and inclusive.

The campaign celebrates the renaming of the software company, eProject, as Daptiv, effective immediately. The company, which is based in Seattle, lists among its clients ATA Airlines, BP, Chanel, Merrill Lynch, Ohio State University and Real Networks; its lead investors include the venture-capital firms of Bay Partners and Kennet Ventures.

The campaign, which is being handled internally, includes banner ads; a presence on social-networking Web sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace; search-engine marketing; and a new corporate Web site, with an address bearing the new name.

The idea to adopt Daptiv — rhymes with “captive” — came from Catchword Branding, a consulting company in Oakland, Calif. The Palo Alto, Calif., office of a design and brand-identity firm that Catchword often works with, Michael Patrick Partners, collaborated on the effort.

The budget to create and introduce the new name is being estimated at $347,500 — a thrifty sum that reflects the lower cost of campaigns that appear predominantly in the new media.

The renaming is indicative of the fashions and foibles of corporate branding, which is becoming an increasingly important aspect of marketing as a company’s name becomes a global asset in an online world.

As a name, eProject “was not bad,” says Tim Low, vice president for marketing at the company, and “people were starting to recognize it.”

Not that long ago, when it came to corporate branding the “I’s” had it, and so, too, did the “E’s,” as marketers sought to signal they were part of the Internet boom by starting their names with those vowels.

That was then and this is now, a business software company is declaring in a campaign to promote a rebranding. The campaign drops a name adopted in 1997 in favor of one meant to be more contemporary and inclusive.

The campaign celebrates the renaming of the software company, eProject, as Daptiv, effective immediately. The company, which is based in Seattle, lists among its clients ATA Airlines, BP, Chanel, Merrill Lynch, Ohio State University and Real Networks; its lead investors include the venture-capital firms of Bay Partners and Kennet Ventures.

The campaign, which is being handled internally, includes banner ads; a presence on social-networking Web sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace; search-engine marketing; and a new corporate Web site, with an address bearing the new name.

The idea to adopt Daptiv — rhymes with “captive” — came from Catchword Branding, a consulting company in Oakland, Calif. The Palo Alto, Calif., office of a design and brand-identity firm that Catchword often works with, Michael Patrick Partners, collaborated on the effort.

The budget to create and introduce the new name is being estimated at $347,500 — a thrifty sum that reflects the lower cost of campaigns that appear predominantly in the new media.

The renaming is indicative of the fashions and foibles of corporate branding, which is becoming an increasingly important aspect of marketing as a company’s name becomes a global asset in an online world.

As a name, eProject “was not bad,” says Tim Low, vice president for marketing at the company, and “people were starting to recognize it.”

“But it did reek of 1997,” he adds.

Equally unfortunate, says Mr. Low, who joined the company about 13 months ago from Microsoft, was the fact that the previous name “did not allow us the flexibility to offer new services.”

“We made our name in online project management,” he adds, “but we felt the name was a little bit constrictive” as the company sought to expand its offerings.

The decision to change names was “not simple,” Mr. Low says. “We discussed it a lot.”

“Ultimately, we decided there was no time like the present,” he adds, because it would become “only more difficult to do in the future.”

After the decision was made at the end of last year, Catchword was hired in February, Mr. Low recalls. Meetings in Seattle between the executives of eProject and Catchword followed soon after.

“They recognized two issues with the existing name,” says Burt Alper, principal at Catchword.

“One, it was very dated,” he says. “The initial ‘e’ has had its time and gone.”

“The other problem was that the name was very specific to project management,” he adds, echoing Mr. Low, “and very specific names can pigeonhole you as your company evolves.”

The team at Catchword working with eProject “talked a lot with them about how edgy they wanted the new name to sound,” Mr. Alper says.

That is particularly an issue in business-to-business marketing, he adds, because companies “need to maintain some credibility” with current and potential clients and thus should “strike a balance between sounding edgy and reliable so as not to scare off customers with an eccentric or irreverent name.”

Typically when Catchword works with a client, a team will generate 2,000 to 2,500 “name candidates,” Mr. Alper says, which are culled to about 200.

Those are sent to an internal evaluation team that checks for availability as trade names and domain names. Needless to say, the latter is crucial in a wired marketplace.

The potential names are also screened through what Mr. Alper calls a “linguistic analysis” to make sure they are appropriate in other languages, also important as more marketers sell products and services abroad.

In the last presentation to the eProject executives, Mr. Alper says, Catchword submitted six names, including Daptiv. (He declines to discuss the others, as does Mr. Low.)

The Catchword team “was pretty comfortable with all of them,” Mr. Alper says, and was “thrilled” when Daptiv was picked.

Daptiv is a good choice because “it sounds very current,” he adds, noting the trend “to alter spellings to create distinctions,” citing theMotorola Razr cellphone and the photo-sharing Web site Flickr.

“But since Daptiv is based on a real English word,” Mr. Alper says, “there’s also a sense of stability” that may be missing from more fanciful coined words.

“It’s also short and easy to pronounce,” he adds, “and the dot-com domain was available for registration.”

Mr. Low was similarly effusive about the selection.

Daptiv “was the one the most people on the management team thought was the most flexible,” Mr. Low says. “It achieves our primary objective, to be less descriptive than our previous brand.”

“And it was short,” he adds.

The executives also like the “connotations” of the new name, Mr. Low says, especially “the nod to ‘adaptive.’ ”

Indeed, if you search for “Daptiv” on, this pops up: “Did you mean ‘adaptive?’ ”

The Web address went live on Oct. 31, followed by a switch of names on Web ad banners and search-engine Web sites.

Many of the messages in the campaign are straightforward. For instance, on Web banners that proclaim “The future of on-demand business software is here,” at the bottom there is a message that reads, “eProject is now Daptiv.”

The Daptiv group on ( presents the name change as the main item under the “recent news” section

“We are excited to tell you that eProject has changed its name to Daptiv,” the entry begins.

As for how the name change will play out, Mr. Low says, “Brands take on connotations as they’re out there.”

“I’d like to tell you in 2008 what customers say Daptiv means,” he adds.

Mr. Low, it is a deal.

Not that long ago, when it came to corporate branding the “I’s” had it, and so, too, did the “E’s,” as marketers sought to signal they were part of the Internet boom by starting their names with those vowels…

Los Angeles Times, August 29, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO — Even if you could say Abazab or Eefoof without snickering, would you want to do business with them?

Would you feel OK owning Wakoopa shares in your 401(k)? Telling potential in-laws you met on Frengo? Relying on Ooma to call Grandma?

Silicon Valley is in the midst of a great corporate baby boom. Venture capitalists have pumped $2.5 billion into 400 young Internet companies since the beginning of 2006, compared with $1.3 billion into 236 companies during the previous two years, according to research firm Dow Jones VentureOne.

These entrepreneurial brain children have short life expectancies, destined to fight for revenue with the likes of Google, Yahoo and EBay. But still they are being born — and they need names.

Naming a company is far more difficult than naming a child. The name needs to sound snappy, separate its young company from the pack and provide a unique Web address.

Having two Ethans and three Madisons in a kindergarten class can create confusion, even embarrassment, but giving your start-up a name that’s already taken guarantees a legal fight you can’t win.

The result? New Internet companies are being baptized daily with handles that sound like a cross between toddler-speak, scat singing and what the aliens will greet us with when they land.

You won’t find a name among the horde that conjures up traditional companies such as Dress Barn, Best Buy and Burger King. Most Internet company names make little sense, and they roll around the mouth like a marble.

“Old-school ideas about sounding trustworthy or sounding big are not as important as they used to be,” said Burt Alper, co-founder of Catchword Branding in Oakland, which has helped companies pick such names as Vudu (makes a device for watching videos) and Promptu (creates voice-recognition products). “Now, it’s about sounding different and standing out from the crowd.”

Like naming a new baby, the process involves late-night brainstorming, some expert help and a dose of frank feedback from friends.

And like the grandparents-to-be, a company’s financial backers can kill a loved name with a raised eyebrow. Picking the wrong name can kill a multimillion-dollar investment.

Entrepreneurs today pick names they think will help their companies stand out, as do parents of little Zander and Arlo, Eliza and Matilda.

“Naming a company is like naming a celebrity,” said serial entrepreneur Jared Kopf, who has helped christen companies including, his online advertising firm, and Slide, a Web photo service. “Made-up words don’t come with psychological baggage.”

One approach is whimsy: picking a name that seems inspired by Dr. Seuss. If the late author were to tell a story about Internet start-ups, he could pit Qumana and Qoosa (blog editing and Web browsing) against Tagtooga and Tendango (both social networking). Peace would be brokered by Ooma (Internet phone calling). BooRah (restaurant reviews) would hiss, then cheer. Lala (music sharing) would sing.

Call it the Google effect. Thanks to the successful Internet search company with the goofy name, entrepreneurs feel no shame telling people they work for ItzBig (career networking) or asking venture capitalists to invest millions of dollars in Picaboo (a website for ordering custom photo books). Who needs the gravitas of an International Business Machines or a General Electric?

Many names come with little context. Firms such as Xobni, Meebo and Squidoo give no hint of what they might do (e-mail management, instant messaging and online recommendations, respectively). Entrepreneurs say having to explain their mission provides a marketing opportunity.

But naming experts say the current crop of Internet companies is in danger of overwhelming customers. Not many will bother to commit it to memory that Imeem is a social network for sharing music and videos or that Imbee is a social network for kids.

“Now, it’s almost like fashion styles, all these vowels and unpronounceable made-up names,” said Steve Manning, managing director of Igor, a naming company in San Francisco. “You cannot possibly remember one from another.”

Some corporate namers seek a feeling of familiarity by evoking the Internet’s biggest success stories.

Elad Hemar, co-founder and chief executive of Yoomba, an e-mail service, said the name was chosen because it echoes the double O in Google and suggests that the service is about “you.” It joins other double-O entries such as Oodle, Renkoo, Kaboodle and Wakoopa, to name only a few.

Naming your company after a mainstay such as Google provides “linguistic comfort,” said Anthony Shore, global director of naming and writing at Landor Associates. But “when everyone apes a name, everyone loses.”

Twitter, which lets users broadcast short bloglike pronouncements via text message, instant message or e-mail, sought inspiration in nature.

“Every time I listen to birds, I get a sense of that short burst of information,” Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said.

With his second company, Ariel Maislos didn’t want to repeat the problem he faced with his first, Passave Technologies. It was the Hebrew word for “broadband,” which is what the chips the company made were designed to improve. But people complained they couldn’t spell or say the name, pronounced Pa-SAH-vay.

So his new company, described so far as producing “a breakthrough technology that makes your phone conversations interesting,” is as simple as a kid’s lunchbox snack. It’s called the Pudding.

“Everyone likes pudding,” Maislos said.

Google too may have sounded silly in its early days, but the name developed a pedigree through good products, Twitter’s Stone said. “If these things are around long enough, the name grows up,” he said.

Internet entrepreneurs say the desperation to be unique is compounded by the need to simply own an Internet site.

Like Manhattan real estate, almost every conceivable, recognizable domain name has been scooped up in the hope that they’ll be resold for big money. In two extreme examples, the rights to recently sold for $3 million, and went for $9.5 million.

Internet companies have come up with tricks to capture Internet addresses, such as rejiggering the spelling of regular words: Drop a letter to make Flickr or insert odd punctuation, like Ma.gnolia and

And if the name doesn’t catch on? This generation of Internet companies so embraces change — “Internet time” is to regular time like dog years are to human years — that it is not averse to changing identity if the name or business model don’t work out. Riya became Like. Eefoof has been reborn as VuMe.

Name remorse is not uncommon. A few months ago, Bijan Marashi began to wonder if he had erred in giving his San Francisco start-up a name that loosely rhymed with “stupid.”

Xoopit (pronounced ZOO-pit) was a riff on the word “soup,” but it proved tricky to pronounce and for some, baffling to spell.

Then there was the typical parental fear: Would rival start-ups — the bullies of the Internet playground — call it “stupid” or make off-color jokes about a zoo pit?

Could Xoopit, which has yet to launch its service but promises to rethink how we organize e-mail, grow into a serious company with such a name?

Concerns were so great that a venture capitalist who considered investing in Marashi’s business said he wouldn’t do so unless the name was changed.

Marashi suggested Phr332 (pronounced like Freak), but that was quickly shot down. So was Flume.

So Marashi conducted market research. He approached 10 strangers in various San Francisco neighborhoods and asked them to read the name “Xoopit” aloud. Most could. He reported his findings to the start-up’s eight employees and sought the advice of friends and family.

Marketing experts assured him that X was the new Z.

In July, Xoopit decided to stay Xoopit. The company plans to embrace it in a marketing slogan that, using Xoopit as a verb, suggests its users will become smarter: “Don’t be stupid. Xoopit.”

“Once you pick a name, you have to stand by it,” Marashi said. “The baby is born and you have to sign the birth certificate.”

SAN FRANCISCO — Even if you could say Abazab or Eefoof without snickering, would you want to do business with them?…

New York Times, August 27, 2007

NEW YORK — A decade ago, Diana, Princess of Wales, became a powerful princess of sales as her death created a cottage industry of marketers cashing in with books, magazines, television shows and merchandise like figurines and coins.

Ten years later, the coming milestone anniversary is bringing a reprise as dozens of companies seek to capitalize on a renewed interest among consumers in Diana’s life and legacy. And so far at least, the commemorative products have proved popular among consumers and advertisers alike.

Among those taking part in the return of what the British call “Dianabilia” are blue-chip names that include Bertelsmann, Cablevision, Comcast, Discovery, Disney, General Electric, Hearst and Time Warner.

Back, too, are the purveyors of trinkets like the Danbury Mint, with “an exquisite porcelain collector plate”; the Mystic Coin Company, with a “Princess Diana colorized British penny”; and the Hamilton Collection unit of the Bradford Group, with a “limited-edition” figurine devoted to “Diana, princess of our hearts.”

It no longer raises eyebrows when celebrities are commercialized after their deaths.

But just how quickly Diana became a potent global marketing phenomenon after she died on Aug. 31, 1997, took experts in building and licensing brands by surprise. The strength of her appeal then is a major reason, they say, that the merchandising of her memory has resumed now.

“If you think of her as a product, she was able to accomplish a lot,” said Burt Alper, principal at Catchword Branding, a consulting company in Oakland, California.

“She was brilliant in reaching out and connecting to her audience in a way every brand would want to do,” he added. And Diana is “remembered as this young, captivating person, a beautiful princess who passed before her time,” Alper said. “She did not go through a waning of her popularity and she did not go through the aging process.”

Alper likened Diana to celebrities including Marilyn Monroe, who have become marketing stalwarts in death because their images are “frozen in time” at what is perceived in retrospect as high points in life.

That aspect of Diana’s persona was cited as a reason for the lasting strength of her brand by Cyndi McClellan, senior vice president for research and programming strategies at the Comcast Entertainment Group, part of Comcast. The group’s E! cable network in the United States presented Sunday night an hour-long special, “Diana’s Last Day,” that will be repeated several times in the coming week.

“Marilyn Monroe became more iconic 20 years after her death than 10 years after,” McClellan said, “and similarly Diana’s memory may grow to become even more iconic, especially to a younger generation that just knows the memories.”

The E! special is among many to be scheduled by cable and broadcast networks in the United States in a spate of Diana-mania that began on June 18 with an episode of “Dateline NBC” devoted to an interview with Diana’s sons, William and Harry. The show drew high ratings for NBC, part of the NBC Universal unit of General Electric, and sponsors like Apple, Honda, Procter & Gamble, Target and Toyota.

“All the ingredients are present for a very long-lasting fascination with the woman and what happened to her,” said Tim Brooks, executive vice president for research at the Lifetime cable network, citing the results of a survey the company conducted last month. For instance, almost twice as many respondents said that Diana would be remembered for her charity work than for her death or her marriage to Prince Charles.

“She’s considered on some very favorable terms, not like the Hollywood flameout of the moment,” Brooks said. “We’re not talking Anna Nicole Smith here.”

Among deceased celebrities with high profiles, he added, “Diana is knocking on the door of the club” that includes Monroe, Elvis Presley and John F. Kennedy, he added.

