Plato, you saucy philosopher, you really get us namers, don’t you? We don’t usually wax Socratic here at Zinzin, but it warms our creative hearts to know that way back in 375 BC a great thinker understood the connection between creative invention and great need. In his famous dialogue, The Republic, Plato wrote, “Our need will be the real creator” — a proverb more widely known today as “Necessity is the mother of invention”…or invented names, as this case may be.
What’s an invented name?
An invented name falls under the category of brand names that includes purely made-up, morphemic mash-up, unknown foreign words, and abstract names with no inherent meaning. Some call them fabricated or newly coined. At their best, invented names can be poetic, rhythmic, and ripe for investing with the soul of a brand (think Google). On the other hand, bad invented names, often suffering from “morpheme addiction,” litter the cultural landscape, and should serve as a cautionary tale when going this route.
Why does a company choose an invented name?
More and more, companies choose invented names out of necessity, as our wise old pal, Plato, put it. A big plus is that an invented name often offers the easiest path to domain name and trademark acquisition, meaning it can be very unique and ownable. With an invented name, a company has an opportunity to position itself and create its own meaning in a very targeted way. Some may want to stand out and others may want to fade into the background.
For example, CNN tapped Zinzin’s founder Jay Jurisich for his thoughts on Johnson & Johnson’s new (invented) consumer brand name, Kenvue. Here’s a snippet from the article, “Band-Aids and Tylenol will have a new name on their packages:”
The company said Wednesday that it landed on Kenvue, a combination of “Ken,” an English word for knowledge primarily used in Scotland, and “vue,” a reference to sight. It’s pronounced ken-view…
It’s no coincidence that Kenvue does not have any meaning or history, said Jay Jurisich, the CEO and creative director of brand naming agency Zinzin.
Companies often look for names that are squeaky clean from any controversy.
The name Kenvue reflects J&J’s desire for the new consumer company identity to take a backseat to well-known brands such as Band-Aid. This is a similar strategy to other consumer product conglomerates such as Unilever (UL), the owner of Dove and Hellmann’s, and Procter & Gamble (PG), which owns Bounty and Charmin.
“It’s really just a holding company behind all these other brands,” Jurisich said. “They want a name that will disappear in the background and the brands will stick out.”
Invented names made from morphemic mashups are often praised for being “completely unique, unlike anything else that is out there.” While this might be technically true, such names are often only unique in the way that every snowflake is unique. In a blizzard, however, the uniqueness of an individual snowflake disappears. The same thing happens when “unique” mashup names join the real world brand blizzard – they vanish from sight, indistinguishable from one another.
Since your name is the face of your brand, names that tell stories are much more powerful than names that don’t.
13 well known, invented brand names & their origin stories
1. Accenture | information technology & consulting
The word “Accenture” is derived from “Accent on the future.” The name “Accenture” was submitted by Kim Petersen, a Danish employee from the company’s Oslo, Norway office, as a result of an internal competition. — Accenture Newsroom
2. Adidas | one of the largest sportswear manufacturers in the world
The name adidas came from the founder, Adolf “Adi” Dassler’s name. He used his nickname, Adi, and the first three letters of his last name, Das, to create Adidas. — Adidas History 1949 to Now
3. Amtrak | National Railroad Passenger Corporation (NRPC)
Originally, Railpax was the working brand name for the NRPC. It came from the telegraphers code name for “railroad passenger.” However, a few weeks before operations officially began in May 1971, the name changed to Amtrak, a blend of the words “American” and “track.” — Zinzin blog post about Amtrak renaming/rebranding
4. Exxon (now ExxonMobile) | oil and gas corporation
Variant of the originally proposed Exon (in keeping with the four-letter format of Enco and Esso), to avoid having the name of James Exon, governor of Nebraska, which might have suggested a conflict of interest. — Exxon, Wiktionary
5. Google | multinational technology company
Derived from a misspelling of Page’s original planned name, googol (a mathematical term for the number one followed by 100 zeroes) — Google, Britannica
According to Stanford’s David Koller, and Google’s own website, Page and Brin’s 1996 foray into the world of search engines was initially called “BackRub.” — Business Insider
6. Hägen-Dazs | American ice cream company
Reuben Mattus invented the phrase “Häagen-Dazs” in a quest for a brand name that he claimed was Danish-sounding; however, the company’s pronunciation of the name ignores the letters “ä” and “z” and letters like “ä” or digraphs like “zs” do not exist in Danish. According to Mattus, it was a tribute to Denmark’s exemplary treatment of its Jews during the Second World War, and included an outline map of Denmark on early labels. Mattus felt that Denmark was also known for its dairy products and had a positive image in the United States.
