To Name a Few

by Jason Orme    February 28, 2013

MY name means the shape I am...

One of my favorite parts about my job is the work of naming. A name, much like a brand mark, is a succinct embodiment of the character of an entity. It must say so much with so little. As we are trying to build the meaning of our brand, a name can do a lot of the heavy lifting on our behalf. Or better put:

`MUST a name mean something?’ Alice asked doubtfully.

`Of course it must,’ Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh: `MY name means the shape I am–and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you might be any shape, almost.’*

Meaning is one of 7 principles we use when naming a brand. The goal is to have a name that is expressive of the brand strategy. In some way, it must bring the strategy to life through narrative (like the founders of Ben and Jerry’s), description (Like Bavarian Motor Works), feeling (like Kodak) or metaphor (like Apple).

Here are a few of my favorites in a larger collection of company name etymologies.

Aldi – portmanteau for Albrecht (name of the founders) and discount
3M – Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company.
7-Eleven – Convenience stores; renamed from “U-Tote’m” in 1946 to reflect their newly extended hours, 7:00 am until 11:00 pm
Kodak – Both the Kodak camera and the name were the invention of founder George Eastman. The letter “K” was a favorite with Eastman; he felt it a strong and incisive letter. He tried out various combinations of words starting and ending with “K”. He saw three advantages in the name. It had the merits of a trademark word, would not be mis-pronounced and the name did not resemble anything in the art. There is a misconception that the name was chosen because of its similarity to the sound produced by the shutter of the camera.
Nabisco – formerly The National Biscuit Company, changed in 1971 to Nabisco.

What shape does your brand name mean? What and why are your favorite brand names?


*Carroll, Lewis; Dodgson, Charles (2007-12-20). Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass [Illustrated] (Kindle Locations 1675-1677). MacMay. Kindle Edition.

2 thoughts on “To Name a Few”

  1. I realize you are probably aware of this story, Blake, but thought some of your blog readers may enjoy the story about the naming of Chick-fil-A…

    “I talked to a lawyer about getting a trademark for the name ‘chicken steak sandwich,’ but he said a trademark name had to be unique in some way. If I used common words, I would have to spell it in my own way. For days, I thought about the sandwich and what made it unique. It was boneless, like a boneless beef tenderloin fillet. And like the beef fillet, our chicken was from the best part, the breast. So I let the words ‘chicken fillet’ roll around in my head. I shortened chicken to chick, and I liked the sound of it: Chick fillet. That still wasn’t quite right, though. Then one day, I could see in my mind a capital A at the end of the word, so instead of fillet, it became ‘fil-A.’ That A stood for the best, Grade A product. Chick-fil-A. The lawyer agreed that it was unique, and in 1969 he got the trademark registered for me.”
    – Truett Cathy

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