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September 13, 2007 | Tate Linden
What would happen if Saddam's "Mother of All Wars" fell in love with Putin's "Father of All Bombs?"

"Mother of All" has become a trendy way of saying "best" or perhaps "will redefine the meaning of" (though the latter doesn't feel particularly prone to trendiness.)

How does this relate to naming? Well, there's the obvious fact that both Saddam and Putin used these lofty words to refer to important things (okay, so they weren't really products, but they still needed names...) And there's the more relevant fact that "MoA" has been used thousands of times in products and services since it was coined. MoA appears to be more commonly used in commerce than FoA - at a ratio of about four or five to one.

Of particular interest to me is the fact that (as far as I can tell) there are exactly zero products that use the phrase "Mother of All" in their names that have become wildly successful - other than the originally referenced war, of course.

I predict that we'll see similar results from "Father of All" in the coming years. We may even see it become more popular than MoA for a while. But I'd be willing to wager that no product with FoA or MoA in its name will ever crack the top 100 spots on Amazon or any other reputable mass retailer.

Could it have something to do with the fact that the terms are typically used tongue-in-cheek? Or that they're too closely linked to pop-culture and prone to becoming dated too quickly? Or is it that the logical impossibility of something becoming the mother or father of anything *after the thing is already born* is just too goofy to consider seriously?

I'll leave you with this thought. How is it that "The Father of All Bombs" could be invented more than a half-century after the nuclear bomb (a much more powerful weapon) was dropped? It seems that the FoAB is more like the smaller, better behaved nephew of the atom bomb, doesn't it? But "The Nephew of All Bombs" just doesn't have much oomph...

So much for truth in advertising....
May 28, 2007
May 26th, 2007 at 8.30 pm Theodore Joseph Linden was born. Weighing in at 6 lbs 10 oz. Congratulations Sarah & Tate!

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May 22, 2007 | Tate Linden
Oh, cute! A whale naming contest!

The local CBS affilliate is having a contest to name a mother and calf that have gotten lost up the Sacramento river. Cool right?

Right.

Except as I seem to recall, many of these whales that wander up rivers tend not to live to see the ocean again.

On the plus side, there's not much at stake here with the names. Whales probably don't care - or know - what we call them. On the down side we're going to have a whole bunch of little kids following Bonnie and Clyde - or whatever their names will be - and I don't know how easily they'll believe the whales went to live on the farm with the pet dog.

So we're naming two animals that may be doing their best to off themselves for some reason. Let's make it a fun story for the kiddies!

Whee!

Interested in a better story about dying or dead whales? This one is my all time favorite. And it may just be the first story to ever use "Splud" to describe the sound of a whale exploding. After you read Dave Barry's version I encourage you to watch the video - especially the 30 seconds following the explosion.

Bring the family!
May 21, 2007 | Tate Linden
I've had a few emails this month from readers who were interested in hearing what was on my bookshelf. It's probably been about a year since I wrote anything about our reference materials, so I figure it's about time to update.

But first, I must say that I'm not going to tell you what's on my bookshelf. There are about 200 books there - most of them only read once or twice and now only very occasionally thumbed through. The stuff I use more regularly has a place on my desk. Forty-two books have that place of honor in my office - running along the back edge of my desk within easy reach. Thirteen of these books have a major "How-To" aspect to them - shedding light on how to develop, categorize, or evaluate names.

