The Making of A Name

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The Making of A Name

by Steve Rivkin and Fraser Sutherland

Oxford © 2004, 275 pages, $28.00 (ISBN 0-19-516872-0).

The Inside Story of the Brands We Buy

In The Making of a Name, brand naming expert Steve Rivkin and author Fraser Sutherland explain that the arithmetic of naming is daunting: There are at least 3.4 million active, pending and inactive trademarks registered in the United States. They also point out that intellectual property, which includes brand names, contributes more than $400 billion to the U.S. economy and is its single most important export. To show how brand names differ from other names and what makes a brand name great or horrible, the authors of The Making of a Name describe in detail the do’s and don’ts of naming and how to build a successful name from the ground up.

Four Types of Names

The first part of The Making of a Name divides brand names into four types: the initialized, the descriptive, the allusive and the coined. The initialized are names made up of capitalized initials. They can be divided into two groups: Either they are acronyms, which are words made up from the initial letters or groups of letters, such as BART for Bay Area Rapid Transit, or they are initialisms, which are words that are pronounced as sequences of letters, such as ABC, BBC or NBC, pronounced “ay bee cee,” “bee bee cee” and “en bee cee.”

Descriptive names, the authors explain, “ascribe a person or place in connection with them or describe a characteristic, ingredient, purpose, function or appearance.”

Allusive names differ from descriptive names in that they merely hint at the product, service or company, or its main benefit. The authors write that they “operate through connotation and allusion, working within the brain as simile, metaphor and cultural references.”

Arbitrary names simply have no relationship whatsoever to that which they refer, and coined names are entirely made up.

Each category, the authors write, has its own personality, and they dedicate a chapter to each type of name, describing what makes a name in that category either weak or strong, and providing numerous examples to make their points.

Brainstorming and Idea Spinning

The authors fill the next part of The Making of a Name with the best ways to construct brand names and how the most memorable names can be found through various brainstorming and idea-spinning techniques. They also reveal how word units are mixed and matched in the imperfect game of brand naming. The authors point out that unexpected combinations of language can create memorable names, such as George Lucas’ special effects factory Industrial Light & Magic, the Hollywood studio DreamWorks and the toy store Zany Brainy.

Fulfilled Needs

According to the authors, a good name essentially provides a positive answer to the following questions about a new product:

• Is a specific need fulfilled?

• Is it really an improvement over what already exists?

• Is it easier to use than what already exists?

• Is it safer than what already exists?

• Is there a competitive point of difference?

A good name also answers the question, “How will you bring your idea to life?” All the elements of a name should share the ability to make the customer recall the name.

A bad brand name, the authors write, is any name that does not fulfill any of the responsibilities of a good name. Oldsmobile’s Achieva model even received an award from a group of brand namers for the worst new brand name, as did the itch-soothing cream Cruex. The authors explain that bad brand names can also come from waiting too long to start the naming process, underestimating the time needed and then scrambling when the product is about to be released.

The last part of The Making of a Name discusses brand naming as a business and describes the people who are successful at making it their business. Here, the authors introduce readers to the steps involved in a naming project as well as the other routes available to companies when they are working to come up with a name. They also help companies keep their names by describing how trademarks are registered, how they can be protected, and how names are bought and sold. ~

Why We Like ThIs Book

The Making of a Name maps out the familiar world that is made up of the thousands of brand names we encounter every day and provides a fascinating inroad to the origins of the ones we use to summon the products and services we need. While describing how brand naming should and should not be done, we get a fun and informative trip through the history of brand names and their purveyors. ~

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