American Express – Perfect name for a credit card

I can’t imagine anyone nowadays saying American Express isn’t anything but a perfect name for a high class credit card. But in reality, this was originally a name for a freight company along the lines of other Pony Express services. Yes, they delivered packages between New York and Chicago or St Louis and all the stops along the way.

Naming financial institutions and servicesAnd many of these packages contained money or gold. So they had many holdups until they cleverly conceived the idea of travelers checks.  This foiled the bandits and got American Express into the money business and eventually out of the parcel express business. But the name did not change. Goes to show you how continued good execution on a brand promise leads us to believe in a brand, regardless of the words in the name or the change in services offered.

Of course, today American Express is a mega big valuable credit card company known around the world, and most of us don’t need to move money explicitly or carry travelers checks. We can just whip out our gold cards.

In an ironic twist, what if you really do want to move hard cash money (or gold or diamonds) around the world? Before you jump to Federal Express, read their standard forms insurance statement:  Maximum coverage for cash or jewelry is $500.

So what about UPS? Well they will carry any amount and insure it. Problem is the insured value is right their on the outside of the old shipping form – for any handler to see (and maybe salivate over).

naming shipping and freight companiesWell there is a big secret here.  Federal Express does move a fortune in cash and jewelry every day. They even have metal lock boxes that just happen to fit snugly inside their standard box sizes and in many cases only the receiver and the sender have a key to the lock (or know the combination). But you have to have a special account and be approved by FedEx before you can do so. Remember however, for money movement, call FedEx and not Amex. For credit cards, call Amex and not Fedex.


© Copyright 2016 and all rights reserved worldwide – Brighter Naming®


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Posted in Branding, Consumer Goods, Hospitality & Travel, Naming Education, Trademarks

How to select a naming agency.

How to select a Naming Agency

Before you can select a naming agency it is prudent to understand what kind of agencies and consultants are out there.
They fall into 4 broad categories:
Large branding agencies1.    Big Company Full Service Agencies:  These are the naming agencies that do extensive brand and positioning research for target markets for large companies, before they even show any names. When they do, the list is usually good quality – but it is a short list of carefully vetted (maybe even tested) names. Most of these services are part of a broader branding agency’s offerings and may include extensive on site(s) interaction with clients . Projects are usually completely driven by the branding agency, always with a end user focus in mind, rather than personal wishes of any execs. May help big teams come to consensus. Usually involves full usage, linguistics and legal checks too, though these are often “farmed out” to other agencies, and billed to you. Price range for name only is typically in $20,000 to $60,000 (or beyond) range and make take 2-3 months.
2.    SMB Focused Agencies: These are the smaller naming agencies that focus on small and medium sized businesses, as well as divisions of larger companies, where the urgency is for a good, clear, available name that management readily embraces (indeed they are intimately involved in the process). They often do their own linguistics and legal checks, and usually start with a long list of names that have provisional clearance. A senior consultant ensures that the name is on message or otherwise suits the needs of the client, even in the absence of much (or any) full brand and strategy research. Plus he/she should be good at executive meeting facilitation. They sometimes have very large databases of names and a handful of smart namers to generate new names quickly. Price range is usually in the $3,000 to $6,000 price range with 2-3 week time frames.
3.    Sole Proprietor Companies and Agencies: For the small startup there are a number of individual naming consultants who keep all the overhead down and only provide any requested services. They often have a process that only offers a large handful of names initially, but then adds and tweaks more names as they learn more and get some feedback.  Fees may be anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 but may not include legal or linguistic checks, other than the real basics. Also typically 2-3 weeks but can easily drag out longer if client and consultant not on same page.
4.    Do It Yourself: Of course, this is still a popular method. After all, how hard can it be to name your new widget or service or tasty snack or lovely store? You named your pets and kids, right? But the problem is you don’t have 9 months or so now, and duplicates are not allowed unless you are a small local business and will never go outside your county or state. Also, you need to be a creative person with words and languages. Seldom is anything named nowadays in any common field without first touching at least 100 names. Priceless – until you get the dreaded cease and desist letter from someone else with the same name and/or trademark.

In the photographic world, everyone is a photographer today with the advent of cell phone cameras. Some of these people are actually very talented amateurs. Others get help from more equipment and software tools to get good results. But for your daughter’s wedding, aren’t you going to hire a professional?