Indeed, Diana’s presence on the cover of the August issue of Reader’s Digest magazine adds her to a short list of famous faces that includes President Kennedy, said Jacqueline Leo, editor in chief.

“We test every cover as a concept before we go ahead with it, and we had very, very high scores on this across the board,” said Leo, whose magazine is owned by investors led by Ripplewood Holdings.

“And I’m happy to report the early indications for sales on the newsstand are really good,” she added.

The appearance of Diana on the August cover promotes an excerpt inside the issue from the book “The Diana Chronicles,” which has 300,000 copies in print after nine printings, according to the publisher, the Doubleday division of Bertelsmann.

The book, which has landed on several best-seller lists, is among about a dozen new titles devoted to Diana, which also include “The People’s Princess: Cherished Memories of Diana, Princess of Wales, From Those Who Knew Her Best,” from the Crown unit of Bertelsmann; “After Diana: William, Harry, Charles and the Royal House of Windsor,” from Hyperion, part of Disney; and “Diana – An Amazing Life, The People Cover Stories 1981-1997,” from the editors of People magazine, part of the Time Inc. division of Time Warner.

“Ten years on, the world is a different place,” said Larry Hackett, managing editor at People. “Can you imagine what Diana would have been in this Internet, blogging, Paris Hilton kind of world?”

Still, he added, the soft-cover version of the Diana book, priced at $10.99, “is selling above expectations.” (There is also a hard-cover version, costing $19.95.)

Another reason that Diana may continue to intrigue consumers is the unfolding lives of her sons. As Hackett put it: “You can’t help but look at the boys and think about her.”

William and Harry may even be living versions of line extensions, as brand offshoots are known in marketing circles.

“They keep her alive in people’s minds, which perpetuates her brand,” said Alper of Catchword Branding. “It allows the ‘legend’ to continue and provides a sequel.”

NEW YORK — A decade ago, Diana, Princess of Wales, became a powerful princess of sales as her death created a cottage industry of marketers cashing in with books, magazines, television shows and merchandise like figurines and coins…

The Times, July 31, 2007

Professor Albert Mehrabian is pondering the name Princess Ti?amii over the phone from his office in California. “I don’t mean to be negative but this is a stupid name,” he says. “Right away you’re going to see what that poor child is going to have to go through.”

I tell him that Princess Ti?amii is the barely month-old offspring of a famous novelist, Jordan, and her husband, Peter Andre, and that the consensus in the British baby-name chat rooms is that calling her that was a good idea; that Andre is widely considered to be pretty much a genius for having conjured up the previously unheard of Ti?amii by fusing his mother’s name, Thea, with that of Jordan’s mother, Amy.

“It sounds like a foreign name,” grumbles Mehrabian, “and it will label her in a way as not being British, as being an outsider. Princess implies pretentiousness and most people will assume it isn’t a real title. Right away it’s a name that says the person is not believable.” He rolls the name Princess Tiaamii around on his tongue a couple of more times, then surmises: “People do not react well to strange things. In these days of political correctness this has been conveniently overlooked. This name is an example of something that is strange.”

“Label” is the right word to use in any discussion of contemporary children’s names. Mehrabian, professor emeritus of psychology at UCLA and the author of The Baby Name Report Card, is not the only expert on the subject who believes that parents are increasingly, if subconsciously, “branding” rather than simply naming their children. Pamela Satran, who co-wrote the most successful series of baby-naming books in Britain and the US, agrees. “Companies stamp their names and initials on every single item of clothing. It’s very much in the air,” she says. “It is an influence. A parent wants to give their child individuality and competitive advantage. People have become conscious of the power of names and they want a name that is going to stand out in a world of Williams and Elizabeths. Parents are thinking far beyond how their friends will to react to their child’s name.”

Satran’s forthcoming Brilliant Book of Baby Names: Cool Baby Names and Baby Names Now is subtitled “What’s Best, What’s Hot & What’s Not”. Humphrey is an example of a name that is about to be very hot. What parents want to know is “the image of the name”, she says. “People want a name that has personal meaning. When before they wanted a name that was going to blend in, now they want something that is going to say something about their individuality. If you call your daughter Anne these days, in a way you’re making a statement by notmaking a statement. You are saying, I’d rather have you dress in grey and stand in a corner. I think there is a feeling among parents that they can help their child by giving them a distinctive name.”

When did the search for the unique yet meaningful baby name begin? Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that traditional names – Olivia, Thomas, Jessica, William, Emily, Daniel – dominate the top ten, but parents are, as Mehrabian puts it disapprovingly, “increasingly choosing names from a personal idiosyncratic perspective”. Last year 864 Summers, 55 Autumns, six Blades, 22 Spikes and 94 Myloses were born, plus a handful of Kofis, Francos, Fds, Kikis, Brontes, Lunas and Cadences.

Mehrabian’s big thing is the Name Connotation Profile, or how other people react to a name. In terms of empathy, masculinity or femininity, ethical caring, success, fun and popularity, a person called Georgia, for example, is perceived to be extremely ethically caring (80 per cent), serious but not necessarily successful (20 per cent). Parents who envisage highflying careers for their children should stick to traditional names, his research shows. Katherine, Victoria, Anne, Corrine and Elizabeth for girls; James, Charles, Thomas and Robert for boys. Under “Names Headed for Oxbridge” Satran lists Beatrice, Caroline and Martha for girls; Arthur, Alcott and Graydon for boys.

So how about Blade? “Names that are outlandish repeatedly score badly on name connotation profiles,” says Mehrabian. “Blade, I would say, doesn’t have much substance or stature associated with it. Maybe the parents think it’s cute and unusual, but it’s the same as dyeing your child’s hair blue. And when he grows up! Imagine him sending out his CV with Blade on it.”

Mehrabian pulls out two further studies to make his point. In the first, a group of schoolchildren were shown pictures of the same beauty queen with different names – “the women with desirable names were considered more physically attractive”. In the second study, a group of teachers and older students were asked to mark the essays of schoolchildren. Unknown to the assessors, they were marking the same essay under different names. The unconventional names scored lower. He adds: “There is evidence to suggest that children with made-up names don’t do well at school, they don’t do so well psychologically, don’t settle in.”

While Satran thinks that our newfound mania for original names started at about the time that the Duchess of York named her children Beatrice and Eugenie, Mehrabian puts it down to a combination of the cult of individualism in Britain and the US, lack of government interference where baby-naming is concerned (in France the law prohibits all names except those on an approved list, while in Germany invented and androgynous names are banned) and the influence of celebrities. Last year the name Cruz (the Beckhams’ youngest son) experienced a 245 per cent rise in popularity. Maddox (adopted son of Angelina Jolie) rose 88 places; Jayden (Britney Spears’s youngest) rose 16 places to number 68; Lexie (Steven Gerrard’s daughter) by 234 per cent; and Peaches jumped 2,948 places. For a short while last year Sienna became so popular that the people who write baby-naming books are now straight-facedly backing Vienna as a trend-bucking alternative.

Or Trinity, Musetta, Cecily, Eudora, Myrtle, Delaney, Romy or Lark – names of the medium, if not necessarily the long-term, future. Or Daisee, Deisy and Daysi (any variation of the 25th most popular girl’s name provided that it has an “original” spelling). Jeff Wadley, director of the brand-naming company Nomen, cites the influence of new technology in parents’ love of abbreviations and deliberate misspellings. “There’s the whole text and internet culture in which spelling is unconventional. And there is a friendliness, a lack of formality, that’s trickled through to the general population. Parents name their son Sam and think ‘Well, he can always change it to Samuel when he grows up’ – that’s a real reversal.”

Prospective parents in search of a baby name should bear in mind the HobNob, says Graham Hales, the executive director of the corporate branding company Interbrand. Emotionally, it’s a name that conveys so much more than chocolate-covered biscuit. Interbrand invented HobNob, Prozac and the Gillette razor Mach3. “When we think up a new name the primary function is for it to stand out, and I think the same can be said for how parents view children’s names,” he says. “Every parent wants their children to be successful, but how do we define success? Successful in our society is the ability to stand out from the crowd. That’s not saying everybody wants their children to be a celebrity, but to call your son John would be very grey. John has become the Ford Mondeo of children’s names. Our Jameses, Andrews and Johns are less popular now that you can take anything down from the shelf. I think that’s to be applauded.”

In the US the marketing men have gone one step further. I talked to Burt Alper, one of the founders of the corporate branding company Catchword, who hosts baby-name brainstorming sessions in his spare time for friends. “As a professional in the business, people expect great advice from us,” he says.

Alper called his son Becket because of “the crispness of the ck sound, like you have in Kodak”, and says his background in phonetics has helped him to identify why some words sit better with the general public than others. “Those consonances, the P and T sound, create an image or association of athletic dexterity whereas softer syllables are more emotional and sensitive – the Fs and Ss. ”

Alper encourages parents to apply the three golden rules of brand-naming to children’s names: “1. Don’t tell people about what you are thinking about calling your baby or product. 2. Choose a name for your target audience as opposed to yourself. 3. Wait till you meet the baby before you choose the name. In the corporate world it would be like naming a company before you know what personality you want to give it.” That’s all very well, says Mehrabian, but “some brand names are successes, others are terrible failures. A parent is in no position to do the profiling it takes to create a brand. Corporations have enormous resources to do that. What do parents think they are going to do? Personally educate everyone in the world that Thor is a good name with positive associations?”

Alongside the obsession with originality, the contempt for convention, the deliberate misspellings, the inventions and the abbreviations, are the sorely regretted mistakes. The Uniques. Yes, there are children in Britain called Unique. Through some universal law of irony, two eight-year-old Uniques are in the same class at a London prep school.

Does Pamela Satran regret having called her daughter Rory? “No, it has worked very well. But at least once a year I get a deranged parent on the other end of the line telling me how much they shouldn’t have picked Lily. The names that we like are the names that everybody likes. If you want to be original you have to pick something that is not so easy to like, and a lot of people are going to wrinkle their noses and say, ‘Oh, you’ve named her Florabella’.”

In the chat room at one woman regrets having settled on Joshua when her son was born five years ago. “It is just too damn common. Days after leaving hospital I was hearing the name everywhere! I wish I’d had the guts back then to change it. ”

She wouldn’t have had that problem with a Harley, a Vice or a Scorpio. Or, indeed, a Fox. “Is Fox cool or weird?” one British expectant mother wants to know. “Cool!” chorus most of the assembled bloggers.

“Weird,” says Mehrabian. He applies his foolproof rule of thumb to the name in question. “Imagine you’re going to meet somebody for the first time and all you know about them is that they’re male and that they’re called Fox.” He lets this thought dangle in the air while I imagine what incarnation a prospective Fox might take. In my mind’s eye I am about to meet a casualty of the Summer of Love who plays the tambourine. Isn’t it obvious that John is, in fact, the only name to call your son in 2007?

When I ask Satran about Fox she says that again parents are following the trend for “word”, “nature” and “animal” baby names. “I don’t think there is a line any more,” she says. “I think there should be.”

No Celeste, just Abby ever after Maryanna Korwitts is a “professional nameologist”. I am an amateur about-to-be parent. My baby is not born but she has a name. But is it the right name? My partner and I find so much to worry about right now – such as the next 18 years – that it is a long time since we fretted about whether Abby, or Abigail for long, is going to suit our daughter.

Maryanna sounds shocked when I hint as much. The former teacher from Chicago who noticed that the Davids in her classes were usually studious and the Jasons a handful takes this naming business seriously – so seriously, in fact, that she even renamed herself: as Mary Ann, she says, she was a “scattered procrastinator”. “Worry,” she says. “Worry about the name you give her.”

She charges clients $150 (£74) for leading them towards a first name for their child, and $350 for a full set that will synchronise with a surname. The process can take as many as four telephone conversations. It is not a matter of cold-reading her clients’ personalities. She asks about their hopes for their children’s characters and suggests names that she believes will help to induce those traits. Look up a name in a book of babies’ names and you’ll find their “meaning” (Abigail means “father’s joy”).

She asks me the qualities I’d like to see in my daughter. I want her to have a sense of humour, to enjoy reading and to learn self-discipline (I should have said that I want her to be content, but that would have been dull). “So what name have you been thinking of?” she asks. I imagine I hear an intake of breath over the phone line when I tell her. It seems that the child my partner and I want and the name we want her to have are incompatible.

There are alternatives. Natalies, she says are kind and caring and have subterranean strengths: Natalie Billen would do her homework. And then there is Celeste: academically inclined, earthy, questing and questioning. Or Jemma: “Lots of good qualities: creative, intelligent, someone with balance and harmony in her life, the type to take charge in an imaginative way.”

Maryanna gives it to me straight. “An Abigail will bring people skills but will not respect traditions. Do you have a family that respects traditions?” I tell her that we Billens respect traditions more than we pretend. Well, she says, Abigail will not do what she is told without a good reason and she will not be the type to come home and settle to her homework. She will be fun, but she will also be inclined to perform her own domestic dramas. It is funny, I say, how one can go off a name.

At home, Natalie or Celeste or Jemma’s mother is not impressed. Oh, Abigail! What have we done? Will we forever repent picking a name because we think it sits prettily upon a doctor from ER?

Tempted to call the new arrival Blade, Spike, or Luna? These days your name is your brand, and choosing the right one could help a child into Oxbridge…

Alternative Universe, March 27, 2006

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, except when branding a venture capital firm.

Perhaps these were not the exact words William Shakespeare used when he was describing that it was only a name that preventing Romeo and Juliet from forming a successful merger. If the playwright had been charged with naming a venture capital firm today, he probably would have made that statement.

With the explosion of private equity, venture capital and hedge funds in the market right now, finding the right name for a new firm can be a lot more difficult than many would think. The challenge is to come up with a name that is evocative, emotional and easy to remember. The name has to be something everyone associated with the firm can get behind.

“Limited partners are [usually] large conservative firms that expect you to be taking some risk, but still [be] very careful about what you are doing with their money, [whereas] the entrepreneurs love hot shots who are very out there, connected and [are] risk takers,” says June Bower, vice president of marketing for software company Mobiltec. “That is a real challenge – [coming up with] something that works for your two main audiences and one that works for the partners as well.”

Bower used to work for Lightspeed Venture Partners when the firm spun out from financial services firm Weiss, Peck & Greer. Before Lightspeed was known by that name, it went under the parent company’s moniker. The firm’s general partners were surprised to find they had difficulty in attracting new investors. Bower and others at the firm realized Weiss, Peck & Greer was thought of as being stodgy, old school money. Not surprisingly, that kind of personality did not catch on in the high-tech new money atmosphere of California. That was when Bower contacted Burt Alper, co-founder of Catchword Branding.

In addition to working with Lightspeed, Alper, who has 15 years of marketing experience, has worked with a fund-of-funds. He says branding a venture capital fund in many ways is similar to naming anyone else’s firm. The key for Alper to learn is who the firm is, who it wants to be and how it wants to be perceived. Catchword will then generate a list of names for the firm to consider. Once the client settles on a basket of names it likes, Alper will find which of the names are available. The process generally takes four to six weeks and usually costs $20,000 to $40,000.

Finding available names from that whittled-down list can be a pretty difficult task. Firms have to be careful to avoid a name already being used by a business or one that resembles a name in use. Firms also need to see if the URL has been purchased.

There is one major pitfall, according to branding experts, which firms can fall into and that is to put the founders’ own names into the firm name. That tactic is rife with potential hazards. “Venture capital firms tend to have names that are the partners’ names or the street address,” explains Micaela Wilson, senior brand strategist for Russell Branding. “That works very well if you are [Tom] Perkins.” However, even industry bigwigs today are learning to stay away from inserting their own names into their fund names. Take Alan Patricof, co-founder of venture giant Apax, who started his new fund known as Greycroft Partners. Patricof recently lamented on the dearth of good names available and wound up settling on the name of his East Hampton, N.Y. summer home.

Alper takes the name game even further, pointing out the negatives of having a person’s name associated with a deal gone bad.

“I think the predominant approach has been to use your name or you and your partner’s names, [but] the big downside with that is if your fund goes belly-up or if there is some kind of problem with the fund, you have sort of sullied your name,” says Alper. “I think that is one of the big justifications for putting a concocted brand name on the door.”

