– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

In a recent article in The New York Times, John Williams discussed the evolution of our language through the “vowel dropping” trend.

He mentions the use of vowel dropping in naming tech companies, as tech companies like Tumblr and Flickr dropped vowels “…both for distinctiveness and because the altered names made it easier to trademark, claim domain names on the internet and conduct other practical business.”

In my book The Science of BrandingI noted that the human brain has the ability to “fill in” the gaps caused by vowel dropping. For example, read this sentence and you’ll see how distortion of words does not impair communication:

“It deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr all the ltteers in a wrod are. You can stlil raed it wouthit a porbelm bcuseae the huamn mnid wroks by a porecss of ptatern rceigontion. It dtemrines maennig bfoere porecssnig dteails.”

Isn’t tihs amzanig? Your brain can make sense of even the most chaotic situation.

But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Dropping vowels is not always a good strategy for name development. While dropping vowels can make acquisition of .com domains easier, it does not guarantee that getting a trademark will be easier. One important reason for avoiding this strategy is it can distort consumer communication.

One of the most important considerations in evaluating a name is the ability of people to remember the name. Test your “day after recall” with some members of the target audience. Make sure they can pronounce and spell it correctly the day after hearing it. If they can’t repeat it and get it right, then they won’t be able to find your product or service on the web. If they can’t properly recall it then they won’t be able to tell a friend about the name in a way that the friend can find it. Net, net, if the name is too difficult to recall properly, then it won’t be a good name (unless of course you have a lot of money to invest in awareness-generating advertising).

– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

Mastercard has become the latest company to shift to a “no name” approach to branding.

Of course, they aren’t the first to do this (see Nike, Starbucks, Apple, Target, etc.). We are living in an image-driven world (e.g., Instagram) so this trend is not surprising.

A Mastercard spokesperson said: “As the consumer and commerce landscape continues to evolve, the Mastercard Symbol represents Mastercard better than one word ever could, and the flexible modern design will allow it to work seamlessly across the digital landscape.”

One thing that many people forget is the millions (billions?) of dollars invested in the Mastercard name itself. And yes, that Venn diagram logo design is on every single credit card that Mastercard offers. It is no surprise that “…over 80% of people recognized the brand without the name.”

Does this trend mean that professional logo designers are more in demand or professional name developers are doomed? Nope. Mastercard could not have started with a snappy logo and assumed that everyone would get it. They spent years investing in their brand name and now they can reap the benefits. But you can’t just skip to the “image only” logo design. You have to create the meaning first, and that requires a great brand name (and logo!).

– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

Last year I wrote a “Change Your Name Already” blog post about Overstock.com on DuetsBlog which described the painful way that Overstock.com was trying to communicate that their name did not fit what they were doing as a business…”we are so much more!” My response was to politely suggest that they call me to help them find a new name that did fit their business model.

Recently MailChimp launched an ad campaign that approached the “our name does not fit our business model” issue from a different angle. In this effort, they celebrate the fact that they have outgrown their name and tell prospective customers that they would like to help them do the same thing.

Brilliant…simply brilliant. Both Overstock.com and MailChimp have outgrown their names, but Overstock.com communicates it in a way that makes the potential customer feel stupid (“you thought we only sold overstock items but you are stupid…we actually do more!”). MailChimp admits they do more than what their name implies and desire to have the same impact on the prospective customer’s business, thereby leaving prospective customers feeling hopeful. Big difference.

So the CEO of Overstock.com should still call me to initiate a name development project…but the CEO of MailChimp can just take a bow!

– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

A portmanteau is a linguistic blend of words in which parts of multiple words are combined into a new word. Common language examples include smog, which is a combination of the words smoke and fog, and motel which combines motor and hotel.

Some big companies used the portmanteau technique to develop their names. Microsoft is a portmanteau of microcomputer and software. Groupon combines group and coupon.

However, sometimes companies refuse to admit that their portmanteau name doesn’t work.

Consider this manufacturer of pool maintenance products.

