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Etymology: When your name says it all

Posted by: Caitlin Barrett on December 06, 2013

Microsoft Advertising
Give your name a voice

When your name says it all

Hurdly. Find.ly. Reachli. Optimizely. Earlier in the year, The Wall Street Journal diagnosed Silicon Valley’s me-too naming problem: It turns out the default way to signal “quirky start-up” is to end your name with “ly,” “lee” or “li” (as 161 already have).

While established brands often look to convention-breaking startups for naming approaches that signal “new,” the current gaggle of double consonant-ed and lyrically suffixed names aren’t much help right now. Which is what makes an often-overlooked naming approach look really good right now: the descriptive name.

Names like Booking.com and Dollar Shave Club skip the misspellings. They skip the optimistic metaphors and references to the founders’ backstories and the weird-for-the-sake-of-weird imagery. Instead, they use their name to get a very important question off the table, “What does this business do?”

The Then Again Now

The obvious objection to this approach to naming is that it’s boring, and that, from a trademark perspective, it’s difficult to own. But smart brands know there’s more than one way to build distinctiveness into their names.

Booking.com adds edge to its name by subbing “booking” for the type of swear word you’d use when you get a room that really blows you away. It made booking a feeling, rather than an action. Have you seen Booking.com's commercials? They’re booking awesome. And the brand used its voice to make Booking.com a name that’s pretty booking exciting (see how fun it is?).

Dollar Shave Club, too, skips the fluff. Its subscription business model and message are simple (“For a dollar a month we send high-quality razors right to your door”), and its name doesn’t say much more than that. And through a video featuring the founder’s dry humor against a backdrop of absurd imagery, the brand took off—and the name took on the idiosyncratic tone set in the video.

While there’s no single “best” kind of name, it’s refreshing to see an often underutilized naming approach made a hero in the most heroic sense. It also forces brands to be crystal clear about who they are and what they do—something the Zaarlys, Xtifys, and Kaggles of the world will have to do through some pretty serious messaging.

This week's guest author, Caitlin Barrett, is Associate Director of Verbal Identity for Interbrand and the creative lead for Naming.

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