Here’s a list of the current "How-To" type books on my desk that are dedicated almost entirely to naming. The snippets of information aren't really reviews. They're just a bit of context to help you understand how the book is used:
  1. Blake, George. Crafting the Perfect Name: The Art and Science of Naming a Company or Product. USA: Probus, 1991
    1. An excellent, if dated, reference for people looking to name their own company. As with most of the books here, it does a great job educating you on the basics of naming, and even provides lists of source material in the appendix so you can start naming immediately. Unfortunately the lists are far short of what would be needed to perform a comprehensive naming project for a mid-size (or larger) firm. The age really shows when it addresses the legal aspects of naming - including the hoops one must go through to check if a name is registered. I refer mostly to Chapter Six when I crack the cover - the chapter on Names to Avoid.
  2. Barrett, Fred. Names that Sell: How to Create Great Names for Your Company, Product, or Service. Portland: Alder Press, 1995 (Amazon Rank = #993,472 in Books)
    1. A book aimed at people who have a basline of experience in naming. Barrett runs through all sorts of criteria for how to name companies, but in his effort to cover everything (he does come close) he drops any sense of order. He provides Twenty-Five different techniques for developing names - and these appear in a jumble of methods we've been unable to untangle. There's gold here - it's just a little hard to find. Barrett also provides another list of source words at the back of the book - and again the list is a bit lacking. A bit of a peek inside a namer's head - all sorts of information but not in a structure that aids in learning. We've opened it a few times in the past year - mainly to remind ourselves how another namer might approach a particular problem.
  3. Cader, Michael. The Name Book: A Unique Reference Listing of Everything Imaginable That Has a Name (Except Babies!) New York: Random House, 1998 (Amazon Rank = #505,676)
    1. A book of lists that goes quite well with the how-to books. It offers very little how-to and a whole lot of reference. What's great here is that the lists are intuitively sorted into groups. Interested in a powerful name? Perhaps you want to examine lists of Spanish monarchs, or Roman emperors, or military ranks... An amazing number of ideas to get the mind moving. Feels a touch dated, but when referencing historical stuff this might be a benefit.
  4. Charmasson, Henri. The Name Is the Game: How to Name a Company or Product. Homewood: Dow Jones-Irwin, 1988
    1. Charmason may be smart, but he suffers from the same affliction that Barrett does. There are some interesting methods listed here, but the book is dense and cluttered. Again suffers from age as major passages of the Trademark section are no longer applicable. Charmasson has some interesting takes on naming, though after the first couple reads I must admit I haven't gone back to this one. It's just not that useful and has been overcome by better and more readable books. (We're putting it back on the shelf today.)
  5. Frankel, Alex. Wordcraft: The Art of Turning Little Words into Big Business. New York: Random House, 2004
    1. Prior to meeting other namers at Alexandra Watkins' party I had little idea how the other namers worked. This book brought new insight into both the process of naming within major branding firms and the presentation of fully developed names. It is rarely cracked other than to illustrate a point to a client who wants to know how others do something. Incidentally, this is likely the best book ever written about the naming industry (in my quite humble opinion.)
  6. Javed, Naseem. Naming for Power: Creating Successful Names for the Business World. Toronto and New York: Linkwood, 1993
    1. You may be sensing a pattern here. The How-To books just seem jumbled. Javed is a famed speaker and columnist and this book appears to be a compilation of his speeches and writings. Again no real order here, and no overarching messages or lessons. Add in the fact that I can't personally follow what he is saying much of the time - and that time has proven quite a few of his examples false - and this has little value. Why is it on my desk? Because I can use it to show how our views, practices, and opinions differ from the mainstream. Some of the names he really likes fall into traps we try to avoid - and having an expert advocate for names a client likes (and then have that expert proven wrong) adds power to our words.
  7. McGrath, Kate, Trademark: How to Name your Business & Product. 1994
    1. We use this only as a primer for the basics of trademark law. It is not up to date at all, but the terminology it uses and the classes of names referenced haven't changed much. If you want to understand what sorts of names can be trademarked and why then this baby is a good bet.
  8. Morris, Evan. From Altoids to Zima: The Surprising Stories Behind 125 Famous Brand Names. New York: Fireside (Simon & Schuster,) 2004
    1. Not a how-to, really, but a "how they did it." Fun to read and a good reference to trot out when a name covered within the pages is in the same industry as one of our clients. It usually helps expand the thinking at the brainstorming meetings. (We have a long list of books that cover the etymology of corporate names - we'll get to that another day.)
  9. Nussel, Frank. The Study of Names. A Guide to the Principles and Topics. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1992
    1. Really only on our desk as a reference, this book helps us remember the science of naming - especially some of the more obscure terms and their full definitions. Can't remember what Morphosyntactics are? This is the book for you. I personally open the cover about once a month to a random page. It's helpful in getting my mind onto a different path when naming. The whole book explains terminology in naming and lists examples of just about every type of name known to man. AND it is highly organized! Oh - and the reference materials cited contain some of the hardest to find and most useful older research documents on Onomastics.
  10. Rivkin, Steve. The Making of a Name: The Inside Story of the Brands We Buy. New York: Oxford, 2004
    1. Perhaps our second-most-favorite book on naming. Somewhere between a how-to and an industry overview. Fun to read. Can't say I read it that much, except for the appendix containing the reference materials. We actually found many of our materials here. If you want to create a library of easily accessible naming books this isn't a bad place to look for titles.
  11. Room, Adrian. Trade Name Origins. Chicago: NTC, 1982 (Amazon Rank = #1,006,067)
    1. Similar to the Morris book, this one does the same thing, but for more companies in less detail - and twenty (plus) years earlier. Great for finding patterns in naming that you want to latch on to or avoid.
  12. Wegryn, Jim. Funny Thing About Names. An Entertaining Look at Naming in America. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2005
    1. This is a new addition. It's on my desk mainly because it's new - and because Wegryn appears to be just as much of a statistics geek as I am. Nice list of more recent research papers at the back, and a strong index that helps me to find relevant examples to share with clients and partners. A little more humor here than I'd like to see - but the title does warn us. I'd be more interested in reading the pure research behind this - because it looks like he did a lot of it (including an interesting bit on the history of street names that have impacted the English language.)
  13. Williams, Phillip. Naming Your Business and Its Products and Services: How to Create Effective Trade Names, Trademarks, and Service Marks to Attract Customers, Protect Your Goodwill and Reputation, and Stay out of Court! (City Unknown): P. Gaines, 1991
    1. Horribly out of date book that attempts to cover everything under the sun about names and trademarks in 90 large-print pages with lots of clip art. Covers some interesting territory with its random list of things you can name your product after (symbols, mythology, history, bible, geography, literature, and puns... yep, that's it!) This is my "there is no one book that can show you how to name" book. From what I have seen so far there isn't even a good list of name classifications in print yet. There is an interesting appendix at the back that shows all the pages of an old trademark application, but it bears little relevance to naming today.
May 3, 2007 | Tate Linden
...or maybe by both "A" and "E". We're not really sure.

