McDonalds does it. Apple does it. Ford does it… sort of. So, naming themes must be a good thing. Right? I’ll play it safe – and say “it depends.” McDonald’s naming theme is great. Apple’s is, well, not theirs. And Ford’s is, or was, a weak and short-lived attempt at a naming theme.

Let’s take a step back and define a naming theme. A naming theme is a system of names that shares a unifying or dominant idea or motif. This can be a common word such as Nike’s “Air__” or Kellogg’s “__Jacks”. Or, it could be a common letter or word-part such as McDonald’s “Mc___” or Apple’s “i___”. The more common, and “looser” model utilizes a common style, such as Dodge’s Avenger, Charger and Challenger.

One type of system is not necessarily better than the other. In fact, arguably the best and worst examples are the same type. McDonald’s “Mc” is great. Apple’s “i” is terrible. On the surface, they’re the same – a letter or two in front of a common noun and Poof!, there’s their new brand. The big difference comes down to trademark rules. McDonald’s “Mc” is proprietary – no one else can use it. They own it. So, anything they attach it to is instantly recognized as theirs and is completely protectable as a trademark (as long as the new part isn’t already spoken for).

That ubiquitous “i” on the other hand does not belong to Apple. It doesn’t belong to anyone. Apple’s use of “i” goes back a long way (1998 at least). The problem is that everyone’s use of “i” goes back a long way. Apple couldn’t and didn’t protect it. It’s not a “trademarkable” term. So, anyone can stick an “i” in front of a word, and call it a name. Worse, much of the usage of the i__ (iBlank is actually an existing product name) system is by companies other than Apple, trying to associate with Apple.

Carving out a truly proprietary them can be very difficult. But trademark issues aren’t the only potential obstacles. The future is just as much of a problem. No one has a (functioning) crystal ball. Ford certainly doesn’t. They thought they were onto something with their “Ex___” theme for the SUVs. The mid-size Explorer was first. They were sure they’d never make anything bigger than the next one – the Expedition… until they did – the Excursion. Problem is, an excursion is smaller than an expedition. And Poof! goes that naming theme.

The solution? Be careful of the very narrow systems – those relying on exact letters or words. And, avoid themes that are bookended – those that have a defined biggest, fastest, etc. Themes that follow a style or motif are likely the safest – from both a trademark and future-proof standpoint.

  • Mike Styles
    Posted at 19:19h, 06 January

    Great read! Thanks!