With the recent changes made to many company names (GDF-Suez which has become Engie, and Bongrain renamed Savencia) or to those of political parties (the UMP which may become “The Republicans”), now is a good time for us to take a closer look at a profession that is bound to develop.
It is because the act of giving a name has emotional connotations. Who among us has not thought hard about the choice
of names for our children and then made the mistake of sharing our initial ideas with family and friends? Their reactions sometimes throw us off course,as demonstrated in the comedy film “Le prénom” [the forename].The names of certain famous people seem to have been thought up in order to promote their careers. Was Charles de Gaulle not an extraordinary name for one presiding over the destiny of France? And what about François Mitterrand’s first government? It is as though his ministers were chosen because of their first names (unless this was an unintended joke), so much did their names evoke the ministries that they were responsible for: Defferre for the Home Office, Delors for Finance, Cresson for Agricultural, Lang for Culture, Lalumière for Consumer Affairs, Le Pensec for Maritime Affairs…
Having a memorable and pertinent name, that is what counts. Many famous people, from Mother Theresa (whose real name was Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu) to Stromae (born Paul Van Haver), have taken this route; even the singer Marilyn Manson who, as he himself admits, created his stage name by making reference to icons (well-known and less well-known) of our age: Marilyn Monroe and Charles Manson. Richard Melville Hall chose the pseudonym Moby in reference to his ancestor, the author of Moby Dick – a guarantee of credibility for telling a story.
It is neither semiologists (prisoners of their own analytical constraints), nor linguists (who are afraid to play with words lest they rob them of their meaning); even less is it advertisers whose desire to come up with something immediately arresting results in some outlandish creations. The true creators of names are exceptional characters, lovers of language, Scrabble and crossword champions (and yes…), methodical poets gifted with a sixth sense that enables them to perceive how a word qualifies to be transformed into a brand name.
The creator of a name is a gold prospector, continually on the lookout for “gold nuggets”, and he must have the ability to recognise a gold nugget when he sees one. Knowing how to come up with a name is a talent, a subtle combination of intuition and experience. One must believe in the intrinsic power of certain words, and in what they reveal when they are dissected: the richness of their sounds, the power of what they evoke, the diversity of images that they conjure up. No-one created Évian, of course, but it is easy to show – without falling into the trap of over-rationalisation in retrospect – how everything conspired to give this name to water for babies, the source of youth. In Évian we see the words Ève [Eve], vie [life] and an [year]. Its anagrams are: veina, naïve and even nivea (“colour of snow” in Latin, before it was used as a well-known name for a cosmetic brand). Everything in this name reminds one of water and childhood. The same brilliance is there in the name “Lego”, which, in addition to its Danish meaning (Legt Godt, I play), means “I join together” in many Latin-based languages and is similar to “legen” (to arrange) in German.
At a time when all information is accessible to everyone in an instant, a brand name will rarely be found on the Internet, which has become a vast field where everybody is digging around. Good names are to be found in books or in dictionaries and anyone who does not believe in serendipity has little chance of succeeding. There is no secret to it: you have to search, sort the wheat from the chaff and then search again. It requires perseverance, and all creators have passed this way. Mozart worked into the night; Bob Marley shut himself in his studio for a year to listen tirelessly to other music before composing himself. What am I trying to say? It is time that those who create names took a new approach and abandoned their familiar way of doing things. Monopolised by a handful of long-established agencies, the creators of brand names in France have become stale. The formats of names with which we are bombarded show this very clearly: there were the names ending in “oo” (Wanadoo, Kelkoo, Ooshop), then names ending in “is” (Aventis, Itineris, Altadis, Novartis) and names ending in “cia” (intescia, vivescia), and for some time now we have seen the ascendancy of the letter “q”. Not to mention the misuse of Latin which we need to get away from in favour of other more exotic foreign languages. How can renewal come about? The future belongs to the branding agencies. The creation of a brand name is too serious a business to be entrusted to brand name creating agencies for which this is their only area of expertise. This is because a brand name is made up of a composite of elements. It must be recognised that the container (the form) is as important as the content (the basic concept). Therefore, anyone creating a name must be sensitive to graphics. A good name is a perfect alliance of the word (its meaning, its connotations), how it sounds and its graphic potential.