It is similar for naming. What kind of results do you want and in what time frame. If you need to keep  worldwide execs happy and prove you have done full analytical research and branding, you probably need a big agency (See 1 above) to make sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed.

If you are really small and don’t have any money, do your home work, read lots of articles on naming and branding (this website is a good starting point – see Resources) and even then try find a creative wordsmith partner. But be careful. Often this self serve model leads to big legal costs because the expense is in the checking and not the filing – until you get into trouble that is.

So the value of the individual consultant and SMB agencies is that they do a lot of the legwork for you, greatly shortening the time until you can confidently use a new name. Sometimes they are just a good sounding board or can help remind you how a given word is used in other market sectors or countries or industries.

Remember no one has an exclusivity on creativity. Make sure you hire an agency that will listen more than they will talk. One that has the courage to say why you can’t go down some naming rat holes.  One that will add your names to the list and make sure the list is initially really long. We all have personalities. Companies have personalities. Do you want your name to reflect your personality or that of your expensive branding consultants?

Finally, as Ries and Trout so famously said in their seminal work on branding: “Your name is your most important weapon in the battle for the mind.”  So I often ask why people will spend more on their first brochure, that has such a short lifespan, than on their name which they will use forever more.


© Copyright 2016 and all rights reserved worldwide – Brighter Naming®


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Posted in Branding, Consumer Goods, Name Origins, Naming Education, Naming News, Naming Resources, Trademarks

Is Gnarly a positive or a strange name for wine?

Every time I used to visit my friends in Sacramento, California, I used to pass a big billboard for Gnarly Wines. Then I always forgot to ask him what he thought of that name. Would he construe it as negative, as I did, or was I missing something? Either way it attracted my attention, which is the sign of a good name regardless.

naming wines and wineriesAnyway, I finally found a bottle of Gnarly Head Pinot Grigio on sale at my local supermarket and thought if I took home a bottle it would (a) help me remember the name, and (b) let me find out personally how it tasted. Haven’t you discovered that it is a lot easier to remember the name of something if you like the taste? That gives you the complete personification of the brand experience promise.

If the wine looks a light green in the photo here, that is not my photography. It really is a light green in color though it is very subtle. I guess it still qualifies as a white wine. And very interestingly Gnarly Head also offers an Authentic White wine. Wow, that is one way to emphasize its clarity – right in the name.

Wine Enthusiast rates this wine a 88. So not bad for the under $10 (sale price). As for my personal opinion, that will have to wait until I have some hot spicy Asian food to pair with it, as the Wine Enthusiast recommends. In the meantime, every time I read the word Gnarly I still hear it with an Australian accent.. usually some surfer dude saying how tough the waves or the projects were. Yes, I know they claim it is from the old gnarled stalks in their vineyards. Gnarly Head also reminds me of some old curmudgeon though I am now getting much more comfortable with it and compliment them on standing out from the herd.


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Posted in Consumer Goods, Name Origins, Naming News, Wine Names

Is Trump Pence only worth Tuppence?

naming candidatesMany of my clients might say that from a pure naming point of view, the Trump Pence ticket is better. After all, only two syllables and from two common English words, easy to say and remember. Meanwhile, all my English relatives are saying: “Not so fast, did you mean only worth tuppence?” Yes, tuppence, meaning two pence, has been not officially used in English currency for a long time, but the expression lives on.

And as  a good namer or linguist would point out… the two words do not run together. So you have to really stop briefly between Trump and Pence to separate the P’s.

So at end of day, the two syllable political ticket name, loses its advantage to Clinton Kaine, which is not only smooth to say, but has the sharp K sound for stickiness and recall.

Will this affect the elections? Who knows. Probably not as much as how the candidates appear on TV. Most voters are visual and hence presidential elections since the advent of TV debates have been won by the most camera compatible candidate. Bush/Gore was too close to call visually… and so was the election as it turned out.


