You’re at a conference table half a century ago with Zora Arkus-Duntov. He’s looking for a name for Chevy’s sexy new sports car. Someone says “How about Corvette Stingray?” Zora says, “I like it.” 

Any chance of that happening today? I think not. These days someone would likely suggest that someone be brought in like Namexpress, Namelab, Naming Systems, Name Development, Namebase, Nameit, Namepharm, NameSale, Namestormers, Nametag, Nametrade, NameQuest or Namix. I’m wagering that the “Stingray” name would be immediately harpooned. A slow and ugly fish is not the image you want for a fast, sexy sports car. And the ‘bottom feeding’ part isn’t helping either. We need to create a name that’s utterly unique and easy to trademark.

It’s this need for “unique” that gives us names like Acquient, Agilent, Alliant, Aquent, Aspirient, Aviant, Axent, Axient, Cerent, Chordiant, Clarent, Comergent, Conexant, Consilient, Cotelligent, Equant, Ixtant, Livent, Luminant, Mergent,

Mirant, Navigant, Naviant, Noviant, Novient, Omnient, Ravisent, Sapient, Sequant, Spirent, Taligent, Teligent, Thrivent, Versant, Versent, Viant, Vitalent and Vivient. Yes, each of these names is unique. Exactly like every snowflake in a snow bank. 

A second naming fallacy is that your name should explain what business you’re in or what your product does. But this notion assumes that your name will exist at some point without contextual support, which, when you think about it, is utterly impossible. Names appear on websites, storefronts, business cards and products. And in advertisements, press releases, news articles and conversations. There is simply no imaginable circumstance in which a name will have to explain itself. This “descriptive naming” idea ignores the fact that the whole point of marketing is to separate yourself from the pack. Descriptive names blur you into your category and make you indistinguishable from your competitors.

The person who suggested “Corvette Stingray” instinctively understood the value of Particle Conflict, as did the founders of a lot of other successful brands: Can you imagine what these brands had to endure? 
Virgin Airlines – “It says ‘we’re new at this.’ The public wants an airline to be experienced, safe and professional. Investors won’t take us seriously and religious people will be offended.” 
Caterpillar – “Why would we name powerful equipment after a creepy-crawly bug that’s easy to squash? Why not ‘bull’ or ‘workhorse?’ Caterpillars destroy crops and are responsible for famine.” 
Banana Republic – “Oh god no! That’s a derogatory cultural slur! We’ll be picketed by people from small, hot countries.” 
Yahoo! – “Yahoo!! It’s Mountain Dew! Yoohoo! It’s a chocolate drink in a can! Nobody will take stock quotes and world news seriously from a bunch of ‘Yahoos'” 
Oracle – “Oracles were unscientific and unreliable and they foretold death and destruction. Only a fool would put their faith in an Oracle. And besides, it sounds like ‘orifice’ and people will make fun of us.” 
The Gap – “Are you kidding? The word means ‘something is missing, incomplete, or in need of repair.’ And the Generation Gap is a negative thing and we want to sell clothes to all generations.” 
Fannie Mae / Freddie Mac – “I don’t want hillbillies from dog patch handling my finances. The names don’t sound serious and finances are a very serious matter.”

“Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.”
– Susan Ertz

From the Monday Morning Memo

August 25, 2003

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