Lest you think naming a firm is akin to the difficulty in performing brain surgery, not everyone in the asset class finds branding to be as daunting a task.

For Ridgelift Ventures, which opened its doors for business earlier this week, coming up with a name took about a month of discussions between founding partners Robert Goldberg and Stuart Phillips.

Phillips was reading a gliding book and saw the term ridge lift, which comes from a phenomenon created when wind strikes a mountain that is large and steep enough to deflect the wind upward. Gliders can take advantage of this phenomenon by riding the wind in order to stay airborne for a longer duration of time. The idea behind the name in relation to Ridgelift Ventures is that the firm intends to propel start-up technology companies to success in the same way ridge lift propels gliders. The firm will look to raise $200 million in capital.

“We have gone through the naming process multiple times with people and have done everything from sitting in the bar drinking beer and brainstorming to hiring a $100,000 naming firm,” explains Goldberg. “Luckily we have got enough experience that we skewed closer to the bar [scenario].”

While finding a name for a firm is an important step, it is an area within marketing that can take on a life of its own and become more important than it really is. Goldberg explains he and Phillips concentrated on the business plan for Ridgelift much more than coming up with the firm’s name.

This is not surprising to hear coming from a general partner with more than 20 years of venture capital and operational experience, but it is a bit surprising to hear the same kind of reasoning from Dick McGlinchey, a managing director of BluePoint Venture Marketing. He thinks the naming process should only take a couple of days at the most.

“People sort of obsess over it and it is really stupid because you can waste huge amounts of money on this,” explains McGlinchey. “Intrinsic names [and] what they mean internally are totally meaningless [because] people outside [of the firm] do not care.”

For McGlinchey, whose firm’s client list includes HarbourVest and JK&B Capital, the formula is simple. He says many firms make the mistake of thinking their name should have something to do with the firm, but that is not always the smartest direction in which to go. Instead, general partners should pick a name that is relatively neutral and does not have a commonly accepted definition. They can then build their own definition around it.

A perfect example is BluePoint itself. In coming up with his firm’s name, McGlinchey says he did not care what the meaning of BluePoint was because he liked that it was nonpartisan. As a for-hire marketing swat team, the firm is defining the meaning of BluePoint through its work.

There is no one correct method to determining a name for one’s firm. Sometimes it just comes to the general partners and other times an outside expert is needed. The important thing, one way or another, is to come up with something that resonates with people, for it was Oscar Wilde who said: “It is a sad truth, but we have lost the faculty of giving lovely names to things. Names are everything.” This is especially true when forming a venture capital fund.

Firms often go to great lengths to be creative when identifying themselves.  What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, except when branding a venture capital firm…

Forbes, March 9, 2006

I’m trying to come up with a name for my new business. Should I use my own?

A rose by any other name might smell just as sweet, but some small businesses might flat-out stink.

The world is filled with successful eponymous companies: The Walt Disney Co., Dell, Ralph Lauren and Heinz, to name a few. The strategy has its merits. By using their own names, entrepreneurs communicate that they stand by their services–an important message for professional types such as doctors, lawyers and accountants. Then there’s the psychological benefit: Nothing says “You da man!” like slapping your name on the door.

Yet entrepreneurs should think hard about this decision before giving in to a rush of pride, says Burt Alper, co-founder and strategy director of Catchword Branding, a San Francisco-based marketing boutique that specializes in naming companies. Some issues to consider:

Is The Name Taken?

An obvious question, perhaps, but one with real ramifications if it’s overlooked. If your last name is Disney, and you’re unrelated to the famous trademarked family, then you’re out of luck. “They would sue the pants off of you as soon as you started to open your business,” says Alper. This problem also applies to domain names on the Web. If is already taken and your business has a large online component, you run the risk of confusing your customers by using another Web address.

Another related consideration for serial entrepreneurs: When Pearl Meyer sold her eponymous executive compensation firm to Clark/Bardes Holdings (now Clark Inc.) in 2000, she also relinquished the rights to her trademarked name. That made things a bit difficult last August when Meyer, fed up with working for a publicly held company, decided to leave Clark to strike out on her own. She ended up calling the new firm Steven Hall & Partners, after her longtime partner.

Is It Intelligible?

Don’t laugh. An unusual last name may still be available for use, but if it’s difficult to pronounce and nearly impossible to spell, it’s unlikely to stick in customers’ heads. “In the mass market, it’s not quite effective,” says Alper.

Is It Brand-Worthy?

If you’re hanging out a shingle as a lawyer or accountant, boring last names and commas are better than Litigators R Us. Not so for less staid professions such as retailing and design (or a naming consultancy). Says Alper: “A made-up name gives you some sense of relevance, and some sense of charisma.” Unlike, say, Alper Inc.

What If The Business Fails?

While entrepreneurs shudder at the thought of defeat, the fact is that it may well take a few tries to launch a successful business. If your first eponymous attempt flounders, you may not want that name associated with your next venture.

What If You Get In Trouble?

A founder’s run-in with the law can tarnish an eponymous firm’s good name. Shares of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia cratered 75%, to $5 from $20, in 2002 during the ImClone Systems insider-trading scandal, though the indomitable domestic diva has made a mighty comeback. Alper points out that an entrepreneur’s legal liability does not increase because her name is on the door. Then again, angry creditors might have an easier time finding the bum.

I’m trying to come up with a name for my new business. Should I use my own? A rose by any other name might smell just as sweet, but some small businesses might flat-out stink…

Stanford Magazine, November 2005

During the dot-com boom, it often seemed like the two main ingredients for raising millions in venture capital were a tattooed programming whiz and a company name that sounded like it was pilfered from Dr. Seuss. For every Google or Yahoo! that made it big, however, there were a hundred—maybe a thousand—DoDots that didn’t. (Not to mention the Purple Yogis and Loudclouds who switched to more serious monikers.)

According to Maria Williams Cypher, 38, co-founder and creative director at the naming firm Catchword, the practice of giving companies exuberantly inscrutable names has mostly gone the way of, well, most of the companies who coined them. “There’s a backlash today against those kinds of Internet names,” says Cypher, ’88, MBA ’95. “The trend now is toward real-world names. People want more grounded, believable, grassroots-sounding names.”

Grounded. Believable. Grassroots-sounding. Such is the argot of the naming and brand-development field, in which the aptly named Cypher and her three partners toil. Their 7-year-old company is thriving in an office in the historic Tribune Tower in downtown Oakland (with partner Mark Skoultchi working in New York). Catchword has created such high-profile consumer-product names as Pepsi Blue and Spalding’s Infusion line of self-inflating sports balls. It has named business-to-business products for such companies as Cisco, Microsoft and Xerox, and it has contributed memorable, if sometimes enigmatic, high-tech company names, such as Ingenio and TeaLeaf Technology.

Developing a name that works for either a product line or an entire company is a mixture of art and science, of creativity and strategy. It’s also a field that demands sensitivity to cultural nuances in global business markets, and the smarts and rigor to steer clients safely through the legal minefields of copyright and trademark infringement. “We’re not a bunch of poets sitting around with a bottle of wine coming up with names,” Cypher’s partner Burt Alper says with a laugh.

A naming project typically begins with meetings in which the Catchword team urges clients to articulate the messages they want associated with a name, as well as those they don’t. Recently, for example, the team at Menlo Park-based AgileTV came to Catchword to get help naming a voice-activated TV remote control. Agile wanted the name to suggest a service, not a gadget; it wanted a friendly, approachable tone to the name, but not a cute or sci-fi name; it wanted the name to appeal to women as well as men; and it wanted the name to fit and look good on a slim remote control device.

Thus armed, Cypher tucked into her corner cubicle and began thumbing through her dozens of reference books and word-finding software tools to explore foreign words, relevant and strong syllable options, and useful Latin roots related to sound, such as amp and vo. Soon, she had developed a “master list” of nearly 2,000 possibilities, from Acousta to Zowie. Catchword’s first suggestions are always extensive. “We try not to self-censor early on. Sometimes a bad name actually leads to a good name,” she explains.

Catchword then winnowed the huge master list of names down to about 60 and presented them to Agile in random order. Alper, 36, a Harvard MBA, says the naming process is partly about convincing clients not to react with “I like it” or “I don’t like it,” but rather to assess things on a more objective basis, matching up their strategic objectives with qualities a variety of names can confer. Otherwise, name baggage a customer brings to the table, such as “It sounds too much like the name of my Aunt Bertha’s dog,” can sabotage a perfectly appropriate name.

Another tip: don’t fall in love with any one name early in the process. Preliminary research showed that two Agile favorites from the list of 60, SaySo and Mike, already had claims staked on them.

Still there were half a dozen good, unencumbered contenders. Everyone liked VoJo, for example, an easy-to-pronounce combination of vocal and journey that echoed the fun of the word mojo. Pingo, coined from ping and go, evoked sonar technology and implied reaching a destination immediately. The winner was Promptu, which Cypher believes conveys speed and immediacy and is sophisticated, but approachable. Catchword “did a fantastic job managing the process,” says Scott Maddux, vice president of product marketing for Agile.

Product naming is just one aspect of branding, the business challenge that includes product positioning, logo creation, market research and advertising. Catchword helps with these services but focuses on naming. Larger branding and marketing consultants “may pay lip service to naming,” Cypher says, but they don’t offer the in-depth linguistic, trademark and research elements that can turn a name into a powerful asset—or prevent disaster.

Catchword partner Laurel Sutton, 42, says the creation of a “naming architecture” for companies with multiple entries in crowded categories, for example, doesn’t just translate into memorable names, but also helps customers pinpoint what they want. Sutton, who is working on a PhD in linguistics at UC-Berkeley, says that’s what happened for Dockers. Catchword helped Levi Strauss organize a confusing array of names for different styles into descriptive names such as “flat-front twill khakis.”

On the flip side, a poorly researched name can make a company look foolish: Reebok International once introduced a women’s shoe it dubbed “Incubus,” apparently without even checking a dictionary. That would have revealed that an incubus is a medieval demon who raped women in their sleep. The shoe was withdrawn from the market shortly after launch.

In a glass case in a corner of Catchword’s offices is a humorous rogue’s gallery that illustrates another facet of the business—the need to screen translated names of globally marketed products for unwanted cultural meanings. Cypher points to one wince-producing example—a packet of chocolate biscuit candies from Asia with the brand name Collon; the cylindrical treats look like they might have been formed from a similar-sounding body part.

Catchword has a business relationship with the Paris-based naming company Nomen, and the two outfits regularly review potential names for each other’s clients to check for pronounceability and cultural baggage. For example, a Nomen client recently considered using the syllable fink as part of a brand name for a product that would be sold in the United States. Catchword suggested they give it a little more thought.

In increasingly global markets, Cypher’s background is a big plus: The daughter of a U.S. diplomat, she grew up in Asia and is fluent in Mandarin. As a Stanford undergrad, she majored in psychology and economics. She worked in finance and journalism in the United States and Hong Kong. Then at the Graduate School of Business she was recruited by a Bay Area naming firm. That’s where she met Alper and Sutton, and they formed Catchword Branding in 1998.

She says the Bay Area and New York are the primary hotbeds of naming creativity. Catchword clients pay anywhere from a few thousand dollars for a descriptive product name that may take only a few days to create, to nearly six figures for a global company name that may include strategy and architecture work and take months to complete.

There’s no question that a great brand name has an almost magical quality that may speak to some abstract aspect of a product or company such as reliability, or quality, or even playfulness. A low-key but excellent name, Cypher thinks, is Silk, the soy-based milk brand. “It combines soy and milk, and also speaks to a characteristic of the product.” She likes the Dr. Bob brand that Catchword created for Stop&Shop’s private-label soda pop. It has a retro, friendly quality and reflects a back-to-basics naming trend—building a brand around “a real person’s name even if it’s not a real person.”

One of the ironies of naming, Cypher says, is that nearly everybody thinks they can do it. “We’ve all named something,” such as a pet or a child, she notes. But Cypher, who does much of the nuts-and-bolts naming work while her partners work with clients on strategy, prides herself on being “very methodical in my creativity.” She says it’s almost unheard of for her to have an “aha” naming inspiration while walking down the street or taking a shower, although she does talk shop around the dinner table with her husband, Charlie Cypher, ’87, a patent and trademark attorney. Instead, you’ll find Maria Cypher “stewing in front of my computer with my thesaurus,” poring through thousands of syllables looking for a combination that will spell success.

Oakland Tribune, October 28, 2005

Good ol’ Ma Bell is coming back, if in name only.

AT&T — the name once synonymous with telephones — will return as the name of the company delivering local telephone service to most Californians after SBC Communications Inc. completes its acquisition of AT&T Corp.

San Francisco Giants fans may face another name change for their baseball park, as well, although company officials wouldn’t confirm that Thursday.

Completion of the $16 billion deal came a step closer Thursday when the U.S. Justice Department cleared it of antitrust concerns after months of review. The Justice Department also approved the merger of Verizon Communications Inc. and MCI Inc. Both deals still need approval from the Federal Communications Commission and regulators in several states.

“The AT&T name has a proud and storied heritage, as well as unparalleled recognition around the globe,” SBC Chairman Edward Whitacre said in an announcement about the name change.

Indeed, it was AT&T founder Alexander Graham Bell who invented the telephone in 1875 and put it into commercial use. AT&T then wired the nation with telephone cables and was virtually the only provider of telephone service for nearly a century. AT&T’s Bell Laboratories division invented many key technologies, from the transistor that led to the creation of semiconductor chips, to fiberoptics, or the use of optical pulses of light to transmit phone calls, which, in turn, led to the ability to transmit data quickly.

And ironically, it was AT&T’s ubiquitous power as the monopoly telephone service in the U.S. that caused the Justice Department in 1984 to break it up into a long distance company and seven regional Bell telephone companies.

Now one of those “Baby Bells,” SBCCommunications, is buying the mom, AT&T.

“It is ironic for one of the Baby Bells to acquire the Ma Bell name, AT&T,” said telecommunications analyst Jeff Kagan of Kagan Associates in Atlanta.

The acquisition itself of the parent by the spun-off company is “totally ironic,” said consultant Allen Long of Long & Associates in Castro Valley, because it reverses the efforts of 21 years ago.

But choosing the AT&T name over the SBC one is widely thought to be a smart move.

“There is so much equity in the AT&T name, it represents 100 years of telecommunications and people trusting it” with their telecommunications needs, said branding specialist Laurel Sutton of Catchword strategic brand development firm in Oakland. “To throw it away would be foolish.”

Sutton and the telecommunications analysts all noted that AT&T is better known in the business world — where SBC wants to expand — and internationally, while San Antonio-based SBC is known to consumers, mostly in the 13 states where it offers service.

Baseball fans, however, might balk at a name change for the San Francisco ball park yet again. The baseball stadium opened as Pacific

Bell Park in 2000 and then became SBC Park after SBC dropped the Pac Bell name following an acquisition. The name is likely to change again, although SBC would not say when or if the ballpark will be renamed.

“There is no timetable to changing the name of the ballpark,” spokesman John Britton said Thursday. “No decisions have been made about what the name will be.”

Britton said that SBC plans to work closely with the Giants and other sports franchises that partner with the company, which includes the SBC Center, home of the San Antonio Spurs, and SBC Classic golf tournament in Los Angeles, to come up with a new name and discuss when to make the change.

“Sometimes teams have printed tickets in advance or have other concerns,” Britton said. “We’re very sensitive to the great partnerships we have.”

But the company did acknowledge the clout of the AT&T name and its hopes that AT&T will usher it into the market of large-scale Internet communications.

“This is the brand that will lead the industry in delivering the next generation of communications,” Whitacre said, naming Voice over Internet Protocol as a service he hopes to expand.

For a decade after the 1984 breakup, long distance telephone service was a lucrative business that kept AT&T a powerful company. But after the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which deregulated the industry and allowed local, long distance and cable TV companies to enter each others’ businesses, long distance companies began to falter. They had a tough time entering the local business. Times became even tougher for long distance companies when cell phones and Internet e-mail came on the scene, usurping some long distance calling. In fact, MCI filed for bankruptcy protection.

Still, AT&T and MCI remain dominant providers to businesses and governments for large network and Internet backbone transmission. It is that business market that SBC and Verizon are after in seeking to acquire the long distance companies. Verizon has bid $8.5 billion for MCI.

