What’s in a (product) name?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a New York Times article on product naming written by Neal Gabler…

That I read the article headlined “The Weird Science of Naming New Products” entirely on my cellphone is a testament not just to my persistence but also to the article’s deeply intriguing content. I wasn’t able to perform a word count, but I’m guessing it’s at least 5,000 words.

If you have even a passing interest in how products such as Swiffer (a duster) or Dasani (bottled water) earned their monikers, I suggest you read this article. I particularly enjoyed learning about how linguists such as Will Leben, the former head of Linguistics at Stanford have been enticed into the world of marketing.

He [Leben] administered a questionnaire to 150 Stanford and Berkeley students, asking them questions like: Which sounds faster, “fip” or “fop”? Leben found a consensus. “Fip” was faster than “fop.” Why? Because of the way the sounds were generated in the mouth, Leben says. “Fip” feels lighter and faster because the vocal tract is open only a small amount. There is less acoustic substance for “fip” than there is for “fop,” the pronunciation of which causes the jaw to drop and the tongue to lower, creating a heavier, more powerful sound…. “Pentium” began with a plosive that signified energy, power and dynamism. The “S” of the Swiffer mop made it sound fast and easy. The “D” of Dasani water made it sound heavier. Leben says: “It doesn’t say ‘refreshing.’ It says ‘slow down,’ ‘cool off,’ ‘relax.’ ”

Talented “product namers” can make a lot of money. But after reading this article I became thoroughly convinced that they earn it — the hard way.