There's just enough time left on the calendar to acknowledge (and mock) this year's notable naming misfires. Tomorrow: a look at brand-naming trends of 2008.
XSensible. When you sell unapologetically orthopedic-looking "comfort" shoes (see photo, left), it's redundant and self-defeating to brand them "sensible." After all, for generations of shoppers, the phrase "sensible shoes" has meant only one thing: "Why, yes, I have taken a vow of celibacy!" Granted, XSensible is a Dutch company, and it's possible that "sensible" may have different associations over there, perhaps something closer to Jane Austen's "sensibility"—deep emotional feeling, as opposed to left-brain "sense." But not in the United States. The "X" in the brand name, I'm guessing, has to do with the product's chief benefit—stretch leather uppers—and may represent a pun on "extensible." The only thing worse than sensible shoes is a pun on "sensible shoes." (Photograph of the XSensible "Florida": Footwear Etc.)
Samsung Rant. Definition of rant: "a wild, incoherent, emotional articulation"; "pompous or pretentious talk"; "harangue"; "loud, bombastic declaration." As if there aren't enough cellphone goofuses in public spaces already. Seriously, Samsung: do you really need to encourage this? (More on mobile-phone naming trends tomorrow.)
Ndoi. Casual shoemaker Tsubo (the brand name supposedly means "pressure point" in Japanese) makes a decent product and sometimes comes up with decent names. The Tsubo Acrea is the most comfortable high heel on the planet, and its name is pronounceable, elegant, and appropriate: acr- suggests height. But with "Ndoi," a "bowling shoe-inspired" men's casual shoe, I fear someone in the Tsubo creative department hit the sake bottle a little too heavily. It's unpronounceable and (as far as I can tell) meaning-free. And the Ndoi isn't alone: other Tsubo men's styles include the Utan, the Focas, the Warra, and the Korph. They all sound like Klingon to me. (I could have devoted this entire post to peculiar shoe names; be grateful that I'm limiting my selection to XSensible and Ndoi.)
bumGenius. I love this company's story and tagline: "Cloth diapering made easy." I applaud its efforts to change perceptions about the "disposability" of diapers. (Full disclosure: In my health-journalist days, I wrote several articles about the hazards—to the environment and to public and private health—of disposables.) I like that the company was started by women and is based in the U.S. (Colorado). And I sort of get where they're going with the name: a little shock, a little flattery ("You're a genius!"). Trouble is, although some Americans are aware the "bum" is slang for "derriere" in the U.K., most are not. I think many consumers will be puzzled that a diaper company has named itself after a brilliant yet unstable out-of-work guy instead of, you know, conveying some sort of benefit. And what's with that dumb lower-case "b"?
Grāpple. Basic naming rule: If you have to rely on diacritical marks like the macron over the a to clarify pronunciation, your brand name isn't working. Additional hints ("Say Grape-L") only make you seem more desperate. Then there's the bigger question: Does the world really need an apple that tastes like a grape? I'm still grappling with that one.
Honda Fit. Loath as I am to add to automakers' grief in this year of living indebtedly, I am nevertheless compelled to point out the weirdness of this choice. Yes, I suppose it could mean "fit as a fiddle." But can you blame me for thinking "Oh, there goes the Honda Epilepsy—in fits and starts as usual!" every time I see one? Worse still is the brand's tagline: "The Fit Is Go!" Reviewer Joe Wiesenfelder of Cars.com observed in May of this year: "Maybe I'm a pedantic editorial type, but it seems to me that a word is missing. 'The Fit is a go' would have worked in 2007, but it seems a foregone conclusion now." As a head-scratcher, that slogan is right up there with Fiat's "You Are. We Car," from 2007. (Note: The Fit was introduced in the United States in 2007, but it was completely redesigned and given a big marketing push in September of this year.)*
Bonus! The questionable name that's most likely to be co-opted by the adult film industry: the Large Hadron Collider, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2008.
Other bad brand names reviewed here this year: Cuil (which according to a recent TechCrunch post is wading into the dead pool), Pussy (a "premium energy drink"), Vergina (a beer from Greece), FullChoke (men's cologne), We Olive (an olive oil store), GOOP (Gwyneth Paltrow's website), YOOX (an upscale e-tailer), and Theality (maternity fashion).
Want a second opinion? Check out Minneapolis naming agency Pollywog Inc.'s best and worst brand names of 2008. I've written about two of the Pollywog picks myself: Sue magazine and the Volkswagen Tiguan.
* For much more about car names, especially American car names, read this blog post by Michael Bérubé. The comments are full of inspired suggestions for new names: If there's a Ford Probe, why can't there be a Chrysler Catheter? (Hat tip: Orange.) For my money, the weirdest car name ever remains the (actual) Great Wall Wingle,