The Music of Words

Depending on the strategy, we often produce names that are explicitly linked to brand attributes through syntax and semantics. Another approach is to create names that are not so obviously connected to product features, but rely on phonetic finesse, or, sound symbolism – the linguistic process in which the very sound of a word suggests meaning.

Plato described this long-standing notion in the dialogues of Cratylus in which Socrates debates whether the names for things are arbitrary or, in fact, contain an inherent relationship to the thing named. Philosophical precedent aside, sound symbolism is said to exist in both indigenous and developed languages worldwide and has more recently been recognized as an important aspect of brand and marketing strategies.

Brand names, like all other linguistic expressions, are composed of basic units of sound that act as building blocks to form syllables and words. As a result, the aural anatomy of language can clue us into meaning and potentially affect how we, as consumers, interpret and evaluate brand names.

When well executed, sounds can elicit a variety of associations. In example, vowel sounds like the short “i” in ZipCar or Kindle may conjure images of size, weight, speed or efficiency, even brightness. Likewise a well-placed consonant can make a difference. The “z” for instance, in Prozac, communicates a calming ease. Protac, Prodac, or Profac definitely don’t have the same soporific effect.

Some brand names conjure character and intention. Other brand names simply sound right. Imagine the power of a name that does both. Considering the way sound can enhance meaning and maximize brand equity just might mean the difference between an average name and a name that sings.