Yes, I get that they slammed “pool” and “life” together to get their name, but no matter how many times you look at this name it is hard to not see “Poo Life” isn’t it? And who wants to live a “poo life” anyway?

Here is another one. Yes, I see what they did here by combining “smart” and “tours.” But step away from the page for a second and look at it…what the heck is a “smar Tour” (or did you mean “smarT ours)?

Portmanteau names can be very good when the combination makes sense, but you have to have some common sense (as in most things in life). Combining words together to make a brand name can work or can look very stupid. Don’t be stupid!

– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

Summer is in full swing and that means baseball is top of mind for many of us. As a professional name developer, I continue to get a charge from the names of minor league baseball teams. Following up on my previous post on minor league baseball team names here are some controversial team names:

All of these names were controversial when they were introduced. Think about it…who wants to support the El Paso Chihuahuas? However, according to the brand name developer, Jason Klein of Brandiose, being controversial was the intent.

Today these franchises are successful examples of branding with great ticket sales and high merchandise sales.

Obviously, these are fun names and minor league baseball is all about fun. However, the genius in these names is not that they are just fun…the names leverage a bit of history and are familiar to the target audience.

Take the El Paso, TX Chihuahuas as an example. When the name was introduced there was an uproar in the local community about the derogatory nature of the name. Shortly thereafter, articles of support started appearing (such as this one) and the name became a rallying point.

The same thing was true with the Hartford, CT Yard Goats. Yard Goat is a relevant name in Hartford as “yard goat” is railyard slang for the switch engines or terminal tractors that shuttle train cars between different locomotives, and Hartford has a strong rail presence.

In the 19th century the leading industry in the Lehigh Valley was iron production, and therefore the IronPig name makes sense (“pig iron” is the term for the raw iron that gets melted down to make steel).

Using a “safe” name might seem like a good idea, but safe names are generally mainstream names that don’t stand out.

Finally, please recognize that I’m not advocating “alphabet soup” names that seem to be in vogue with startups. If a name has some relevance, but is different enough to be noticed, then it might be worth the risk in the long run!

-Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash Name Development

When you finally identify a name for your business, product or service, you must conduct proper due diligence to ensure that you have a legal right to use the name. Trademark searches are mandatory and I’d strongly recommend talking to a great trademark attorney. A little upfront time and money can save you a ton of heartache and cash at a later point (if, for example, the name you decide to use is challenged by someone who is already using a similar name).

One of the other things you should do is conduct foreign language checks using native speakers to identify if the name has unfavorable meaning in a foreign language. Even if you do not plan to market in a foreign country, you do not want your name associated with unfavorable meanings. Here are some examples that prove the point:

  • Barf Detergent – In Persian apparently Barf means snow. But can you imagine the conflict in the mind of an English speaker when seeing a detergent called Barf?

  • Vicks – When Vicks was introduced in Germany, somebody forgot that the German pronunciation of “v” is “f” which made their “Vicks” brand name sound like slang for sexual intercourse (the name in German speaking countries is now Wick which translates correctly).
  • Scat Airlines – An airline based in Kazakhstan. Not sure if an English speaker would fly them.

  • Emerdata – This is the reincarnation of Cambridge Analytica. I find great irony in the fact that the name translations in Portuguese and Italian refer to the act of defecation.
  • IKEA – IKEA has a unique naming convention that often leads to translation errors. For example, some product names sounded like sex acts. And in many cases, IKEA names just sound amusing to English speakers:

Perhaps there is an alternative strategy to conducting a disaster check on international translation. What if you actively looked for names that translate well across the major languages of the world? As an example, one of the reasons that Kit Kat is so successful in Japan is the name “Kit Kat” famously translates to “You will surely win.”

“Good Translation” might be an excellent naming strategy!

-Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash Name Development

About 6 months ago I wrote a blog post about the future of name development and the use of Artificial Intelligence to name things. I also made a prediction that AI was going to get better and better as it practices name development.

Since that time, AI is getting better at developing names. Check out these potential names for tomato varieties from a recent post by Janelle Shane.

