“What’s in a name?” asked William Shakespeare in ‘Romeo and Juliet’. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Well, it’s a lovely, poetic thought Will, and it does you credit. But in the real world, a name is actually pretty important.
In the business world, companies are constantly having to come up with new names that serve the intended purpose and still sound good – take the housebuilding industry, for example. There are currently homes being built in scores of locations all over the UK – and each one of those locations needs a development name, several street names and maybe some house-brand names as well.
It’s certainly not a task to be taken lightly – it needs local knowledge and a head full of pleasant thoughts.
So, simplifying enormously, let’s say your new street is on a town site once occupied by a shoe factory. Cobblers’ Avenue? We don’t think so. Factory Street? Sounds a bit bleak.
So you do a bit more work, you see if one of the old factory’s brand names can help. You find they once made a style of shoes called Oxfords. So, Oxfords Lane? Now, that sounds smart, the ‘s’ at the end is intriguing, and it still reflects the locality.
To give you an idea of what road to not go down (pun intended), here’s a list of 10 of the sillier UK street names: Bedlam Bottom, Hampshire; Booty Lane, North Yorkshire; Droop Street, London W10; Frying Pan Alley, London E1; Itchin Close, Hampshire; No Name Street, Kent; Ogle Close, Merseyside; Potto Street, Durham; Spanker Lane, Derbyshire; Squeeze Guts Alley, Cornwall.
But names aren’t just important for a new street; they’re important for any new product.
That’s why British people of a certain age are still a bit annoyed that the well-liked and rugged-sounding Marathon chocolate bar changed its name in 1990 to the lightweight Snickers, to align the UK name with the global one. Even the adverts were a bit apologetic.
It’s surprising how many international names turn ridiculous in translation. There’s the herbal drink ‘Urinal’, for example, the tempting meat product ‘Barfly’ and a Chinese snack whose English name and a bad pack design turns into ‘Only Puke’.
A good brand name, however, is unforgettable for all the right reasons. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be a formula to arrive at a good name – you just know it when you see it.
It’s interesting to see how some of the world’s best known brands got their names. Some of the choices are very personal, but some are surprisingly random.
The coffee chain Starbucks for instance. The name comes from the character Mr Starbuck, the coffee-drinking chief mate in the whaling novel Moby Dick, a favourite book of one of the company’s founders.
Google is a more people-friendly version of the word googol, a mathematical term which means 10 to the power of 100, or one with a hundred zeros after it. Presumably it’s a reference to the huge storage capacity of the internet.
Pringles is a memorable name chosen almost by mistake. The naming team, in desperation, opened the phone book, and found they’d turned to someone who lived in Pringle Street. Pringle… hmm… Pringles! The name stuck.
IKEA should always be in capital letters, because it’s an acronym. It refers to the name and birth address of the founder – Ingvar Kamprad (the founder’s name), Elmtaryd (the family farm), Agunnaryd (the local town).
As for Reebok, that was founded as J.W. Foster and Sons in Bolton, Lancashire in 1895. Two of the founder’s grandsons – Joe and Jeff Foster – chose the name Reebok in the 1950s, after a type of fleet-footed antelope they found in a book Joe won for running.
So while in theory, Shakespeare is right, in practice a well-chosen name can create a buzz, an average name can make you fade into the market and a bad name can actually lose you business.
And gardeners, probably including Shakespeare, know that actually, in real life, even roses have individual ‘brand’ names. New varieties for 2016 include Minnie The Moocher, Eye Of The Tiger and My Lovely Mum!