Good ol’ Ma Bell is coming back, if in name only. AT&T — the name once synonymous with telephones — will return as the name of the company delivering local telephone service to most Californians after SBC Communications Inc. completes its acquisition of AT&T Corp…


SAN DIEGO – Back in 2002, when PepsiCo. Inc. needed a slick, fashion-forward name for its new, ice-blue cola, company marketers decided they needed a little outside expertise. So they turned to Catchword, an Oakland, Calif., marketing firm whose exclusive niche is engineering product names and pithy tag lines.

After poring over some 1,500 of Catchword’s suggestions and testing the best of them with consumers, Pepsi’s decision-makers arrived at what Catchword’s Laurel Sutton readily admits was the “duh” option. The beverage giant chose the name it had been using as shorthand since the blue cola’s conception: “Pepsi Blue.”

“They were looking to target hip young people – skate-punk kids – so we had tried some more in-your-face options, things that might have been more cool-sounding. But in the end, we realized that Pepsi Blue was the perfect name,” says Ms. Sutton, a partner at Catchword. “It appealed to the target audience, and it solidified the product’s positioning and marketing.”

Not all product-naming exercises are so easy. Indeed, the craft of grafting language onto a company, product, or service is becoming increasingly challenging and expensive, say Sutton and other marketing professionals. Even names as obvious as “Pepsi Blue” and tag lines as straightforward as McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it” or T-Mobile’s “Get more from life” require so much time and effort that corporations have become zealous in defending what they view as their intellectual property.

But as corporations step up such aggressive tactics, they threaten to take control of swaths of language in a way never seen before. While bosses will still be able to say “You’re fired!” – whatever Donald Trump’s success in trademarking the phrase – small companies and even consumers may stop using certain words on T-shirts or in blogs for fear of retaliation – even when the law is on their side.

“Overzealous companies often try to assert trademark ownership in inappropriate ways to stifle free speech,” says Kembrew McLeod, a communications studies professor at the University of Iowa and author of the forthcoming book “Freedom of Expression: Overzealous Copyright Bozos and Other Enemies of Creativity.” “The real harm comes from self-censorship in a world where [companies] fire off cease-and-desist letters, and where we and our employers back down from lawsuits, even when they’re baseless.”

The stakes can run high. Microsoft, for instance, is vigorously defending its ubiquitous Windows trademark from what it views as an infringement by a San Diego software firm called Lindows, which markets an alternative computer-operating system. Last summer, Fox News made headlines when it attempted to prevent humorist Al Franken from using its “Fair and Balanced” tag line in the title of his bestselling book.

In addition, ZonePerfect Nutrition, a unit of Chicago-based Abbott Laboratories, is using the courts to try to stop Zone Diet creator Barry Sears from introducing a line of similarly named nutrition products this year. And Mr. Trump’s efforts to trademark “You’re fired,” an utterance that became his signature on his reality TV program “The Apprentice,” is embroiled in a legal dispute with an Illinois woman who owns a pottery shop with the same name.

Overall, the number of trademark-related lawsuits filed in the US is rising – 3,672 last year, up 6 percent from a year earlier, according to the Administrative Office of the US Courts.

In this fiercely territorial environment, companies’ quest to characterize, differentiate, and distinguish their products and services from others has made the business of choosing the right name and accompanying catchphrase an increasingly sophisticated process.

“Even 20 years ago, naming was typically done by people who founded their own companies, or by ad agencies, or by product managers in-house,” says Sutton, who has a master’s degree in linguistics from the University of California at Berkeley. “Either that, or you had descriptive names such as International Business Machines or General Electric. Now, though, the marketplace has become so crowded that it’s just hard to find really good names that are available for use. Ninety-nine percent of the time, something’s been done already.”

New name search

The quest for uniqueness has led many companies to adopt fanciful, almost impressionistic names: Verizon, Altria (formerly Philip Morris), and Accenture (formerly Andersen Consulting) are among the best-recognized examples. Pharmaceutical companies, meanwhile, have raised the practice to an art form with contrivances such as “Viagra” and “Zoloft.

The advantage of devising a name that didn’t previously exist is the relative ease of trademarking it and the likelihood of being able to acquire an accompanying Internet domain with a “.com” suffix.

The downside, explains Sutton, is that such new words don’t necessarily communicate much of anything about what a company does. “Names that are easy to trademark aren’t necessarily easily understood. You need to explain them to the world at large, and that takes money.”

And the more money companies spend to forge distinctive identities for themselves through ambitious marketing and advertising, the more they expect to be able to exercise control over the words and images that help define their businesses in the consumer’s mind.

“Companies today put a lot of effort, time, and money into creating identities for themselves,” says attorney David Given, a trademark expert with the San Francisco law firm Phillips, Erlewine & Given LLP. “There’s been a general consciousness-raising over the past 10 years about intellectual property rights, and I do think companies have taken more seriously – and have sought to protect more rigorously – their portfolio of such rights.”

More trademarks sought

After a downturn that roughly tracked Wall Street’s slump, trademark filings are on the rise again. Last year, the United States Patent and Trademark Office received 267,218 trademark-registration applications – a nearly 30 percent dip from the total in 2000, at the crest of the dotcom boom, but slightly higher than the figure for 2002.

The increase in trademarks and the aggressive efforts to protect them are sparking new concerns related to freespeech rights.

“Twenty years ago, this whole area of the law wasn’t even called ‘intellectual property,’ it was called ‘copyrights, patents, and trademarks,’ ” says Marvin Johnson, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. “The problem is, once you take on a term like ‘property,’ these things have different connotations. Companies start to think of this type of property as real property, the kind you can pretty well do what you want with. And there’s been a subtle shift over the last 20 years toward trademark and copyright holders – the pendulum has swung more and more in their direction.”

But that doesn’t mean the courts are moving in that direction. A handful of recent high-profile court decisions – including a US district court judge’s refusal to grant a request by Fox News for an injunction against Mr. Franken’s book – actually tend to favor First Amendment considerations over commercial interests, argues Professor McLeod. What concerns him are the sometimes bullying tactics corporations and other organizations with deep pockets use to muzzle speech they don’t like.

“Artists and critics usually don’t have a bottomless well of money to spend on litigation,” he says. “People think twice about doing anything that could cost them their house.”

SAN DIEGO – Back in 2002, when PepsiCo. Inc. needed a slick, fashion-forward name for its new, ice-blue cola, company marketers decided they needed a little outside expertise. So they turned to Catchword, an Oakland, Calif., marketing firm whose exclusive niche is engineering product names and pithy tag lines…

Oakland Tribune, July 4, 2004

OAKLAND — For Burt Alper, walking into a grocery store can be an exciting and exhilarating experience.

That’s because Catchword, the Oakland-based branding company he co- founded, comes up with names to tag a variety of consumer products, including grocery items, drug products, sporting goods and clothing.

Last year, he was in a Stop & Shop store in Boston with his wife, pointing out the names of some privately labeled sodas

Catchword had developed for the retailer.

“I was like a kid in a candy store,” said Alper, laughing. “I was running all over the store saying, ‘Look, we did this.’ It was rewarding. It instilled a great sense of pride, actually coming up with those names.”

Others names that have come from Catchword include the Infusion name for the self-inflating basketball, volleyballs and soccer balls made by Spalding, the sporting goods company. Catchword is also behind the Pepsi Blue berry-flavored cola and

Pampers Easy Ups First Steps disposable diapers for toddlers.

Words have always fascinated the 35-year-old Oakland resident, who founded Catchword in 1998 with two colleagues, Maria Cypher and Laurel Sutton. The three had previously worked together at another branding firm in Berkeley before venturing out on their own.

As a kid growing up in Oakland, Alper loved to play word games such as password, hangman and Scrabble. The son of a father who worked in alternative energy and an artist-mother, Alper believes one of the reasons he developed an early love for language was that he grew up in a home where just about the only TV that was watched was PBS programming.

“The limits on television forces one to read,” said Alper. “My parents were both very literate and books were always around.”

Before going into his present career path, Alper had first thought about working in a job involving alternative energy. But after realizing he didn’t have a knack for engineering, he decided to take a job at the Berkeley-based branding firm Master-McNeil Inc. after graduating in 1991 from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.

In 1995 Alper left the firm to attend Harvard University, where he obtained an MBA.

“It was extremely intimidating. It was a grueling first couple of months. It’s more than the nuts and bolts of how to run a business. It’s how to be a successful business person,” Alper recalled. “I learned a bunch about business and business management, but I learned more about myself. I came back from there much more confident.”

After graduating from Harvard, Alper went back to work at Master- McNeil for eight months before establishing Catchword when the dot- com boom was in full swing. In the early days of the business, Alper and co-founders Cypher and Sutton worked out of their homes, occasionally getting together at the Rockridge Cafe and other local hangouts when there was a need for an “office.”

“We were very fortunate to start the company right in the middle of that huge economic boom. Many of our early clients were dot-com technologies with start-up funding,” he said.

When the dot-com boom faded, Catchword began to branch out into consumer products. Four years ago, the business moved into its present location at the Tribune Tower in downtown Oakland.

“We all contribute to the creative product. We do it manually. There is no computer-generated naming. It’s a lot of work with a thesaurus and other language resources,” he said. “That’s why the love of language is so important. If you didn’t love it, you’d get really bored.”

Alper points out that two of the biggest names in the Internet world — Google and Yahoo — wouldn’t have worked 20 years ago.

“The Internet boom and the culture that surrounded that has allowed brand names like that to not only exist but to really flourish,” he said. “What they’ve accomplished is a sense of energy and fun that makes the Internet more approachable (and) more useful.”

While Catchword exists to help businesses brand themselves, it wasn’t that easy to come up with the company’s own name, Alper recalled.

“It’s like a doctor treating himself,” he said. “When we founded the company we did a naming project on ourselves and went round and round and generated a huge list of names.”

While Catchword was not the top choice of any of the three founders, it was in the top three or four.

“It ranked collectively as the highest name,” he said. “Even though it wasn’t the favorite name of any of us, it was the right solution. And more to the point, within 48 hours of identifying Catchword as the final name, we couldn’t remember what the other finalists were.”

In his free time, Alper enjoys scuba diving, traveling, backpacking, sailing and going to Oakland A’s games.

“I like to cook,” he said. “My specialty is improvisational cooking — whatever is left I make taste good.”

It’s not surprising that Alper loves to do crossword puzzles.

“I do the crossword religiously every night. It’s my going-to-bed decompression ritual,” he word. “It’s a double bonus. The crosswords help me do my job, and the job helps me do my crosswords.”

OAKLAND — For Burt Alper, walking into a grocery store can be an exciting and exhilarating experience. That’s because Catchword, the Oakland-based branding company he co- founded, comes up with names to tag a variety of consumer products, including grocery items, drug products, sporting goods and clothing…

Network World, April 5, 2004

If you’ve just bought one of IBM’s TotalStorage Enterprise Storage Servers and happen to know the right sales representative, you get a unique add-on for your new storage array: a fin.

A shark fin, that is.

“There’s an informal network of who you can get the fin from,” says John Power, the marketing manager for the Enterprise Storage Server, who explains that the shark fin is a reference to the product’s code name, Shark. “There are closets in IBM offices all over the world with these fins in them,” Power says.

One of the most common requests he gets from customers is to assign the plastic fins a part number, so they can be ordered from IBM’s product catalogue.

While most technology companies do not have official policies on how they create product code names, they are almost always dreamed up by engineers with the understanding that the code names will be for internal use only. It’s assumed the company eventually will develop a name for the product that can be trademarked.

Though larger companies sometimes tell their development teams to pick code names that have not been trademarked – geographical locations or species of fish, for example – engineers typically are given latitude in the names they can use. This is because employers know that a popular code name can help engineering teams build an emotional attachment to the product, says Burt Alper, the founder of Catchword Branding, a consulting firm that provides technology companies with advice on naming products.

Most marketing folks think the code name will be unceremoniously dropped once the company goes public with the product’s brand name, Alper says. But some products are the subject of such intense media scrutiny that their code names take on a momentum of their own. And that’s where the problems begin.

Take Apple’s Power Macintosh 7100. Designed in the early 1990s, it was code-named Sagan as a tip of the hat to the noted astronomer, Carl Sagan. But when Sagan heard that the next version of the Power Mac was going by his family name, he took exception. Before long, Sagan’s lawyers were asking Apple to change the 7100’s code name. Apple complied, but the product’s new code name, BHA, which was widely taken to stand for “Butt-Head Astronomer,” did little to appease Sagan. He sued Apple in 1994, and the case eventually was settled out of court.

Even companies that try to steer away from code-name trouble can find themselves in rough waters. For example, Intel has mandated that its engineers code-name products only after geographic locations, which generally cannot be trademarked. But that policy didn’t prevent the folks who put on the Tanglewood music festival in western Massachusetts from asking the chip maker to rename its multicore Itanium 2 processor. Last December, Intel changed the product’s code name from Tanglewood to Tukwila.

Intel, apparently, was following the same strategy that Alper recommends to his clients. “The counsel we provide is to use code names that are so ridiculous and so ludicrous that you would never consider launching them,” he says.

Most of Alper’s clients realize that hip or edgy code names like Shark or Longhorn generally cannot be trademarked and are unlikely to make it past company lawyers, so they tend not to pay much attention to the code-naming process. “Corporate folks don’t take it that seriously,” he says.

Eric Allen, a research scientist at Sun Labs, says, “The most important aspect of a code name is it just allows us to talk about the project we’re working on without having to say ‘the project we’re working on.'”

Engineers often use code names as a way to flex their creative muscles, he says. Java’s code name Oak served as a metaphor for what the language was designed to be.

“It gave people a sense of the stability and safety they were trying to build into the language,” Allen says. He adds that he would love to see the code name for his current project – an advanced programming language for supercomputers – eventually become a product name, but he’s not sure that will ever happen. Allen declines to mention the code name. “I’m worried about a Carl Sagan-like incident,” he says.

Still, the high-tech industry might be more fun if these colorful names stuck around after products were launched. Shark inspired IBM’s competitor, StorageTek, to code-name one of its low-end disk arrays Orca, after the species of whale that has been known to kill sharks, according to Ray Lucchesi, the senior strategic business development manager at the storage company.

“Once a product is code-named, it takes on a life of its own,” Lucchesi says.

That was certainly the case with Apple Computer’s Macintosh, Lisa and Newton products as well as Digital Equipment’s Alpha line of processors and servers, all of which ended up adopting their code names. IBM’s Shark is unusual in that it has lingered, even though the company has given the product an official product name. IBM even mentioned Shark in its 2000 annual report, Power says.

“We’ve probably broken every rule of Marketing 101,” he says. “I’ve been with IBM for 24 years; it’s the longest I’ve known a code name to last.”

Power says he still occasionally gets what he calls “integrated marketing and communications grief” at IBM, but the fact that customers keep bugging his sales force for those shark fins and, more importantly, buying those storage systems allows him to keep breaking the rules.

Who knows, maybe IBM’s Shark success will lend a little more color to an industry whose product names sometimes sound like the unhappy result of a stress ball dropping on a marketing executive’s keyboard.

After all, which name sounds better? The z990 or T-Rex? The BigIron MG8 or Mucho Grande? Windows for Workgroups 3.11 or Snowball?

A shark fin, that is. “There’s an informal network of who you can get the fin from,” says John Power, the marketing manager for the Enterprise Storage Server, who explains that the shark fin is a reference to the product’s code name, Shark…

SF Gate, February 22, 2004

When builder Pulte Homes tore down an old corn syrup plant in Emeryville two years ago to make way for new town homes, office wags began referring to the project as “Liquid Sugar.”

Later, when it came time to finalize the complex’s moniker, some thought the nickname should be scrapped.

“People said, ‘It sounds drug related, like crystal meth or something,’ ” said Merry Sedlak, director of marketing at Pulte Homes Northern California division in Pleasanton. “But I said, I’m not changing it.”

“This isn’t another Heritage Park,” she added. “So many times you see builders use the same name because they’re tried and true. Liquid Sugar isn’t tried and true.”

