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  1. No cure for pharma naming: Review of COVID vaccine brand names

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    We can all agree that it’s long past time for COVID-19 to call it quits, but the FDA’s full approval of Comirnaty (the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine) reminded us that we do often disagree on what makes a great name. Spikevax, Moderna’s COVID vaccine and Pfizer’s biggest competitor, may be neck and neck with Comirnaty in terms of preventing COVID, but it’s certainly the winner in the brand name contest.

    We at Catchword know well that pharmaceutical naming isn’t easy. A brand name has to pass stringent FDA requirements, or those of its international counterparts, and be available as a trademark. (Note that drugs actually have three names: a chemical name, an international non-proprietary name, or generic name, and a brand, or trade, name. The brand name is the tricky one.)

    We truly empathize with all the hurdles to developing a drug’s brand name. Here are some of the most important of the FDA’s restrictions:

    • can’t use any part of the generic drug name
    • can’t reference inactive ingredients
    • can’t reference only some of its active ingredients (must be all or none)
    • can’t overpromise (Curall is a no go)
    • can’t suggest a particular way to take the drug or dosage form (because that could change)
    • can’t include numbers (because people might think that the number indicates dosage)
    • can’t sound or look like another drug or drug ingredient (current or discontinued)

    But could the folks who came up with Comirnaty have done a better job? We think so.

    To start with, Comirnaty is long, cumbersome, and difficult to pronounce. It’s a mashed-up mouthful of sounds, and as our co-founder Laurel Sutton told Morning Brew, it’s “a ‘naming company name,’” that does not have much going for it outside of meeting the tough FDA and trademark requirements. How does a person guess which syllable to emphasize with so many sounds smushed together? As Jimmy Fallon put it, the name “sounds more like a drunk person trying to say ‘community.’” Twitter users also roasted the name extensively.

    OK, clearly Comirnaty has many flaws. Are there any pros? Kind of.

    Although Comirnaty does call to mind the idea of a community coming together for immunity, too many messages are crammed into one word (a common misstep in naming). The company’s release states the name “represents a combination of the terms COVID-19, mRNA, community and immunity.” All of these ideas are important individually, but they don’t work together, particularly mRNA, which is a truly awkward grouping of letters. As Fierce Pharma reported, “The new brand name for Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, Comirnaty mashes up community, immunity, mRNA and COVID—pretty much everything that could fit into the moniker…” (We’d say jam in, unless you think a clown car’s a nice fit.)

     

    Covuity, one of the alternatives that had been considered, would’ve been a better choice. It’s easier to spell and pronounce. It better recalls COVID-19 with its initial Cov, while retaining the nods to community and immunity. Plus the suggestion of coview is quite aspirational—seeing the future together. We don’t know why this one didn’t make the cut, but it’s a shame.

     

    What about the Moderna vaccine name?

    Spikevax, the trade name of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, has a lot more going for it from the get-go. Most importantly, it’s easier to pronounce, spell, and remember, and its meaning and tone are much more on brand.

    The word spike suggests what it is in several subtle and effective ways: the vaccine helps prevent a spike in cases; the coronavirus itself has spikes; and spike also means to block or destroy. The repetition of the hard “k” sounds (from the k and x) in the name give it a strong, tough personality—exactly what you need to defeat a global pandemic. Spike is even a fairly common nickname for a tough guy or tough dog.

    Image by hamperium

    Spike’s association with sports furthers this persona: you spike a volleyball or football, you wear spikes in track and mountain climbing, you might spike an opponent with your cleats. Vax, as common slang for vaccine, reinforces the human, real-world, even street smart tone, which really makes the name stand out from the typical pharma designation.

    Still, Spikevax does have some drawbacks. Spiking a drink is not a great association for a drug, and spiking someone is quite violent. It also suggests the injection itself in a pretty harsh way (spike was used as slang for injecting illegal drugs back in the day, notably by Lou Reed in the song “Heroin”). Many people are afraid of needles or at least don’t want to be reminded of the physical aspect of vaccination (near-universal use lately by the media of the British term jab, aside). And vax, though informal, is mostly used by anti-vaxxers. You don’t hear people saying, “I’m pro-vax.”

