A baby’s name. How do we choose it? Parents don’t always agree. It seems that there is no scientific explanation.
But we always hear:
- Oh, don’t choose that name! Every kid I know with that name is a rascal!
There’s always the well-known veto of a baby’s name if it also belongs to one of our exes. Right?
Something valid for naming a baby, and for defining a brand name: the affection for a name depends on cognitive interpretation.
“- Wait. What’s that?”
Cognitive interpretation is the process our brain uses to organize new information, putting each new item in its proper place, mentally and emotionally. It’s like receiving a stranger in your home. You will turn into a detective and ask several questions before deciding whether the person stays or not. Deep down, what your brain wants to know is: Is this new information of any value?
When we hear a new name, brand name, or baby name, we use all the references that can help us in this investigation, our whole interpretative arsenal. Is this name worth something to us, or not? To decide, we start with the linguistic references. Then we make room for all our cultural references, coming from collective experiences, a mirroring of common values or stories. And, finally, we reach individual references.
Why do we start with the language bridge? Unlike animals, human language is a primordial part of our relationship with the world. It is an inheritance that is not embedded in our genes: we create it.
At every moment we send and receive information that describes our reality. Through the exercise of speech, our consciousness translates this complex information. That is why we develop a dialect, as a way to feel that we are integrated in the world.
Language is the ultimate expression of a culture. And unlike other animals, we can coexist with each other, because we are able to understand other languages. The domestication of our animal instinct, that is, our collective life is peaceful - for the most part - because we are able to master what we say. This means that a wisely chose Brand Name is, above all strategic things, an ambassador of meaningful connections.
Although let's face it - we don't always understand each other - we are open to register these different languages. And this is the collection that is triggered when a new name presents itself.
“- Where do you come from, sweetheart?” — your brain asks.
What is the linguistic origin of this name? Is it from my native language or from another culture? We may not be polyglots, but we are familiar other dialects. We can tell if words that have a Germanic, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Asian or African feel to them. Even a made-up names like Google or Pepsi carry an etymological construction that transports you to the place they came from.
When you don't keep this in mind, the chance of your name failing right from the start increases. Max Gehringer, a Brazilian Marketeer, always mentions the late soft drink ‘Josta’ in his lectures. This word in Portuguese is one letter short of “sh*t”. Imagine for a second if this name was created in a different country. Would it tell a different story?
“- Okay, so, who are you?” — the brain persists.
In other words, what does your name mean? If the name is self or semi-descriptive, that's easy. For example, General Motors. We already infer the universe and select fewer hypotheses to conclude what it is about. If the name is not descriptive - that is, more neologistic - it will need a little more explanation. You will need a catchphrase, a product, and, of course, a visual identity to make the translation easier.
In the case of my daughter, whose name is Ella, every time I say her name in Brazil, there is a tilt. People’s face become a blue screen, and the system needs to be restarted. Her name in Portuguese means “she”. So, yes, it gets confusing. I’m always saved when I have the chance to explain our choice to those who look at us with a “Huh” face.
For this reason, a brand name that needs to be heavily exploited requires, of course, more investment. The problem is when the company does not have the inputs to spend all that time translating linguistics.
Now let’s see how this name fits into your world.
Your mind asks: “- Who referred you to my house?
From this moment on, you'll look for references, hunting for what could be similar to what you are hearing. Does this name sound like something you know? Is it related to a historical factor or a famous event? For example, Apple. The Biblical reference of something that represents defiance of the order will come up, especially if you are a Westerner, even if not religious. Or maybe you are more of a science fan, making a correlation with Newton's apple, which inspired his entire life's work. We are talking here about collective references, which reside in our cultural heritage.
The generation of sensations and emotions from these interpretations is inevitable, and the more we investigate, the more we create an idea of the whole, as if giving clothes to this new presence in our home. This is why choosing a name is an art that requires caution. Every brand name evokes a personal response. A brand strategy only works if most people can interpret the name the way it was intended.
This is why there are names that are easily defined as traditional or avant-garde. There are those that manage to infer greatness, a global air. Others aim to connect with a small community. The fact is that a name is a business card, and it already indicates what it is about.
For example, Coco Chanel will hardly give a futuristic, 'hip' brand feeling. On the other hand, Issey Miyaki has the power to do the opposite. Each of these brands carries a persona, an etymology, a history, values from the country of origin, personality, and generational ideals. Not to mention, a different positioning.
And so, as this name advances in the cognitive process, contributing value at each investigative stage, it reaches a dreamy final stage. There, our unique and individual desires want to know if there is any chance for this name to fulfill the call, and finally fill a needy space.
"-What do you want with me?" - your brain asks, finally.
In other words, what does this name want to evoke in us?
For example the 6 Senses hotel. Can you understand that dream of having moments of pure contemplation, awakening our sensations... having extreme comfort to rest our mind and spirit, being treated like royalty, and having the chance to be in an exclusive place?
If yes, bingo.
You may not even verbalize it consciously, but rest assured. Your mind knows even what you don't know yet.
If a name can make that wonderful connection with what we dream of being, or how we want to be seen, it has earned a special place in our lives, starting in our brains. Like when we say "It hit the spot", or when we say "We looked at each other, smiled and said: "That's the one!"
A small detail: Note how each of these successful brands adds visual clues and deliveries that match what they verbally predicate through the name.
The secret of a well-crafted name is that it is a gateway, an ingenious greeting. But it necessarily needs to make sense, to generate a concatenation. If not, tilt.
A good brand name does not guarantee success. But hey, it opens up a good advantage. And just like the name of a child, it will have more chances of being accepted if it is linked to our cultural heritage, if it is able to make sense, and if it lights a spark in the very core of who we want to be.
Ana Negreiros is a mom, an entrepreneur in the hospitality and gastronomy sector, and a specialist in Brand Development. She is the founder of Branding Aurora, a consulting company for small and medium companies around the world.