Branding: What’s in a name?

Juliet - Whats in a name?
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose,
By any other name would [not] smell as sweet.
– Romeo, Romeo & Juliet, Shakespeare

Reality vs perception

Shakespeare’s Romeo got it wrong. A rose does not smell as sweet by another name.

Our brains are not just recording devices capturing our experiences, but rather the creators of experiences. These creations are based on a plethora of variables from genetic dispositions to pre-existing ideas and beliefs. The latter explains why most people think they prefer Coca-cola over Pepsi even though Pepsi consistently wins in blind taste tests*. Furthermore, our senses (all of them) are limited to a very narrow bandwidth of reality. The limited information we capture, then is interpreted by our brains based on patterns we’ve developed. A simple variable like being hungry can completely disrupt normal perception.

When it comes to your name, your product or service can be perceived better or worse simply by the associations the name conjures up.

Regarding names

When asked Carol Moog, PhD, a clinical psychologist and the president of Creative Focus, a consulting firm to advertisers and ad agencies, “What happens if a name has no emotional attachment?”

Moog’s answer:
“A brand name is dead in the water without that emotional connective tissue. If it’s just a word floating out there with nothing to attach to it, it will not be remembered. It will not stand for or embody anything.”

Further, she states:
“If people don’t know what something is, they will bring in pre-existing meanings and associations. That’s why when you’re creating a new word, it is absolutely crucial that the meanings and associations to that word are studied in order to have as much control as possible over the messages sent. What gets conjured by the word could well be contradictory to the intended message and alienating to the designated target market.”

haagen dazs - ice cream

Case Study:Naming an ice cream company

Did you know that Häagen-Dazs is an American founded company?
Häagen-Dazs was established in 1961 by Reuben and Rose Mattus from the Bronx, New York. Starting with only three flavors (vanilla, chocolate, and coffee) the company opened its first retail store in Brooklyn, New York, on November 15, 1976

Rose Mattus wanted a luxurious and exotic name for his brand of ice cream; specifically something that sounded Danish. He sat at his kitchen table for hours saying nonsensical words until he came up with a combination he liked. Decades later, people still assume Häagen-Dazs is a high-quality European brand.

Helpful guide to creating or finding the right name


  • Research
  • Establish criteria
  • Develop word clouds
  • Create word associations
  • Narrow down selection based on strategic qualifiers and considerations


  • Local vs global market
  • Cultural references
  • Meaning of real words
  • Imaginable meaning of made-up words
  • Number of syllables (shorter is easy to remember)
  • Annunciation (how easy to say)
  • Phonic harmony (how easy on the ear)
  • Letter symmetry (how easy on the eye)
  • Availability of domain names and social media properties
  • International meanings (in the case of intended global reach)

Naming my son

Philo-SayfMy wife and I are complete branding junkies, obsessed with the philosophy and practice. -So much that we chose our son’s name very carefully, taking a long-term brand strategy into account. His full name is Philo Sayf Tài Le Mokhtarzada, but goes by Philo Sayf.

Here’s the full breakdown

Philo = Greek for friend, as well as the root of philosophy. ‘Philo’ being, to love, or lover of, and ‘sophy’ being knowledge/wisdom.
Sayf = Arabic for sword. Philo Sayf, equating to friend of the sword, or love of the sword. Coincidentally, the name Khalid comes from a famous swordsman in the mid 600s AD. His nick name was Khalid father of Sayf.
Tài = Vietnamese root for several meanings such as gifted, talented, and skillful. Combined with other words, the word tài has many noble variations.
Le = His mother’s Viet last name.
Mokhtarzada = My last name.

Aside from the literal translations, we wanted a name that was versatile. His name is easily brand-able in different geo-locations. Philo is great in the Western World and Europe, while Sayf is a very strong Islamic and Middle Eastern name. Lastly, Tai, a very simple but easy sounding name, perfect for doing business in Asia-Pacific.

Other variables in creating his name included spelling, great sounding combinations, how the letter combinations look, and uniqueness.

A few more brand names I helped create

Aside from branding the heck out of my child, I’ve also had the pleasure to help create the following brand names.
Critical Mass Media // My first design agency
Pixel Dreams // My current branding agency
Orbisun // Inbound marketing agency
Navvia // Consulting and tech firm specializing in Service Management
Playfini // Video production agency
Financiq // Financial services (Finance IQ)
Popup Taxi // Taxi app
Stylekick // Fashion app
Dopechef // Cannabis enthusiast online magazine
Friducation // A culture, movement, and definition for learning
Space Assassin // Online apparel brand

* Pepsi wins blind taste tests:

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