What Is In a Name?

Photo by dorena-wm/ CC BY 2.0

The New Yorker this week contains an interesting article about the companies that come up with product names. Many people who work in the field are trained linguists with a deep knowledge of many languages. The article also glosses over the origins behind a number of product names.

Blackberry

Initial naming ideas for the device contained the word mail (ProMail, MegaMail), but most people associate incoming e-mails with stress, not pleasure. The namers brainstormed words that evoked things that are fun, enjoyable, fresh, and natural. Strawberry sounded too slow. Blackberry was better. Black is a common color of sleek, high-tech devices, and the buttons actually looked like the drupelets of blackberry.

Pentium

Processors used to have no names, just numbers. For this breakout product, Intel wanted a name that would make it stand out. Since processors are an elemental aspect of a computer, the namers turned to the periodic table. The word Pentium resembles titanium, which evokes scarcity, strength and luxury.

Swiffer

The name for this mop-like product recalls swiftness, sweeping, and wiping. In all, these concepts add up to the idea of fast cleaning. In addition, the word ends with an -er, which suggests the device itself is doing the cleaning, not the consumer.

The complete New Yorker article is here (subscription required).