The English language is a funny thing. You see, we English speakers have this strange way oflettera.jpg turning the letter A into a diphthong. (This has a lot to do with something called "The Great Vowel Shift.") So even though we mentally think we're only saying one thing when we pronounce the letter "A" we're actually using two quite distinct vowel sounds - both "ehh" and "eee" (shown as /eɪ/ when the educated linguist folks write it.) That nice bright mental A sound you get isn't a single sound at all - it is a blend.

Still need more proof? Try pronouncing the letter "A" without moving your jaw, lips, or tongue. Can't do it, can you? (And yes... those of you who just did this out loud in your cubicles... your neighbors do think you're going insane.)

What does this have to do with naming? Not a whole lot, unless you're considering an acronym. Specifically an acronym with the letter A followed by the letter E. And further, it is only for acronyms that can't be pronounced as words in and of themselves.

Consider the following potential acronym of "AEDP." You can't pronounce it easily in the English language (though if you tried it'd likely come out as "Ayeedipuhh".) Since the word doesn't work the reader or speaker is forced to sound out the letters themselves as "A-E-D-P". Seems okay so far anyway, right? Well, not really.

Here's why:
  1. As noted, the letter A is a diphthong containing the sounds of both the letters A and E.
  2. There is no intervening sound or disconnect between the first and second letters (like a glottal stop or a percussive burst, or anything to indicate that a new letter is starting.)
  3. Since the letter A sound ends with E and the following letter is actually an E there is no indicator that the second letter exists at all unless:
  • You artificially stop the flow of air somehow between the first two letters
  • You emphasize the second letter with a change in pitch or volume
  • You sustain the second letter unnaturally so that it is obvious that the E-sound isn't part of the A-sound.
In Stokefire's informal tests, the speakers strongly believe they are saying AEDP naturally and yet the listeners consistently hear "ADP" with a slightly elongated letter "A" sound.

The E vanishes!

How about that? A letter than can be fully voiced and yet not registered in the mind of the listener. Pretty cool, eh?

Unless of course the name is yours and you're hoping that people interested in your organization will be able to find you.

(Hello to the wonderful association folks that just learned this as we reviewed naming candidates yesterday. Thanks for giving me something fun and informative to write about today.)

Tate Linden Principal - Stokefire 703-778-9925
April 30, 2007 | Tate Linden
We had a client a couple weeks ago who was astonished that we would claim we could usually tell what era a corporate name was created. They seemed somewhat mollified when we trotted out the ".com" example - as a sign of the post Amazon.com Internet boom. They were a little more convinced when we brought up Flickr and the flotilla of corporate names with the missing penultimate letter.