His daughter Doris Hurley reported in the 1996 PBS documentary An Ice Cream Show that her father sat at the kitchen table for hours saying nonsensical words until he came up with a combination he liked. The reason he chose this method was so that the name would be unique and original. — Hägen-Dazs, Origin of brand name, Wikipedia
7. IKEA | multinational Swedish conglomerate for home goods & furniture
IKEA is named after the initials of founder Ingvar Kamprad, Elmtaryd, the farm on which he grew up, and Agunnaryd, the nearby village. — The history of Ikea
8. Kodak | global manufacturer of commercial print & advanced materials
The letter k was a favorite of Eastman’s; he is quoted as saying, “it seems a strong, incisive sort of letter.” He and his mother, Maria, devised the name Kodak using an Anagrams set. Eastman said that there were three principal concepts he used in creating the name: it should be short, easy to pronounce, and not resemble any other name or be associated with anything else. According to a 1920 ad, the name “was simply invented – made up from letters of the alphabet to meet our trade-mark requirements. It was short and euphonious and likely to stick in the public mind. — Kodak, Wikipedia
9. Pantone | Universal language of color for designers, brands & manufacturers
In 1963, an American chemistry graduate named Lawrence Herbert devised a system to standardize color, specifying the exact ink formula for every shade. This way, despite changing light and other physical circumstances, each color’s number would ensure that it was the same, everywhere—made according to a consistent recipe.
Through this system, graphic designers, fashion designers, interior decorators, and architects can now specify this deep dark blue—and not that navy blue—and know they’re talking about the same thing. Herbert’s system became the basis for the company he founded: Pantone (meaning “all colors” combining the words “pan” and “tone”). — The Atlantic, How Pantone Became a Global Authority on Color
10. Pixar | American computer animation studio
Aiming to improve graphics technology, the division developed the Pixar Image Computer, which, in its ability to render high-resolution three-dimensional colour images, offered applications beyond the film industry. (The name “Pixar” was conceived as a faux-Spanish word meaning “to make pictures.”) — Pixar, Britannica
11. Sony | Japanese multinational conglomerate company
In 1946, it was a radio repair shop in a bombed-out department store. Originally known as Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo KK (the Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation), the company was founded by physicists Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita.
The company got its first break in the early 1950s when it received a license from Bell Labs to build transistors. While other companies in the US focused on using the transistor for computers and military applications, the Japanese company decided to build something for the mass consumer: a pocket radio. Since they planned on marketing this radio internationally, they also needed an international name. They changed to “Sony” which was a play on “sonus,” the Latin word for “sound,” and the nickname for the hip young men of the day: “sonny.” — Sony, PBS
12. Verizon | American wireless network
In 2000, the word Verizon was selected from more than 8,500 names. Name comes from the Latin word “veritas,” which means truth, and also connotes certainty and reliability; and “horizon,” which signifies the possibilities ahead. — Verizon News Archives
13. Xerox | print and digital document products & services
Joseph C. Wilson, credited as the “founder of Xerox”, took over Haloid from his father. He saw the promise of Carlson’s invention and, in 1946, signed an agreement to develop it as a commercial product. Wilson remained as President/CEO of Xerox until 1967 and served as chairman until his death in 1971.
Looking for a term to differentiate its new system, Haloid hired a Greek scholar at Ohio State University and coined the term xerography from two Greek roots (xērós, “dry” and graphḗ, “writing”) meaning “dry writing”. Haloid changed its name to Haloid Xerox in 1958 and then Xerox Corporation in 1961. — Xerox, Wikipedia
Is Zinzin an invented name?
