What is abstract naming? The pros and cons of abstract brand names
Could abstract brand names be the perfect tool for identifying your business? At first, the value of an abstract brand name can be difficult to understand. Words like Vivo, Hulu, and Xerox appear as little more than random jumbles of letters at a glance.
However, an abstract brand name can also be an excellent way to showcase your company’s unique personality and creativity. They’re a chance to highlight the unique values of your business, resonate with your audience, and differentiate yourself from the crowd.
Abstract brand names give businesses complete freedom to define their company however they choose, without linking themselves to any specific roots. What’s more, they’re flexible enough to grow naturally with your organization.
Today, we’re going to take a closer look at the concept of abstract naming, why it’s valuable for certain brands, and how you can decide if it’s right for you.
What is abstract naming? An introduction
So, what is an abstract brand name, and how do companies go about choosing abstract titles?
Abstract names are basically “invented” names. They have no specific meaning attributed to them, and they’re generally not created by combining other words (like compound names).
An abstract name consists of a set of sounds of syllables which creates a new term which hasn’t existed before. Examples range all the way from Pepco to Roomba, and even Trello.
The purpose of these names isn’t necessarily to convey emotions or feelings with a reference to words consumers might already be familiar with. Instead, abstract names are all about sounds and linguistics.
Compared to a standard “invented” name, like “Netflix”, abstract names are intended to be a little more unusual and modern. They can also be a lot harder to create, because you’re basically just aligning letters to create something you believe “sounds right”.
Abstract names are on the opposite end of the naming spectrum to descriptive names, which usually include specific references to what a company does or offers. For instance, a descriptive name would be something like “Burger King” or “American Airlines.”
Although they may seem unusual, abstract names have grown particularly popular as names and trademarks become harder to access. As the world of business becomes increasingly competitive, an abstract name can help to differentiate your company.
In fact, around 72% of the top 100 brands in the world all have “abstract” names. Just look at titles like Google, Xerox, and Hulu for instance.
What is an abstract brand name?
Abstract names are unique, creative titles, designed from scratch to represent a brand.
They’re often short, simple, and easy to remember, like “Adidas”. They can also have underlying meanings, like other invented names. For instance, Adidas is a reference to the name of the founder of the athletics brand, Adolf Dassler.
Abstract names respond to the demand for differentiation in an increasingly cluttered business landscape. They allow businesses to convey the values and identity underneath their company, using nothing but simple sounds.
Abstract names increase a company’s chance of attracting attention. We’re immediately captivated by things we consider to be “new” or “different.”
A word we’ve never seen or heard before sparks our curiosity and pushes us to start thinking about what it could mean, allowing us to research a brand and make connections. These terms can also expand our vocabulary, becoming a part of our everyday language.
For example, when you ask someone to look something up online, you tell them to “Google” it.
An abstract company name is also wonderfully flexible. Unlike a descriptive name which connects a company to a specific service or product, an abstract name can flex to suit your business.
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as it seems to create an abstract name. Simply jumbling letters together in a new format won’t guarantee success.
Businesses need to use their knowledge of language and linguistics to ensure the name is:
- Easy to spell and pronounce.
- Attention-grabbing and interesting.
- Visually attractive (for logos).
- Free from any unwanted meanings.
- Suitable for trademarking or copyrighting.
- Effective in different countries.
The idea is to create something phonetically and linguistically friendly, so customers can form an emotional connection with the word over time.
What are the pros of abstract brand names?
Abstract brand names have a lot of value in the right circumstances. They’re fresh and interesting, meaning they’re more likely to capture the attention of your target audience. They have no prior meanings you need to worry about, and they aren’t unnecessarily restrictive.
Some of the biggest benefits of abstract names include:
With an abstract brand name, you’re creating an entirely new word from scratch. This means you’re not likely to end up with something similar to an existing title.
You can have complete ownership over the title you create, and usually, you’ll be able to trademark your moniker too, so it’s easier to protect.
Abstract names usually leverage a variety of different sounds in a short term to create a modern, futuristic experience. This is excellent for a company looking to create a future-proof and innovative brand identity.
Abstract brand names are particularly common among technology companies and startups.
Because an abstract title will be something your customers haven’t seen or heard before; they’ll be more likely to stick in their minds. Human beings naturally seek out meanings for things we don’t understand.
