Your name goes here.

Your name has been your name for as long as you’ve known you. At least that’s the case for most of us. Sometime between the ages of four and seven months, the neurons involved in name recognition kicked in, and you learned to recognize your own name. And so you learned the word or words that represent you.

What does this have to do with branding? Flash forward to adulthood, and “Jim” and “Karen” and “Mark” and “Hildegard” are not just random syllables. They’re signifiers of personhood and personality. Or as we say in branding, identity.

And that brings us to the brand naming conundrum: Does the name create the identity, or does the identity give meaning to the name? The answer: yes.

A name is a relatively small verbal unit. It can only convey so much. And contrary to the most earnest client aspirations, it can never tell the full story about a brand or product or service. It can suggest that story, but the experience of the brand (or product or service) is what invests the name with meaning.

On the flipside, a brand name is like shorthand. It’s a verbal label, an emblem. It stands for everything the brand represents, just like your name represents everything that makes you “you.”

Let’s go back to people names. If I described my friend “Fred” to you in detail, some of that explanation might stick. But chances are you would need to meet Fred in person to form an opinion of him, which you would then retroactively associate with his name. Your experience of my friend Fred is what gives unique meaning to his name. You might even know other Freds. But your specific knowledge of my friend gives the name Fred specific meaning in his case. It’s a contextual thing.

To take it a step further, think of an expression like “That’s so Fred.” That’s a person’s name acting as a brand in everyday speech. We’re able to take the attributes that make Fred “Fred” and apply them to someone or something else, just by using his name. This is something celebrities are fully aware of—and why they often legally protect their names.
That naming conundrum I mentioned? It’s not easily solved. And maybe it’s not supposed to be. But here’s what I know: People tend to learn more easily through experience than being told. Which is why the better you get to know someone, the more likely you are to remember his or her name.

Does this mean all names are just blank slates? No. Even coined names, which have no dictionary definition, cause our synapses to fire. The challenge is to make sure you’re activating synapses—as opposed to not activating them—with a brand name. Ultimately, how people perceive your brand is how they will understand its name. And somewhere in there, the name will come to represent the brand.


i have a question's picture
i have a question
Activity Score 73

More than the words now marketers are going behind the sounds. For example Vaio has no meaning at all but it sounds very unique. The thinking behind this concept may be that people remember these kind of phonetics very easily and thats the job done for a brand. On the other side the persona of a brand can be developed later by means of communication.

Your thoughts?

Tom Parrette's picture
Tom Parrette
Activity Score 82

I think you're describing what linguists call phonosemantics. It's the idea that certain sounds have (or can have) meaning. It's an area I find particularly fascinating in relation to branding. The type of phonosemantics we all know is onomatopoeia, in which case the word sounds like what it describes. Vaio does have a unique sound and spelling, so it affects both the eyes and ears. And it's "o"ending gives it an openness and sense of movement that a consonant ending probably couldn't achieve (imagine, for example, if the brand was "Vaion"). And you're right, a brand's persona is developed - and can even be changed - by means of communication. It all depends on the tone of the communication.