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In the movie, Shakespeare in Love, the play the bard originally conceived was called Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter. Although Will suggested that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, clearly Tom Stoppard and company did not agree. The writers of the film understood that, to the ear, Ethel says something very different from Juliet. Even if the two names are attached to the same rose. This is a special challenge for people as they are naming things.

1. What does it look like written down? Several years ago, I worked on a synthetic cheese called, “Formage.” It sounded okay. But when you actually look at the word, it’s easily misread as for•magg, which sounds more like something you would patch your driveway with than something your might consider eating. This mistrust of the food product was aggravated by the fact that the substance had a shelf life of 20 years (if I recall correctly), unrefrigerated. We used to joke that “Formage’s shelf life is measured in half lives. The product didn’t end up doing so well.

2. How do other cultures see it? There are cultural considerations, too. One of my college textbooks told the story of, “Coke adds life,” as they tried to roll the iconic campaign out globally. Apparently, the direct translation to some cultures unwittingly made a rather miraculous claim, “Coke brings your ancestors back from the dead.” While there may have been a great market for this feature, it was not a benefit the soft drink marketer was prepared to deliver.

3. Does it mean what you think it means? Then there was the Spanish language implications of the Chevrolet Nova. Nova, or “no va” in Spanish literally means “no go,” or “doesn’t go,” or “don’t go.” In the twenty-first century of ironic branding, this might be an outrageously successful hipster brand. But in the 1960s, it didn’t fly…or should we say it didn’t GO?

4. Unintended consequences. Sometimes there are unintended consequences of names. For example, job titles in the banking industry tend to get shortened to acronyms. Customer Service Representatives become CSRs. I was in a bank marketing chat room a while back. The discussion was job titles for bankers who consulted on a broad spectrum of bank products. One person mentioned that at their bank, they called those people, “Universal Sales and Service Representatives.” Apparently they were not aware, or did not mind, that this would be shorted to USSR, as certainly as water flows downhill. Perhaps they were planning to designate these generalist|specialists with a hammer and sickle icon no name badges and in collateral.

Once again, it could be huge among the hipster set. Of course, if current events play out, the original owners of the acronym and its symbols may be back in business. So it could cause a brutal trademark dispute. And, watching Vlad the invader at work, the smart money would be on him in a conflict over property he believes to be his.

There’s a reason naming experts make big bucks. They create names that work. In our history we have seen costly, chaotic, embarrassing circumstances arise from a bunch of guys getting into a room and “coming up with a name.” The least of your problems is that somebody else already owns the name. What happens when you find out after the packages are printed and on the shelves, that you have just insulted the grandmothers of everyone in Slovenia?

So, what’s in a name? Apparently, a lot!

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