  • Floranta
  • Sweet Lightning
  • Speckled Boy
  • Flavelle
  • Pinkery Plum
  • Market Days
  • Fancy Bell
  • Mountain Gem
  • Garden Sunrise
  • Honey Basket
  • Cold Brandy
  • Sun Heart
  • Flaminga
  • Sunberry
  • Special Baby
  • Golden Pow

I’m pretty impressed by some of these!

Of course, AI also generates names that might be considered to be bad choices, like these examples:

  • Birdabee
  • Sandwoot
  • Shampy
  • Bear Plum
  • The Bango
  • Grannywine
  • Sun Burger
  • Bungersine
  • First No.4
  • Smoll Pineapple
  • The Ball
  • Golden Cherry Striped Rock
  • Eggs
  • Old German Baby
  • Frankster Black
  • Bumbertime
  • Ranny Blue Ribber
  • Adoly Pepp Of The Wonder
  • Cherry, End Students
  • Small Of The Elf
  • Champ German Ponder
  • Pearly Pemper
  • Green Zebra Pleaser
  • Flute First

As predicted, AI is getting better at developing names. And this should increase the demand for professional branding services by experienced human beings! When AI was generating bad names it was easy to separate the stupid names from the barely acceptable names.

But now that AI is doing a better job, clients will have a harder time choosing a name because the list of 100 names contains 85 good ones! Clients will need the assistance of a branding expert to help make a branding decision, and perhaps a research expert to get consumer feedback on names.

-Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash Name Development

A lot of entrepreneurs launch businesses behind a name they developed on their own. I get the fact that the name of the startup is intensely personal for the founders. Also money is tight in a startup and spending money to develop a name and do trademark research on it seems like a “nice to have” versus a “must do.”

But when you think about it, the company/product/service name is the first point of contact for a potential consumer and what could be more important than that?

I won’t suggest that founders abandon any hope of developing the name on their own. I will suggest that at a minimum founders need to get a “second opinion” on the names they develop.

Why is this important? Founders tend to have a very narrow view of the world that revolves around their particular product or service. Most entrepreneurs suffer from the “curse of knowledge” where they know a lot about their topic area and blindly assume that everyone else has a high level of understanding about their product or service.

My favorite example of this is Xobni (pronounced “zob-nee”). The company was founded in 2006 and made software for mobile and email applications. It raised millions of dollars from venture capitalists and was acquired by Yahoo in 2013. After incorporating some of its features into Yahoo Mail, Xobni was shut down. While Xobni disappeared, it remained famous as a prime example of the “curse of insider knowledge.” In other words, the founders developed the name and lived with it on a daily basis, but failed to take into account the fact that most consumers could not relate to the name in any way. The founders of Xobni loved the name because it was inbox spelled backwards. They also assumed that people would fall in love with the name in the same way that they did.

If you are interested in the science behind the “curse of knowledge” you will find more details in my book The Science of Branding which is available on Amazon.com.

There is another reason why founders should get a second opinion on their branding and that is because Google makes you stupid. OK, technically Google doesn’t make you stupid, but it does shield you from diversity. And a lack of diversity in branding will limit the appeal of your product or service.

This phenomenon is described in the book The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think.” The internet was developed as a means for humans to gain a broader view of the world. However, the use of AI by companies such as Google and Facebook is doing exactly the opposite. Because Google and Facebook are driven by advertising revenue, they intentionally provide you with a narrow view of the world because they think that will enhance their revenues. In most cases, people will enjoy their web browsing experience if they are presented with web pages that agree with their view of the world. Over time, you are exposed to highly filtered results that tend to sound familiar because your viewing horizon is limited by your web browsing experience. You will see fewer contrary points of view because Google serves up a world that aligns with your browsing history.

That is precisely why a “second branding opinion” is necessary. When I conduct a name development project I always ensure that I have a diverse panel of freelancers working on a project. I might have an artist, a scientist, a musician, a professional name developer, a pharmacist, and a NY Times best-selling author working on a project. Sometimes the best names come from the most unexpected places!

