Names aren't snowflakes

More than one brand can own the same name. This is a big ol' pill to swallow for a lot of brands, especially when it's a really visible name, like the name of their company or their most heroic product.

And, listen, I don't even like meeting other Caitlins, so I know how they feel. But given that the ratio of registered trademarks to words in the English language is at the already not-so-favorable 600:1 (don't check my math), businesses should thank their lucky stars ("star," for example, appears in 23,104 trademarked names, according to the USPTO) that this is allowed. 

In this month's Etymology, I explored the topic of "samesies" from a trademark perspective. 


There is no empty vessel

Today's article on naming in the New Yorker, titled "The Surprising Psychology of How Names Shape Our Thoughts," isn't that surprising at all. Words, whether they're wildly unfamiliar or literally "household names," trigger images and associations that help us make sense of what they're attached to. 

I have a feeling this article will yield a lot of questions about sound symbolism in the weeks to come. Namers are often asked about sound symbolism: What are the characteristics of a name will help me sound fast? Premium? Optimistic? Psychologist Wolfgang Köhler's 1929 study found that respondents felt the name maluma sounded round and takete sounded sharp—simple ideas that are foundational to the study of sound symbolism. 70+ years later, rock-star neuroscientist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran  characterized this non-arbitrary linkage as the bouba/kiki effect

Sound symbolism can be tricky. Not all associations are as binary as what's was shown in the bouba/kiki study, especially when you factor in cultural associations. It's a fascinating topic—but a solid naming brief shouldn't rely on symbolism alone to create relevant meaning. 

The best piece of advice from the article applies not just to naming, but to all forms of verbal communication: "People generally prefer not to think more than necessary, and they tend to prefer objects, people, products, and words that are simple to pronounce and understand." (Links to a great, though highly academic, paper on how we best process information.) It can be so tempting to show your work, whether in a name or in a message, but there's so much more power in having confidence in a single, powerful idea, expressed simply and elegantly. That's how you create something memorable. That's how you connect. 



Reshaping an icon

Last year, an incredible American brand let me in on the process of writing the next chapter of its story. Louisville Slugger asked Interbrand for help making its 129-year-old brand relevant to a new generation--one that didn't know Babe Ruth from a candy bar. I took the lead on the voice, shifting it into the present and future tense, and giving it a style that was more charismatic captain than museum curator. Our Cincinnati office took on something much bigger—the company's visual system, including its iconic logo. Everything was revealed today, and it couldn't have come together more beautifully

Making names, making choices

I guest authored this week's Etymology, Interbrand's monthly naming publication, and used it as a chance to nerd out about choice. Naming has a huge influence on the way audiences understand the amount of choice you offer, and helps them compare choices to find the right one. 

To apply theories of choice to portfolio naming, I borrow heavily from the work of Barry Schwartz and Sheena Iyengar. Iyengar's published research always seems to have what I'm looking for:

  • When I'm dealing with a portfolio that offers excessive choice, I reference her study on when too much choice is demotivating (the famous jam study, in its original form).
  • If a business is struggling with low customer satisfaction when they're set up to offer customers exactly what they want , I wonder if spending too much time getting what's "just right" is contributing to a sense of dissatisfaction—Iyengar showed that job seekers who spent too much time looking for "best" weren't as happy with their decision as those who went with a job offer early in the process.  
  • The area of overlap between name and brand architecture comes down to how we articulate the types of choice a brand offers. A study called The Mere Categorization Effect details how categories shape audience perceptions of choice—and how satisfied they are with what their choice. We take this further with naming systems, creating language to sit above categories that tells a story about what the brand stands for, in addition to what it offers. 

The best renaming project I've ever been a part of

Paul Newman. Not a guy whose legacy you want to fool around with. In 2011, I worked with his non-profit, formerly named Association of Hole in the Wall Camps, to come up with a new name that fit the spirit and mission of this amazing organization. I met camp CEOs from all around the world, and got to visit the original camp in Connecticut. In short, it ruled. And the final name is one I'm thrilled with: Serious Fun. It speaks to Paul Newman's vision for creating a place where kids with serious illnesses could leave all that at the door and raise a little hell.

The work we did at Interbrand, in the renaming, redesigning, and developing content for the brand, has been recognized with a distinction by the 2013 Rebrand 100. You can also see a great brand video, written by my colleagues at Interbrand, that tells the whole story. 

Every namer dreams of naming nail polish

It's true, we do. I've had the extreme pleasure of being able to name home paint colors, towel colors, and stationery colors, but have yet to name cosmetics. As a result, I vicariously enjoy nail polish naming by tracking trends in the space. Here, from Halloween, was my breakdown of all the ways the category names a color as deceptively simple as black (posted on the Interbrand blog)

Paint It Black for Halloween