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Archive for June, 2012|Monthly archive page

A History of Blends in Brands, from Early Hominids to Exencial

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Business, corporate naming, Naming on June 4, 2012 at 3:06 am

What’s the strategy behind new corporate names like Advizent, Aspiriant, Exencial, and Fortigent? Is this a return to the wonkish, Latin-clad constructions of the era that begat Accenture, Agilent, and Altria? And if so, why?

Names like these have their share of detractors. But some defenders welcome them as empty vessels ready to be filled with content through advertising. We question, though, whether emptiness is enough if the vessel is clunky and misshapen. The real problem with these names, as I pointed out to RIABiz last month, is that they’re far from ideal if they’re intended to engender trust:

Completely made-up names are harder for people to get their heads around, as opposed to words they may know in another context, Placek says. An example would be the HighMark Funds, a set of mutual funds that Lexicon helped name. Both “High” and ‘Mark” are words that people already know and have well-established meanings.

Linguistic analysis sheds further light. Advizent and Aspiriant can be broken down into a verb stem, advise and aspire, followed by an ending common in nouns and adjectives that go back to Latin: -ent and -iant. Exencial fuses executive and financial. Fortigent must be the offspring of fortitude or fortify and intelligent. However you regard these creations, compare them to Grafik and StapleGun, the far more engaging names of the branding firms that developed a couple of them. Nothing awkward about Grafik and StapleGun. They burst with energy and imagery!

Blending two existing words into one as Excencial and Fortigent do is a lively part of today’s idiom, as we see from examples like staycation, fauxhawk, podcast, webinar, and fanzine. Blending reached a peak of sorts with the recent rise of New York Knicks phenomenon Jeremy Lin, whose name figured in coinages like linsanity, linfected, and over 400 others. A mainstay of the trend to blend is Stephen Colbert, whose nightly cable program is known for outrageous concoctions including a supposed Internet dating service for survivalists named Arma-get-it-on.

Despite a tendency to feel light or humorous when first coined, blends can make for very effective brand names. Groupon, Whispernet, and Pinterest are fairly recent yet widely recognized examples. Newer but far from humorous in intent is Udacity, which recently began offering some university-level courses on the Web, with plans for a vast expansion. The Web seems to offer an excellent tonal fit for blended names like these.

Foods are another category in which blends have made for successful brands. Rice-A-Roni, Count Chocula, and Croissan’wich are probably the most widely known, and the first goes all the way back to 1958. As linguistic entities blends in fact go back much further.

Scholars find them in Old English, and some even speculate that early hominids blended their grunts and calls as a way to expand their vocal repertoires. Blends are so much a part of English that – as with electrocute, from electric and execute; and ice capades, from ice and escapades – we may not even recognize them as blends after they have been in the language for a while.

Time may also take the edge off Advizent and Exencial, but if a new name is intended to initiate a conversation with the public, the developers of these artless, unwieldy names could have done a lot better.

— David Placek