Copycat naming isn't new in the corporate world.

I've gone back as far as the early 1900s and found examples. I'm sure there are more even earlier than that - we're just working our way backwards...

In the year 1900, the term "Pianola" came into use. A few years later Victrola and Crayola joined in. By 1928 there were almost 100 companies with the -ola suffix in America. For a world without much in the way of instant mass media this proliferation is quite impressive. Granola, Shinola, Coca-Cola...

What do these names have in common? To us it seems that they indicate a connection with what was new in the first third of the 20th century.

Think Motorola is an exception? It isn't. Registered in 1930, the company likely leveraged the word Motor (as in car) and ola (to reference music) as a way to carve out a new niche for music on the road.

The next time someone asks you if you know how old a company is you may want to take a look at the structure of the name. There's a lot to be found within the patterns you may find.

Tate Linden Principola - Stokefire 703-778-9925
March 23, 2007 | Tate Linden
It's pretty well known that when Microsoft wanted to develop a cool name for their new music player - Microsoft's attempt at taking a chunk of business away from Apple's iPod - they contacted one of the biggest branding houses in the business - Lexicon.

Lexicon developed the name Zune - a name that seems to connect with the word "tune" and has a "z" at the beginning of it. Lexicon's staff used words like "fast" and "full" (focusing on the zoominess of the Z and the roundness of the "ooh" sound) to describe what the name does for the product. When Lexicon talks about it the brand sounds almost well put together.

Steve Ballmer evidently didn't get the memo, however.

When asked what the name means he responded, "It means nothing. It's just a cool name." (listen for the quote in this YouTube video at about 1:01 into the clip.)

Sadly this sort of thing happens all the time. Someone, be it a naming firm or an internal asset, develops a name and finds all sorts of interesting factoids or associations about the name, goes to the trouble of creating an identity. The branding team embraces that identity and works hard to make it compelling.

But somewhere along the line someone forgets to brief the CEO. Or maybe they do brief him and he's got other things on his mind. The problem is that the CEO isn't actually involved in the branding process (or at least I would guess that is the case here.) If the folks at the top aren't involved and haven't been brought up to speed then all the work done by the branding team is pretty much worthless.

If I say we chose a name for the next new thing because it is laden with connotations and my CEO says it's meaningless, what does that say about the product, the name, the CEO, and me? Pretty much nothing good:
  • The product doesn't have anything interesting enough about it to get the attention of the CEO - or he'd have been involved in the branding process
  • The name isn't compelling enough to engage the interest of the CEO to the point where he knows what it means
  • The CEO doesn't value the work done by his branding team and marketing staff enough to remember it
  • The branding team produces work that gets ignored by the guy footing the bill. How good can the work actually be?
It's stuff like this that shows the importance of executive involvement and buy-in. Just saying you're willing to pay for a name isn't enough. You gotta be up to speed.

I wonder how many other naming organizations won't take a project if the top-level representatives of the brand aren't on board? We won't take a job in which we can't access the top of the pyramid. It wasn't always this way, but we've had issues just like this - where we build the brand and either the brand gets canned before launch or the launch gets completely bungled because the senior executives didn't read a positioning brief that clearly states the whats and whys of the brand - and instead went with gut instinct. Imagine the horror experienced by a marketing team that is ready to roll out a fun-loving brand identity only to hear their leader convey the importance of gravity and attention to detail just days before the rollout. newcoke-can.jpg

We've learned our lesson.

It's been quite a while since we would take on branding engagements where the top of the pyramid can't be found. In fact, we've even made senior executive sign-off part of our contract. We're not done until the CEO types can convincingly represent the brand identity. If they don't believe in and understand the brand then we've still got work to do.

Side note: Just because the CEO understands the brand doesn't mean that it will be successful. New Coke went down in flames even though the company leadership was thoroughly behind it. Bringing customers and membership along is a different issue - and one that we've addressed in the Optiva threads.

I'm sure other namers have some horror stories here... Maybe someone else can share. I'm especially interested to hear from Lexicon about how they responded to the Ballmer slip-up.

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
March 22, 2007 | Tate Linden
This one is courtesy of YouTube.

The name is M5 Industries., but evidently Adam Savage was hoping for something a little more British...

mythbusters.jpgThe tale of the name picks up part way through Adam's answer to an unheard question.

