Last month, when former OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei announced the name of his new company, it caught the world’s eye. For sheer chutzpah and unforgettability, the name he chose — Nothing — stood out.
But isn’t the choice of such an audacious brand name rather risky?
Lulu Raghavan, Managing Director at Landor Associates, a brand consulting and design agency that has created several striking brand names, including Taj’s Vivanta and Ginger, feels that it is a bold, imaginative move. As she points out, the story behind the brand name is that the technology will be so intuitive and easy to operate that it will be invisible. “How beautiful is that. Nothing, with a story like that behind it, can become a bold, visionary company,” she says.
The name, as Raghavan points out, is the starting point of a brand’s story and can make a huge difference in brand-building efforts.
While India likes coined brand names, in the West, says Raghavan, there is a growing backlash against coined words. But she says while it is great to get a proper word, it tends to be a trademark nightmare. “Lawyers will tell you that coined words are easier to trademark and, over time, through storytelling, the name can be really ownable.”
From being named after the founder, to coining words, to taking inspiration from Sanskrit, Latin and Greek, to literally coming up with an identity out of thin air, brand names have quite interesting origins.
For instance, Google is derived from googol, which is digit 1 followed by 100 zeros, while Microsoft is a portmanteau of microcomputing software; and, of course, we have our brands like Tata, Birla, and others that are synonymous with families.
Is it boring to name a company after a family? Can it become a drawback after a while, when the family sells out?
Raghavan feels if there is trust and credibility and a story behind the family name, it can work beautifully.
No name is boring, says Raghavan, unless it is too descriptive, such as a financial technology company that calls itself Fintech. Descriptive names are easy to understand, but they are limiting. And you will not be able to protect them.
She gives an instructive story of Lavasa, a brand that Landor worked on. The client was very fixated on Lake Town as a name. “But,” says Raghavan, “we pointed out that Lake Town could be anywhere and cannot be protected.” That’s when Lavasa, a coined name with a melodious ring that emotes a feeling of fluidity and freedom, was created.
Coined names have a lot going for them, says Raghavan, pointing to how Accenture — which is ‘accent on the future’ — has become a catchy evergreen name.
Raghavan has an interesting story behind how she joined Landor 20 years ago. Word guru Anthony Shore (the man behind over 200 company and product names including Qualcomm Snapdragon and Photoshop Lightroom), who was interviewing her for the position of Naming Manager, saw Sanskrit on her resume and told her that when it came to naming companies, the language could be fertile ground, as Latin and Greek were overused.
In the West, names are frequently derived from Latin, or Greek — think Nike, Verizon, Volvo. In India, says Raghavan, people love a Sanskrit-based name. She cites the example of Irasva (pure emotions), which Landor created for a jewellery brand.
She says Sanskrit also has acceptance around the globe. For example, for Essar Oil, which sought a corporate identity change after Russian stakeholders came on board, Landor coined the name Nayara from naya (new) and era. “The Russians too loved it,” she says.
Check out the names of the services you use today — Zomato, Swiggy, Dunzo — and they are all coined. And yet, they roll off your tongue so easily. Vigyan Verma, founder of brand consultancy The Bottom Line, says ‘Swiggy’ conveys to him a sense of ‘quick, delicious’. You can say “Swiggy kar do ” — it has quickly taken on a verb form. “I find that names beginning with ‘S’ have a sensory feel about them,” he says. Dunzo, he says, gives the sense of work getting done
Vigyan feels that a name like Nothing will be easily accepted by millennials. The basic intention with some of the names is to get attention, provoke curiosity and then make them stick. Today’s world is ready for such words, he says.
Agrees Raghavan, pointing to some names like Naked or Virgin, which could have been quite polarising. But delve into the stories behind the raison d’etre of these companies and the name is apt.
- How do start-ups create an unforgettable name? Especially as not everyone can afford a brand agency to help with a name right at the start of a company’s journey.
- Also, she says, often start-ups get disheartened when a URL of the name of their choice is not available and then go to their next best option. Don’t do that, is her advice. She points to how Indigo Airlines didn’t compromise and, instead, has taken the url goindigo.in. There are always ways around these things, she says.
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