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Posted in Branding, Consumer Goods, Naming News, People Names

Oxymoron Names can be Powerful

The other day I fell asleep by an open drafty cold window. By morning I could barely move my neck and had no motion at all in one direction. Being a stubborn male I did nothing but massage and rub it all day, plus take a few Tylenols to dull the pain.
Two days later I was still having trouble driving a car as I couldn’t look right to check for oncoming traffic so I broke down and went to the drug store. Of course I had those old, old famous smelly rub ointments on my mind. Those with names like Ben Gay or Tiger Balm – great strong sounding Asian names.
Oxymoron cream product namesBut by the time I found the right shelf, IcyHot cream was jumping out at me. As a namer, how could I not like IcyHot. Talk about an oxymoron… anywhere else in English literature these two words would never go together. If you asked youngsters to analyze the name they might say it was nonsense as it is impossible for something to be icy and hot. However, the impossible has become the dominant brand name on the shelves in the USA now. And it works for me: goes on cool and heats up the muscles real fast.
The cream still stinks, but who cares when the name brings a smile to your face. Wish I could find more names like this, especially on products that work as advertised.


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Posted in Branding, Consumer Goods, Strange Names, Trademarks

Rules for race horse names are rules for your product names

On the eve of the second leg of the Triple Crown, NBC Sports recently ran a little video explaining the rules associated with naming race horses. Turns out that the American Stud Book, Principal Rules and Procedures actually lays out some specific rules to do with the naming of those racing horses. These include:

  • Cannot be more than 18 characters long
  • Cannot end with horse, filly, mare, stallion, etc
  • Numbers over 30 must be spelled out
  • Can be the name of a living person but only with written consent
  • May not be vulgar or obscene
  • Cannot be designed to humiliate any individual
  • Cannot be named after any previous triple crown winner

RaceHorseIn my family there have been lots of relatives that  wager on the ponies, but it will never be my diversion. However, as a naming nut I have often been fascinated by horse names, for one other reason:  They all have to be unique.  After all, you can’t bet or race two horses with the same name as no one would know which is which.

So why do so many execs not take extreme care to make sure the name for their product line is not very unique?  Because they thought up the “perfect” name?  Because they simply like that name? Because they are different (or indifferent) to the competition? Or are they just naive or lazy?

Remember, you are naming the product, not describing it. And if you are not very creative with words, simply pick up the latest horse racing form guide and you will have a plethora of new ideas to work from – and have some fun doing it too.


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Posted in Branding, Consumer Goods, Industrial Products Naming, Naming Education, Sports Naming, Technology Names, Trademarks

How to name your solar company or products

Last time I calculated carefully, there was a solar startup about every four and half hours in the USA alone. Even if that has now slowed down to two a day (probably unlikely or very conservative), what are you going to call your new solar startup? Or solar related product line?

Solar, Sun, Green Energy, Home Solar, Voltaic, and precious few other words are used to describe this industry, its players and its products. And these words were long ago explored extensively and any simple usage of these are long gone. In fact there are many Home Solar small companies across the country which are not related to each other. There are even three different companies, all with a registered trademark of different sorts, on the name Sun Power®.

naming solar startups or branded productsOf course you can always name a company after yourself. But what when you want to sell it off or bring in partners or shareholders, not to mention confusion in the marketplace. Last time I looked there were over 30 registered corporations in Ohio with the name Garcia in them. Imagine if I tried such a search in California or Florida?

When I told a Chinese exec about our dilemma, he just laughed and said they were even out of even family last names in China for solar products and were now down to initials only.

So you need to get creative and explore many, many more roots and combinations and permutations thereof. Or use a naming agency with experience in the field. Over 10 years ago we came up with the name Solyndra – from Solar and Cylindrical. They have since had a meteoric rise and even quicker collapse. But we still have all the hundreds of names off the master list to use as a basis for naming another company. Similarly for lists from many other green projects we have worked on. Agencies like ours that track names can save you a lot of time, money  and headaches, both now and downstream with marketing and trademarks.

After all, as Ries and Trout said in their seminal book on branding: Your name is your primary weapon in the battle for the mind. Surely it is worth more than the cost of your first brochure or a product manager’s one month salary?


© Copyright 2016 – All rights reserved worldwide–

Posted in Branding, Consumer Goods, Domain Names, Industrial Products Naming, Naming Education, Naming News, Naming Resources, Technology Names, Trademarks

A classy brand as soon as you hear the name.