This is an example of what can happen when you don't do the required research when developing a name. Memory is a funny thing, ain't it?

My guess? Though he says he was going for a reference to James Bond's tech shop (MI6) I think he probably was remembering their Secret Service (MI5). Additionally, in the US we really don't use "MI" for anything - but we do have a fondness for guns like the M60 and fireworks like the M80. There also might be a little bit of Europe in the name if you consider the BMW M5 as an influencer.

I'll call this one "Plausible."

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
March 19, 2007 | Tate Linden
A good friend sent me a link today to an (expired) vote on what to name Adobe's new "desktop runtime." For the record I have no idea what a desktop runtime is and I really don't much care to invest the time to find out. The key here is that it was given a pretty cool code name by the folks at Adobe prior to launching the full product. Here's what Adobe Labs has to say about the product and code name:
Apollo is a cross-OS runtime that allows developers to leverage their existing web development skills (Flash, Flex, HTML, Ajax) to build and deploy desktop RIA’s.
All you developers out there probably now understand what the product does. I'm still clueless. But that's beside the point. The point is that the code name "Apollo" is still pretty darn cool.

Now the downside.

Adobe is now in the position where it must alienate the developers that have been working on or hyping the product code named Apollo. Why? Because Adobe can't use the name, and doesn't want to come right out and say that they were foolish and didn't check the US Patent and Trade Office before they started using it. If they'd checked they'd have seen over 1300 live and dead marks pertaining to the word.)

Mike Chambers - Sr. Product Manager for Apollo over at Adobe - says as much on his own blog when you read through the comments (starting at about XIII or so.) Sez Mike:

Hehe... Yeah, I like Apollo too. Just remember that there are a lot of considerations when choosing a name, not all of them in our control. (for example, is it already in use, is it something that we could trademark, etc...)

I've said it before. I will continue to say it in perpetuity. Code names that have any meaning at all are bad.



  1. If they have any meaning that pertains to the product or its goals then the intended audience will latch onto that meaning and identity.
  2. Once the audience has accepted the code name they'll raise a huge cry when you try to change it. (Apollo is a cool name. It's just a name that they can't have.)
  3. Typically companies don't want to look like idiots so they refrain from giving the real reason for the change from code name to production name (A.K.A. "we were too lazy to do a five minute search at www.uspto.gov to figure out that we were going to have some big problems pushing this name through legal.") Kudos to Mike for letting word get out in a friendly and informative way.
  4. ...of course, if the code name misses the mark (as did Google's initial name of "Backrub" - which was meaningful, but rather awkward) then all you've done is weird people out before you try to convince them that you do in fact have a cool product on your hands.
So - if your meaningful name hits you've got a battle to reorient your clients to the new identity and if it misses you've got to start all over again with a new image. I'm not seeing a benefit either way.

If you instead have a policy of naming every product after something innocuous (and gods are not innocuous, by the way) or - even better - don't give your product a code name and instead push to get the real name reserved as quickly as possible then you almost all of the potential headaches.

You've still got to find the right name, however.

If only there were Thingnamers in the world to make things even easier. What a wonderful world that would be...

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
March 9, 2007 | Tate Linden
Frequent readers will know that I've got problems with the way most organizations utilize taglines. The typical company uses their tagline as a way to fit in rather than a way to stand out. Consider the following examples:
  1. Making your dreams a reality (or) Turning your dreams into reality. With over a million hits for the combinations on Google it's clear that the slogans aren't doing a thing for the firms that use them. And also note that there's nothing at all here to tell us what industry the firm is in.
  2. Customers are Number One! Yep. And if they weren't you wouldn't be in business.
  3. Creativity. Strategy. Execution. Really this is a reference to the trend to have three single words as the tagline. No one ever pays attention to it. And it sounds reeeeeally pompous.
I was asked what I thought led to strong taglines last week and after a few minutes of thought I came up with this:

The best taglines have a few things in common:
  • They represent the brand spiritfast.jpg
  • They specifically apply to the company using the slogan - to the exclusion of any other company in the industry
  • There's something unexpected or unique - perhaps rhyme, interesting word choice, or an attitude that hasn't been seen in the industry. It has to have at least a little risk.
  • They address a specific audience and are meant to drive this audience to do something (like buy the product, think about particular qualities, talk about it, bug their parents, or something else.)
I was also asked whether there was a test that could be applied to determine if a tagline was great. I think that longevity comes close, though longevity isn't a requirement. Certainly there have been some powerful taglines that were created for singular events.