Seeking to brand their products the way toothpaste makers and cola companies have for years, an increasing number of home builders are selecting unusual — some might say too unusual — names for their subdivisions. In particularly fast-growing parts of the Bay Area, developers are also under pressure to differentiate their work from the dozens of other projects springing up nearby.

A cursory look at any list of new home flyer tells the tale. There’s Remembrance, an enclave of 20 or so homes several blocks away from downtown Sonoma. Across the bay in Dublin, builder Greenbriar Homes named its three developments Rainsong, Riva and Roxbury. In Stockton, there is Rhapsody, by California Homes.

The quirky names don’t end with subdivisions. Among the model home names listed for Northern California on are Ultima, Talisman, Volterra, Lusitana, Verdala and the Reagan I.

To be sure, builders have adorned their subdivisions — not to mention model homes and streets — with off-the-beaten-track names for decades. And many have lived beyond the initial marketing push. Though now 25 years old, Danville’s Blackhawk gated community is still synonymous with luxury and prestige. At Livorna Estates in south Walnut Creek, all of the street names are horse-related (Dapplegrey Lane and Hackamore Lane, to name a few), undoubt- edly a tribute to the equestrian Is Your Computer Slower Than When You Bought It? 30 day Fix For the Bad Credit Blues A 360 Degree Approach To Online Learning zoning from years past neighbors say, when homeowners had lots large enough to keep horses.

However, as oak, bay, pheasant and other geographic or horticultural names become increasingly prosaic, more builders are looking to abstract, names. In many cases, the name is designed to be attention-grabbing and evocative of a certain kind of lifestyle — real or imagined.

Builders are “trying to create an image… trying to elevate (the development), said Burt Alper, strategy director at Catchword, an Oakland branding firm that has named such consumer items as Dreamery Ice Cream, Dockers’ Stain Defender brand pants and the now-defunct pet food supplier

“If it’s in a relatively question- able neighborhood, they want it to be safe and luxurious,” Alper added. “If it’s rural, they want it to appear spacious and rustic.”

Generally, builders have free rein when naming their subdivisions and model homes. While some firms brainstorm their own subdivision names, others hire outside marketers.

Naming streets, however, typically is a collaboration between the builder and the city. In some cases, the city provides a wish list of names — prominent local figures, historic landmarks, etc. — to be included, regardless of the name of the subdivision. Mostly, though, city officials check through submitted street names to weed out duplications and to ensure easy pronunciations and spellings.

Whether a subdivision name lives beyond the original sales blitz depends largely on whether the builder erects a permanent sign, sometimes called monumentation in building parlance. Some cities require a lasting stone or wood sign, others do not.

The name for Dublin’s Rainsong, a 72-home development just off Interstate 580, was designed to evoke a “quiet, gentle, sylvan” setting, said Warren Hanson, the subdivision’s sales manager.

“You want to create a different image than a crowded place with a lot of traffic and people,” Hanson said, noting that a large number of buyers in Greenbriar’s three subdivisions have moved from the South Bay.

A short time ago, sales agents referred to model homes as Plan 1 or Residence 4, Hanson added. “Now, it’s the Almalfi or the Napoli.”

(Hanson joked that buyers who pronounced the Chopin model correctly — and not as “choppin’ ” received $1 off the purchase price. Rainsong’s other model names are Strauss, Vivaldi and Bach.)

Despite its allusion to forests and rumbling storms, however, Rainsong is largely devoid of mature trees and increasingly surrounded by large strip malls and other residential developments. And while Dublin receives only about 17 inches of rain a year — below the statewide 21-inch average — water does run through it. Tassajara Creek cuts through the Greenbriar developments, and Hanson notes that several bridges will eventually cross it when Roxbury is complete.

Other builders appear to be tapping into the post-Sept. 11 surge in patriotism. Ryland Homes recently built Americana in Tracy, where the model homes — which run from 1,600 square feet to 2,500 square feet — are called Independence, Heritage, Freedom and Liberty.

Young California Homes recently built a subdivision in American Canyon called America. The name drew from the town’s name. In addition, company leaders used to name their communities with words that begin with “A”, so that buyers would see their homes first in alphabetical listings.

At Stockton’s Rhapsody, model homes are drawn from types of music — Salsa, Calypso and Big Band.

Branding expert Alper said builders should be lauded for using some of the marketing practices perfected in the consumer products field. However, he and others note that some names impart the wrong feeling. For instance, Alper said, Remembrance, the Sonoma subdivision built by the O’Brien Group, is grave and vague at the same time — not the ideal image for a new home project.

“Remembrance … is that where homeowners go to die?” he joked.

“Names can overstep their bounds and become disingenuous and unbelievable, ” Alpert said. “We often talk about Honest Abe’s Used Cars. What’s the first thing you think about when someone is screaming honesty? Why do they have to say it?”

David Gauger, a principal at Gauger and Santy, a San Francisco branding and advertising firm, said builders should also avoid names that are too whimsical or fantastic.

“I remember when I was a kid growing up in San Jose, there was a story book village, where all the street names and homes were based on fairy tales,” he said. “You wonder… that seems like it’s forcing a theme down many generations to come.”

Another category that may have overstayed its welcome is the popular Italian nomenclature. Although the Bay Area and Italy share a similar climate, Italian names are on the verge of overtaking Spanish names in the too-common department, according to Gauger.

“The Italian village image is maybe a bit short lived with the way styles change,” he said. John Duran, a sales manager at a development called Siena at Tuscany, located in the rolling hills of northern Santa Rosa, disagrees. Even buyers who have visited Siena, Italy, are impressed with the development, he added.

“We might not have the old buildings, but I’ll bet this Siena is prettier than that Siena,” Duran said.

Some builders admit to having overreached on subdivision names and are now digging deeper into historical archives to find fresh names.

“We’ve picked some good themes and some bad themes,” said Michael Ghielmetti, president of Signature Properties, a Pleasanton home builder. Ghielmetti believes the industry as a whole has “beaten into the ground” water and wine names in the Bay Area.

A new Signature development — Abella in San Pablo — is named for a prominent San Francisco missionary who established a farming outpost in the East Bay, according to company representatives.

“If names are too obscure or tough to pronounce, it can hurt you,” Ghielmetti said. “Places like St. Francis Wood or Claremont — those are timeless names. It’s almost like being a politician. You want to be safe, but you want to have panache.”

Pulte Homes has taken an edgier tack in its new condo complexes in Emeryville, where it hopes to attract hip 20- and 30-somethings. Across the street from Liquid Sugar is City Limits, a new townhouse development that straddles the Oakland-Emeryville border. A few blocks away, Pulte is building Elevation 22 — named for the sea level at Powell and Hollis streets.

However, even names that hit the trifecta — realistic, evocative and place-sensitive — may not sway buyers.

“People buy a house not because of the name but because of where it is, whether it’s big enough and the price point,” said Alper.

That was certainly the case for management consultant Stephen Lefkovits. In December, Lefkovits and fiance Ann Fehrenbacher bought a 1,500-square-foot condo at Liquid Sugar for $545,000 after realizing a comparable home in San Francisco would cost about 40 percent more.

“I don’t really like the signs,” he said, referring to the Liquid Sugar Drive sign at the entrance to the garage area. “But my fiancé loves it.”

At the same time, Lefkovits, 37, noted that most of his neighbors are proud of the name and refer to themselves as living not just in Emeryville, but in Liquid Sugar.

Even those in charge of building marketing campaigns gently mock the process.

Mike Howl, vice president of land acquisition, sales and marketing at Young California Homes, is moving from his company’s America subdivision in American Canyon to Los Olivos in Livermore.

“I think it’s kind of a silly name, actually, because there aren’t any olive trees out there,” Howl said. “It’s mostly grapes.”

When builder Pulte Homes tore down an old corn syrup plant in Emeryville two years ago to make way for new town homes, office wags began referring to the project as “Liquid Sugar.”…

Washington Times, November 13, 2003

There are plenty of famous Teds: Ted Koppel, Ted Kennedy, Ted Turner, Ted Bundy.

Now add United Airlines’ Ted to the list.

The bankrupt airline has used its last three letters to name its new low-cost carrier “Ted.”

“It’s proof positive that naming is a lot harder than it used to be,” said Burton Alper, principal and strategy director at Catchword Branding in Oakland, Calif. “The name comes to you from left field.”

United has followed in the footsteps of competitor Delta Air Lines, which introduced its low-cost carrier “Song” earlier this year.

Mr. Alper said Delta’s name makes a little more sense than United’s.

The name “Song” is approachable and friendly and it refers to the phrase “we got it for a song,” meaning something inexpensive, Mr. Alper said.

“Delta wins so far with a low-cost launch,” he said. “It’s inexpensive without sounding cheap and it’s distinctive in a crowded marketplace.”

Mr. Alper, whose firm has created names like Pepsi Blue and Dreamery for Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream, said a company looking at a new name has to consider first impressions, the availability of the name and if it can be understood in different cultures and languages.

“United chose the name Ted to emphasize that the service is an essential, integrated part of the company – it’s the last three letters of the company’s name,” said Sean Donohue, vice president in charge of Ted.

The good news is, Ted probably will draw attention and media coverage because the name is so odd, Mr. Alper said.

“It’s free publicity,” he said. “That’s one approach – not one I’d recommend.”

There are plenty of famous Teds: Ted Koppel, Ted Kennedy, Ted Turner, Ted Bundy. Now add United Airlines’ Ted to the list…

USA Today, June 25, 2003

DETROIT — General Motors is dumping a whole flock of venerable model names the next three years, hoping that new monikers on redesigned vehicles will lure younger, affluent buyers who might have negative impressions of the old names.

GM also hopes new names help make the vehicles seem different enough that prices can be higher.

While bad for buyers, that would be a boon for the big automaker. Brutal discounting has eaten so deeply into profits that automakers are almost desperate to find models that sell without incentives.

GM spent an average $3,827 per vehicle on incentives last month, the most of any car company, according to a report by J.P. Morgan Securities.

“There are a lot of model names that have negative baggage for customers and for GM,” says product chief Bob Lutz. In fact, if the renaming effort had begun a bit sooner, “We might have dropped the Malibu name, too,” he says, referring to a remake of the car by that name that will be introduced this fall. GM benchmarked Honda Accord and Toyota Camry in developing the car and hopes buyers will regard the 2004 Chevrolet Malibu as a credible rival to imports.

“The important thing is for a name to communicate a relevant message or image to the customers you are after,” says Burt Alper, strategist at Catchword, a naming company that coined Dreamery for an ice cream.

GM’s Buick especially needs new names because its lineup is being made over entirely. Replacements for the Park Avenue and LeSabre sedans will get different names.

Rainier, a midsize sport-utility vehicle, will be added this fall, and a sport van is due next year.

By 2006, Regal is likely to be the only remaining Buick name that was in use before 2000.

“These are going to be much more refined than today’s models, and we think it would probably take people too long to notice, or give the new products a chance, if we carry over the names,” says Buick-Pontiac-GMC chief Roger Adams.

Chevrolet also is due: Colorado pickup replaces S10 this fall. Equinox SUV supplants Tracker next year. Cobalt small car replaces Cavalier in 2005.

Redesigned Cadillac Seville will become STS. And Pontiac’s working on a name to replace Grand Am.

Ford Motor is changing names, too, for reasons similar to GM’s.

The longstanding Taurus name, for example, disappears soon, replaced by two models called Five Hundred and Futura — both revived from decades-old Ford models. The Windstar minivan becomes Freestar this fall. “It might take people a year to realize the Windstar was new if we carried over the old name,” says Ford COO Nick Scheele.

DETROIT — General Motors is dumping a whole flock of venerable model names the next three years, hoping that new monikers on redesigned vehicles will lure younger, affluent buyers who might have negative impressions of the old names…

More, May 1, 2003

No one knows what it stands for, but everyone knows what it stands for. According to the K-Y Web site, the initials “K-Y” – trademarked in 1906 — are a mystery even to the company that makes this bestselling line of “personal lubricants.” Yet K-Y Jelly has become winkingly– and not always invitingly — synonymous with sex: sex requiring medical assistance, sex not endorsed by Sen. Rick Santorum. Despite its venerable, doctor-approved reputation, the frumpy aunt of all sex lubes still carries a high snicker factor.

K-Y is trying to change that. “Over the course of this summer you will see a lot of new things from us,” says Danielle Devine, director of public relations for Personal Products Co., the division of Johnson & Johnson that manufactures and markets K-Y. “Our goal is to make the brand more mainstream. We’re taking a little bit of the taboo off the brand. We’re trying to have more fun with it.”

Sure enough, K-Y goodies are no longer confined to that toothpasty old tube. New products include thicker UltraGel (in a handier soap-like dispenser), K-Y Liquid, and, raciest of all, K-Y Warming Liquid, which heats up on contact.

What’s next, flavors? Well, sort of. A splashy event at New York’s stylish W Hotel in June, featuring designer Patricia Field of “Sex and the City” wardrobe fame, is designed to highlight all of the other uses of K-Y Jelly.

Other uses? Yes. You’ve seen K-Y at your gyno’s office or ultrasound lab, maybe even at your vet’s. But did you know that it also works as lip gloss? Hair gel?

Those are just two of the “other” K-Y uses rumored to be in a forthcoming booklet — debuting at the W that will list nearly 100 more. Devine insists that K-Y is not making this stuff up, not trying to manufacture an Avon Skin-So-Soft sensation. (That lotion turned out, quite by accident, to also be a bug repellent, a brass brightener, a floor wax and a dessert topping.) Indeed, anecdotal reports of handy household K-Y uses abound: removing rings, price tags and grease (for the latter, add sugar for light sanding effect); loosening of tight nuts (as in bolts); inserting keys into cold locks (also not a euphemism). It’s often used by athletes such as runners and cyclists to prevent chafing, as well as by the two women in the movie Old School who compete in K-Y Jelly wrestling.

Why K-Y? Why now? The brand is still a Goliath with a 52 percent market share, compared with the 18 percent and 15 percent shares, respectively, of its closest competitors, Private Label and Astroglide. Nonetheless, perhaps K-Y is thinking ahead and trying to sex things up for the kids. In other words, the danger is that — without an image update — newer, younger lube-users might think of K-Y as the tube in their parents’ nightstand, which is gross on so many levels. Time, indeed, for a makeover.

But can K-Y really change its know-them-anywhere blue and white stripes? If so, how? For one thing, experts say, K-Y could stand to lighten up. “The people in the new market they’re probably going for are not people looking for ‘a trusted brand for my intimacy needs,'” says John Carpenter, chief creative officer of Benchmark, a Cincinnati marketing communications agency. “The best way for K-Y to do a 180 would be to start using humor.” What remains to be seen, then, is whether K-Y’s loony lip gloss and hair gel-type approach will be considered funny “haha,” or funny strange. (Or funny “There’s Something About Mary,” which is both.)

K-Y’s competitors, not surprisingly, are thinking funny strange. “You walk into a nightclub, take out a big thing of K-Y and smear it on your mouth? What kind of message does that send? Your mama would slap you!” laughed Lynne Merrill, a spokesperson at Biofilm, makers of Astroglide.

Astroglide’s inventor — the founder and CEO of parent company Biofilm — was more magnanimous. “I’m just pleased that [K-Y is] building market awareness. That’s good because people who are involved in intimacy can enjoy themselves more. And it allows everyone to have more market penetration,” says Daniel Wray, who after 10 years in the business can say “market penetration” with a straight face.

But if K-Y tarts things up, won’t the company tarnish its “good” reputation? That’s the challenge. “They are the old doctor brand, the medicinal brand,” says Jennifer Murtell, Benchmark’s senior copywriter. “The trick will be to get a sense of humor and keep that credibility.”

Many people do use K-Y precisely because of its no-nonsense, hospital-approved aura. “Let’s put it this way: it definitely would have given me pause if they’d used Astroglide on the ultrasound wand,” says one New York mother.

“I’m more inclined to buy K-Y because it’s tested better than most products,” says a female New York sex writer. “I find Astroglide on par as far as quality. Wet, Eros, and Jack Off, on the other hand, are skeevier products that don’t embarrass me, but make me worry about strange genital rashes.”

