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Naming & TM Selection Book | Sample Sections

Text of sample sections from The Art of Naming: NEONYM Creative Guide to Selecting Names and Trademarks.  Many trademark-related and linguistic terms in these sections are defined in the Glossaries in the book and on this site.

30. Semantic Positioning 
After inventorying successful marks in your trade, profession, or industry to see what kinds are viable, you can test your initial selections against successful marks. This test helps determine whether your selection semantically compares well with already-successful marks.  For instance, if launching a new heavy duty pickup truck you might compare your candidate mark against DODGE RAM, FORD F-150, and CHEVROLET SILVERADO to see whether your mark semantically conveys similar feelings of strength, power, speed, and reliability.  You wouldn't want a mark semantically "weaker" in relation to those essential product qualities. 

When establishing a niche in an already established market, you want to semantically position your mark into that niche, whether the niche lies at the end or middle of the product spectrum.  For instance, if launching a new sneaker brand, you should consider the broad spectrum of existing brand names, ranging from the fanciful KEDS and ADIDAS; the arbitrary CONVERSE and SKECHERS (derived from a street slang word for a person who can't sit still); the suggestive PUMA and REEBOK (from "rhebok," an African antelope); and the almost descriptive NEW BALANCE and CREATIVE RECREATION.

Semantic positioning is obviously important when entering a mature market, when it's important to create a mark that helps establish a niche or compete in broad market segments.  But such positioning is also important when being the first to offer a new kind of product.  In the latter situation, you may want words, taglines, or slogans that connote your first entry into the market, or product marks like VELCRO and CROAKIES that, without becoming generic, are widely identified with the product, thus leaving little room for competitors.

Semantic positioning is arguably one of the most important considerations in naming.  In many situations it may be the most important.

58.  Word Order
Word order can be important because it affects meaning, rhythm, and dominance, among other factors.  For example, with rhythm, when the mark consists of two names, the one with more syllables more often appears first.  E.g., compare the rhythmic effects of the following:

                            MERCEDES BENZ                         BENZ MERCEDES
                            PACKARD BELL                             BELL PACKARD
                            MONTGOMERY WARD                 WARD MONTGOMERY
                            PRENTICE-HALL                            HALL-PRENTICE
                            HARCOURT BRACE                      BRACE HARCOURT

However, where the two names are separated by "and," the rhythm and word order often changes and the name with fewer syllables may appear first, e.g., cf.:

                            SMITH & WESSON                         WESSON & SMITH
                            MARKS & SPENCERS                   SPENCERS & MARKS
                            BLACK & DECKER                         DECKER & BLACK
                            TOM & JERRY                                 JERRY & TOM
                            ABBOTT & COSTELLO                  COSTELLO & ABBOTT
                            GILBERT & SULLIVAN                   SULLIVAN & GILBERT

Changing word order can move a mark away from the descriptive toward the distinctive.  Compare:

                            CLUB MED                                       MED CLUB
                            SAKS FIFTH AVENUE                    FIFTH AVENUE SAKS
                            TEAM FROG                                     FROG TEAM

Changing word order allows you to place the more distinctive word first and thus make the mark stronger.  Cf.:

                            ABERCROMBIE & FITCH              FITCH & ABERCROMBIE
                            LOCKHEED MARTIN                     MARTIN LOCKHEED
                            JUSTERNINI & BROOKS               BROOKS & JUSTERNINI

In most languages word order has no symmetry, as far as meaning is concerned.  HARD ROCK is not equivalent to ROCK HARD nor COLD STONE synonymous with STONE COLD.  But even if some equivalent meaning can be achieved in reversing word order, especially by adding or subtracting a preposition between the words, the semantics almost always will be different.  Compare:

                            DAIRY QUEEN                                QUEEN OF DAIRY
                            BURGER KING                                KING OF BURGERS
                            MASTERMIND                                 MINDMASTER

In devising marks consisting of surnames, one should usually avoid a word order which makes the mark seem like a single proper name.  Compare:

                            SMITH BARNEY                              BARNEY SMITH
                            LOCKHEED MARTIN                     MARTIN LOCKHEED
                            NEIMAN MARCUS                          MARCUS NEIMAN
                            McDONELL DOUGLAS                  DOUGLAS McDONELL