In some industries (such as with automobiles) you'll find manufacturers changing the tagline every year or two. Sometimes this can be good, but usually it is a sign of a major problem. Just look at what Buick has done over a four year period:

2001 - It's All Good 2002 - The Spirit of American Style 2004 - Dream Up 2005 - Beyond Precision

I challenge any of you to find the common brand theme or thread here. I see optimism, patriotism, creativity/aspiration, and accuracy. How do these ideas come together in a cohesive brand package?

Answer: They Don't.

I have a feeling that we'll be seeing yet another tagline from Buick soon - as they realize people don't buy Buicks for their tight handling or precise fit.

Contrast this tagline churn with what Saturn has done:

1990 - A Different Kind of Car Company 2002 - It's Different in a Saturn 2004 - People First 2006 - Like Always. Like Never Before.

Common threads? How about 'being different by valuing the relationship with the buyer/owner'? Every tagline references that in some way. This isn't tagline churn because the previous one was ineffective, it is churn that brings out deeper aspects of the core brand.

If you're going to invest in a new tagline every few years shouldn't you at least make sure that each one builds on the last?

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
March 7, 2007 | Tate Linden
snowflake2.jpgYou've all heard about this, right? Eskimos (okay, actually the Inuit) are so intimately familiar with snow that they have up to 400 different words to describe it.

Right.

Having talked to parents of infant twins and to those that have had little tykes in the house for over ten years I think I can safely call this one a myth. They've seen more different kinds of poop than most Inuit see different kinds of snow in a lifetime and yet they're able to classify it with at most a couple dozen terms - including the profane ones. (This is not, mind you, a challenge for you to list all the four letter words that you can think of.)

Dave Mendosa has a short piece about this on his website and he covers how the myth got started - when an explorer visited the area and claimed that the tribe had four names for snow.

Four?

Stephen Pinker - a prominent linguist - suggests that today the Inuit have only a dozen words for snow, and that is if you count generously. And here you can find a list of snow morphemes (note that there aren't many more in Inuit than there are in English.)

Most on the Internet seem to conclude this is a case of gradual exaggeration - each person repeating the story adds a percentage or two as they retell it.

So why am I (as a Thingnamer) bringing up this linguistic fallacy? Because in a few ways it parallels issues we face in naming things. But I've only got time to address one today, so here it goes...

Let's address the possibility that we could build 400 words meaning essentially the same thing. Oddly this doesn't get my hackles raised. When we develop new names for products or companies we may consider thousands of potential names on our team before weeding them down to a select group to pass on to the client. In effect, before we deliver our prime candidates we live through the hell of trying to identify the same individual thing with a virtual Babel of morphemes and other lexical bits.

How do I know that there can't be 400 terms for "snow?" Because early on in my Thingnaming life I used to deliver all of the naming candidates to the client to sift through. They'd be given hundreds or thousands of candidates to consider instead of dozens.

Know what happened? Almost nothing. With so many options to choose from my clients were unable to even begin to evaluate the terms for fit. They were overwhelmed. When trying to compare one candidate to the mass of others there was too much to evaluate. Discussion was perpetually focused on how the client could possibly know if a name were better than every other candidate - even when we tried to narrow things down to an either-or decision.

I think this parallels what would happen in real life. Imagine if you had to go through this process just to describe what was falling from the sky. Was it snow54 that was falling around you, or perhaps snow323? Does snow313's aspect of supreme fluffiness better fit the situation than does snow299's reference to the slowness with which it falls?

A quick side note: My personal feeling is that inventing so many words for snow is impractical if we can take existing terms (adjectives, mostly) and connect them with the core term. Consider "driven snow," "wet snow," and "dense snow." If we make every single possible quality of snow into its own unique term then we lose the ability to compare the particular quality of that snow to other items without relying on metaphor.

Second side note: There are some things that have 400 different words to describe them, but they're not used in conversation by laypeople. Consider the color green - when you look through paint chips you'll find hundreds of different words to describe slight variations in the presentation of color. Is it "Pinesage" or "Forest Growth?" The names, however, aren't meant to be used in every day life. They're mostly just to give people a way to refer to the color while holding it in their hand and comparing it to another color. It's just easier to understand than "this green" or "that green." (Yes, I know that the greens in question are actually different greens - but I'd assume that this argument holds for snow as well - the hypothetical different words for snow are pointing out that the snow itself is not the same in each case.)

