Knowledge vs. naivete

A Linguistics student asked namers on LinkedIn a simple question: Is linguistic analysis of candidate brand names helpful?

As a brand namer, my background in Linguistics and cognitive psychology has been wildly useful. A deep understanding of language and creativity informs naming briefs that inspire both me and my team. I am able to create objectives for candidate names that facilitate their evaluation, fit with strategy and assure customer appeal. And metaphor expertise fuels my creative generation, resulting in exceptionally long lists of prospective names that are relevant and have a shot at trademark clearance.

If a client wants to consider a coined brand name, as they often do in non-English speaking markets, understanding morphology, phonology and sound symbolism is essential. The same holds true for pharmaceutical naming.

For some clients, the detailed, linguistic analysis of a candidate name helps build consensus. For large companies and their large decision-making teams, this analysis grounds them in logical rationale, bringing solid objectivity to an essentially emotional and subjective exercise.

But I am also mindful of The Curse of Knowledge. When you know a lot about something like language, it’s easy to magnify the importance of details that are actually academic or esoteric. Brand names should help sell products or services to people who don’t know nearly as much about language. Consumers are not enamored nor won over by linguistic minutiae. Linguist-namers should never think that what they find fascinating in a name will be shared or recognized by the people who really matter: Customers.

The importance of empathy cannot be overstated.

Some of the very best brand namers I know have not been to college. They wouldn’t know a phoneme from a phone booth. But they have a gift. They have the ability to create names without breaking down sounds and syllables. They see names as a consumer would. No smoke. No mirrors. No academic bull.

My linguistic knowledge and analytic inclinations have certainly been valuable. But at least as important is the ability to that turn off. Training myself to become naive and forget what I know, at least temporarily, has helped me create ever-better product and company names intended for real customers in real world.

The linguist in me wants to call this quality, ‘ambilextrous’.

But then again, no.