Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Naming: The Six Deadly Sins

by Steve Rivkin

Naming something may be the most universal aspect of business. Whether it’s a business or a product or a service, you’ve got to call the baby something. Here are the six deadly sins of naming that every company should avoid at all costs.

1. Thou shalt not commit me-tooism.
Ameriprise, Ameriquest, Americast, Ameripride, Amerilink, Ameriquip – and we’re just getting started. There are 200 more Ameri-Somethings. These are the cowardly lions of corporate America. Want one more? Bank One, Fiber One, Global One, Mobil-1, OgilvyOne, One Point, OneSoft, Oneworld, OneSource, VerticalOne.

2. Thou shalt not prepare alphabet soup.
Could the venerable House & Garden magazine attract a younger consumer by rechristening itself as HG? Nope. How many of these Fortune 500 listings do you recognize? TJX, SPX, TXU, AES, FPL, CNF, USG. And my personal favorite: “JCP&L, a GPU Company.” What are these companies hiding from? These aren’t really names. These are disguises in the corporate protection program.

3. Thou shalt not speak mumbo jumbo.
Anybody with a set of Scrabble tiles can fling down a bunch of letters and come up with Anadem or Zixoryn or Zostrix. But as a famous theatre critic once observed: “That’s not writing. That’s typing.”

4. Thou shalt not engage in technobabble.
A special level of hell is the mumbo jumbo known as Geek Speak. It has no place in naming. These folks need to rediscover English: D2K, Q-Zar, Alt-imedi, Art4-U, DesignVoX, @Climax, mmO2.

5. Thou shalt not create verbal gridlock.
These are the traffic pileups of naming. It’s the lunacy of a name such as Morgan Stanley, Dean Witter, Discover & Company. The ego-tripping of LVMH Moet Hennessy-Louis Vuitton. Jawbreakers such as BankAmerica Robertson Stephens. You can’t even blame the lawyers for these multisyllabic messes. Senior managers, even Boards, refuse to deal with marketing reality that such names are confusing to the client, annoying to the prospect, ugly to the eye and ear, impossible to remember – and sure to be changed.

6. Thou shalt not make impolite utterances.
It’s one big global marketplace, folks. So make sure your name does not offend in another land. Ikea offers on its website a workbench called the Fartfull. Reebok named a running shoe the Incubus, after an evil spirit that descends upon and has sex with women while they sleep. A food company named its product a Burrada. Big mistake. Because the colloquial meaning of the word is “big mistake.” In Asia, Mitsubishi’s sports utility vehicle named the Pajero draws laughter from Spanish-speaking consumers. In Spanish, pajero means “one who masturbates.”

Steve Rivkin is the co-author of The Making of a Name: The Inside Story of the Brands We Buy and the proprietor of the highly successful U.S. naming consultancy Rivkin & Associates.

Recent Comments

  1. Al Magary

    The Google consensus on “That’s not writing. That’s typing” is that Truman Capote said it of Jack Kerouac’s _On the Road_. Reviews and features reported at the time of publication that Kerouac had gotten a large roll of teletype paper and wrote the novel continuously, as it were. The 120-foot roll or scroll was on tour in the U.S. in 2005, and NPR’s web story on it includes a picture: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4500593

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *