Category Archives: Name Creation

Naming tips – number 37 in a series

I’ve spoken about coined names before and how they’ve become more and more popular because of the competition for unique brand names. They seem to be all that’s left. And while that isn’t true, coined names have several advantages despite their popularity.

I recently did an analysis of company names from the INC 500 Index of America’s Fastest Growing Companies for the past 10 years. (With the newest issue of INC on the stands, I’ll have to update that study shortly). From 1997 through 2006, coined names gained popularity, from twenty-percent in 1997 to thirty three-percent in 2006. Contrast that to descriptive names which declined from twenty two percent to twelve-percent.

I just blogged about the strongest names from a legal point-of-view. Seems courts favor coined names whenever a name has been challenged or needs to be defended.

So for originality, a large pool of candidates and legal strength, look to coined names as a major approach to naming companies and products.

Oh, if you’d like a copy of my INC 500 Name Analysis, you can email me at:

Martin Jelsema

Naming tips – number 36 in a series

What does your brand name mean?

If you don’t ask this question with research, you may run into trouble. Look at every name candidate very critically.

There is potential danger when people are looking for meaning in a name and finding none. Or if you’ve endowed the product with a name meaningful and positive to you but not to your market members. This includes names derived from coined words (which I endorse as the strongest type of brand name), from mythology and legend, from history, and even from geographical origins.

For instance, naming a PDA or a hard drive “Minerva” may sound appropriate because of its old connotation of being wise. That name was originally given to the Roman goddess of wisdom. But without knowing its origin, many would just think it a woman’s name with little association with a powerful information product.

In another context, you may inadvertently adopt a name with poor, even vulgar or silly connotations for certain geographic or cultural market segments. Remember when Incubus was introduced, only to be hastily rebranded after learning the moniker had originally belonged to a mythical, medieval demon who made love to women as they slept.

It’s always a good idea to have your most favored name candidates researched for unfortunate associations and connotations, for vulgarity or embarrassing foreign meanings, and for words so similar in spelling or pronunciation that they might “take over” your brand’s associations and meaning.

Martin Jelsema

What trademark types are strongest?

Talcott Franklin in his book, Protecting the Brand, has classified the types of brand names by their strength as legally protected trademarks.

The strongest brands are so-called “fanciful” marks. These are names (and/or identifying marks) that are invented to function as trademarks. This is another way to describe “coined names”. Here we’re talking about names like Kleenex, Swiffer and Oreo. The only problem is that they must be vigilantly protected both internally and by stakeholders in general lest they become the product itself rather than the product’s source. Then you find people using the word as a noun (Google is my search engine instead of I use the Google search engine) or verb (I’ll Google Talcott Franklin), and that weakens the brand legally. In fact, many fanciful names have because generic because of the owner’s lack of customer education and vigilant protection (Thermos, Yo-Yo and Trampoline are examples).

The second strongest marks from a legal standpoint are “arbitrary” names. Franklin’s definition of arbitrary names is the same as mine: words or symbols in common use but not in the context of the product being named. Franklin’s examples include “Apple” and “Camel”.

Franklin says that courts give the next strongest degree of protection to “suggestive” names and marks. These names suggest an attribute or characteristic of products but do not describe them. Often they evoke positive associations. Commonly, these names are metaphors that allude to benefits. “White Rain”, “Husky”, “Titan” and “Mr. Clean” are examples.

“Descriptive” marks will have the lowest degree of protection if challenged in court. And, this type of name/mark will be the type most often challenged as well. That’s because descriptive names tend to the generic. Synonyms for product type will obviously fall into this category. But so will those words that are descriptive of a product characteristic. Some examples: “Progressive” and “Clean-Up”.

In addition the USPTO will not award registration to marks that incorporate geographic names, personal names, common symbols, titles of publications and several more obscure classifications.

As I’ve said every time I blog about trademarks, copyrights and incorporation, I suggest retaining an intellectual properties attorney. The regulations can be pretty convoluted and the case histories too numerous for comfort.

Since a trademark can be the foundation of the brand, it’s best to get it right from the beginning. As I’ve said in several blogs and other web pages, “Brand Smart for the Start”.

Martin Jelsema

Naming Tips – Number 35 in a Series.

Consider name hierarchies and brand architecture before naming a product or service.

In other words, spend some time thinking about what you’re naming and the long-range implications of that name on your company’s portfolio of offerings, current and future.

Name hierarchies have to do with a product or product line line and how it “fits” within a company’s family of products, product lines, product models, product styles and product extensions.

Brand architecture addresses the structure of brands within a company’s portfolio of products and services. For instance, will the corporate brand, aka master brand, dominate or assume a background role to product brands. It also considers co-branding under the corporate umbrella and with strategic partners. The internal organization – division, subsidiary, department, function, technology or other brand-associated structures – also needs to be known and considered. These questions are strategic in nature. That means chief executives need to provide guidance here.

Here’s a simple set of classifications I ask my clients to consider so both of us know the scope and implications of a naming project.

Is the new offering…

Market-specific, application-specific
General-market, application-specific
Market-specific, multiple application
General-market, multiple application
Member of existing product/service family
Unique product/service bearing no relationship to existing products/services
Unique product/service that replaces an existing product/service
A new family of products/services

This is an example of “first things first”.

Martin Jelsema

Here’s a modest product with pro-like branding

Usually you’ll find me criticizing a branding travesty on these pages.

I can’t help it. There are so many of them and they stand out because they cause discord and disharmony. (And don’t give me the old story that any notoriety helps your brand. Not when with a little care and attention good vibes can be achieved for the same amount you’d spent on lousy branding.)

 Anyway, today I’m here to praise.

I saw an ad for a tattoo removing solution in last week’s USA Weekend. A 3/4 page, modestly colored ad with the headline “Finally…TATTOO REMOVAL. Beneath the headline a picture of the box was tied to the tagline, “It’s easy as opening this box.” The copy, a column on the right interspersed with visuals, speaks to the product’s advantage over laser procedures and a risk-free guarantee. Then an 800-number and an “ask for order” with bonus close.

Now I can’t vouch for the product, nor am I a prospect. I dodged a couple of “lets go get a tattoo” episodes in my college days. Sometimes I wonder how I survived those days, but that’s a subject this blog will not explore. Ever.

Anyway, the product’s name is WRECKING BALM.

 Wrecking Balm package

Isn’t that a great name for a tattoo fading product? See the tension? Isn’t it memorable? Won’t that be the kind of name people will enjoy repeating to friends and associates? 

The logo goes well with the name even though it smacks of patent medicines of a hundred years ago. Yet it does depict a character, Doc Wilson, who may or may not be real. Nevertheless his name lends some credence to the product.

 Wrecking Balm logo

The color palette, a faded rust and black, provides contrast and seems appropriate. If Wrecking Balm ever makes it to store shelves, it will display very well.

All in all, I’d say this was a first-class branding and advertising effort.

Now that this product’s on the market, perhaps I’ll look into getting that tattoo I nixed 50 years ago.  Nah.

Martin Jelsema

Protect your Trademarked Brand from Going Public

The laws and federal codes defining and regulating trademarks provide a bit of flexibility concerning brands. And that flexibility, or ambiguity if you wish, leads to litigation and a body of trial precedents that provide intellectual property attorneys plenty of business.

Once you have registered a trademark with USPTO, you are not completely free to do as you wish with that trademark. For one thing, you want to prevent your trademark from falling into the public domain. Think it can’t? Here is a list of well known words that had been trademarks until the courts decided, because someone wanted to use the trademark in a generic way to identify a type of product, that they had truly become generic terms through neglect.

 Asprin             Cellophane
 Corn Flakes    Cube Steak
 Brassiere         Dry Ice
 Escalator         Lanolin
 Light Beer       Mimeograph 
 Nylon             Super Glue
 Thermos         Trampoline
 Yo-Yo           Zipper

So what did these brand owners do wrong?

Essentially they allowed the trademarks to become nouns and/or verbs. Trademarks are, by regulation, adjectives that identify the source of products, they do not describe the product itself (i.e., they do not substitute the trademark for a generic product description).

It is tempting to want to have people think of your product when they think of a product category, but by encouraging people to  make the substitution you are on the road to making your trademark a generic name for the entire product category.

Now Talcott J. Franklin, an intellectual properties attorney, in his book, Protecting the Brand, cites six rules to keep you save from turning your brand into a generic name. In all your written materials…

1 Always use the mark as an adjective.
2 Never make the mark plural or possessive (either makes the word a noun).
3 Never use the mark as a verb
4 Always distinguish the mark from the remaining copy.
5 Always indicate the trademark status at least once when you include the trademark.
6 Do not give the mark a definition, except as a trademark for the company. 

Those are pretty self explanatory except for number six. I believe Franklin’s meaning here does not preclude a phrase such as “Xerox® brand copy paper”. This isn’t a description of the trademark, rather the trademark is an adjective modifying “copy paper”. Rather, using a tagline like “Xerox®: leader in paper imaging” actually makes the trademark a noun. And that’s the issue.

So if you own or are planning to own trademarks, I’d suggest you get Franklin’s book, and I’d also seek the advice of an intellectual properties attorney.

Martin Jelsema

Naming Tips – Number 34 in a Series

Beware of fads.

Of all the tips I’ve posted, this one ranks with the most valuable. There are several reasons for this.

First, how can you differentiate your business if your name sounds like a lot of others? Second, how long will it take for a fad-like name become dated? It’s like the slang used by teenagers. Yesterday’s “cool” word (is that term still used?) can be passé in a blink of an eye.

I’ll give you two examples of fad names and how they’ve been misaligned with the businesses that adapted them.

First, there’s CEOSpace. This name was newly adopted to replace an obscure and unremarkable IBI Global. If you’ve been keeping up with this blog you’ll know I’ve been adamant that three-initial names neither differentiate nor deliver relevant associations. But CEOSpace? It’s a step backwards.

Why?  Three reasons.

1) It’s not appropriate. The business provides major 6-day forums that connect entrepreneurs, inventors, investors, business gurus and business mentors in a hotel for intense educational, networking and deal-making activities. I’m proud to say I’m a graduate. This “Free Enterprise Forum” is valuable and prestigious. Now does the trendy CEOSpace reflect that business or even the tone of the business? No, it doesn’t.

2) It’s misleading. The CEOSpace comes directly from the Internet. It’s a Web2 concept of social networking via the web. Any seminar or forum with that name I’d expect to be Internet-based. The name just doesn’t convey its content, format or heritage. Now the CEO part works, but just what is conveyed by the word, “space”. It certainly wasn’t anything to do with education, networking, deal making, entrepreneurship, venture capital or any other business-related association.

3) The older name, even if it has three initials, has equity. The old name has value. That’s probably why they haven’t altogether abandoned it. They still have an IBI Global website, but the local organizations that sell the forum through local weekly meetings have adopted CEOSpace.

It is possible that CEOSpace will go away, but not without ramifications. (remember AT&T became Cingular before Cingular became AT&T. Read about that problem by clicking BusinessWeek.

The second example is much more straight forward. The name in question is “FireDog”. I don’t where or how it started, but several supposed avant gard design companies thought calling themselves (something) Dog was hip. Then several other young, tradition-breaking revolutionists adopted Dog as part of their names. I don’t know why. Now a mainstream IT maintenance organization, not to be outdone by “The Geek Sqad”, has adopted FireDog. First, they’re several years behind the innovators. Second, what relevance or meaning does FireDog have to computer maintenance? Oh sure, you can say the same thing about names like Google and Yahoo and De-licious, but those are not me-too, fad-based names.

I’d advise not considering names that include Dog, Monkey, Space, or even the now-meaningless Express.

It’s okay to be different, even irreverent, but it’s not okay to jump on the coattails of a fad. Be original.

Martin Jelsema

Naming Tips: Number 33 in a Series

Chris Brown who writes the Branding and Marketing blog was kind enough to introduce this series of naming tips to her readers this week. Thank you, Chris.

She also introduced several other blogs, one of which I’m going to feature here. The site is Inventor’s Spot and the specific article is called “Ten TopTips for Branding Your Invention”, written by Myra Per-Lee. Myra writes from the inventor’s or entrepreneur’s point of view. Here are her tips for naming that new product:

1. Think ahead. If you will be developing a product line from your invention, will you need a “line name,” as well as a “product name.” How will the product names relate to each other?

2. Know your market before you choose a name.

3. It’s a new product. Give it a new name! The name should not remind prospective customers of any product that is already on the market.

4. Pick a short memorable name.

5. The brand should support what the product does.

6. A cool name contributes to product success.
7. Don’t get too esoteric. Unless you are naming a software or gaming product, stick to names that don’t require a mythology handbook.

8. Consider the emotional impact of prospective brand names.

9. Names should be fun to say.

10. Test your list of names on members of your intended market.

So for a brand new product, you may want to consider these criteria when creating and adopting its name. You can read more about Myra’s 10 top tips by clicking here.

Thank you, Myra and thank you Chris.

Martin Jelsema