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October 29, 2007 | Tate Linden
I've been sent perhaps a dozen free books on branding and marketing in the year and change I've been blogging. I've never written about them - mostly because there's rarely anything about naming or verbal branding in them.

This book doesn't have that disconnect...

The Soul of the Corporation by Hamid Bouchikhi and John R. Kimberly is an impressive book. And it is almost entirely related to what I do for a living. I'd suggest that it's one of the more advanced books on the concept of corporate identity, and it is backed by a slew of research (and the Wharton School.) While I didn't read it cover to cover yet, I did read the chapters that discuss the role of identity in situations that matter to naming - such as mergers, acquisitions, the beginning of new brands, and such. All of 'em were spot on - or a least headed in the right direction.

As an example - the book identifies the ingredients of Successful identity Change as:
  1. Vision
  2. Effective Communication
  3. Consistency
  4. Leadership Continuity
  5. Luck and Positive Signals
While Stokefire's number one ingredient is missing (leadership involvement!) the list is one that is worth spending time to understand. It is clear that without any one of the five items a project will likely fail. They've at least provided a good starting point to work with.

Other interesting tidbits:
  • An analysis of evolutionary vs. revolutionary change
  • The difference between organizational and brand identity
  • The downside(s) of branding (narcissism, id conflict, drift, & fragmentation)
  • How to handle mergers, spin-offs, joint ventures, and more.
  • Four leaders who've managed identity well, and four who haven't.
  • Transitioning from a single brand to a portfolio...
If these topics don't get you motivated to read the book then chances are excellent you're not in the naming field. Or, as a former SecDef might say, "you don't know what you don't know."

Perhaps most refreshing was the near total lack of talking-heads from major branding firms that typically populate books like these. We get to see things through the eyes of employees, stakeholders, and customers - not the guys that developed (and are defending) the brand. Who cares what we, the creators of the identity, think. If the people who live the brand don't say it then it ain't real.


Many thanks to Wharton School Publishing for the comp. I've dog-eared so many pages that it's beginning to look like there's been trouble at the printer (since most of the upper-outside corners appear to be missing.)
July 31, 2007 | Tate Linden
In Sunday's NYT Magazine there was a great article by Erin McKean about the Oxford English Corpus. Imagine having access to over a billion words that are tagged and given context. For a namer this is close to heaven. With a few clicks you could check any English word for negative connotations and sort by the most powerful connections.

What a great way to determine what a word or phrase may bring to mind. It'd get rid of those experiential biases that we all bring with us (AKA "I knew a guy named ____ and he was a twit - so I'm not gonna name my company that.")

And that's only scratching the surface.

I was thoroughly peeved, however, to learn that all the press lately is for naught. Yes it is pretty cool that there are over 1 billion words in the Corpus. But who gives a rat's arse (note the British spelling!) how many words there are if we can't look at the damn thing. Are we supposed to be pleased that the smart-folk have access and are thus shepherding our language much more intelligently than they were able to before they had access?

It is obvious that Oxford is looking to invest heavily in the OEC brand. Rebecca over at OUP notes that the "Powered by Oxford Corpus" is showing up on all the new Oxford dictionaries. One assumes this is a tactic similar to the "Intel Inside" campaign, in that even though we could buy a computer that was powered by Intel we didn't have the right to take apart the chip and figure out how it worked. Perhaps that's a weak metaphor... But since I don't have access to the Corpus I can't figure out if there's a better word grouping for what I want to say.

Also interestingly, there are no indications that people like me (and you - if you don't edit dictionaries) can't access the thing. It's like they're taunting us by telling us how cool this thing is (they even show you how to use it!) and then not even giving us the courtesy of telling us we can't use it. They let us waste a couple (okay, a few) good hours figuring it out for ourselves. It's like a word-geek clique. If you have to ask then you're obviously not going to get access...

Any dictionary editors out there want to loan me a password so I can play? I won't tell a soul...

Until then - My slogan for the OEC is: "Oxford English Corpus - The Hypothetical Anti-Resource."
June 6, 2007 | Tate Linden
If you attempt to make any comments on our blog in the future you'll note that we've added a CAPTCHA plug-in that will ask you to input a couple words before your post is approved.

Normally we find these programs annoying and would avoid them. Sure, it only takes an additional 5 seconds or so - and given that we've had less than a thousand valid comments on our site it would have been less than an hour and a half of time wasted for you readers. The only benefit is that it would save our precious time and effort. We use Akismet - so most of the comment spam doesn't get to us - and the stuff that gets through takes us about 30 seconds a day to eliminate.

So, why are we giving reCAPTCHA a try? Because we love the name and the idea behind the company.