This could mean your customers spend more time thinking about your business and learning about your brand.
Since abstract names are often short and sweet, they’re also more likely to work well for branding purposes. You can usually transform these titles into an attractive logo or use them as part of a domain name without much effort.
However, you will need to invest into making sure your name has the right impact on your audience.
As mentioned above, abstract naming ensures you’re not connecting your company to anything specific. This gives companies the freedom to change their product or service portfolio and evolve however they choose.
Customers get to know the personality of your business, rather than focusing on a specific offering.
What are the cons of an abstract name?
Though abstract brand names can be very valuable, they also have some distinctive downsides. Notably, coming up with a new title from scratch can be an extremely complicated process.
Without a deep knowledge of linguistics and language, it can be difficult to find a term with the right sound. There’s also the risk you won’t have the right impact on your audience with the name you choose.
Some of the biggest disadvantages of abstract names include:
When creating new words, it’s easy to stumble into sounds and syllables which could have a negative impact on your audience. You’ll need to do extensive research into language and slang from around the globe to make sure your title doesn’t sound too similar to something negative.
Because your name has no prior definition, there’s nothing to connect it to in the everyday language of your target audience. They won’t immediately know what your company stands for or understand what you’re selling.
This means you’ll need to invest a lot more in your marketing and branding strategy.
Creating a new word is a lot more complicated than it sounds. You’ll need to think carefully about the pronunciation of your term, how easy it is to spell, and how a combination of sounds might make your customers feel.
It takes a lot more time to explore this naming strategy than to simply choose a descriptive moniker.
Since your business won’t immediately describe what it does or what it can offer to customers, it’s up to you to ensure you’re sending the right message. This means you’ll usually need to spend a lot more money on initially positioning your business.
For small businesses, the initial branding process can be a lot to handle.
Famous abstract brand names
If you’re not sure whether an abstract name could be right for your business, you might find it helpful to explore some of the existing options on the market.
Notably, there are a lot of great abstract and invented names out there, particularly as it becomes harder to choose the ideal title in a competitive landscape.
Here are some great options for inspiration…
Otherwise known as Xerox Holdings Corporation, Xerox was first launched in 1906, with a focus on print and, eventually, digital products. With a presence in more than 160 countries, Xerox has become one of the better-known brands in the world, and its name is now common in countless households.
The name “Xerox” is derived from Greek terms meaning “dry writing”, but it’s still a completely new word, with no prior connotations. The title was intended to be modern and unique, which it achieves wonderfully with the use of two “X’s” – letters not commonly used in most business names.
Athletics company Adidas is one of the better-known brands in the world today. First launched in 1924, the company is now a multinational corporation, and the second largest sportswear manufacturer in the world.
The term Adidas is a brand-new and abstract title, created by combining two components of the founder’s name.
Adolf Dassler used the letters of his nickname, “Adi”, and the first three letters of his second name to create something entirely new. The result is a memorable moniker which has even inspired customers to suggest their own meanings, such as “All day I dream about sport”.
An invented and abstract name in the photography landscape, Kodak is one of the most popular brands in the world, thanks in large part to its memorable title. The founder of the company, George Eastman, wanted to create an entirely new word to define his business.
According to stories from the organization, Eastman was a big fan of the letter “K”, which he considered to be strong and decisive. The use of two “K’s” in this name is also fantastic from a phonetic perspective, as it creates a clicking sound like the sound of a camera shutter.
A major business in Poland, Blik is a payment system which allows users to make instant payments online and withdraw cash using the mobile banking app. The system allows users to make online and in-store purchases in a range of different environments.
The name “Blik”, has no prior meaning. Rather, the moniker was chosen for its fun, accessible, and speedy sound, which reminds users of something quick and simple. It’s a memorable title, easy to share and pronounce in any environment.
One of the biggest names in the financial world right now, Klarna is a Swedish fintech company offering buy-now-pay-later solutions. The name is simple and straightforward, but it doesn’t have any real prior meaning.
The drawn-out sound of the “arna” part of the title creates a somewhat relaxing vibe for the business, which could be ideal for a company attempting to build trust with consumers.
The name also sounds a bit like “karma,” which could be a great way to make the business appear more transparent and honest.
