SMPL Q&A: 4 questions on brand naming with Gabriele Zamora

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SMPL Q&A is a blog feature in which we interview our experts on all things relevant to brand experience and design. Recently, we spoke with Gabriele Zamora, associate strategist, about how to employ “non-words” and coinages, aligning names with product categories, and why simplicity matters more than ever.

Why is simplicity for naming important more than ever today?

The naming landscape is congested – it’s overcrowded, overflowing, and ever growing. Look to the numbers. The Global Language Monitor estimates there are nearly 1 million words in the English language, with the Oxford English dictionary landing at about three quarters of that number. Yet, more than 3 million trademarks have been registered in the US alone over the last 50 years. Multiply that by a few hundred to arrive at the number of unique URLs in existence today.

It feels like everything is taken. Names have been claimed and they are off limits, heavily protected. And while these numbers are baffling, even a bit intimidating, they are what make the name game such a thrill. Boatique, Happyappy, Tekspexxx – this eagerness to beat the system is reflected in names that are trying too hard to be distinct, so much so that they begin to sound forced.

I think this is where we have to be careful. This is where we have to remember naming a brand is as much an art as it is a science. We are only human and there is only so much we can (and want to) learn and remember. Sure, words that spark interest and pique curiosity will be put to memory; but those that do so in a simple, familiar, and easily understandable way are going to have an edge.

So can non-words be effective names? How should we approach coinages?

Non-words can certainly be effective names. The mind is amazing in its ability to extract symbolic meaning from simple word parts. Here is a popular example: The words “maluma” and “takete” are by no means real English words, but the majority of us would agree that “takete” sounds sharper and more angular than “maluma,” a word with a much softer and rounder tone.

Before one develops coined names, I think it is incredibly important to at least consider basic linguistic constructs and the symbolic implications of playing with word parts. We know vowel sounds (high vs. low) and various consonants evoke different perceptions of size, movement, shape, luminosity, youth, and gender. This is why something like “zeep” sounds faster than “zong,” or why “troger” sounds more masculine than “ophi.” Names can also capitalize on the existing meaning of accepted morphemes – full words like “age,” as well as a long list of prefixes, suffixes, and roots.

Names that feel familiar, meaning those that sound as if they could veritably sit aside other real English words, have been found to be more easily accepted, learned and recalled long-term. That is not to say namers should avoid introducing novelty and intrigue. The ability to spark curiosity is a big win factor for coinages over other types of names, as it is interest that enhances memory for new information.

Should a name align with a product’s category?

A name does not have to be coined to register as novel. Product names can be particularly powerful when they resonate as suggestive of, yet distinctive within, the context of the category in which they sit. Simplicity has an innate memory advantage because of how we mentally categorize objects and ideas. Learning new things and putting them to memory is a long and arduous process. But, a name that aligns with its category, even in a very loose or abstract way, takes a big shortcut by making use of knowledge already stored. Quite simply, the connection to the product has already been learned. This alignment does not just have to be lexical. Twitter, Bing, Yelp – all of these names establish a connection though onomatopoeia. It has even been shown that word plurality and syllable count are associated with different product categories.

How can a name deliver on simplicity?

A simple name is one that taps into how people think. It is mindful of how we derive meaning and encode information into memory, as well as how we search for that information once it is categorized and saved. Simple names are familiar, despite their level of originality. They build upon lexical, structural, or symbolic associations. We read, spell, understand, and adopt them with ease. They draw us in with their surprising simplicity and then challenge us to find a connection to what we already know.

Gabriele Zamora is an associate strategist with Siegel+Gale.

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