The Five Fundamental Types of Brand Name

Our NameDek® system breaks down brand names down into five fundamental types. Legacy, descriptive, metaphoric, synthetic and humorous brand names. These notional categories are not definitive but most names can be described by one or more of these classifications.

Inqdrop co-founder Jim Boulton

Legacy brand names  

Legacy brands are often named after their founders, the place they were founded or for other historical reasons. Examples are Birds Eye®, BMW® and Esso®.

While on a hunting trip in Labrador, Clarence Birdseye noticed that ice kept food fresh. He sold the patent to the Postum Company, who founded the Birds Eye Frozen Food Company.
Bayerische Motoren Werke was founded in 1916 as a manufacturer of aircraft engines. The company started making motorcars in 1928, its first car being the BMW 3/15.
Following the break up of Standard Oil® in 1911, Standard Oil of New Jersey marketed its products under the brand Esso®, the phonetic pronunciation of S and O.

Descriptive brand names   

Descriptive brand names are unambiguous. They quickly and accurately communicate the product or service on offer. Examples include iPod®, Timex® and Volkswagen®.

Short for Internet Pod, the name is inspired by a line at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Open the pod bay doors HAL.
When Thomas Olsen brought the Waterbury Clock Company in 1941, he gave the company a more modern name inspired by Kleenex®.
Founded in 1937, to make a basic vehicle capable of transporting two adults and three children at 100 kph. Volks wagen is German for people’s wagon.

Metaphoric brand names   

Metaphoric names conjure positive associations that are symbolic shorthand for a brand. Examples include Bluetooth®, Nike® and Red Bull®.

From Harald Bluetooth Gormsson, the 10th-century king who united the vikings. The implication is that Bluetooth® unites communication protocols.
Founded in 1964, as Blue Ribbon Sports, the company changed its name to Nike® in 1971, taking inspiration from the Greek goddess of victory. 
Red Bull® is a translation of Krating Daeng®, the original Thai energy drink that inspired the brand. Its name originates from the ingredient Taurine, an endurance-boosting compound naturally found in bull semen!

Synthetic brand names   

Synthetic brand names are invented. Some are totally made-up, like Kodak®. Some, such as Aviva®, are derived from Latin or Greek roots. Others are misspellings, e.g. Lyft®.

Kodak® founder George Eastman thought the letter K sounded strong, and wanted a name that was easy to say.
Trading as Norwich Union for more than 200 years, the business became Aviva® in 2002. Aviva is an invented palindrome derived from viva, designed to be short, memorable and work internationally.
Founded by John Zimmer in 2012 as Zimride. The name was changed to Lyft®, a misspelling of lift, in 2013 after a hackathon to increase use of the service.

Humorous brand names   

Humorous brand names are often based on childhood nicknames, wordplay or a product feature. Examples include Kinko’s®, Honest Tea® and Blackberry®.

Founded in 1970, Kinko was the nickname of the frizzy haired founder, Paul Orfalea.
Honest Tea® is the perfect name for real tea made with real tea leaves, that promises honest relationships with customers, suppliers and the environment.
Founded in 1984 as Research In Motion. The company changed its named to BlackBerry® in 2013 to align with its flagship product, so called because of the keyboard’s resemblance to the fruit.

Digging deeper

These five categories are a useful start but to really understanding the building blocks of successful brand names, you have to dig deeper.

Each of these five types can be subdivided into sub-categories.

For example, some descriptive names like Coca-Cola® and Nutella®, are based on a key ingredient.

Others, like Pot Noodle® or Kettle Chips® are based on how the product is prepared.

Yet more, like Anglepoise® or Dunkin’ Donuts®, describe how the product is used.

More about these subdivisions in a future post. Or check them out for yourself in our NameDek® naming methodology in a box.
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