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The Name of the Game : Moniker Makers Rake in Big Bucks

July 14, 1986|JUBE SHIVER Jr. | Times Staff Writer

It might strike some as undignified, but a few companies have found name-calling can be a lucrative enterprise.

It's not four-letter insults that companies such as NameLab and Delano Goldman & Young are propagating. Rather, these two companies and a handful of others make money by dreaming up zingy names that may help improve the visibility of a new company or make a new product stand out in the marketplace.

"The days when people sit around in the office and think up a name for a new product are over," said Frank Delano, chairman of the New York firm of Delano Goldman & Young. The names that would come out of a brain-storming session today probably could not be used because many names have already been legally registered by others, he said.

Although companies have traditionally spent vast sums of money on new product ideas, names often have been afterthoughts. The task of naming a product has traditionally fallen to the imagination of the inventor or an advertising agency hired to promote the item, experts say.

Relying on so-called name consultants isn't cheap. NameLab, founded six years ago in San Francisco by Ira N. Bachrach, charges between $40,000 and $50,000 to concoct names, while Delano says its fees can reach $100,000.

Yet, increasingly, businesses ranging from banks, movie producers, consumer product firms and even religious groups are seeking out name consultants as it becomes tougher to stand out in the crowded market of commerce. Relying on name consultants also can save a company time and expense, the name consultants say, since their firms research names to make sure they haven't already been registered by a competing company.

In the 12 months ended Sept. 31, 1985, for instance, the number of trademarks registered with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office more than quadrupled to 71,167 from 16,366 in fiscal 1980, the agency says. Thus, picking an unclaimed name has become a more time-consuming and difficult problem.

NameLab, which says it has created about 200 names for more than 130 companies, and Delano, which says it had 40 clients and about $1.5 million in annual revenue in 1985, both seem to do a brisk business in the search for that charismatic name that can help put a product or company on the marketing map.

NameLab created the name "ZapMail" for Federal Express, "Acura" for American Honda Motor Co. and "Compaq" to identify the Houston-based company that produces the popular line of desktop and portable computers.

It has also named things as unusual as Hollywood movies (ABC Motion Pictures' "Foxtails") and a design center in Houston (Innova).

Delano has anointed two new Suzuki motorcycles "Intruder" and "Cavalcade" and dubbed a new line of women dresses "Destinee."

Won't Save Weak Product

His firm has also gave a New York night club the name "Panache" and a Seattle-based Christian group the name "Christa."

Of course, a good name won't save a lackluster product. But the right name, say the experts, can help a new product grab attention and increase its sales and market share.

The best names, they say, share some of the characteristics of the world's best-known names, such as Coca-Cola, Xerox and Kodak.

Successful names often employ tricks such as beginning and ending the name with the same letter, or using "explosive" consonants such as K, Q, V and P that make the word stand out in ordinary speech.

But even success in those categories can yield other problems. For example, some names can imbue a product with perhaps unintended images. Or a name may not have enough flair.

Delano claims that he told Apple Computer that the Lisa computer, which was reportedly named by Apple founder Steve Jobs, was a poor name choice for its product because the word sounded "too feminine."

Apple spokesman Regis McKenna said he could not confirm the claim.

Names Convey Images

The real work in creating names, however, is not arranging letters in novel ways, experts say, but in correctly matching products or companies to names that convey the qualities and images that the company wants to evoke.

"You have to make the clients decide on what things they want to bring out," said Bachrach. "Knowing how to extract the deeper meaning . . . and get at the substantive measures that bear upon the object that's to be sold--that's the challenge."

Toughest of all, perhaps, is the task of creating so-called world names that must be easy to pronounce, meaningful in most languages and recognizable even where the Roman alphabet is not used.

Bachrach related how NameLab faced that challenge when it was hired to name Honda's new upscale car division.

Honda executives wanted a name that conveyed the concepts of "precision" and "engineering" to consumers. And they wanted a name that could be used not only in Japan but in the more than a dozen industrialized nations where Honda cars are sold, Bachrach said.

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