Says an attorney from Toronto: “I am more likely to buy dowdy K-Y than its skankier Astroglidier counterparts — but then again, I’m an uptight Canadian. There is a certain degree of embarrassment in purchasing any product that says ‘I require assisted lubrication,’ which is too much information to give the cashier who sells you Diet Coke every day. It’s even less dignified if the box has a cheesy picture or big sparkly letters saying ‘Astrogliiiiide!'” (She adds: “I’ve never used K-Y for anything else, but I bet it would be boss for calming frizz.”)

For many people, of course, K-Y’s unsexy medical connotation is precisely the problem. “He pulls out the K-Y, she thinks stirrups,” say Jennifer Murtell of Benchmark.

And that’s why some experts say K-Y would do to best to launch a whole new spinoff brand. “Creating a new brand would mean leaving behind some equity, but it would also mean shedding some baggage,” says Laurel Sutton, a partner at Catchword, a brand-name development firm in Oakland, Calif.

“It’s very difficult to change what you are,” says Al Ries, chairman of Atlanta marketing firm Ries & Ries. “You’ve got two strategies that will work: one, change very little and wait for things to come back around — which is what Hush Puppies did — or two, introduce a new brand.” Yes, with a new name, Ries says. He points out that professional builders shunned “Black and Decker Pro” tools (which they associated with the Home Depot set) until the name was changed to “De Walt,” and that teens shunned “Levis’ Tailored Classics” (which they associated with their parents’ closets) until the name was changed to “Dockers.”

Could a name change be all K-Y needs to prevent chafing? Possibly. “I hate K-Y Jelly and it’s all there in the name. Why a K? Why a Y? It sounds so Jiffy Lube. No one wants to have that slimy jelly feeling reinforced by, say, the very tube you’re staring at during a moment of passion,” says a Manhattan financial writer. “I use Silk. Every time I pick it up I think, ‘Aaah, silk. This feels silky! And whether it does or not, that’s the beauty of branding. Brands make you believe.”

Now, if they can just make pharmacy clerks believe us, when we try to call it cuticle softener.

The venerable lubricant with the kinky associations is getting a brand makeover. But will it be able to maintain market penetration?…

More, July 15, 2002

Looking back at the über-entrepreneurial late 90s, it’s easy to wonder why some start-ups thrived while others burn out. Interestingly, the reason some brands fail is the same reason that other brands succeed. Successful brands did the things that unsuccessful ones forgot or would not do. So what are those “things” that unsuccessful companies forgot?

Like any good coach would say, “You’ve got to start with the fundamentals.” Successful companies do just that; they start with the end in mind. They have a comprehensive strategy that permeates through every fiber of the corporate being from the moment the company is born. Many start-up companies fail because they simply do not know what a brand is.

“One of the biggest misperceptions that companies have is that branding begins when the firm has money and can hire an expert. The most successful companies consider branding from the moment the business is just a kernel of an initial idea. When Joe Smith says he is starting a company and his buddies ask what business he is starting, this is where the concept and the establishment of a brand should begin: in his answer,” explains Ed Gyurko, founder of Brand Illumination, a New York-based industry analyst and investor relations consulting firm.

Successful companies begin by addressing the important questions that prove there is a need for their product or service, a market exists to buy it, and that they have the capacity to meet the needs of this market. Successful businesses have proven to a market that they can help customers solve specific business problems. They’ve also proven that there is a distinction between the need and existence of a market.

“There is no brand until a company has made a connection and demonstrated a value to a specific target market. Successful companies are in business to provide value to the marketplace and not just to make money,” says John W. Bramblett, Principal with Bustin & Company, a Dallas-based business development firm.

What do we mean by need and market? Maybe all my friends and I need to go to Pluto and each of us wants to buy a spaceship from you to get us there. Do we have US$ 30 billion a piece to buy one? If you then built a fleet of spaceships (work with me), because of this “demonstrated market need,” I’ll have some of what you’re drinking.

By not establishing need from market a company can’t build a successful brand. This point is driven home by Gary Thompson, executive vice president of Schwartz Communications, based in Massachusetts, “Failing dot-com companies had no business plans that worked. They were living on borrowed time with other people’s money. There were too many people doing too many things for no clear reason or market.”

Scott Davis, Managing Partner of Prophet, a Chicago-based brand consulting company says, “Start-ups are a jumbling of things. Your brand is about your reason for existing in the marketplace; it is the value of the product or service that you offer to consumers. Your brand is about how your company interacts with the customer.” He also adds, “A brand is the essence of who you are as a company.”

Aside from clearly understanding need from market, start-ups can also mistake naming a company with branding a company. “The name of the company should be the foundation of the brand. The name sets the stage. It is your absolute first impression as a company. As a rule names must be serious, yet be interesting and engaging,” said Burt Alper, Principal and Founder of Catchword, a New York-based naming and branding firm.

Alper explains that companies often make big mistakes when they use the wrong name for their business category. Financial services companies want to sound reliable and trustworthy, not edgy and wild. On the other hand, wild sounding names would be okay for a business that manufactures athletic apparel. In creating a name, businesses must cater to the specific needs, styles and preferences of their targeted business audience. “Dot-com companies thought they had carte blanche to name a company anything they wanted. Those companies got bit in the butt,” added Alper.

There are even more complex issues faced by start-ups that are establishing a global brand. “When launching a global brand, many companies fail or drastically underestimate the effort required to make sure their brand is globally embraced or relevant to target markets throughout the world. Brands are rooted in culture. Effective brands consider cultural differences. This is where brands either take root or die, region-by-region, society by society,” says Rob Frankel author of Revenge of Brand X. He adds, “It’s New York versus Mexico City. Something from the Northeastern United States and its culture and values, may not play well in Mexico. There are different values that resonate in each country.”

Start-ups must also focus on marketing in order to succeed. Marketing must support corporate values externally to current and prospective markets in all their actions and programs. When actions are taken that bring the company in a direction apart from their brand strategy and when inconsistent messaging is given to the public, companies weaken their brand. Human Resources must do the same internally to support and build the attributes of the brand with all employees.

A brand is not a commodity that successful companies can buy. A successful brand is a highly valued asset that the best companies build – for themselves, for their customers and the markets that they serve. The most successful companies began the process of building their brand long before they first opened their doors to do business. These organizations define their vision and their mission along the lines of a defined brand strategy.

Oh yes, and these same companies also have some pretty cool looking logos, a nice slogan, maybe a great jingle and the kind of a mascot that brings tears of joy to the eyes of children throughout the world.

Looking back at the über-entrepreneurial late 90s, it’s easy to wonder why some start-ups thrived while others burn out. Interestingly, the reason some brands fail is the same reason that other brands succeed. Successful brands did the things that unsuccessful ones forgot or would not do. So what are those “things” that unsuccessful companies forgot?…

Computerworld, April 15, 2002

Corporate IT projects and military campaigns have something in common. Both receive monikers designed to either focus the team or heighten the participants’ resolve.

This name game is fraught with problems, as the Pentagon found when it named the military operation in Afghanistan Infinite Justice. For some, that sounded like “eternal retribution,” usurping the Almighty’s role. As a result, Enduring Freedom was penciled in, and we became sensitized to the repercussions of names.

And yet there isn’t a proven convention for IT projects to take into account the relevancy of a name. At RightNow Technologies, an online customer service software vendor in Bozeman, Mont., IT project names are borrowed from geysers; after all, the company is only a boulder’s throw from Yellowstone National Park. There’s also a hidden meaning to choosing geysers, according to Mike Myer, RightNow’s vice president of product development. “Prior to a new software release, there’s a lot of steam and vapor,” he says. “Also, just like a geyser, you never can tell when something unpredictable will happen, and finally, sometimes after the release, people go: ‘So what?’ ” RightNow gets help from a Web site ( in selecting names.

At Du Pont, project names are left to project leaders, says Ronald Carrick, CIO of the packaging and industrial polymers business. “We don’t have a rigid process for naming, but most often they are named in a way that makes three or four [letters] work,” he says, citing CAR (corporate authorization record) and SAM (strategic account management) as examples.

Experts in naming and branding place a premium on names, and perhaps IT professionals should as well. “Names are the ultimate sound bite,” says Burt Alper, strategy director of naming firm Catchword LLC. Alper says names don’t have to be descriptive, but they should have some connection to what’s being accomplished.

Richard Owens, president of TDC/The Design Company, says choosing a name is also a creative outlet for a team. “It’s a fun moment and can have power because it can be a secret,” he says. But, the fun can turn to frustration if teams don’t find a name everyone agrees on. “Names are about words and semantics,” says Owens. “Choosing a project name should connect a word with an outcome.” Latin and Greek word roots help generate names that resonate with meaning.

In the military, blending verbs with nouns seems popular, as in Uphold Democracy, making it sound like a mission statement. But in searching for names of projects, we’ve yet to encounter one called Ultimate Peace.

Corporate IT projects and military campaigns have something in common. Both receive monikers designed to either focus the team or heighten the participants’ resolve…


Unlike dot-com companies that crumbled like sand castles, domain names are finding a much heartier post-bubble life.

The secondary market for domain names has held much steadier than Wall Street over the last few years, with an average selling price in the five-figure range, according to Cheryl Regan, spokeswoman for secondary domain name marketplace, a subsidiary of Mountain View-based VeriSign Inc.

“It’s becoming a lot like the real estate market,” says Michael Tippit, general manager of domain name auction site, a subsidiary of New Yorkbased domain registrar Inc. “And the prices of some of these domain names are surprisingly high.”

Yet for most Web users, it’s nothing more than a name followed by “.com” that represents a particular destination in cyberspace. For others, familiar or particularly catchy domain names are courted similarly to how a stock broker bats his eyes at so-called Wall Street darlings.

But most comparisons to the stock market end there; and unlike a company’s stock, a domain name can only be owned by one party — which sets the stage for fierce bidding wars.

Those who buy and sell domain names don’t like to talk about prices, nor do they have reliable records to show how valuations have changed historically, so most information is anecdotal. But Tippit says one undisclosed domain name was recently sold to a large telephone company on Afternic’s site for more than $100,000.

Top-shelf domains still sell for big bucks, but the high-profile sales — including the $7.5 million deal for two years ago — are just a footnote to the excesses of the dot-com boom (the address is now owned by a Santa Monica-based search engine company).

Now it’s back to basics.

“Ultimately what will determine the value of a domain name is who the target buyer is and how important it is to acquire the domain,” says Mark Standley, principal with Back of the Envelope LLC, a Chicago-based appraisal service exclusively for domain names.

And that kind of demand is what motivated William Crook, a wireless technology researcher in Nashville, Tenn., to purchase more than 300 permutations of domain names with the word “mobile” in 2000.

“It made no sense to most people I talked to back in 2000,” says Crook, adding that he didn’t do much marketing for his domain names until about six months ago. At the time, he says, these properties were quite affordable and most of them were not owned yet. But it is impossible to verify any affordability, as Crook refuses to disclose prices.

Burt Alper, strategy director of Oakland-based branding firm Catchword, is familiar with this code of silence.

“We found them to be very secretive as well,” says Alper, whose company helps clients acquire the appropriate domain name as part of its branding and marketing services. “Nobody wants to break it down too precisely and give away their secrets.”

The persistence of “cybersquatters” — those who register domain names with corporate brands and hold them for the equivalent of a ransom — has largely gone away.

“Now you’re seeing the maturation of the market,” says Afternic’s Tippett. “And you’ve got a legitimate marketplace.”

Disputes over domain names, though, will likely continue.

San Jose-based semiconductor company eASIC Corp. found itself on the brink of disaster in July when it realized that was no longer registered in its name. The registrar,, claimed it had an unpaid registration invoice of $34 and promptly pulled the plug without notice.

“And it was given away the same day,” says company CEO Zvi Or-Bach, who adds that he never received notice of the disputed invoice, nor was there a grace period. The domain name was taken in about three hours, and Or-Bach still suspects foul play, though he is unable to prove anything. spokeswoman Lisette Zarnowski says the company sends out multiple notices 45 days in advance of deadlines, and insists that allows a grace period of 30 days.

“I suspect that maybe we had outdated or incorrect contact information [for eASIC],” she says.

After originally paying less than $1,000 for the name, eASIC spent $10,000 on legal fees before reaching a settlement for an undisclosed amount with the unidentified buyer to get it back.

“We still don’t know what happened,” Or-Bach says.

But one thing is certain. The secondary market for domain names will continue to grow as more Web sites go live. Whether the valuations will hold steady in the coming years remains to be seen.

Unlike dot-com companies that crumbled like sand castles, domain names are finding a much heartier post-bubble life…

Fresno Bee, August 18, 2001

I asked, and you sent more than 150 arenafootball2 team names, everything from politics — the Fresno Fumblin’ City Councilors — to ponies –the Fresno Buckin’ Broncs.

The Top 5 are at the end of the column. Don’t turn the page yet or you’ll miss the names that didn’t make the cut.

I enlisted the help of local clinical psychologist Thomas Granata and Laurel Sutton, a partner in the brand development company Catchword and a candidate for a doctorate in linguistics at Cal.

If your name gets dissed, it’s not entirely my fault — actually, it is, but it’s easier to pass the blame.

The All-Americans are all boring. We took insect killer to the Fire Ants and doused the Flames. The Reject is second-hand goods, and Fresno has too much love for the He Hate Me’s.

The Red Light Runners and the Road Rage were arrested. The Prop 48’s couldn’t make the grade. The Bullies were beat down; the Hound Dogs outfoxed. The Red Dogs got old and gray, so we waved them bye-bye and had the Insane Dogs institutionalized.

Political correctness took out the Redskins and the Bubbas. The Quake was calmed. Neither the Shock nor the Shockwave electrified us.

The Krispy Kremes, mentioned by several, were too sweet. Brett Askenas of Fresno served up this reason for liking the name: “It would guarantee that hordes of people show up. There will be a huge line for tickets … and the name would apply as long as the team kept the doughnuts among the faithful and off the scoreboard.”

We didn’t like ambiguous and abstract. So, the Legacy, Crush, Fury, Rage, Doom, Heat, Fearsome and Force — which already is taken by a local softball club — were dismissed.

Sports teams in Louisville, Tallahassee, Richmond, Baton Rouge and Roanoke beat us to Fire, Thunder, Speed, Blaze and Steam. We didn’t like them anyway.

A name must be meaningful and unique to the area. It has to be easy to understand, spell and pronounce. Remember, the name will become a part of Fresno’s identity.

Take the Banana Slugs. UC-Santa Cruz may be a great school in a great area. But the name suggests diarrhea, not fear.

The Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys, from Jonesboro, Ark., aren’t much better. What happens with these guys? You go to a football game and a drag show breaks out? The Raisin Backs got a good laugh from Sutton, as did the Fightin’ Farmers.

“That’s pretty descriptive,” she says, laughing. “But do the guys on the team really want to be called that?”

My entrant is the Fresno Rex. I’m picturing a Tyrannosaurus Rex as the mascot. Can’t you see teams coming to Fresno and getting wrecked?

“That’s a particularly interesting word,” Sutton says of Rex. “I like that better than all the other ones. It has this unique quality to it, because it is a singular word but sounds like a plural. And literally, that word in Latin means king. That’s why the Tyrannosaurus Rex was the king of the dinosaurs.”

I knew there was something I liked about Sutton.

On the other hand: “I think of a crash,” Granata says. “I’d probably put the ‘T’ in front of it, because if the team isn’t performing well, then people might put a ‘W’ in front and call them the ‘Wrecks.'”

Consider my bubble busted.

Here are the top five, with comments:

  1. Fresno Fog

“It’s not a really strong name. If you think literally about it, you can’t grab it or hold on to it. You only get lost in the fog.” — Sutton

“They are confused and unclear. Those are the first things that come to mind.” — Granata

  1. Fresno Valley Dogs

“Ahh, wow. I think of some cross between a bunch of hound dogs lying around in the Valley heat mixed in with some Valley girls. Maybe a bunch of superficial hound dogs. Plus, it’s too close to Bulldogs.” — Granata

“It’s OK. The image of the dog implies loyalty and some scrappiness.” — Sutton

  1. Fresno Phantoms

“I think of mysteriously here and mysteriously gone. It’s probably good for a fighter plane, not necessarily good for an arena football team. I would’ve picked the Rex, but with the ‘T’ in front of it.” — Granata

“It’s a nice name, but not particularly strong. There’s some magic to it, but a phantom is not real. It will scare you but not knock you into the wall.” — Sutton

  1. Fresno Rex

Hey, it’s my column.