    That “ks” sound at the end of the second syllable is a little hard to get your mouth around after the first “k” sound. (Spikevac would be easier to say, but then you might try to clean your floor with it.) Note that the first “k” sound stops the flow of the word, causing two evenly stressed syllables, which isn’t a natural cadence in many languages. But that percussiveness and the little pause it necessitates ultimately add to the weight of the word.

     

    Also Rans: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (and Unpronounceable)

    Although Comirnaty and Spikevax are the two main vaccines in use here in the US, there are half a dozen others around the world.

    China, Russia, and India have created user-friendly names for their vaccines, and the manufacturers have filed for US trademark. Why can’t Comirnaty be more like them? The naming rules in these countries are different from the FDA’s. We assume that Pfizer determined such names would be unlikely to gain FDA approval.

    CoronaVac (from China’s Sinovac). It’s a great name if there’s only one vaccine available, which might be the case in China, because it says exactly what it is. Note that very descriptive names aren’t generally trademarkable in the US.

    Russia’s vaccine is called Sputnik V, and we gotta say the name’s pretty awesome. It recalls Russia’s position as first to reach the stars. (Sputnik 1 was the first artificial Earth satellite, and this vaccine was the world’s first registered combination vector COVID-19 vaccine.) The V suggests vaccine and victory and also is a roman numeral, reinforcing the idea of a moonshot. The name does have a chance to clear the US trademark hurdle, but FDA approval of the name seems quite unlikely given that the V can be read as a number.

    Covishield (India’s version of the AstraZeneca vaccine). Solid meaning and pronunciation. Note that what looks like an unrelated company has filed an application for the mark for a coronovirus treatment (not a vaccine). Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot going on with COVI- names and US trademark.

    Covaxin (another vaccine from India, the only one to be developed in that country). Again, the meaning and pronunciation are clear, and it isn’t too long or ugly. Note that this name could suggest the product is sponsored by COVAX (the worldwide intitiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines directed by the World Health Organization and two international vaccination nonprofits), which it absolutely is not.

    The Johnson & Johnson vaccine doesn’t have a trade name yet, and is formally still called Janssen COVID-19 vaccine (because it was developed by Janssen Pharmaceuticals, the Belgium-based subsidiary of J&J). However, the company has filed for trademarks for Jcovden, Jcovav, Evcoyan, Jycovson, Jcovsen, Jycovden, as well as Rezymnav, Rezmyden, Fampelsen, Aqcovsen, Abfivden, and Ovcinden. Ouch. Hard to pick a winner there.

    Vaxzevria, the European brand name for AstraZeneca’s vaccine, is hard to pronounce and too long. Plus, it’s just plain ugly. Although Vax makes it clear that this is a vaccine, zevria at first look doesn’t say much. Brand Institute (which also developed the names Comirnaty and Spikevax) stated in its release that the name means “vaccine for everyone” and noted that “every village and every town” was an important theme during name development. Every is definitely suggested, and maybe everywhere, but everyone is a stretch. Also the name would be much easier to spell without the z: Vaxevria.

    Vidprevtyn is the trade name for Sanofi Pasteur’s vaccine, another European offering. It’s perhaps the most unpronounceable, long, and ugly, a prime example of pharma naming gobbledy gook. The name tries to recall COVID-19 with vid and prevention with prev, but vid more strongly suggests video or visual, which is a complete misdirect.

    OK, so there are a bunch of vaccine names, and some are super weird, some are descriptive, and one is a fun nod to the history of space exploration.

    Spikevax is decidedly the best of the US vaccine names. But do these brand names even matter? Will Comirnaty’s awkwardness affect its reputation or sales? As Laurel put it in a recent interview with New York’s PIX11 TV, ultimately for what it needs to do the name is “fine and perfectly serviceable. And people are going to call it the Pfizer vaccine anyway.”

    Exactly. Unlike drugs that treat disease, for vaccines the customers are medical professionals, not the folks receiving them. (Don’t expect to see commercials with Grandpa happily playing catch with the kiddos after receiving his Comirnaty shot.) And, most importantly, all the vaccines have been known by the manufacturer’s name, not a brand name, for nearly a year. Most of the public and media won’t ever make the switch.

