Martin Jelsema

Article Summary:

How to use "coined words" to create unique brand names.

Creating A Unique Brand Name

Every entrepreneur should demand a name for their business that is truly unique. The company name is vitally important, as are product names, service names, or names for events. The name, as much as any branding element, helps to differentiate, attract and make the brand familiar.

In today's business environment, naming a product or a company can be exasperating and time-consuming. All the good names seem to be gone. One solution is to create a coined name. Coined words can often produce unique, memorable and relevant names.

But using coined words in name development is a tricky business. There are pitfalls as well as advantages as this article will discuss.

You might ask, just what exactly are coined names and how do I go about creating them?

Types of Coined Names
Here are classifications of coined names with some examples and methods of generating them.

Combining words
These names are fashioned by combining two words, but keeping both intact. Examples include RiteAid, GoDaddy, Costco. These are usually descriptive names as well, but since they combine two words, they can be unique and may be trademarkable.

Fusing syllables
Here, the names are made up of two or more syllables from a word followed by an unexpected suffix. Logomatics, Univenture, Drypers, Ideatrics are examples. These are novel names that can imply what the business is all about.

Tacking/clipping word parts
Names containing uncompleted or clipped common words. HazWaste, Adtran, DocuNet, Amway and FedEx are examples of this category. Uniqueness and memorability are relatively high if no one else was there first. Again, they can partially describe a business.

Alternate spellings
Just by spelling a word differently, a unique name can be created that can bask in the original word's light. Names like Ikon, Qwest, Exel, Tomkats, and Astec fit this category. There will probably be problems with trademarking these names if they are alternate spellings of existing brands in the same trademark categories.

Artificial words
These names are synthetic; arrays of letters with no meaning until the company establishes a meaning through the way they do business. Kodak, Amana, Lego, Marlexa are examples. Artificial names differ from initials in that you are able to pronounce them as words. They are trademarkable if they are not pronounced as another trademarked name in the same trademark category.

Initials and Acronyms
When initials - usually three - are combined and used as a name, they may or may not make a viable name. If they are intended to be spoken as a string of letters (AMC, RCA, TRW), they do not convey any attribute or characteristic of the company. They convey no personality or humanity in and of themselves unless they have become know as a shortcut for existing terms (MVP, ASAP, QED) On the other hand, an acronym is actually a word derived from the initial letters of the major parts of a compound statement (NASA, PIMS, DEC). These can work if they're pronounceable and have no negative connotation. Quite often government agencies and non-profits assume acronyms as names.

Some Warnings Concerning Coined Names
Yes, there are certain caveats concerning coined names. A coined name should be as short as possible, pronounceable and "Anglo-Saxon" in structure if possible. Anglo-Saxon in this context means without Latin endings like "ion", "itity", "ence", "tude". There are exceptions to these admonitions particularly for the specialized world of new pharmaceuticals. They rely on Latin prefixes and suffixes, and are usually two or three syllables. But for most companies and products, short, active names are more likely to be remembered favorably.

After performing a dozen or so name preference studies, we know people are initially exasperated with coined names. They don't like them because they're unfamiliar. They resent the fact that you are imposing yet another word they'll need to make room for in their vocabularies. As with anything unfamiliar, the coined name is suspect - until it has accumulated a "history". But once people get used to pronouncing the new word and get comfortable with its "surroundings", it becomes okay. So if that coined name is short and sweet, the quicker it can be assimilated.

Quite often a coined name can be unique in spelling and pronunciation but still get confused in customer minds because it is so close in structure to other coined names. This is prevalent in the auto industry. Try to match up the following five names with their respective manufacturers: Altima, Aerio, Azera, Amanti, Aveo. Pretty difficult, uh?

A new coined name should first look pronounceable. If it's hard to pronounce, if it's too long, if it's hard to remember, if it doesn't roll off the tongue, it will be difficult for people to remember. And just as important, they won't feel comfortable referring the company or product to others.

Also coined names should be created and evaluated using linguistic techniques. There are certain letters and combinations that evoke certain emotions, or elicit certain images. Some of these may be cultural, but most are almost universal in nature. For instance, the use of "hard" sounds characterized by letters like "K", "Z", "P", "G" and "B" are active-sounding, whereas "M", "F", "H", and "L" have a soft, passive posture. You needn't study linguistics, but you should pay attention to the sound, the look and the sense of name candidates.

Lastly, there's the danger of creating a "new" word only to find out later that it's an existing word with terrible connotations in another language. Be sure to have any name screened by natives of countries in which the name will be promoted. This will save embarrassment as well as lost sales.

Though there are pitfalls adopting a coined name, it is usually worth the aggravation to have a truly unique and memorable name.

Martin Jelsema is CEO of Signature Strategies where he helps small businesses profit from the power of branding. Martin has 50-years experience with ad agencies (BBDO, Marstellar, J.M.Mathis) and companies (IBM, Coors Ceramics, Information Handling Services). He has been a marketing consultant and freelance writer since 1983. Martin also blogs at The Branding Blog. For more info, visit Signature Strategies.com

Read all advice by Martin Jelsema; Find more Branding experts

More advice on Branding
» Choosing a Company Name
» What is a Brand?
» all Branding articles