The idea is this (taken from the reCAPTCHA website):
About 60 million CAPTCHAs are solved by humans around the world every day. In each case, roughly ten seconds of human time are being spent. Individually, that's not a lot of time, but in aggregate these little puzzles consume more than 150,000 hours of work each day. What if we could make positive use of this human effort? reCAPTCHA does exactly that by channeling the effort spent solving CAPTCHAs online into "reading" books.

To archive human knowledge and to make information more accessible to the world, multiple projects are currently digitizing physical books that were written before the computer age. The book pages are being photographically scanned, and then, to make them searchable, transformed into text using "Optical Character Recognition" (OCR). The transformation into text is useful because scanning a book produces images, which are difficult to store on small devices, expensive to download, and cannot be searched. The problem is that OCR is not perfect.


reCAPTCHA improves the process of digitizing books by sending words that cannot be read by computers to the Web in the form of CAPTCHAs for humans to decipher. More specifically, each word that cannot be read correctly by OCR is placed on an image and used as a CAPTCHA. This is possible because most OCR programs alert you when a word cannot be read correctly.

But if a computer can't read such a CAPTCHA, how does the system know the correct answer to the puzzle? Here's how: Each new word that cannot be read correctly by OCR is given to a user in conjunction with another word for which the answer is already known. The user is then asked to read both words. If they solve the one for which the answer is known, the system assumes their answer is correct for the new one. The system then gives the new image to a number of other people to determine, with higher confidence, whether the original answer was correct.

Currently, we are helping to digitize books from the Internet Archive.
How cool is that? This company is trying to "recapture" 150,000 hours of human labor per day. Of course their product isn't omnipresent, but still - going after that much lost productivity is admirable - and the cause is worthy. Capturing the text of books in the public domain and making them available online is an admirable goal. Thousands (or even millions) of texts can be made available to those without the ability to read or see - the digitized text can be read or translated far more easily when in electronic form.

As for the name itself... It has just a touch of wit to it - since it sounds an awful lot like a New Englander saying "recapture" - and recapturing is exactly what the service does. We are recapturing words that would otherwise be lost to the printed page.

And for those that are interested, CAPTCHA is an acronym/initialism coined at the turn of the century. It means: "Completely Automated Public Turing Test to tell Computers and Humans Apart", and was trademarked by Carnegie Mellon University. (And yes, "CAPTCHA" is a bit of a stretch, isn't it? Shouldn't it be CAPTTTTCAHA? Or Maybe CAPTTCHA? I suppose aesthetics count for something...)

Any other naming blogs (or other blogs...) that are looking for a way to reduce comment spam and make the world a better place... I can't think of a better way to do it than getting reCAPTCHA going on your own site.

Given all this, I think that an apology is no longer warranted for putting a CAPTCHA on our site. Sure, you're taking five seconds longer... but somewhere and sometime there will be someone who hears or reads that word you identified and will be unknowingly appreciative... And isn't that payment enough for your time?

Wiseacres need not answer.
May 25, 2007 | Tate Linden
Word Fugitives: In Pursuit of Wanted Words By Barbara Wallraff.

An entertaining book if you're a lover of language. Especially if you're constantly wondering if there's a word for things that you encounter but can't name. You know... like when you experience a particular feeling or see someone perform an action that seems like it should have a name but doesn't.

(Incidentally, the first time I can remember this happening to me was in college when I noticed that in most chests of drawers there is a rather large unused space underneath the bottom drawer that is entirely inaccessible and inconvenient - but takes up about 1/10th of the available space... What's the name for that space? If you had a little-used room in your home that took 10% of the space you'd name it, wouldn't you? [Actually... we did - it's the crawl-space.] So why not name that space under the bottom drawer?)

Sadly, I've found that most books in this space are written more for people that are interested in being witty than for people interested in actually contributing to language.

Word Fugitives is somewhere in between. It combines some humorous and completely unusable words (e.g. "pandephonium" - The word describing what happens when a cell phone rings and everyone has to check to be sure it isn't theirs) with some viable ones that are actually in the OED (e.g., "ruly" - meaning obedient.)

Is it really usable for a namer? No, not really. But it is a refreshing read - and it allows us to see how people address naming when given a more casual canvas. There are some very predictable patterns follwed here - and a strong namer can learn from them - and perhaps avoid them. The big one is taking two words and mashing them together to create a witty word such as "bleakend" (for a weekend with no anticipated fun.) This type of word that relies on homonymics and patterning is everywhere in this book. Yes, it is cute. But it is also not particularly novel, given that almost every other word in the book was created in the same way.

And yes, there's a name for this type of word - it is a portmanteau.

