What’s in a name? A lot if you want to achieve rosy results

Phil Castle

I’ve often wondered what goes into naming names. I mean, how do business owners and managers — and, in some cases, the marketing folks who work for them — decide on the names of their ventures, products and services?

As William Shakespeare asked: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.”

That’s what I’m thinking. And why businesses that include the word books in their names probably shouldn’t try to sell fishing tackle.

Then there’s the slogan for the popular brand of jams that implies a sort of inverse correlation between the name of a company and the quality of its products. “With a name like Smuckers, it’s got to be good.”

Some might recall how “Saturday Night Live” upped the ante with its parody about even worse names for jam. Names so horrific I won’t repeat them here.

I’m reminded of this whole conundrum on a daily basis in the assortment of prescription drugs advertised on television. And can someone tell me why the letters X, Y and Z show up so often in the wildly inventive names for pharmaceutical products?

As with most endeavors, I suspect there’s more to the process than readily meets the eye. Probably a lot more. I’m sure it starts with the basics and taking into account such factors as customers, competition and product appeal. The goal is to come up with names that are at once appealing, distinct and memorable. And if they can evoke the desired emotions, so much the better.

Some tricks come into play. Combing two words into one, for example. Like PayPal or FedEx. Or using metaphors. Long before Nike was a brand of shoe, she was the winged Greek goddess for victory. Amazon doesn’t necessarily describe what the company does, but it implies something huge and perhaps a bit exotic.

Then there’s the trick of using unique spellings. Although as a newspaper editor and self-avowed grammar curmudgeon, I’m not a fan of that technique. Don’t even get me started on brand names that should start with a C and instead start with a K.

As for the proprietary names of pharmaceutical products, the name of one product can’t look or sound anything like the name of another product. It’s a safety issue. Moreover, drug names can’t imply any medical claims or be overly promotional. By the way, the letters X, Y and Z often appear in brand names because they apparently create scientific sounding names.

I’ve often wondered if yet another approach to naming names would work better. It would certainly be more entertaining. And here I’m referring to the Japanese names for cars. Like the Nissan Big Thumb. Or Toyota Tank. Or, of course, the Mitsubishi Super Great.

Perhaps I should just shut up and remain grateful I work for a newspaper named simply enough the Business Times. Although Super Great has a nice ring to it. Don’t you think?

Phil Castle is editor of the Business Times. Reach him at (970) 424-5133 or phil@thebusinesstimes.com.