What’s in a name? There’s some method in the madness!

04 Jul,2013


By Mitul Thakkar


Among the many traits that made Steve Jobs a phenomenon was his uncanny way with names. In an age when computers came with names like Type 704 and their makers were at best called Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company – the former name of IBM – Jobs took a leap of faith and named his firm Apple. And among its product line were a Macintosh, a Lisa and a Newton.


Well, that’s one way to capture attention: by humanising your company or product. Yet, the history of incorporation reveals naming a company or a product is anything but predictable.


A certain Tulsi Tanti, for instance, was sure that a combo of wisdom and funds is what will keep a firm going. So back in the 60s, he named his first textile venture Suzlon – ‘Suz’ or wisdom and ‘Lon’ the way Gujaratis pronounce the word loan. Subsequently, Tanti diversified into wind power equipment-making. The name, which had more to do with corporate strategy than with the product line, stayed.


Well, personal names are still favourites – Adidas from founder Adi Dassler, McDonalds from their family name, Audi for the Latin of Horch (founder August Horch’s name was already being used by his previous auto manufacturing firm), Bridgestone for English of founder Shojiro Ishibashi (means Bridge of Stone in Japanese), Tata Sons, Aditya Birla Group et al. Names of the places of origin are also commonplace – Nokia for the Finnish village, Adobe Systems from the Adobe Creek that ran behind the house of co-founder John Warnock, Cisco is the short form of San Francisco, and back home, makers of one of the world’s selling biscuit brands, Parle.


A Little Meaning can Go a Long Way

Parle Products chairman Ramesh Chauhan says the group’s – and the product’s – name harks back to their humble origins from the Vile Parle locality in Mumbai in 1929. “But now people keep thinking that because of Parle brand, the place came to be known as Vile Parle,” he says.


Brand consultant Harish Bijoor believes that when it comes to the art of corporate naming, the Bard of Avon has the final word. “Believe in what Shakespeare said – what’s in a name? You can promote any name and the brand becomes iconic by its sheer ubiquity even when there is nothing in a brand. Best brands are often created from evidently meaningless words,” says brand consultant Harish Bijoor.


He could have been talking about one of India’s marquee tech names, Wipro, which actually derived from Western India Palm Refined Oil Ltd. The company started as a modest Vanaspati and laundry soap producer. Or Haagen-Dazs, a meaningless name invented in 1961 by ice-cream makers Reuben and Rose Mattus – European-sounding names were considered ‘classy’ then.


Yet, a little meaning can go a long way. Tata Group combined two words for its jewellery arm Tanishq which is a combination of Tata and Nishq or gold coins in Sanskrit. In Urdu, it stands for ‘tan’, meaning body and ‘ishq’ or love. One of India’s oldest cosmetic brands, Lakme, traces its name to a French opera.


Often, the product and services brands become so much part of the market without consumers knowing their roots. For instance, the father of White Revolution, Verghese Kurien, named the first cooperative dairy Amul, the short form of ‘amulya’ or priceless. Amul was also an abbreviation for Anand Milk Union Limited. Anand, a small town in central Gujarat, later became the epicentre of the Kurien-led cooperative dairy movement.


Similarly, the Shah family-promoted textile and garment maker Garden Vareli’s plant is located in Vareli village of Surat district in South Gujarat.


Gujarat-based FMCG giant Karsanbhai Patel named his washing powder Nirma after his daughter Nirupama. Instead of using the family name or symbolizing product feature, the Desai family of Gujarat opted a curious name for their brand of tea – Wagh Bakri, meaning Tiger-Goat tea. According to the company that claims to be the third-largest player packaged tea player in Indian market, “Wagh Bakri symbolises the co-existence of one and all creating long lasting relationships in society by dissolving differences over a good cup of tea.”


Pradeep Jain, managing director of Karbonn Mobiles, sat down with his co-promoters for a brainstorming session over tea to decide the name of the company, which is now one of the top five handset makers in the country. They zeroed in on Carbon within an hour. Jain considered the number 7 extremely lucky, so an extra ‘N’ was added for luck, making the official name Karbonn. He was not superstitious about using alphabet ‘K’; a little research revealed that a jewellery chain was running their business under the same brand name. To avoid any registration issues, they changed the initial letter from C to K, making it Karbonn. Evidently, both ‘K’ and the extra ‘N’ worked for the Indian company competing against multinationals.


For every entrepreneur conscious of what his product/company’s name mean, there are a few who are willing to fly off the handle. Like Jagdish Suri, chairman of Gurgaon-based Amir Chand Jagdish Kumar Exports. When he launched his brand of packaged basmati rice in, he chose to call it ‘Aeroplane’.


“Around the world, children and adults alike are fascinated by aeroplanes. Hence, we branded our basmati rice as Aeroplane. With a universal name, it is easy to be pronounced and branded,” says Suri.


Somewhere in their corporate HQs, you can see makers of Parachute coconut oil and Wheel detergent cakes nodding to the age-old wisdom of Suri.


(Inputs from Madhvi Sally & Gulveen Aulakh)


Source:The Economic Times

Copyright © 2013, Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All Rights Reserved

Licensed to republish


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