Cisco systems, or simply “Cisco,” is an American multinational technology company best known for creating and selling networking hardware and telecommunications equipment. The company is also responsible for a range of products with somewhat abstract names, like “Webex”.
Cisco is actually a reference to the location “San Francisco”, shortened to make the title more memorable and engaging. Although the title does have an underlying connection to a pre-existing word, it’s still an abstract moniker.
Most people are familiar with the productivity tool “Trello” in today’s digital world. This company offers companies a board-style environment where they can arrange tasks and assign projects to different users in the form of cards.
Trello has no prior meaning, making it an excellent abstract name. However, it was derived from the word “Trellis,” which was a code name for the company in its early stages. The term trellis reminds us of an organized framework, which is ideal for representing the brand’s product.
It’s hard to find anyone in the world not familiar with the Oreo snack cookies. The Oreo brand was first launched in 1912, and the origin of the name still remains unknown. There are a number of hypotheses which have emerged over the years, however.
Some people say the term derives from the French word for “gold”, or the Greek word for “nice”. Other people believe the name derives from a Latin term. Most people simply assume the moniker was chosen because it’s fun, short, and easy to say.
The name “Roomba” is actually a product moniker, given to a series of robotic vacuum cleaners. Over the years, this title has become so deeply connected to the product line most people define every robotic cleaner as a “Roomba”, even when the products are designed by different companies.
Roomba doesn’t have any specific meaning, but the title is fun, engaging, and interesting. It rolls off the tongue and is easy to remember. Plus, the letters “Ro” remind us of the robotic nature of the products in question, while “Room” creates a reference to a home.
First launched in 1949, Asics is a Japanese corporation best-known for producing sportswear. The company is well-known across the globe, though most people don’t know what the title actually stands for. This name actually has no specific meaning on its own.
However, according to the founder, the title comes from a phrase in Latin: anima sana in corpore sano. In simple terms, this translates to mean “A sound mind, in a sound body”.
Tips for abstract company names
As mentioned above, one of the biggest challenges of abstract naming is how difficult it can be to create a word from scratch. Business naming is never particularly simple, but most leaders do find it a lot easier to use words and phrases which already exist.
With an abstract name, you essentially need to avoid all words you’re already aware of and try to create something meaningful using sounds and syllables alone.
Some of the best ways to improve your chances of a successful abstract name include:
Just because a name is abstract doesn’t mean it needs to be meaningless. Your name should still connect to the values and unique personality of your company. For instance, Cisco comes from “San Francisco”, and Adidas refers to the name of the founder behind the famous company.
Choose emotive sounds
Sounds can have an emotional impact on customers and shareholders, just like full words and phrases. We have a different response to things like the letters “X” and K” than we do to sounds like “oo” and “ah”.
When creating your abstract name, you’ll need to think about how different sounds will make your customers feel.
Do your research
When choosing any name, it’s important to do extensive research. You’ll need to look at your competitors to see what kind of names they’re using and how you can differentiate. It’s also important to think about your audience and the types of sounds they may respond well to.
Plus, you’ll need to check for any meanings or connotations you may not be aware of in other languages.
Once you have a list of abstract names you might want to consider for your business, share them with members of your team and your existing audience. Get an insight into how other people respond to the title before you double down on it.
You can even create mock-up logos to see what the name might look like.
When all else fails, the easiest way to ensure you end up with an effective abstract name is to seek out professional help. A dedicated naming company, like Fabrik, with experience in creating abstract names will be able to help you choose a title which makes more sense for your business.
Should you use an abstract business name?
Abstract brand names can be extremely useful in the right circumstances. They make it easier to stand out in a crowd, improve your chances of connecting with your audience on a memorable level, and give you the freedom to grow and evolve at your own pace.
Abstract names offer a lot of opportunities for growing companies, allowing them to create something brand-new they can maintain absolute ownership over. However, they can be very difficult to create on your own, particularly if you don’t have much experience with linguistics.
If you’re struggling to choose the right abstract name, you might find it helpful to get some extra support from a specialist team.
Fabrik: A naming agency for our times.
We’ve made our name famous by naming other businesses.
Get in touch if you have a company, product, or service that requires a unique name. Click below, and let’s start a conversation today!
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—Definitive guide to compound brand names
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