Linguistics & Name Styles

How to make sure your name works in foreign languages

Linguistics is the science of languages. And since all names are language based, it is also the science behind naming. Phonetics (see separate page)  is the science of the spoken word, and therefore also very important to naming.

Onomastics or onomatology is the study of proper names of all kinds and the origins of names.

Good namers are people who both study and enjoy languages. Even to the point of creating and playing with new words. In fact, this technique of being able to create new words really helps one become a strong professional namer because most common words in use on any particular subject matter have often already been used for names, or else are adjudged to being generic and therefore not available for trademark registration.

The etymology of a word or name is one of the things we often have to check once some team likes a given name. Liking is usually an instinctive aural or gut reaction. But then when the other half of the brain kicks in, we want some logic to justify the meaning and hence the name choice. Luckily we work mostly in English which has about three times the vocabulary of other languages – as it is derived from an amalgam of three older languages:  Anglo Saxon, Latin and German. Plus we seem to find a fair amount of French roots in there too.

Names are not brands. A brand is a promise of an experience, and a name is but the short hand for that brand promise.

One of our favorite client quotes:
Your names sound like they belong in a dictionary.

Below are some common name styles. See which ones you are comfortable with before engaging a naming agency.

Descriptive InfoSeek, Burger King, Healthy Choice
Traditional National Semi, United Airlines, Alamo, Oracle
Family Name Nordstroms, Dell, Kellogs, Cadillac, Disney, Siebel
Abstract Rolex, Avis, Inktomi, Akamai
Classical Alta Vista, Lycos, Cadence, Prius
Coined- abstract Pepsi, Sony, Verizon, Acura, Nyquil, Camry
Coined – descript. Cingular, Motorola, Compaq, e*Trade, Accenture
Coined – classical Pentium, Centrino, Prius
Tonal Google, Nvidia, Volvo, Tivo, Snapple, Oreo
Abbreviation AOL, SoBe, AT&T, AMD, SAP
Truncation Cisco, Intel, QualComm, FedEx
Joined Microsoft, FileNet, Dreamworks, Laserjet, Safeway, PeopleSoft
Foreign Lancome, Guidant, HaagenDas, Nintendo, Fritos
Geographic Tivoli, Texas Instruments, Amazon, eBay
Object Cyprus, Adobe, Jaguar, Visa, Lotus, Macintosh, Mustang
Color Redback, BlueFish, Green Giant
Playful Yahoo, FatBrain, Raiders, FogDog, Pringles, Kinkos
Verb/Adjective Sprint, Always, Go, About, Suburban
Numeric 3Com, 7Eleven, 4Runner, Bank One
Futuristic Quark, Quasar, Panasonic, Infiniti
Character Dr. Pepper, Sara Lee, Orville Redenbacher, Starbucks

A professional linguist is of great help when it comes to sorting these items out for your new name! Plus they can check the full etymology (root origins) as well as make sure you are not accidentally offending someone or some culture in a foreign language.


For a number of articles on names styles and trends, as well as famous names and how they came about, please see the Naming Articles section. Plus you can see some lists of famous name changes, for both companies or products and celebrities.


Nowadays there are great language resources on the internet. Here is one great starting place:

Your Dictionary

And this newsletter from Michael Quinion is a must-have for all those following the development of the English Language:

World Wide Words

Onomastics is the study of names and naming practices in all works of life. In particular, it has a large historical component to it. Most academics in this field belong to:

American Naming Society

There are many books and online resources on people’s given names. One of the most interesting and comprehensive is:

Kabelerian Philosophy

Proper words in proper places make the true definition of a style………Swift.