  1. Fresno Frenzy

“That’s an interesting name with a lot of energy and activity to it.” — Sutton

“Out of control. High energy. Not necessarily well directed. It seems more the maniacal feel associated with these type teams.” — Granata.

A final thought. If team owner Casey Wasserman doesn’t like this free public service, he can always pay Catchword $25,000 to $35,000 for something different.

I asked, and you sent more than 150 arenafootball2 team names, everything from politics — the Fresno Fumblin’ City Councilors — to ponies –the Fresno Buckin’ Broncs. The Top 5 are at the end of the column. Don’t turn the page yet or you’ll miss the names that didn’t make the cut…


The cereal aisle inside Albertson’s on Capitol Expressway is a scary place. Down on the lower shelves — the ones that are eye-level to a 5-year-old — a vampire with slicked-back hair peers out over a bowl of chocolate pebbles. A few boxes to the left, a sugar-smacked bear flings spoonfuls of slop. And in between, a crazed rabbit is frozen in a hyperactive gaze.

Up on the top shelf, though, the cereal speaks to the adults. Brands boast about high fiber! One box pictures trim-looking adults jogging along the rim of a lake. Even Grape Nuts asks potential consumers to “Discover the Energy.”

And among these top-shelf breakfasts-in-a-box, one stands out. The box is gently swathed in strokes of baby blue and soft yellow. Near the top of the box, the silhouette of a woman’s body raises her arms heavenward, in victory. It looks like a dream. Its name is Harmony.

I reach for it. On the back of the box a middle-aged woman wearing a cable-knit sweater stands on a seashore and, again, she is raising her arms above her head. To some, like me, she is indicating a field goal has been scored. To others, she is celebrating her empowerment.

On the back of the box, in dramatic italics, the ingredients — soy, folic acid, calcium — are accounted for, along with the cereal’s philosophy: Meeting the nutritional needs of women is what Harmony cereal is all about.

I say what-the-hey and toss it in the cart. A few steps later I notice a new cereal from the New Organics Co. They sell a generic-looking type of frosted flakes that are, according to the box, “Organically Certified.” The top of the box suggests it will feed more than just my stomach — “Mind. Body. Spirit.” Jeez, I say. Mind, body and spirit? I toss it in next to the Harmony.

Now that I’m aware of the spiritual movement taking place inside Albertson’s, I’m curious to see how many products will deliver me down the path to solace. Over in the tissue aisle, Puffs sells dispensers that contain “inspiration.” Dexatrim, the appetite suppressant, offers “Dexatrim Natural in Green Tea Formula.” The box shows two leaves swirling into a ball to form what looks like the yin-yang symbol.

On the deodorant rack, Secret is selling a new sweat-stopper called Genuine. Genuine allows you to “carry peace within your being. [Because] With grace, you accept what you have become.” Another Secret deodorant, named Optimism, offers its own locution for living: “There isn’t time for trivial things to bring down your refreshing energy — Optimism will suit your life.”

To drink, Tazo Tea, “The Reincarnation of Tea,” claims, “Tea enlightenment: Tazo premium teas and herbal infusions, blended with artistry bordering on magical, will soothe your soul.” And Dixie Cups now sells “Expressions Cups,” disposable cups that offer words of wisdom. Reads one, “The eyes are the windows to the soul.”

I’m looking for it now and I see it everywhere. I come across Depends, the diaper for those who’ve lost bladder control, and I see it has two new shelf competitors: Serenity and Poise. Serenity keeps you dry, but Poise allows you “The freedom to be yourself.”

So what I want to know is, with Harmony in my cart and Poise in my hand, who stuck their Zen in my peanut butter?

Take Us Om

Professor Rajeev Batra, of the University of Michigan, knows who’s responsible for all of this. He’s co-authored four books on advertising and is considered a guru when it comes to tracking advertising fads and branding techniques. While Batra says he isn’t aware of any hard data that proves spirituality-laced products are blazing a path to higher profits, his own observations have noticed a warm ‘n’ fuzzy shift in advertising today. He suspects, not surprisingly, that that demographic gorilla named baby boomers — some 70 million people between the ages of 40 and 60 — is guiding this long, hard look into the mirror. Batra says any shift in mainstream advertising copy can be attributed to a shift in the collective conscious of the average baby boomer.

“What’s going on in their lives, and in their heads and in their hearts, is what Madison Avenue plays to,” Batra says. “research suggests as we get older we become less concerned with the success of our careers and begin thinking in terms of the success of our spirituality.”

And oh, how spirituality has become successful these days.

According to a poll taken by the 2-year-old Spirituality and Health Magazine, more people now consider themselves “spiritual” as opposed to “religious.” In short, saying one is religious, the poll indicates, gives people the heebie-jeebies, while defining one- self as “spiritual” evokes a sort of vast worldliness. Being spiritual is taking a walk in the woods on weekends and rolling out the sticky mat at lunchtime; being religious means going to a church, getting on your knees and praying to a statue.

Yoga, as it turns out, is experiencing a wild and well-reported-on resurgence in popularity — for immediate proof one need only look to the new Monday night Yoga Night at the downtown nightclub The Usual. Where Professor Batra would cite the yoga boom as an excellent example of the spiritually deprived baby boomers looking for a few answers just before the gig of life ends, Time magazine suggested earlier this year that our hectic high-tech exterior has driven us humans inside, seeking an inner silence.

“In this modern maelstrom, yoga’s tendency to stasis and silence seems at first insane, then inspired,” the magazine reported. “The notion of bodies at rest becoming souls at peace is reactionary, radical and liberating. If it cures nagging backache, swell. But isn’t it bliss just to sit this one out, to freeze-frame the frenzy, to say no to all that and om to what may be beyond it, or within ourselves?”

In response to the popularity of yoga, Madison Avenue was quick to hear the chant of cash registers ringing. In just the past few months, according to Advertising Age, brands such as Nike and DaimlerChrysler Jeep have featured their product users practicing yoga — and the ads didn’t appear in Yoga Journal, a publishing juggernaut currently enjoying massive popularity and sky-high ad rates. A new Oil of Olay television commercial focuses on a mother stretching out on a yoga mat while feeding her baby. The product helps Mom enjoy a “complete life.”

Readers of the current issue of Men’s Journal may have noticed a full-page Saks Fifth Avenue ad which pictures a male CEO-type sitting on top of his desk, folded up in a lotus position.

The ad was a good one. As a captain of industry, the CEO was obviously drained from competing in the cutthroat capitalist world. And here he sat, able to meditate away into a place of inner comfort, while wearing Saks Fifth Avenue clothes.

Soul Proprietors

In Oakland, Burt Alper, 32, is a strategy director and founding partner of Catchword, a national firm that creates names for products. Alper was born and raised in Berkeley, the self-proclaimed son of Bobos — short for the Bohemian Bourgeoisie — and picked up his MBA at Harvard Business School.
Alper’s staff is beefed up with linguists who can turn a phrase on a dime and get a dollar in return. Catchword named products like the Spalding Infusion basketball, Adobe Photoshop Elements, Dreamery Ice Cream and, recently, the Oasis health bar for women.

Two years ago, Clif Bar had released the Luna Bar for women, and Alper’s company was quickly hired by rival Balance Bar to name a competitor. Alper and his crew chewed on the new product, interviewed its makers and took it through the weeks-long naming process. The team wanted to steer clear of giving it an overly feminine moniker, yet still convey “serenity and relaxation.”

“It had to be for the woman who was healthy, energy-conscious, somewhat spiritual in a Zen sort of way,” Alper says. “It’s for the woman who is a multitasker, a woman who could bring home the bacon and bake it, too. It needed to give that lift, like a cup of coffee, but without the negative connotation associated with caffeine. And the word oasis symbolized that safe-haven for her. It said, ‘Even though your world could be crazy all around you, this could give you that pickup — but on a natural theme.” (Since Oasis arrived on the market, another brand, named Essentials, entered the female sports-bar genre.)
Alper agrees that brands and advertising campaigns are moving toward an inner-self ethos, but he sees it mostly in the New Agey Bay Area, compared to outside markets.
Still, Alper adds, he’s hearing frequent requests from even his technology clients to give their products more melodic names. After a decade of Ciscos and Compaqs, it was time to put the Buddha in the Machine.
One tech company that came to Catchword offered a service that tracked where specific web users traveled on the Internet. Through interviews with company executives, Alper and his colleagues learned that the company offered something “other people couldn’t see.” Since the product multitasked and wasn’t just a one-task pony, the name had to reflect its broad capacity.
After several index searches and creative meetings, a colleague told the story of the Asian custom of reading tea leaves. According to Alper, the custom calls for an elder to dry out tea leaves, sprinkle them to the ground and, depending on the way they fall, read the future.

Since the client’s technology looked into the future, sort of, and the customer asked for anything but technical, Alper’s team suggested the name Tea Leaf Technology. Approval from the client was instantaneous. “It doesn’t sound like a technology company,” Alper says, “and that was important to them.”

Alper says that it’s common for popular advertising fads and their products to endure a backlash. Starbucks, Nike and Apple Computers all suffered from becoming too cool for their own good. In one era, sugar-heavy cereals could be coveted, then undergo a death-by-calcium. I asked him if he foresaw a market response against the Zen-in-cereal, and Alper chirped up with a better idea.

“Instead of a backlash, maybe the next generation will ask for cereal infused with echinacea? Or ginseng?”

In Harmony’s Way

Only 40 percent of Americans went to a place of worship last year, but just about everybody ate something. And most likely it was a brand item that they felt an emotional connection to.

So, do Americans really believe in spirituality? Probably not. Do they believe in cereal? You betcha.

But as products that are geared toward our mind and body start jumping from the shelves of Whole Foods and into the Albertson’s on Capitol Expressway, they’ve still got a long way to go before they gain broad mainstream acceptance.

Megan Nightingale, assistant marketing director for Harmony, says the driving force of the product was always meeting women’s nutritional needs, just like it said on the box, and also meeting women’s needs “on a day-to-day basis.” Harmony was “years and years in the making” and was munched on by hundreds of focus groups before it hit the market in January. Nothing inside or outside the box hasn’t been scrutinized more than a thousand times.

I asked Nightingale if Harmony was developed specifically to tap into the spirituality vibe. She took a few seconds to ponder the question.

“I don’t know that Harmony was designed to speak to spirituality specifically,” she said slowly. “But it does acknowledge today’s women and where they’re at — and certainly a part of what is important to women today is spirituality.”

As I scribbled down this quote, a pause fell between us and I could hear Nightingale rethink what she had just said. She perked up. “But I want to make it dead clear that we did not design Harmony as a spiritual cereal per se.”

That said, General Mills is working hard to make sure Harmony lands in a lot of shopping carts, regardless of why.

Earlier this year, as the official story of Harmony goes, a woman in Santa Monica named Marsh Engle mourned the passing of her mother. At the funeral Engle was taken aback by how many people commented on her mother’s compassion and personal strength. “But I’m not sure she ever saw that in herself,” Engle now says.

Motivated and inspired, Engle set out to create “Amazing Woman’s Day,” a national day where women could just “stop to recognize how wonderful they actually are.”

As Engle planned it, she envisioned meeting places inside shopping malls in 10 cities across the country where women could converge, listen to motivational speakers and participate in seminars.

Though Engle had more passion than proceeds, she says she went to General Mills and gave them the chance to sponsor the event. In the end, General Mills underwrote the entire nationwide event at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. In return, Harmony set up booths for promoting the cereal and attached its name to everything in sight.

One such item was the “Harmony Wisdom Wall,” which asked women to write inspirational messages. As General Mills put it on the promotional website, the Harmony Wisdom Wall was a collection of musings, “‘food for thought’ from women to women.” Each city had a piece of the wall and, after the day was over, the 10 pieces were flown to Dallas and connected to make one big wall of inspiration. For each message posted, Harmony pledged to donate $1 toward a local women’s charity.

By Engle’s account, the day was a booming success, thanks largely to General Mills. A lot of cereal was shared and presumably eaten, and afterward Engle didn’t have to return to her old job as a promotional marketer for the entertainment industry. Instead, General Mills continued its support, which has allowed Engle to work year-round on her project.

When I asked Engle if she ate Harmony (despite the cereal’s high mineral content, 60 percent of the recommended daily allowance [RDA] of calcium and 50 percent of the RDA of iron, each serving contains 13 grams of sugar) she gave an enthusiastic yes. “Their cereal is a wonderful cereal with a lot of good ingredients for women.” She went on to say the cereal was “well received” and that “energetically the cereal is what we’re all about.”

After learning of Engle’s background in marketing, my inner reporter sensed Engle might have been brought in by General Mills to push their cereal. Engle told me her mother died in 2001, which would have been just weeks before Amazing Woman’s Day took place — a quick turnaround to organize a national party. With some reservation, I asked her again if General Mills hadn’t planned the whole thing and come up with her story, and she insisted that she was motivated only by her mother’s death to create the day of womanly recognition. General Mills, it turned out, just happened to be the right product at the right time.

“Now I’m working on it full time,” she said. “They’re [Harmony] working with us again and you’ll see us next year.”

Garden of Eatin’

This year the best place to find the food that appeals to the soul, outside of Whole Foods and Wild Oats — two large stores known in the organic food industry as the “Super Naturals” — will be inside Albertson’s, the first mainstream grocery store to carry products from the ever-expanding New Organics Co. It’s no fluke. The company was founded in 1997 by two grocery store executives who had one thing in mind: “To bring organic foods to the mainstream,” says Anthony Zolezzi, President.

And it’s certainly a good time to be an organic food company treading in the mainstream. According to the Organic Foods Association, consumption of their synthetic-free products has grown 20 percent every year for the past 11 years and retail sales of organics in 2001 are projected at $9.3 billion; by 2005, sales are expected to reach nearly $20 billion.

The New Organics Co., for its part, offers pastas, corns, cereals, mustard, condiments and a new line of children’s foods — all of them made from products with minimal pesticide residue, Zolezzi says.

And, since Zolezzi’s company was the first to reach the masses outside the Super Naturals, it’s also the first to get a whiff of within-the-industry criticism.

The push into the middle ground has angered some longtime organic-foodies who complain that the “industrialization” of organics will only lead to the oft-feared “organic Twinkie” and compromise the principles of eating healthy, all in the name of earning the coveted “Certified Organic” seal. Players like the New Organics Co. that tout a product for the “Mind/Body/Spirit” are viewed as the greedy uncle who stole the secret family recipe, watered it down and sold it to the masses. Mind. Body. Profit.

Zolezzi says his company hasn’t heard of any backlash from the smaller organic companies since the New Organics Co. arrived, yet he accepts the market tension that exists.

“There’s always going to be some people in any industry who are unhappy,” he says. “But we haven’t heard anything like that. Look, the bottom line is that everyone has the same goals. Everyone wants a safer planet, a cleaner earth and healthier food. Doesn’t matter how it happens, who profits or how it gets to market — just as long as we all meet those goals.”

Eaten Up

A few sunday mornings ago, I slumbered into the Barnes & Noble bookstore on Almaden Expressway near Highway 85, looking to meet a goal of my own. I needed coffee. I made a beeline for the Starbucks Cafe in the back. Fuzzy-headed and groggy and far, far away from any locally owned coffee store, I took my place at the back of a single-file line, behind 10 other caffeine junkies.

Now, there is no denying that Starbucks has become the decal for mainstream. A man wearing Gap khakis, a Gap shirt and Nike running shoes stood in front of me. And there was another guy dressed just like him a few dudes in front of him.

In my grumpy haze, I wondered why more people weren’t working behind the counter. It was Sunday morning, good God.

As I waited, I looked to the right of the cashier’s stand and noticed a large yellow poster advertising a new Starbucks product: “Zen Dream Tea.” Next to the cash register, in point-of-purchase placing, were a few boxes of the new Zen Dream Tea.

I studied the new product as the line moved forward. If I drink the tea, I’ll have Zen, yeah? I’ll have dreams? I’ll have Zen dreams? What the hell is a Zen dream, anyway? And can it be purchased?

I was curious enough to try.