     

  2. Intel’s Arc GPUs in techradar

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    Evidence of portable alchemy, no less…

    An unidentified Intel Xe graphics card which has just been spotted in a leaked benchmark looks like it’s a laptop version of Intel’s Arc Alchemist discrete GPU, teasing the possibility that we might see the beefiest flagship solution in gaming notebooks next year perhaps.

    As you can see, the GPU is only named as an Intel Xe discrete graphics card running in a Tiger Lake laptop, but it has 512 EUs (Execution Units) meaning it certainly isn’t a current Xe laptop card, and that EU count corresponds with Alchemist, and the top-end configuration of Intel’s incoming Arc gaming GPUs. It’s shown with a clock speed of 1.8GHz, though that could be pushed higher with the release version…

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  3. October 2021 Member Spotlight: Laurel Sutton

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    Laurel Sutton (she/her) is a linguist, strategist, and co-founder of Catchword, a naming and branding agency. Her love of linguistics began with a BA in Linguistics at Rutgers University and continued in graduate school at UC Berkeley, where she specialized in both sociolinguistics and phonetics. She has co-edited two volumes on gender and linguistics, as well as a volume celebrating Robin Lakoff’s contribution to the field. She is the President of the American Name Society and a Committee Chair of the Linguistic Society of America, and has served as an expert witness on naming and branding issues. She is delighted that her most-cited paper, written in 1994, was one of the first to look at the issue of gender and online communication (“Using USENET: Gender, Power, and Silence in Electronic Discourse”). …

    When did you first join the LSA?

    I joined the LSA in 1994, when I presented my first paper at the annual conference in Boston (part of the requirements for my Master’s degree at UC Berkeley). I was a member until I left academia in 1998. I rejoined in 2015 when I became involved with the Linguistics Beyond Academia SIG. …

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  4. How to create a great name for your business or product

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    As Catchword’s co-founder and creative lead, Maria Cypher oversees creative strategy for one of the world’s leading naming firms. She has created names for Starbucks, PwC, McDonald’s, Fitbit, Intel, Unilever, and hundreds of others over the course of over two decades. In this interview with MarkUpgrade, Maria shares current trends in business naming, the secrets to a successful name, and absolute No’s in naming a business.

    Why is picking the right brand name so critically important for a business?

    A good name is a foundation for a great brand. It’s the first thing people see (or hear!) — and often leaves the very first taste or impression of an offering for consumers. In the case of a company name, it can also do double the work, setting the tone for the culture (think: Microsoft vs. Google) or even establishing an overarching philosophy or premise (a good example being The Honest Company). Finally, a brand name has to be able to flex with changing times and business strategies. Companies are a bit like people, constantly growing, pivoting, and evolving. …

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  5. Comirnaty: Why the president of the American Naming Society isn’t exactly a fan of the name

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    She prefers Covuity, which was also in the running for Pfizer’s Covid vaccine.

    After gaining full US FDA approval this week, Pfizer can now market its Covid vaccine by a brand name: Comirnaty, a combo of the words community, immunity, mRNA, and Covid.

    • If you’re a marketer from Brand Institute—the naming company that coined Pfizer’s official vaccine name—this isn’t news to you.
    • “Over 1,000 names were created to ultimately arrive at Comirnaty,” Scott Piergrossi, president, creative at Brand Institute, told Marketing Brew.
    • Brand Institute also helped Moderna choose its vaccine’s official name (spoiler alert: it’s Spikevax), per Newsweek.

    Big picture: As The Washington Post noted, Comirnaty was roasted online. So we spoke with Laurel Sutton, president of the American Name Society and cofounder of naming agency Catchword, to get an expert’s opinion on the new moniker.

    The verdict? She’s just not that into it. Sutton told us Comirnaty is “quite difficult to pronounce,” calling it a “naming company name,” aka one that was “obviously coined…in order to fulfill the requirements for legal availability and FDA requirements for drug names, which are quite strict.”