I guess that technically speaking those previous two paragraphs weren't side notes since they were actually at the end of my meandering post. Perhaps we can come up with 399 terms that better fit their true purpose?

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
February 23, 2007 | Tate Linden
We had a discussion yesterday with a prospective client that uses an acronym as their name. Or it used to be an acronym. Now it is just a few capital letters that have absolutely nothing to do with the organization. At some point in the last few decades the words used to describe organization changed (no longer matching the letters in the acronym) so they had to adjust the way they referred to themselves. The acronym became an anachronism.

Imagine a company called the National Record Player Company - that goes by NRPC. This name would serve them well through the 1980s - at which point the company switched away from record players to things like CD players, and soon after that to DVD players.

Kentucky Fried Chicken had a problem similar to this when they decided the word "Fried" held too much kfc.gifbaggage. They are now officially named "KFC" and the letters themselves have no official meaning anymore.

If you owned NRPC what would you do? Would you keep using the letters as you've been doing for decades because that's how people know you and there's strong brand recognition (even though the letters have had no words behind them for three decades?) Would you attempt to kluge together new words that fit the letter pattern better than the old ones (like BP did with Beyond Petroleum?) Or would you ditch the acronym and go for a brand new name that better positions you for the next three decades (while potentially honoring your past at the same time... but no pressure, of course?)

Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages. Each one will be loved by some and hated by others. Just take a look at our own blog and you'll see that major backlash can occur when nothing other than the name changes.

Membership organizations are particularly vulnerable to backlash when even the slightest adjustments are made to the brand. Today's society defines people by the company they keep. When an entity with which people are associated changes it reflects on the the members themselves. For naming this means that people who associate with an organization in part because of the name (perhaps because it is their alma mater) will not respond positively to a name change without a significant amount of justification and participation.

When was the last time you heard of a company or organization with a strong brand and lengthy history that renamed itself and received unanimous accolades? I certainly can't remember one. There's always dissent (though I believe that dissent is a good thing - but that's a post for another day.)

Off for my second cuppa joe.

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
January 17, 2007 | Tate Linden
...so we throw the mention right back...

If you're interested in following the developing conversation in the Credit Union Rebranding world then I suggest you add OpenSourceCU to your list of frequently visited sites.

The Optiva and Red Canoe brands are getting mentioned again and OpenSourceCu is sending traffic our way to learn a bit about the history of the conversation. (Thanks!)

And whether you're a fan of these names or not you'll find that the conversation has been amazingly civil and educational thus far. Here's to hoping that it stays that way.

For the record - we Thingnamers have said all along that Red Canoe is a pretty damn good name with great potential. We continue to believe in it and the work that our (unaffiliated) branding compatriots at Weber Marketing performed on that job. As for Optiva - we're less thrilled, but can see that the name could work if given a more substantial branding effort.

Unfortunately our bias against Latinate names is something we can't seem to get over.



December 20, 2006
It was Joel Cheek who perfected the Maxwell House Coffee blend, and Theodore Roosevelt who originated its famous "Good to the Last Drop!" tagline. It was in 1907, when the President was visiting "The Hermitage", Andrew Jackson's old estate, that he was invited to Mr. Cheek's home nearby. After finishing a cup the brew master asked Mr. Roosevelt's opinion of the blend. "Good," cried the President, "good to the last drop!". Listen to your customers. Taglines can come from anywhere....or anyone.

No, Virginia, there really is not a Betty Crocker. Even though at one point in time she was voted the second-most famous woman in America. Betty was invented in the offices of Washburn Crosby Company in Minneapolis in 1921. The company had been receiving hundreds of questions from consumers about baking with its products. To make it’s replies more interesting more personal, the company invented the character Betty with the surname of a former Washburn executive, William Crocker. Take creative license when you can.
December 6, 2006 | Tate Linden
We're in the midst of a book project in our "spare" time here at Stokefire. One of the things we're looking to provide are real war stories or horror stories about naming projects from around the globe. We've already got the goods for the major stories - the ones that are easily found via Google or Technorati or in any one of a dozen books on corporate names and histories (or even from our own experience.)