Nor should we forget storytelling, because a good name is often the start of a story, the promise that lies behind a concept. Here too, who is better placed than a branding agency to uncover this potential and to exploit it until the brand name is revealed to the market?
The creation of names, which on paper may seem playful and amusing, can be a long and painstaking process. It seems that it is not simply a matter of creativity. Let us look more closely at the main obstacles that companies and the agencies who advise them encounter along the way.
1. Do not give in to fears of legal consequences
It can seem a scary business. It is true that certain types of products (class 3 for perfumes or class 5 for pharmaceutical products) can be a nightmare. It has become almost impossible to find an available name that is both pleasing and intelligent. The lawyer or the law firm with which the client works must attend all presentation meetings. It is through constructive exchanges between the lawyer and the creator of the brand name that satisfactory solutions can be found. The lawyer must be open-minded, daring in his recommendations (anticipating an investigation into usage or a negotiation, for example) and impartial (he cannot belong to the consulting agency, because one cannot be both judge and judged).
2. Mastering the international aspects
It is rare for a name to cross borders without unfortunate consequences. A name that is unanimously celebrated in Europe may be disastrous in Japan or in the Middle East. Mandarin is often a problem, because the same written symbol can often result in several different meanings, depending on its pronunciation. Closer to home, Basque and Finnish can also produce some unpleasant surprises. It is not only a question of linguistics, it is also a socio-cultural matter. It is essential to have a network of correspondents around the world to check that a name doesn’t have any negative connotations. If one is ignorant of such connotations, one can end up choosing the name of a criminal, a has-been star or a scandal. It requires a great deal of self-assurance and financial resources to avoid embarrassing connotations. With the passing of time we have forgotten that Nike means to copulate in French and Arabic. Sega, playing on the accent, has become dissociated with its Italian meaning: a solitary male pleasure. Mitsubishi, on the other hand, has ended up withdrawing the name MR2 from the market.
3. Placing importance on the testing of names
The testing of names, particularly in terms of their quality, cannot be replaced by the inspiration of their creator or by what those taking the decision may have in mind. Testing a name does not serve the purpose of an axe; when well used it is a tool that is able to detect the weaknesses of a name, which the design of the brand name can then compensate for or correct – yet one more reason for entrusting the search for a name to a branding agency. It is reported that famous names such as Renault’s Twingo or Thierry Mugler’s Amen did not come out well in the tests. When Mugler learned that the findings from the test were unfavourable, its first reaction was not to abandon the name, but to understand why it could have produced so many reactions (either positive or negative). The list of complaints against Amen bolstered the idea that the name was special and that no one would be indifferent to it – and the sales figures for the famous perfume showed that they were right. Testing is an indicator of relevance and not a tool that serves as a pseudo-scientific veto. There is a very important reason for this: when exposed to something new, most consumers surveyed displayed resistance. The purpose of testing is to help understand what they find off-putting.
4. Helping the decision maker
Quite frankly, what board of directors these days would give the most prestigious car in the world a Spanish girl’s name? Who would splash out €150,000 on a Dolores or a Conchita? Nobody – and yet Mercedes is originally simply a Spanish girl’s name. Who, apart from its illustrious creator, could have named his computer brand after a common fruit? This is the primary problem that creators of names face when presenting their suggestions for names –helping decision makers see the way ahead. It is a mistake to think that mere presentation of a name on a Powerpoint slide will win many votes. It needs to be seen in context, with an initial attempt to use an appropriate typeface, showing it against a background or on a calendar, or even by recording it in a welcome message. There are many possible solutions, and once again it is the design agency that is best placed to transform a word into a brand name – because there is no “love at first sight” in the naming process.