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  6. Trident true? Name review of BlueTriton

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    BlueTriton may sound like the name of Aquaman’s new superfoe, but it’s not (though there is a Marvel character called Triton).

    It’s the new moniker of Nestlé Waters North America. The company’s products can be found in break rooms the nation over, among other places, with popular brands such as Arrowhead, Poland Spring, Deer Park, and Pure Life. This reinvention aims to highlight Nestlé Waters’s environmental bona fides, including new water sourcing methods and sustainable packaging.

    Why do brands change names?

    It takes tremendous amounts of time, energy, and money to change an established name. So why do it? Most often, a business renames because owners change, the company merged with another, or management wants to refresh an older brand.

    But sometimes the switch is an attempt to erase a brand’s bad PR or cultural insensitivity. When ValuJet became synonymous with “plane crash,” the name could no longer fly. More recently, Aunt Jemima, Eskimo Pie, and the Cleveland Indians all recognized the bigotry underlying their names and made the change. Brands have also tried to flee a deadly past (Philip Morris became Altria), or simply an unseemly one (Time Warner Cable, accused by some of having the worst customer service in the world, became Spectrum).

    Why did Nestle Waters change its name?

    First off, there’s the new management angle. One Rock Capital Partners, LLC in partnership with Metropoulos & Co., recently acquired Nestlé Waters. The new team made the call to rebrand as BlueTriton.

    Second, and equally important, the company is likely also trying to flee from its past. For some, Nestlé is one of the most reviled consumer brands in the world. Back in the 1970s, the company received horrendous press and became the target of a boycott when it promoted its baby formula as better than breastfeeding to poor women in developing nations (which groups like Save the Children say had led to widespread infant malnourishment and deaths). More recently, Nestle and other chocolate makers were accused of abetting child slave labor in Africa. And Nestlé
    Waters North America found itself in the crosshairs for siphoning away huge amounts of water for free from drought-stricken California, other states, and First Nations lands in Canada.

    Does the name work?

    We can’t predict whether this name change will help rehabilitate the brand (changing the way they do business is the only way to do that), but we can say that as a company name it’s on message but meh.

    Blue is calm and clean, azure pools and clear skies, and in Greek lore, Triton is a guardian of sea creatures and the son of Poseidon, ruler of the ocean. The name clearly conjures images of water, purity, and power to protect the natural world. Plus, the name has great graphic potential with blue colors and Triton’s iconic trident.

    The company release makes clear that these are the messages it wants front and center: “Triton is a god of the sea in classical Greek mythology. Combined with the color blue, representing water, the new name reflects the Company’s role as a guardian of sustainable resources and a provider of fresh water. Moreover, BlueTriton signifies the Company’s continued commitment as an independent business to sustainability and high-quality products and services.” One might quibble about the fresh water aspect given that Triton is always associated with saltwater, but on balance the name’s messages are spot on.

    However, the pairing is boring. It feels mechanical, lazy, like they took a column of vocabulary for fresh and one for water and mixed and matched for half an hour, then chose the one for which trademark was available. Using blue to suggest water is about as tired a trope as you can find, and Greek god names are only slightly less hackneyed.

    This lack of creativity reinforces the idea that this brand is inauthentic, superficial, that it prioritizes the expedient over engagement with the community—the very position you’d think the company was trying to distance itself from.

    Will the average (non-namer) person pick up on these subtle brand disconnects? Probably not consciously, but on some level, they’ll sense something’s missing.

    Naming a company is hard. Even when a name checks all the semantic and availability boxes, it can still fail. Strategically BlueTriton makes sense, but creatively it fails to inspire. Creativity is how you connect with your audience, and connection is the only way a customer will look past your flaws.

  7. From Accenture to Wawa—Namers name the names they wish they had thought of

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    In the noisy and often contentious land of branding, there is a community of elite specialists who work in studied tranquility as they apply themselves with monk-like devotion to their task.