Finally, with two words having equal number of syllables the first consonant and vowel sound may dictate word order, assuming semantic factors, which ordinarily have priority, don't dictate the reverse.  E.g., in most cases where semantics doesn't dictate placement, the word with the shorter vowel sound will come first, as with ricochet words (P 205 below).  Note HARRY AND DAVID'S and even NEIMAN MARCUS, where the AR sound is only slightly longer than the EI sound.  In contrast, the stronger, more plosive consonant may demand first placement.  Compare BILL AND WILL vs. WILL AND BILL.  Arguably BILL should come first.  Of course, there are exceptions to these prevailing word orders, especially when flow of sound will control.  MAC & JAC is easier to say than JAC & MAC because the "N" sound in & is slightly awkward when immediately followed by the "M" sound in MAC.

75.  Time Factors and Connotations
Consider a mark's temporal content, particularly in relation to arbitrary and suggestive marks.  That is, you should consider whether the mark is connected to the past, harkens to the future, or lives in the ever-present now.   Obviously, atavistic marks like ROMAN MEAL, connoting an association with ancient Rome, can thrive at least as long as the connotation has not disappeared .  E.g., the concept of Roman civilization may weaken over time as relatively fewer people learn about ancient Rome.  Because of market niche and effective advertising, MIDAS, associated with Greek mythology, has thrived even though the purchasing public is ever less familiar with the ancient king with the golden touch.   Cf. QUILL for office supplies.  Thus, with an atavistic mark the owner must consider how long the connection to the past will be meaningful to customers, and the owner may create new metaphoric associations if the old ones fade away. 

With the future so rapidly upon us as a fierce wind on the face, creating marks with  futurity in them is more difficult.  For instance, with "future" marks the question is, how long will the terminology be consistent with new technological developments and "lingo," and how long before usage catches up with language?  As examples, terms like AI ("artificial intelligence"), DUST ("smart dust"), WARP, and BOTS (associated with "nanobots") may seem somewhat futuristic but may actually be or become passe.  Interesting examples of obsolete high-tech terminology can be found in WIRED Magazine's ratings of words as "Expired," "Tired," and "Wired."  As Yogi Berra once observed, "The future ain't what it used to be," so if selecting a futuristic mark, remember that even the concept of futurity may rapidly change.  A futuristic mark is often more of a gamble than an atavistic one.

The timeless or time-neutral mark is one that may survive for a long period.  For example, words of Greek origin are such candidates because of the universality of Greek thought.  Note XEROX, HYPERION, PENTIUM, and NIKE, which, though superficially harking back to ancient Greek civilization, reside in the temporal present. These marks are like "petronyms" (words set in stone) or "frozen" words whose strength and meaning are not quickly thawed by time.

With fanciful marks one can sometimes inject temporal connotations with letters alone.  In some contexts the letters A, B, D, G, H, O, W,  and Y may be  slightly past-oriented while E, I, N,  and Z are more futuristic.  Perhaps it's no coincidence that the Internet age is characterized by so many "I" and "E" marks like Apple, Inc.'s family of "I" marks such as iPOD and iPHONE and marks like eBAY and eHARMONY.   Vowels alone may emanate temporal feelings, going from present to past as they move from the front of the mouth to the throat: witness present to past in "ring," "rang," and "rung"  (ranging from the short "I" sound made at the front of the mouth to the short "U" sound deep in the throat). Clearly, typeface selection can also influence time perception: sans serif fonts usually more future-oriented, serif fonts more past.

The mark's temporal associations may lend themselves to certain kinds of products. For instance, "future" marks often go with high-tech electronic products, "past" marks may complement staple food products, and time-neutral marks are frequently good for banking and insurance services.

132.  Fanciful, Capricious Marks 
Consider fanciful and capricious marks, i.e., marks having no real meaning in any language, such as KODAK, VELCRO, PROZAC, BRILLO, TEFLON, EXXON or HAeAGEN-DAZS.  These marks often become strong and distinctive, though initially it takes more advertising dollars to tell customers which products are offered with the fanciful mark.  By making up unusual new "words" (i.e., "neologisms") you not only create strong, distinctive marks but often avoid problems with conflicting marks, unless, e.g., by some chance your fanciful mark happens to look or sound like some other mark.  (Note that because of "soundalike" considerations, simple, shorter, fanciful marks may actually be harder to clear for registration than arbitrary marks having unrelated meaning.  E.g., JETTA (fanciful) sounds like GETA, GEDDA, and JEDDA, whereas PLATYPUS (arbitrary) would probably not be mistaken for anything else.)