Our own name, like many we’ve created for other companies, is full of surprises, layers of meaning, and rich associations. At first glance, it may seem like an invented name with no story. Like “Google,” our name is uniquely “unknown” enough to enable us to brand it as THE place for powerful brand naming.
While we don’t want to give away our whole naming story right here and now, We’ll just say you’d be “zinzin” if you didn’t want to read more. Zinzin is colloquial French for bonkers, cracked, touched, loopy, potty, crazy, nuts. Zinzin is also a French slang placeholder name, a name that you call something when you don’t know or specify the actual name (like “gadget” or “thingamabob” or “whatchamacallit”). But wait, there’s more…
Read about all the secrets and surprises behind Zinzin’s name.
Zinzin’s portfolio of invented brand names
You can peruse Zinzin’s complete portfolio of invented names. Or check out the list below for a quick glance at some of them. Each name links to a brief case study that gives a helpful project overview.
Zense: An invented name playing off “Zen,” “sense,” and “cents.”
Noovie: An invented play on “new” and “movie.”
Kolo: A Serbian folk dance performed by a group arranged in a circle, with the soloists in the center.
Lucida: A play on lucid: having a clear mind, characterized by clear perception or understanding; rational or sane. Lucid comes from the Latin lūcidus: clear, bright, shining, full of light, and thus, figuratively: clear, perspicuous, and lucid. But Lucida is also an English word in its own right, meaning “the brightest star in a constellation,” closely related to another meaning of lucid: shining and bright, able to be seen with clarity. Lucida is easily understood in Spanish, for which lúcido is the direct translation of lucid.
3D XPoint: Pronounced “3D cross point,” referring to the structure of the memory cells.
ZEO: An invented name, playing off “neo” and “Zeno,” the Greek philosopher famed for his paradoxes.
Nuage Rouge: The English translation is “Red Cloud.” A nuage rouge / red cloud sunset occurs when unique atmospheric conditions turn the sun and the surrounding sky an intense red. Red Cloud is also the name of a powerful Native American warrior and chief of the Oglala Lakota from 1868 to 1909.
Larky: A quirky play off “lark,” a carefree or spirited adventure, harmless prank, or family of birds who communicate with sustained, melodious songs. The “-ark” of Larky is very similar to the “-erk” of perk, so Larky naturally alludes to “perk,” but in an associative, non-literal way.
Zno: (pronounced ZEE-no) / An abstract, invented name inspired by the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Zeno of Elea, famed for his paradoxes
Sparcade: An invented mashup of “Spar,” to fight with an opponent in a short bout or practice session, as in boxing or the martial arts, and “arcade,” a space featuring an array of large pinball machines or video games.
Exo: Derived from the prefix “exo-,” meaning “outside of” (exoskeleton, exosystem). Exo is short, sweet, cool, futuristic, and works great as a graphic “bug” on TV, computer and mobile device screens.
Use invented names with caution
Don’t be fooled into thinking that the semantic meaning of individual morphemes translates into real-world brand engagement. It doesn’t. Such names may technically (linguistically) have “meaning,” but, like snowflakes in a blizzard, they are not inherently meaningful. You will have to build all meaning into the name yourself.
The most powerful names are those that best support their brand’s positioning, no matter what. Depending on the circumstances, a name might be “extreme” or it might not. If your name is trying too hard to be different just in order to stand out, it won’t. It will blend in with all the other names that also try too hard and fail to stand out.
Three cheers for invented names
Language is the fruit fly’s view of evolution — rapid change, mutation, morphogenesis. It is capable of being influenced, molded, formed, deformed and reformed before our eyes and ears. It is a mutant made to be torn asunder and reconfigured. We all have the capacity to be language biologists, creating new life from the wreckage of old text.
We think Plato — let’s not forget about him — would agree. Companies will always have evolving brand needs for various reasons. Usually imperative, urgent ones. And this necessity, as we namers well know, is the mother of invented names.
Margaret Wolfson says
Very informative and fun to read!
Margaret Wolfson says