The Design of a Name

Just like architectural style tells an idea about a building, and coreography gives an idea about the dancer, the name of something gives an idea about the product. The name is more than marketing, it’s part of the product’s design. This New York Times article is an editorial rather than a news piece, but it brought up points about product names that I hadn’t really thought of and caused me to think about marketing as a form of design.

The point of the NYT article was that many product names aren’t good. Either they don’t describe the product, they’re just letters that don’t make sense, or they’re too cheesy to attract a broad audience. And according to the article, a main reason for the lack of inspiring product names is that the good ones are already taken. He wrote that it’s “increasingly difficult to find new names for them that are appealing, memorable, appropriate, unique and make (some sort of) sense in different countries with different languages.” It’s too hard to imagine that people’s creativity can’t push past what’s already been used, but I think there is validity to the increasing difficulty in having to account for different languages and having to market to a more and more diverse market.

A popular example of the language issue seems to be the naming of the Buick LaCrosse. A Forbes article said the vehicle was to be available in Canada, but car’s name is the French-Canadian slang term for masturbation. Another example in the article was the VW Touareg, which was “named after a tribe of north African nomads that, it turns out, traded slaves well into the 20th century.” It’s interesting that companies have to take into account what their product names might mean to other countries. Companies who make these mishaps are often ridiculed, and I do feel like it shouldn’t be that difficult to hire someone who knows the language of the country you’re launching a product in, but maybe with so many products being circulated to so many countries with so many different languages, maybe it’s a little harder than it looks.

In the NYT article, the author wrote about digital cameras and some of their non-classic names. Examples were the Nikon Coolpix and Sony Cyber-shot. He suggests that the names reflect our changing desires and concerns, and perhaps they do. Products aren’t made to last a long time anymore. Upgraded models come out at least every year, and products aren’t made to last much longer than that anyway. Maybe the names aren’t classic because the product isn’t classic. Names are often stamped onto products, making the names part of the design. They reflect the product and create an image for it. Especially with car names, that name design can make or break its marketing.

Some of the best cheesy names seem to come from Japan’s auto companies. Another Forbes list with “The Best, Worst & Weirdest Car Names” said the list was “dominated” by Japanese automakers. Shiotsu Auto Trade Japan even has an article dedicated to it.  

Similar to the movement away from long-lasting, quality products is our increasing interest in technology and “tech-type,” which is communicating through shortcuts. It really could help explain odd names like “the Th!nk in Norway, the G-Wiz in Britain and the (utterly baffling) Mitsubishi i-MiEV, which hails from Japan,” which were also in the NYT article. The names look familiar to the generations hooked on technology and perhaps appeal to them more than a name like Ford Mustang.

Just for fun, here’s a list with international name bloopers. American companies seem to dominate the list, but there’s a few others who made it as well.


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