Understanding the different types of names is essential to effective name development. Why? Because without this knowledge, there is a tendency to only consider certain types of names which, depending on the category, may be less than differentiated. Also, managers may tend toward naming fads, even if out-dated and ineffective. Finally, mapping competitors’ names by name type is a very worthwhile exercise, demonstrating naming opportunities that will be unique and differentiated in the category. Therefore, before jumping into brand name development, give careful consideration to the different types of names.
Names should be categorized by four (4) basic types—Literal, Synthesized, Metaphorical and Hybrids.
Most names fall into literal or descriptive name types. There are several sub-categories of literal names. Most often, literal names describe a company or product with key words or terms common to the category. Another type of literal name is an acronym based on key words or terms. And yet another type of literal name is when companies use the founder’s name or geographic reference.
Examples of literal names include Computer Associates, IBM and (Michael) Dell respectively. Positives of literal names include ease of understanding, and in the case of a founder’s name, trademark and domain name availability. Negatives are lack of differentiation (common keywords), and lack of depth or meaning.
Synthesized names are made-up words, most often the combination of two words or key words, sometimes called coined names. Alternatively, synthesized names can be derived from Latin or Greek roots, often as prefixes or suffixes. Finally, synthesized names can be made-up words that are based on alliteration (repeated sounds) or rhyming. Examples of synthesized names include Microsoft (combo), Oracle (Greek roots) and Google (alliteration/rhyming).
Synthesized names can sound important or intelligent, and usually obtain trademark and domain name availability. Significant negatives include difficulty in understanding and, often, a lack of meaning or emotion. As a result, synthesized names may require significant marketing spending to be successful.
Metaphorical names create an association, or ideally, an emotional response that somehow relates to the company or product in an intuitive or relevant way. While literal names describe the company, product or service, effective metaphorical names relate to the desired positioning, and are aggressively different than most competitors in any given category. When mapping competitive names for a given category, you will inevitably find that metaphorical names are rare. Therefore, by definition, metaphorical names are unique and differentiated—a key to effective positioning.
Indeed, of the four name types, metaphorical names offer the opportunity to change whole business categories or industries, sometimes with the name itself generating publicity far greater than paid media exposure. The negative of metaphorical names is when no perceived meaning or relation to positioning exists; the name can seem random or wacky.
Examples of effective metaphorical names include: Virgin Airlines, Apple computer and Yahoo.com. Considering these examples, metaphorical names can sometimes sound silly or have potentially negative connotations. But with contextual support, these effective metaphorical names reinforce positioning, and are highly memorable, even industry-changing (examples: Virgin= new, Apple= simple or different, and Yahoo= exuberant).
The last type of name—hybrid—is a combination of name types, often literal and metaphorical. But hybrids can also be both literal and synthesized, or synthesized and metaphorical.
The type of name you choose will vary vastly depending on the product or service and market. No two product categories or market segments are alike. Each is unique, with its own competitive landscape and name types. More often than not, competitor names will cluster around one or two name types. Mapping competitor names by type will expose opportunities for differentiation—a tenet of effective marketing. Below is an example of a competitor name map by type.
What’s your name type? Please share any naming tips you have in the comment box below and share this post with those interested in naming.