Even though initially you will probably spend more on advertising a fanciful mark to make it known, the long range results often justify increased initial expenses.  Compared to a more descriptive mark which tells the consumer something about the products, the more-expensive-to-establish fanciful mark, once established, is usually commercially and legally stronger, more distinctive, more difficult to challenge, and less likely to be confused with competitive descriptive terminology.  Another advantage of a coined word like EXXON, KODAK, and CEMEX is that it is neither noun, adjective, or verb and thus capable of all the associations with the products that any part of speech might have.  It provides the maximum voltage for the spark of imagination to leap from mark to product and back.

One way to generate ideas for a new word is to use a random word generator.  A much better technique is to create a fanciful composite word whose components are derived from product qualities.  (See Composite Marks, P 174 below.)

166. Changed Letters 
A technique for creating an interesting mark is to change one letter of an ordinary word or a pre-existing name or mark.  When the ordinary word is related to the product, that's a plus; if the result is amusing or clever, that, too, may be helpful.  Though Kashi is also a Middle Eastern surname, a possible example is KASHI for breakfast cereal, U.S. Reg. No. 1,366,934, which is one letter away from "kasha," an Eastern European cooked dish made from hulled or crushed grain, e.g., a buckwheat mush.  Also note U.S. Reg. No. 1,967,683 for TUSHION covering sports and recreational cushions, derived from "cushion" and "tush" which is slang for rear end.  LINUX is one letter away from LINUS, the first name of its originator Linus Torvalds, and the more common DANNY'S became the successful DENNY'S.  Imaginatively, CINGULAR, one letter away from singular, is related to the Latin words "cingula," meaning belt or girdle, and "cingulum," a zone on the earth, each connoting the terrestrial nature of the CINGULAR telephone network service.  ECCO for shoes is one letter away from ECHO and ECCE, "behold" in Latin. Though IKEA supposedly originated from the names of the founder and of his property and village (Ingvar Kamprad Elmtaryd Agunnaryd), the mark has been promoted with awareness that IKEA is one letter away from IDEA, even per the wording "the IKEA idea."  Do SNICKERS and SCRABBLE gain energy by respectively being one letter away from SNACKERS and SCRAMBLE? If the changed letter is merely a soundalike of the replaced one, the result may not be as striking or imaginative, as with INFINITI in lieu of INFINITY.

197.  Obscure Words.
You can derive an almost-fanciful mark that has linguistic and semantic roots by finding an obscure word, e.g., by perusing the complete edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.  If the word suggests the product, that's a plus; even if not, you may have an unusual arbitrary mark.  Examples of registered marks are VIRAGO (an heroic or manlike woman)(U.S. Reg. No. 2,199,841 for books); ZANTE (European smoke-tree wood) (U.S. Reg. No. 2,399,171 for footwear); TONDO (a circular painting or carving)(U.S. Reg. No. 2,348,526 for books); CYLIX (a shallow-stemmed two-handled drinking cup)(U.S. Reg. No. 1,212,734 for data transmission and computer programming services); and OBELUS (a sign used in ancient manuscripts to mark suspect, corrupt or spurious words or passages) (U.S. Reg. No. 2,259,241 for stainless steel flatware).  Such unusual marks tend to be distinctive and less likely to conflict with other marks, especially in relation to meaning.

Less arcane, but sometime apt, are "fossil" words, i.e., obsolete words which, like a crab in a shell, only survive within idiomatic expressions, such as "fettle" which only used occurs within the expression "in fine fettle."  KITH, as in "kith and kin," is a trademark example, as is SPIC AND SPAN.  Though fossil words can be distinctive, their advantage may be lost unless used arbitrarily or otherwise imaginatively.