As a wordsmith of a sort myself I'm far more interested in the less humor-driven and more viable (perhaps pattern-avoiding) words. Only recently did I stumble upon cross-word dictionaries as perhaps the best source of these more rare words. They're not easy to find, as you must know what you're looking for (instead of just skimming through an entire book of odd or archaic words) but once found you can refer back to the OED or Google for more context.

Where do the rest of you namers and linguists go for these hard-to-find gems? Any favorite books that help you expand your vocabulary or name the previously unnamable?
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.
April 11, 2007 | Tate Linden
Today will have to wait a bit. My post was going to be about pronunciation and the Analogy Model - a theory established by Glushko in 1979.

It was not to be. I hit save and it vanished into the ether.

Instead you can feast your eyes on a loosely related bit o' fun and gear up your mind for the eventual information-explosion to come tomorrow.

December 20, 2006 | Tate Linden
It's a rare day that we get the chance to read a book by a commenter on this very blog, so when the opportunity presented itself we took it.

Denise Wymore's book: Tattoos - The Ultimate Proof of a Successful Brand is certainly non-traditional, which seems to mesh nicely with our view of Denise herself.

When I got the book I figured (based on the title) that it was going to be a scholarly tome about the culture of tattoos, a comprehensive listing of the companies that have gained a following of tattoo wearers, and perhaps a good amount of information about what drove individuals to put stuff like a John Deere logo on their arm. (The link is to a blog post from early 2006 when I briefly looked into this concept myself...)

So - to the readers who are looking for an experience like the one that I was expecting - this is not the book for you. There are nine pages that list five things companies can do to make themselves tatoo-worthy. The five things are interesting and important, but won't necessarily get your own company the sort of cult status that Harley-Davidson has with the body-art crowd. tattolarge.jpg

This isn't a scholarly tome.

It is, however, a very interesting read - and it provides insight into one professional's experiences with nine brands that have had varying success with creating identities that may (or may not) be worthy of tattoos.

Wymore brings forward personal stories of connection (or lack thereof) with brands many readers will know well: The Westin Heavenly Bed, The Catholic Church, Craig Carothers, Saturn, Starbucks, iPod, Chico's, Texas, and The Huntington Beach Hilton. For each of these brands she provides a tale of how she has experienced the brand and then she provides a report card that goes over the five points and determines whether or not the brand is tattoo worthy.

I find a lot of value here, and those in marketing departments that are struggling to meaningfully connect with their target markets would do well to read the hits and misses that Wymore has found. The stories pound home the fact that in branding it is often more about the consumer than it is about the company.

For me the strongest chapter was about Wymore's literal near-death experience at a Hilton. Customer Service departments, marketing departments, and even operations staff should have this chapter as required reading. I've already told this story twice to clients (one of whom is a boutique hotel) and they've understood the implications. One of 'em even has gone so far as to create an atmosphere where the staff actively looks for ways to create memorable moments for their guests - using the power of the individuals that work at the hotel rather than the power of the parent brand to make the stay enjoyable (or perhaps "memorable.")

The book had its high and low points...

The Strengths:
  • First-person accounts of brand experiences that any decent marketer can digest and connect with
  • Compellingly built chapters that each provide new insight into what makes a brand,
  • Chapter summaries that reintroduce the five core ideas and rate their application
  • A casual style that makes it an easy read.
The Weaknesses:
  • The title is deceptive (I'm a Thingnamer, so you had to expect this one),
  • There is no wrap-up or summarization at the end of the book, so we're left with a scattered assortment of ideas rather than a strong singular lesson or direction.
  • There's no discussion with people who actually have tattoos of the brands mentioned - leaving what is for me a major hole. Maybe it's just me, but I wanted to hear from the people that actually took the plunge and slapped a tattoo of a certain brand of mattress or an iPod on their bod.
  • While the most tattoo-worthy brand is mentioned (Harley Davidson) it isn't analyzed in its own chapter - so we never get to know what leads to the ultimate connection.
I suppose the negatives flow mostly from my initial expectations and not from Wymore failing to deliver. What she has done is put together a series of stories that someone might have told you over a period of months while drinking coffee at the local Starbucks. You will learn something from reading this book, but it won't be statistics or a definitive "how to get people to wear tattoos of your brand."

You'll learn that Wymore knows quite a lot about brands and what makes the connection between company and customer, and quite possibly you'll be interested in talking further with her about creating that connection for your own company.

If you come in with the right expectations you'll find this a highly enjoyable and generally informative read.

And Denise... should you be ever be interested in writing that book that I was expecting to read just let me know. You've got a sure-fire reader here - and perhaps a co-author (time permitting.)

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925