“I’ll have one large Zen Dream Tea, please.”

Once the packaging schtick of organic farmers and soulful, independent health food producers, the mind/body/spirit marketing niche has a new pal: Madison Avenue. Is nothing sacred?…

Food in Canada, August 9, 2001

Sometimes all your marketing team needs is a little fun and games.

Ever wonder how other brandconsultants, advertising gurus and creative directors get their creative juices flowing just before a client meeting?

Michael Coleman, senior vice-president of Source/Inc. a Chicago, Ill.-based brand design consultancy says during some of their creative meetings the facilitator instructs the participants to say something nice about their colleague immediately to their right. “With some of our clients, this forces creativity of the highest caliber,” he notes.

Food In Canada uncovers some bright ideas to kick start your in-house marketing team with brainstorming session advice from the pros. We polled a number of creative types across North America and discovered a few ideas to ignite your next marketing meeting or at the very least– rekindle the flames.

TASK NAME: Whoops!

BRIGHT IDEA: Participants assume the role of brand manager on an existing and recognizable brand, i.e. Starbucks. They’ve just learned that, amazingly, their company’s attorneys failed to register the company moniker as a trade name, and another Starbucks (a lesser known whale bait shop up north) is filing an opposition action against the company. Knowing what they know about the brand, its positioning, personality, values, etc., the brand managers must quickly conceive a new name for the company.

THE RESULT: This task forces managers to think about existing brands, what they’re promising, what they stand for, and what elements have helped to make them successful.

SUBMITTED BY: Mark Skoultchi, managing director of Catchword, New York, N.Y. location.

TASK NAME: Beloved Brands/Devil Brands

BRIGHT IDEA: This exercise is particularly good to use with teams that are not comprised specifically of marketing/ branding specialists. It helps focus the discussion on enduring brand attributes, brand promise, and the need for brand integrity. Begin by asking each person to think of two brands in any category that they really love, and two brands they don’t like. Then, go around the room and ask first for the beloved brands. Write on a flip chart the reasons why that team member likes it. Do the same with the devil brands. Review the lists.

THE RESULT: Beloved brands are those that have kept their promise to us, and respected their relationship with us. Devil brands are those that have lied to us by promising us one experience and delivering another.

SUBMITTED BY: Nan Budinger, creative director for Metaphor Name Consultants, San Francisco, Calif.

TASK NAME: Cocktail Part

BRIGHT IDEA: Pretend you’re at a party and your host introduces you to Brand. Tell me about Brand. Is Brand a woman or a man? What does he/she do for a living? What’s Brand wearing? What kind of car do they drive? Is he/she a parent? What kind of music does Brand listen to? What sorts of things does Brand to you about? Is Brand interested in listening to you? What kinds of questions does Brand ask you?

THE RESULT: This exercise asks people to personify their brand. It puts personality characteristics and emotional traits to the brand in an effort to create depth and dimension.

SUBMITTED BY: Gina Seamans, PR counsel for the Sterling-Rice Group, Boulder, Colo. location.

TASK NAME: Free Your Mind

BRIGHT IDEA: The moderator hands out index cards and asks everyone to write down all of their pressing problems–one per card, including personal ones (moderator must promise to not read them aloud). Then the moderator walks around the room with an open garbage bag. Everyone tosses his or her problems (the cards) into the bag.

THE RESULT: I have even see moderators tie off the bag and toss it outside the meeting room door! While it’s symbolic, it gets a bit of a laugh and loosens everyone up. It also shows that we are all in this together and that we’ve all put our pressing needs aside for the meeting.

SUBMITTED BY: Robert Kincaide, managing director at The Hazelton Group, Toronto, Ont.

Sometimes all your marketing team needs is a little fun and games. Ever wonder how other brandconsultants, advertising gurus and creative directors get their creative juices flowing just before a client meeting?…


Laurel Sutton was one of those students in high school who got an 800 on the verbal section of her SAT. She loved English so much she became the first student in the history of Rutgers University in New Jersey to graduate with a degree in linguistics – the study of language.

Little wonder then that she’s in the word business. Sutton is a founding principal and linguistics director at Oakland’s nine-employee brand development firm Catchword, started in 1997 with partners Burt Alper and Maria Cypher. The three partners previously worked for Master-McNeil, another branding company in Berkeley. But finding the perfect words for businesses, not creating cash for herself, is still what’s most important to Sutton, who’s working on getting her linguistics Ph.D. at UC-Berkeley while still helping to run the startup. “We didn’t start in this business to get filthy rich. We don’t care (about money) that much; we’re in it for the names,” Sutton says. She previously was a teaching assistant at UC-Berkeley and edited Inquisitor, a zine she put out with some friends.

Business philosophy
The basics: “Try to accommodate clients however you can, creatively or otherwise. Sometimes clients give us specific requests; sometimes their
requests are quite broad. We try as hard as we can to accommodate everyone whether it be working on the tactical side of things, a budget or
Best way to keep competitive edge: “Keep evolving the business to meet the clients’ needs.”
Guiding principle: “Always treat clients and partners with respect.”

First job: “Managed a record store.”
Words that best describe you: “Working mom, wife, daughter, linguist, reader, writer, feminist, skeptic, science fiction fan. Smart, funny, tough. My nickname is Vinnie (jokingly called that because she’s regarded as the toughest of the partners and she’s from New Jersey).”
Like best about job: “When our names are released to the public. There’s nothing like seeing your work on billboards or on TV commercials.”
Like least about job: “When great names go away because the product isn’t launched, the company runs out of money, etc.; it’s heartbreaking!”
Pet peeve: “Misplaced apostrophes (it’s vs. its).”
Most important lesson learned: “Being right isn’t always the most important thing.”
Most interested in meeting: “Steve Jobs, so I can ask him why Apple is really called Apple.”
Most respected competitor: “Lexicon, a branding company in Sausalito.”
Three greatest passions: “My family, books, and friends that I’ve met online.”

Judgment calls
Best business decision: “To start the business.”
Toughest business decision: “To start the business, it’s a huge risk. We put all our own money into it. We really wanted to be our own bosses.”
Biggest missed opportunity: “Not registering a bunch of generic names as domain names when they were available.,, etc.”

Acquired tastes
Status symbol: “I don’t really have one.”
Favorite movie: “Local Hero”
Favorite book: “Life and Loves of a She-Devil, by Fay Weldon.”
Favorite restaurant: “House of Nanking in San Francisco.”
Favorite vacation spot: “Orient Bay in St. Maarten.”
Set of wheels: “Saturn.”

Reach Lieber at or 925-598-1434.
All contents of this site © American City Business Journals Inc. All rights reserved.

Laurel Sutton was one of those students in high school who got an 800 on the verbal section of her SAT. She loved English so much she became the first student in the history of Rutgers University in New Jersey to graduate with a degree in linguistics – the study of language.

Wired, June 18, 2001

After failing to get the dot-com website she really wanted, Laurel Sutton is plotting early to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen in the dot-biz domain.

Sutton’s company, Catchword, which is, of all things, a corporate branding consultant, learned its lesson a few years ago when it went to register the domain “” The California company found the name had already been taken by a British electronic publisher and it had to settle for the hyphenated second choice “”

Now that domain name overseers are releasing a new suffix — dot-biz — Sutton is determined not to let history repeat itself. Her company has filed a claim for trademark rights to the website “” — less for the purpose of building up the new site than to keep others from doing so.

“We’d like to have it, if only to prevent the British company from getting it,” said Sutton, who is advising clients to take similar steps if they want to protect their trademarked names on soon-to-be-launched domains such as dot-biz and dot-info.

The early indication is that companies are listening.

Ever since the administrator of the dot-biz domain started accepting trademark claim registrations four weeks ago, responses have been pouring in from thousands of businesses anxious to protect their intellectual property.

Domain name registrars report that business is brisk.

“It’s actually higher than I thought it would be,” said Chris Bura, president of domain registrar Although he’d expected to collect only a few hundred trademark claims from corporate customers, Bura said he’s already gotten several thousand.

The claims — which cost in the neighborhood of $90 each, though it differs widely with each registrar — don’t guarantee that a company will get a particular site in the new domain. However, they do ensure that trademark holders will at least get to pursue arbitration to receive a domain before it goes to someone else.

Originally, companies were only supposed to have until July 9 to file trademark claims for dot-biz, the first of seven new domains approved by Internet regulators and the only one planned exclusively for businesses. After that, dot-biz domains would open for regular registration.

But now NeuLevel, the company that is managing the dot-biz rollout, says it will extend the trademark claim deadline. It has not set an official new date, though one registrar said the new deadline is rumored to be August 6.

As the filings come in, registrars say they’re seeing frequent instances of a single company buying several claims for the same trademark. Although this is expensive for companies, registrars say they’re doing it so they have a better chance of getting ranked first among trademark claimants in a random drawing. (The logic is similar to buying 10 lottery tickets, instead of one, for a better shot at winning.)

Getting ranked first doesn’t automatically mean a company gets the site it wants. But companies believe they’ll be better positioned than other claimants in a legal battle to get the domain. Jeff Neuman, NeuLevel’s policy director, said he finds the frequency of repeat filings surprising, since many companies complained earlier about the price of putting in a single trademark claim.

“Now, not only are they filing one, they’re filing multiple ones, which I find ironic,” said Neuman, adding that his employer neither endorses nor discourages the filing of several claims. It’s the strength rather than the quantity of a company’s trademark claims that will ultimately determine whether it gets a particular domain, he said.

It remains to be seen whether the arbitration of contested dot-biz domains will follow the same pattern as dot-com sites. In dot-com cases, challengers with trademark claims win a majority of cases against original domain name holders, said Ellen Rony, co-author of The Domain Name Handbook. However, there have been exceptions, such as pop star Sting’s failure last year to convince an arbitration panel that a computer gamer had registered the domain “” in bad faith.

The legal intricacies get murkier when more than one company has a reasonable claim to a trademarked name. An oft-used example is United, a title that could apply to anyone from United Airlines to United Utilities to a few dozen other companies with United names. Who then, gets to have

For some domain industry observers a more pressing question than who gets a particular dot-biz domain is who will actually want it.

Although trademark claims and pre-registration requests have been flowing in for many catchy dot-biz addresses, no one expects the new domains to draw the same cachet as their dot-com counterparts.

And judging by the steady pace of dot-com failures this year, not even the Internet’s pre-eminent domain is enjoying much cachet lately.

After failing to get the dot-com website she really wanted, Laurel Sutton is plotting early to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen in the dot-biz domain…


What’s in a name?, Wesleyan University Magazine, April 2016

How to Pick the Perfect Name for Your Company, MORE Magazine 2016

The Name Game: Mark Skoultchi of Catchword, Wordnik 2015

Seven Tips for Creating a Company Name That Tells a Compelling Story, Marketing Profs 2015

The Weird Science of Naming New Products, New York Times Magazine 2015

Decoding the Subliminal Clues in SF’s Condo Names, Curbed SF 2014

Episode 109: Title TK, 99% Invisible

Is your startup named right?, Forbes 2013

The pitfalls of the named startup, The Atlantic Wire 2013

What macho herbicide names tell us about fighting weeds, Modern Farmer 2013

Baby Name Blues? 10 Apps to Help You Choose, Mashable 2013

“Killer” Or “Slayer”? Language lessons from Jack the Giant Flop, Fast Company 2013

Chrysler’s new Cherokee more streamlined, more car-like, Toledo Blade 2013

The Three ‘Knows’ of Naming Your Product or Business, Marketing Profs 2012

Pick simple names for IT products, ZDNet 2012

Working on a building, The Oakland Standard 2012

How to Pick a Name for Your Business, AMEX OPEN Forum 2012

“We like to say we bring the joy back to naming”, 2011

Could changing your company’s name boost your business?, SelfInformed 2011

Economic times defy an easy label, Atlanta Journal Constitution 2011

The great language land grab, New York Times 2011

Name that business, Sharp Skirts 2010

Interview with Laurel Sutton, Georgetown MLC Blog 2010

Renaming a franchise means more than finding a new mascot, New York Times 2010

How to name your business, Reuters/Entrepreneur 2010

How to win the name game, Crain’s NY Business, Executive Inbox 2010

How Carmakers Play the Name Game, Wired Autopia 2009

10 Best & Worst Internet Company Names of the Decade, Marktg Profs 2009

“Stimulus” Works Its Way to Madison Avenue, New York Times 2009

Next project for eProject: A new name, New York Times 2007

The name game, Los Angeles Business Journal 2007

Dot-com names get dottier, Los Angeles Times 2007

Lady Di’s popularity and profitability live on, International Herald Tribune 2007

The baby’s called what?, London Times 2007

The baby name business, Wall Street Journal 2007

The name game, Alternative Universe 2006

The name on the door, Forbes 2006

What’s in a name?, Medical Marketing & Media 2006

Take my word for it, Stanford Magazine 2005

AT&T name coming back, Oakland Tribune 2005

Choose business name carefully, Courier-Journal 2004

Firms play tough game to defend a good name, Christian Science Monitor 2004

Catchword strives to be a brand apart, Oakland Tribune 2004

What’s in a code name?, Network World 2004

The name game, San Francisco Chronicle 2004

United creates “Ted” as low-cost carrier, Washington Times 2003

Automakers play name game, USA Today 2003

K-Y Jelly, we hardly knew ye, Salon 2003

Successful startups launch with a brand, Brandchannel 2002

A project by any other name, ComputerWorld 2002

URLucky to cash in on dot-com era, Silicon Valley Business Ink 2002

Talk amongst yourselves, Food in Canada 2001

Hey, this is what you get for free, Fresno Bee 2001

Soul proprietors, Metro (Silicon Valley’s Weekly Newspaper) 2001

Lining up for the dot-biz bazaar, Wired 2001

Entrepreneur: UpClose, East Bay Business Times 2001

Our Names in the News

Catchword name in San Francisco Chronicle

Upwork, a global marketplace for freelance work, found an enthusiastic reception for its Wall Street debut Wednesday.

Trading under the symbol UPWK, the company saw shares begin trading at $23. They rose to $23.49 before closing at $21.18, a 41 percent gain over the $15 offering price.

Even before its offering, Upwork saw positive signs, despite not having any profits. The company had raised the price of the 12.48 million shares it expected to sell from an earlier estimate of $12 to $14. At that price, the company would have been worth $1.5 billion; due to its sharp rise Wednesday, it is now worth $2.1 billion. …

Full storyCatchword name in SF Chronicle

Catchword name in VentureBeat

Desk phones are a staple of office cubicles everywhere. But with as many as a third of employees relying on mobile devices for day-to-day communications, it seems their days are numbered.

In anticipation of that shift, Plantronics today launched the Elara 60 Series, a “mobile phone station” that enhances smartphones with desk phone capabilities — including native support for Microsoft Teams, Microsoft’s chat and online meetings platform. It’ll ship in early 2019 for an undisclosed price. …

Full storyCatchword name in VentureBeat


SAN FRANCISCO — FireEye, a cybersecurity company that has been involved in a number of prominent investigations, including the 2016 attack on the Democratic National Committee, alerted Facebook in July that it had a problem.

Security analysts at the company noticed a cluster of inauthentic accounts and pages on Facebook that were sharing content from a site called Liberty Front Press. It looked like a news site, but most of its content was stolen from outlets like Politico and CNN. The small amount of original material was written in choppy English. …

Full story

Catchword name in Variety

Catchword-named Vudu in TechCrunchWalmart is in fact looking at entering the subscription-video space to compete with Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, sources confirmed — and the retailing giant is planning to launch the service through its Vudu digital-entertainment division, Variety has learned.

Vudu has set plans to launch a low-cost subscription video-on-demand package in the fourth quarter of 2018, according to sources. The SVOD service would include both licensed TV shows and movies, as well as original productions. …

Full storyCatchword name in Variety

Catchword name in Variety

Catchword name Arena of Valor in VarietyTencent Games will have a public presence at E3 for the first time this year, as they will host the “Arena of Valor” playoffs, along with esports company ESL.

Tencent Games, which has holdings in Riot, Epic Games, and mobile developer Supercell, is the largest gaming company by revenue generated, according to a 2017 ranking from Newzoo. Based in Shenzhen, China, the company brings titles like “League of Legends” to the Chinese market. …

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