What's in a (concocted) name?

In today's New York Times, I came across a new twist in the naming game that may further validate or jeopardize all fidem nominem, depending on your viewpoint: pseudo-credibility.

Thornberg & Forester

I work for frog design, and frequently at conferences and parties, people ask me about the name: What does it mean? Where does it come from? While some suspect it symbolizes the agility of that animal species, the truth is that our German founder, Hartmut Esslinger, coined it as an acronym for "federal republic of germany" -- the lower case spelling of "frog" referencing the egalitarian tradition of Marxist semantics, back then in the 60s when frog was born.

Sam Birger, the founder of Nomenon, a renowned naming firm, whom I met in NY last week, thought it was an ok name because it'd start a conversation by offering a good dose of ambiguity. He and I talked about the value of brand names, and Sam cited Hulu, the IPTV site, as a good example of an effective name ("distinct but universal") that helped them establish a premium brand in record time.

In today's New York Times, I came across a whole new twist in the naming game that may further validate or jeopardize all fidem nominem, depending on your viewpoint: pseudo-credibility. At first glance, Thornberg & Forester may sound like "a stodgy, corporate Wall Street firm that's been around for a 100 years," the Times writes. But, as it turns out, it's the concocted name of a one year-old Manhattan design and communications group, none of which three co-founders possesses a last name of Thornberg or Forester. "We take our work seriously, but we don't take ourselves seriously," says Elizabeth Kiehner, one of the founders. Hence the fake name that promises one thing and delivers another, in almost a situationist way of manipulating the public perception.

Not a bad idea, as the Times reports. The small, local firm has been referred to in print as a "worldwide agency," and the article quotes Justin Meredith, another one of the founders: "We get calls from banks asking for Mr. Forester. We say, 'He's not here right now.'" On top of all that and most importantly, the naming choice got them into the Sunday New York Times.

What can we learn from that? In the past, we knew that, simply put, branding was giving your offering a unique name and a meaningful narrative. Nowadays, you must meta-tag your brand if you want to stand out from the crowd. You must generate attention by distraction. Your brand story is the story of your brand.

 

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