Still somewhat obscure, but less so than "fossil" words, are "jargon" words and expressions.  Jargon is vocabulary peculiar to a particular trade, industry, occupation, profession or similar group, for example, legal jargon like "sua sponte" (meaning "of his/her own volition") or military jargon like "alpha strike."  If jargon words spark imagination, like the mark EVENT HORIZON, so much the better. Otherwise, to be effective, a less imaginative mark like FORCE MULTIPLIER must be used arbitrarily or very imaginatively.  After all, jargon terms by their very nature can be dull and lifeless.

241.  Symmetry
They say a symmetrical face may be more handsome or beautiful yet perhaps less interesting.  The same is partially true of designs.  Examples of symmetric designs are the CBS eye, U.S. Reg. No. 645,893; the Wool Bureau's wool content symbol,  U.S. Reg. No. 790,140; the Purina checkerboard, U.S. Reg. No. 930,599; the BASS beer triangle, U.S. Reg. No. 1,926,947; and marks using the infinity symbol, the number 8, or the letter H.  Although these marks may be more visually static, they can be more "timeless" and durable.  (See Timeless Designs, P 273 below.)  I.e., they can be more iconic and symbolic.  By flowing curves or bold contrasts the symmetrical mark may still retain visual activity, as per the wool content, checkerboard, number 8, and infinity symbol marks mentioned above.

The most timeless and iconic are designs that are both horizontally and vertically symmetric, like those described above.  A mark symmetric in only one dimension is generally less powerful though sometimes more expressive.  Compare the fully symmetric H design used by Hannah Creations, Inc. for jewelry (U.S. Reg. No. 2,782,146) to the vertically symmetric HONDA "H" (U.S. Reg. No. 2,651,962), or  the fully symmetric "8" in V-8 to the horizontally symmetric "3" in 3M.  Or  compare the Roman numerals II and V.

Symmetric designs, particularly fully symmetric, are better suited for house marks since they radiate an aura of stability via their balance and inertia.  Also the fully symmetric design is generally more compatible with a conservative business image.

244.  Orientation 
The direction a mark faces may have a subtle or even profound effect.  (Cf. Gravity, P 246 below.)  Right vs. left orientation should be considered whenever a choice arises.  Clearly this phenomenon applies to word marks because they read left to right in most languages, but it also applies to designs since most designs used on labels, packaging, advertising, letterhead, and business cards appear on the left or center, encouraging the mark's rightward orientation or movement.  Rightward and upward orientations are metaphorically positive, alive, and forward-looking; leftward and downward can be otherwise.  ("Left" in Latin is "sinister"; in French it's "gauche.")

Notice with coinage designs that busts of dead figures (presidents or monarchs) tend to face left while those alive tend right.**  To be "positive" and forward looking, designs showing wheelchairs almost invariably face right, e.g., U.S. Reg. Nos. 2,322,919 and 1,714,499.  Some designs are registered both ways, with the right-facing isotope usually being the more "friendly."  Cf. U.S. Reg. Nos. 2,352,951 and 2,352,943 for left- and right-facing moon crescents used for bakery goods and U.S. Reg. Nos. 2,617,369 and 2,630,709 for left- and right-facing equine designs for horse registry services.

305.  Sound Marks 
Distinctive sound marks usually consist of a short series of individual notes, alone or with chords, often mid-range notes played on a single instrument.  Cf. the NBC chimes (U.S. Reg. No. 916,522) and the "INTEL INSIDE" sound bite (U.S. Reg. No. 2,315,261).  Sometimes words accompany the sounds as with U.S. Reg. No. 2,369,787 owned by Glaxo Wellcome, Inc. for a mark consisting of "the melody notes E flat, F, B flat in octave below, B flat, followed by the spoken words of 'BREAKTHROUGH MEDICINES FOR EVERYDAY LIVING' and a musical chord consisting of the melody notes E flat and E flat in two octaves."

Animal noises are also possible subject matter, e.g., the roar of the old MGM lion (U.S. Reg. No. 1,395,550).  More unusual marks are being developed, even sounds from exhaust pipes used to advertise motorcycles.  Nonetheless, such unusual marks, unless cleverly employed, will be hard to protect and less distinctive, especially if somewhat descriptive.

Even where sound is not necessarily registerable, it can be part of the branding strategy.  E.g., supposedly JAGUAR car engine sounds are designed to complement the JAGUAR name and design.


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