RevereLogoIf you are going to name your company after yourself, as so many do, it really helps when you have a last name as impactful as Alan Revere does. But he didn’t stop there. So today when I review the names of all the top jewelry schools in the USA, Revere Academy stands out from the crowd. Two great words to make one great name. Even though the name skews heavily to the NorthEast for historical reasons. Even though the business is located in San Francisco. Even though the school is in an old high rise in downtown San Francisco and does not look like a campus at all. The word Academy is so much more powerful than school or training in a context like this.

As I have often repeated, and based on my primer Brighter Branding, a name is a not a brand. It is merely shorthand for a brand. You still have to execute well on your brand promise. But when your name does incorporate some key brand value or image or position, then you are one step closer to imprinting that brand name on your clients’ brains. At no additional cost.

So the business name should be, and can be, a major win for your long term strategic vision, marketing and branding. Why then do so many startup companies invest more in printing their first brochure than they do in their name?


© Copyright 2016 – All rights reserved worldwide–

Posted in Branding, Naming Education, Trademarks

How can you legally share a trademarked name?

Believe it or not, trademarked names can be shared by different companies. Even companies in a similar line of business and hence trademark category. But there has to be a mutually agreeable (and usually loRollsRoyceLogong term) contract in place. Sometimes the original party may want compensation, sometimes not. This also happens where there is extremely good brand equity in a name and the company splits into two or more entities.

For example, Rolls Royce® car company is now a clearly owned subsidiary of BMW and they continue to turn out ultra high end luxury cars. But separately Rolls Royce® Holdings is the parent company of an eminent jet and other engines company. Originally they had the same history. Today they both go their own way – but still retain and uphold the power of the Rolls RoyceVolvoTruckLogo name.

Similarly, Volvo® is a car company, now spun off and owned by a Chinese Company.  However, Volvo Group® make truck and boat engines as well as some trucks. The name and logo are shared.

NissanXterraNameBut Nissan Xterra® took a different approach. They wanted to use the name Xterra for their off road version of their SUV. But Xterra® is a popular off road bicycle brand of Trek Bicycles. So Nissan license the usage rights to the name and now it is shared. As part of this license, I am sure Nissan agreed to never use the name on their own bicycles. There has, however, been some cross promotions between the companies.


© Copyright 2016 – All rights reserved worldwide–

Posted in Branding, Naming Education, Trademarks

Where are the trademark police?

After a lot of deliberation, brain-storming and creative word smithing, you finally have a new unique name in your industry. And after a blessing by your own intellectual property legal counsel you have applied for, and received, a registered trademark. So you framed the certificate and mounted it neatly on the wall.

Now what?

How will you know if someone else accidentally use the same name? How will you know if some grifters intentionally use the same name and logo on cheap knock-off products?

Reality is that trademark protection is a self-policing system. Yes, the trademark examining attorneys will not issue the same mark to someone else in their jurisdiction (usually country). But what about other areas?

What about usage without registration?

International Trademark CheckingThere are some basic precautions you can take (See my article: Protecting your new product or service name) but beyond that we are on our own. For major consumer marks it pays to get help at least from a monitor service. This should give you some early warning. Beyond that we are mostly on our own. So let’s pull together and help each other. Major consumer trademark owners usually start by becoming active members of INTA (The International Trademark Association). Unfortunately this is too expensive for the small guys. (I can’t even afford a ticket to their annual conference unless someone has a complimentary one for me.)

But it is a worldwide body that tries to educate the world on proper trademark and brand protection practices and policing. They have contacts with import/export customs agents who can also help identify rip-off products. And they will work with them and your legal and security team to deal with offenders.

So please do your part. Alert someone if you see wrong or invalid usage of your trademarks. And alert other companies if you see their marks being abused so they can take the appropriate actions.


© Copyright 2016 – All rights reserved worldwide–

Posted in Branding, Consumer Goods, Domain Names, Naming Education, Naming Resources, Trademarks

Naming Articles

New brand insider articles from an experienced marketing team. Learn all the basics of naming, branding and trademark registration from these free reports:

August 2016: How to select a naming agency.

July 2016: How to get International Trademark protection.

March 2016: You received a cease and desist letter. Now what?

May 2015: How can one product line have many trademarks?

Jul 2014: What roles do copyrights and patents play in protecting names?

Jan 2014: Predictions for 2014 and Free Offers.

Our naming gurus follow and comment on current naming practices worldwide.

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See his industry naming commentary (where he takes a critical look at names) via the blog on this site