Entrepreneurs should expand their horizons for branding and at a minimum make sure they get a second opinion on the names for their company/product/service!

-Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash Name Development

Janelle Shane is a research scientist who likes to play around with neural networks. Recently she’s been having fun investigating whether neural networks can replace traditional means of creative development. As a professional name developer, I’m watching her work closely because I’ve been told that my chosen career is about to be destroyed by the use of artificial intelligence to develop brand names.

Based on the results thus far, I’m not worried. While it is true that computers can develop names, I strongly believe that the judgment of a seasoned branding expert (like me!) will be necessary to identify names that will resonate with consumers. As evidence of my confidence, I provide some examples of names developed by artificial intelligence in the past year:

  • Paint Colors – Janelle’s experiments yielded names like Stoomy Brown, Stanky Bean, and Bank Butt. I’m pretty sure nobody would buy a paint called Stoomy Brown (which actually looks like a shade of green) or Stanky Bean.
  • Craft Beers – The AI developed names like Toe Deal, Sacky Rover, and Cherry Trout Stout. Given the proliferation of crazy craft beer names, some of the names developed by the neural network appear to be reasonable (e.g., Devil’s Chard, Whata Stout, and Black Morning), but you have to sift through a lot of “Toe Deals” before you get to a decent name.
  • Guinea Pig Names – While the AI names for guinea pigs are better (e.g., Funbees, Sporky, Furzy, and Farter) that is only because you generally don’t have to say the name in public. Can you imagine using “Farter” as a dog’s name? “Stay Farter!”
  • Superheroes – I really don’t think a superhero called Nana will be feared by an evil villain…although I’m heard of some pretty badass grandmas. And would Supperman’s superpower be the ability to put the fear of bankruptcy in the hearts of owners of buffet dinner establishments?

You get the point. Right now it is all fun and games and it is easy to separate the stupid names from the barely acceptable names.

But eventually the AI will get better, and that is when demand for my services will actually increase! When AI starts generating excellent names companies will be faced with having to pick a name from a list of 100 great names, and they will need the assistance of a branding expert to make that decision. Put me in coach…I’m ready to play, today!

-Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash Name Development

Mark Cuban held a variety of jobs in his youth including selling garbage bags door-to-door and being a bartender, a disco dancing instructor, and a party promoter. But one thing that frustrated him was bank overdraft fees. Now he’s helping to fund an app that claims it can help people avoid them by predicting incoming expenses and comparing them with the person’s spending habits.

The app is called “Dave.”

“We named the company Dave because we wanted people to think of the app as a friend they can turn to when they’re in a financial bind,” said Dave’s CEO, Jason Wilk.

“Dave” is another example of people trying to anthropomorphize their brand. To anthropomorphize means to attribute human form or personality to things not human, and I noted this trend in my 2015 book The Science of Branding. Giving your product a name that enables consumers to attribute human qualities to it can be a very memorable way to develop your branding, and it is proven to be a successful branding technique.

Please note, this is not the same as using the founder’s name in the business name. The name Ben & Jerry’s reflects that name of the founders, not an attempt to attribute human form or personality to things not human. Some people might have a favorable opinion of Ben & Jerry’s because of the use of the founders’ names in the business name, but this was not a deliberate attempt to anthropomorphize the brand.

Alexa, Siri and Cortana are good examples of an attempt to anthropomorphize a brand name in technology. If you are going to launch a digital assistant, shouldn’t the name sound like a real person (albeit with a techie feel)? Wouldn’t you want a user to develop a relationship with the device/service in the same way that you would develop a relationship with a friend?

Of course this naming approach is not without risk. Developing a personal relationship with a consumer requires authenticity that leads to trust and a deeper connection. If “Dave” is able to develop that connection and build on it over time, then the approach can be a success. However, a few missteps along the way can cause Dave users to start thinking of Dave as their goofy brother-in-law rather than as a respected friend they can turn to when they are in a financial bind.