We need the stories that aren't written. We need the laughable, the tear-inducing, the weird. Did they name your company after the owners dog? Is the name unpronouncable? Impossible to spell? Did your company get bought by someone who just slapped their own name on it even though they don't have a clue what you do? Heck - we'll consider any sort of naming story - even the naming of people, animals, or scientific stuff.

We've got our share of stories from the inside. We want the stories we can't find.

What can we offer to those whose story we can confirm and use?

How about:
  • Your name in print with the story and in the acknowledgements (if you wish)
  • Links to your blog from this site and the book site when it is launched.
  • A free copy of the book when published.
We cannot publish stories that we can't confirm, so if you submit something make sure you include your email so we can follow up.

We'd appreciate a Digg or two - or just telling your friends in the industry about this. The more publicity we get the more useful the book can be to you and the other folks looking for solid information about naming.

And to those of you in the naming industry - we're happy to share your stories as well... fully attributed. This isn't about self-promotion for us, it is about helping educate consumers about the troubles that can occur when stuff goes wrong with naming and branding.

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
December 3, 2006 | Tate Linden
...then you should be paying better attention to the news.

Nancy Friedman over at Away With Words points to quite a few talking heads that are yapping about what to call the goings on in Iraq.

Is it "Civil War" or "Sectarian violence"?

According to Google there are hundreds of thousands of articles on the subject and over 13,000 blogs using both terms.

This seems to me to be another example of PR savvy people having insight into the weight of an existing term. "Civil War" is a loaded name for Americans. By definition (literally) what Iraq is going through is civil war. But the powers that be don't want to cause the associations... so they are using less familiar terms.

Sectarian Violence means violence between two different groups. Civil War is fought between members of the same nation.

Sounds like they both work to me...

But the weirdest thing in all of this is that President Bush - the guy that unabashedly calls our most powerful weapons "Nuke-u-lar", is known for having a small vocabulary, and often invents words when he can't find the one he wants... just nails this term every time he uses it.

Until the last three weeks I'd never said nor written "sectarianism" in my life. I can't imagine that Bush has had it in his vocabulary for long, nor can I picture how long Bush had to practice saying it before he got it right. (Kinda makes you wonder why he hasn't invested the effort on the weapons side...)

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
December 1, 2006
South Molle Island to enter a new phase. The plan includes an updated island logo which will include the new tagline “The Natural Island Resort” and a complementary strapline “Connecting People With Nature".

IceWeasel, The rebranding of FireFox. Did you know about IceWeasel? I think not many people know about this thing. Don’t worry..I love to share with you. IceWeasel is a web browser and it originally base on FireFox. It is one of GNU projects and done by Debian to satisfy some of demands from Mozilla (the creator of FireFox). How'd they get this name IceWeasel?

Salesforce rebrands its platform… again. As of today, it has become the Apex platform and Apex API, which helpfully puts all the platform elements under the same branding as the Apex programming language announced last month. Since Apex is a synonym for culmination as well as summit, Salesforce.com's marketing people must be hoping this is the final step in the platform's rebranding journey, otherwise it could be all downhill from here on.

Stealing Green. Mega-corps GE, BP and Wal-Mart have joined the chorus for sustainability by re-branding themselves as green companies. A pioneering green business consultant contends it's more than just PR.

Sky Anytime rebrand for broadband download service. Satellite broadcaster BSkyB is rebranding its Sky by Broadband video download service as Sky Anytime and is adding Sky One shows and pay-per-view premium to the programming line-up.
November 3, 2006 | Tate Linden
Okay, so I have no clue if I will actually make this a recurring event, but Fridays tend to be pretty slow for names in the news.

Onomastics is the study of naming. Etymology is the study of the history of words. So I'm sincerely hoping that Onomastic Etymology is the study of the history of names. (It does sort of stand to reason, but reason isn't always right...)

Today's bit of history is provided by I. E. Lambert's book: The Public Accepts. Published in 1941, it does a great job covering the stories behind many (at the time) well known trademarks, names, and slogans.

The book is a wonderful time-capsule. In the second story of the book we are told "Many a manufacturer has a slogan for his product, but none is more consistently used than this one." I would wager that anyone born after the baby boom would have no clue what the slogan is given that hint - or would know what product is being referred to by the slogan after they hear it.

The slogan? "Ask the Man Who Owns One."

The 800+ hits on Google provide the answer.

On to today's history lesson!