    This is the domain of Professional Namers, the linguistic storm troopers of branding. They are summoned at a moment’s notice to create names for things – products, technologies, small businesses, global corporations, places. Anything that needs a name. They work collaboratively, often anonymously, and usually against impossible deadlines. …

    It set me thinking – are there any names produced by others that namers actually admire? To find out, we invited them to name the names they wish they had thought of. And here’s what came back. …

    Laurel Sutton

    “I love Twitter, and always have. It’s perfect for what the service started out to be (no matter what it’s become). It 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: tweets and tweeps and twitpics. How often does a real English word capture the spirit of a product so well?” …

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  8. Indeed Flex in WhatNews?

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    British firms are increasing salaries rapidly to overcome the difficulty of attracting employees as pandemic restrictions are relaxed with increasing inflation pressure.

    According to data from the Federation of Recruitment and Employment, KPMG and IHS Markit, the initial salary increase was close to the highest level in seven years, and all regions in the UK. The job site Indeed stated that, in particular, hospitality companies are increasing salaries, and some companies offer login bonuses to attract employees. …

    “Companies are trying all sorts to encourage applications — even paying people to turn up to interviews,” said Novo Constare, founder and chief operating officer of the company’s flexible working platform, Indeed Flex. “A lot of people may have moved sector. Although they may want to return to hospitality, they may be scared of being let go or put on furlough again. They’re not ready to make that jump back yet.”

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  9. The art of the rename: How brands decide what to call themselves next

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    From football teams to pancake mixes, a lot of household names opted for new monikers over the past year.

    Some of them, like Pearl Milling Company, Washington Football Team, and Ben’s Original, renamed to rid themselves of racial stereotypes and slurs in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement that arose last summer. …

    “Renaming a company is a big deal. It’s very expensive and it takes a lot of effort, so there has to be a really good reason to change it,” Laurel Sutton, president of the American Name Society and cofounder of naming agency Catchword, told Marketing Brew. Catchword has worked on naming projects with brands such as Asana, FireEye, Upwork, and more.

    She said there are three reasons why companies typically choose to rename: a change of business focus, legal requirements, or when a name has become inappropriate for cultural reasons. …

    “With Aunt Jemima, both parts of that name were offensive,” Sutton explained. “The ‘Jemima’ part is this very stereotypical, almost minstrel-show representation of African-American women. And then the ‘Aunt’ part of it was the word used for Black women who were slaves or servants. So there was no way they could have kept either part of that.” …

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  10. Catchword recognized as top B2B service provider for San Francisco and entire state

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    Clutch, the dominant platform for B2B reviews and ratings, has named Catchword the #1 B2B firm in San Francisco and all of California for 2021. Leading a list of 250 agencies for SF and 500 for CA, Catchword received the Leader Award for the superior quality of its services, clients, and brand reputation.

    “The companies included in this year’s list have the ability to deliver for their clients,” said Clutch Sales Development Manager Jeremy Fishman in a release. “They are leaders in their field and show excellence in everything they do.”

    Clutch continually researches and annually recognizes top-performing companies in every industry, including creative services such as branding, advertising, and design as well as tech and business services. Criteria for selection include industry expertise, ability to deliver, and market presence.

    “The Bay Area is a hub for excellence, and of course California is the home of innovation,” said Catchword principal Maria Cypher. “With hundreds of fantastic agencies here, we are especially thrilled to receive the Clutch Leader Award again for outstanding performance on our home turf.”

    Clutch has contributed mightily to Catchword’s trophy case, with Leader Awards for San Francisco, New York, and California in 2018 and 2019 (no awards for 2020) as well as Clutch Global 1000 Awards (2018–present), Top Branding Agency Awards (2019-present), and Top Naming Agency Awards (2017–present).

    Despite the repeated recognition, Cypher doesn’t take the honors for granted. “Our deepest thanks to Clutch and to the many clients who took the time to provide information and reviews.”

     

    About Clutch
    Clutch is the leading ratings and reviews platform for IT, marketing, and business service providers. Each month, over half a million buyers and sellers of services use the Clutch platform, and the user base is growing over 50% a year. Clutch has been recognized by Inc. Magazine as one of the 500 fastest growing companies in the U.S. and has been listed as a top 50 startup by LinkedIn.