Where Do Brand Names Come From?

n 2012, Kraft Foods announced its new global snack business: Mondelez. According to the company, it’s pronounced “mon-dah-LEEZ.” If this sounds unfamiliar or simply odd, don’t doubt yourself: it is an invented word based on the Latin for world (mundus) and delicious. Despite that clever origin, the word still sounds funny, and it was not immediately well received.

Who comes up with these names?

Brand names are tricky, slippery things. Some famous brands (like Kellogg and McDonald’s) are based on the founders’ family names. Even the name Kraft originates in cheese purveyor James L. Kraft, who started selling cheese door-to-door in 1903. But many other names are cooked up by professionals—naming professionals, also fancifully known as onomasticians. Kraft acknowledges that they hired a branding firm for guidance.

Last year, the New Yorker wrote an extensive article on the naming company, Lexicon, which has invented such well-known brand names as BlackBerry, PowerBook, and Dasani. Lexicon has studied how we perceive sounds when divorced from meaning. By asking participants to rate how made-up words made them feel, the team isolated certain sounds that evoke specific qualities. (They conducted these trials with English and non-English speakers.) For example, they found that the c, v, and p sounds are considered expressive and happy. Lexicon used this research to name one of the most popular items in America: The Swiffer. They started with three sounds (sw, ft, and ph) and generated the brand name from there.

A history of successful names

Does Mondelez sound appetizing and exciting? Maybe. It has some stiff competition from Kraft’s other brands. Under its umbrella, Kraft has many successful brand names—Cadbury, Velveeta, Triscuit, Maxwell House. Nabisco, the cookie manufacturer owned by Kraft, was originally the National Biscuit Company. In 1901, the abbreviated name Nabisco was first used for a line of sugar wafers. It wasn’t until 1971 that the company adopted Nabisco as its name.

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