September 12, 2023

Names that Go Against the Grain

This article was written by Olof Lindquist some years ago. We still stumble across this naming issue frequently and realize that this is as as relevant as ever. There's much to learn from this insightful text, especially considering how easy it is to get caught in this anxious state of finding the 'correct' name.

I work with naming companies, brands and products. I've been doing it for quite some time and have heard - and also given - a lot of good advice on what to consider when choosing a new name. It's advice of varying quality, some of it very well-intentioned, but perhaps very simple: "the name should be easy to pronounce and spell, and preferably short". Or something like "it should give positive associations". Well, all of that sounds good, but who would actually think of naming a new shopping mall Ichtyocentauroi (Greek sea gods), or a series of new chicken dishes Campylobacta? With or without good advice.

But what's worse than the advice being a bit superfluous is that it misses the point of brands. The name is part of the brand and should primarily reflect the idea and feeling of the brand, regardless of what is easily pronounced or gives positive associations. I half-jokingly say that I would never buy a malt whisky that I can pronounce the name of. After all, a Scottish single malt is a whole little world of associations and mystery, imagining desolate moors or windswept Atlantic islands. The name is an important part of the magic. The fact that it is unpronounceable is no disadvantage when you open a nice old Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach in front of the fire, or stand in front of the whisky shelf in the duty-free shop. On the contrary.

Well, to test my thesis, I decided to go for some heavier stuff: the fashion and interior design store Stank Stockholm (stank means stench in Sweden). Like a true investigative reporter, I headed to S:t Eriksgatan to investigate on the spot. The entrance to the store is modest, sandwiched between Café Fix and a smartphone store, but upon entering, a large bright room opens up under the courtyard, with light streaming in from the ceiling. Industry chic, with clothes and all sorts of gadgets in a kind of orderly disorder. And completely odorless. A friendly clerk tells me that people have reacted to the name, some negatively.

I get the phone number of one of the owners and it turns out that the name is a combination of several ingredients, the old cinema Gnistan's name, which was located in the same place, Stefan's and his wife Anki's name, and the logo which is inspired by Gnistan's logo: (GNI)STAN, ST(EFAN), ANK(I) = STANK, everything came together! Stefan believes that you have to choose a name that stands out, because you will have forgotten "Kristinas Flowers" before reaching the other side of the street. And even though customers reacted at first, the name Stank is packaged in a way that contrasts with the meaning. It's cheeky, and in the end it's the shop you associate with and not the original meaning.

I have to admit that I wouldn't dare recommend the name to a client. But I admire Stefan, who follows his convictions. He creates his brand, not on the basis of anxious rules or attempts to stifle customers, but on the basis of his own feelings and what he wants to do with the brand.

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