I read it in today's New York Times business section, so it must be true:
“Finding names today is a total headache,” said Bernard Fornas, the president and chief executive of Cartier. “Once you come up with a name that’s interesting, you’ll also discover that it’s already registered.”
Reporter Kate Weisman elaborates:
What has changed, industry specialist [sic] say, is that companies and the distribution of their goods have become more global. Now names have to be registered in a company’s home country and secured in several others. And the Internet, with its vast reach, has complicated the process.
In addition, many products, particularly in the luxury and fashion categories, need a name that conveys a feeling or a sense of emotion — and do that across many cultures and languages.
None of this comes as news to those of us in the naming trenches. It's just as tough to find an available, credible, memorable name in, say, technology. Or hospitality. Or furnishings, for example: I've been working for weeks with a company that needs a name for a new office chair. You'd be surprised (or not, if you're a name developer) at how many out-of-context words have already been trademarked by furniture companies.
Way down at the bottom of the story, Weisman reveals some "success stories" in beauty and fashion naming:
In 1998, Cartier developed a unisex fragrance that it wanted to call Déclaration. Members of the development team proposed the name, then crossed their collective fingers.
“For a perfume, it was actually available! We wondered: How on earth could that be available? Such luck,” Mr. Fornas recalled.
Success also occurs when managers come up with obscure or very hard-to-copy names.
When Cartier wanted to name a watch La Doña, for the late Mexican actress María Félix, once among Cartier’s most extravagant jewelry customers, it found that the name, not surprisingly [sic!], was available.
"Obscure" isn't the best term for this type of naming technique. Better to call it "arbitrary"--as far from descriptive as possible. Arbitrary names can be brilliant (think "Apple" for computers or "Guess" for fashion), but they're inevitably a tough sell, not so much to the buying public but rather to the executive teams that make the branding decisions. In my experience, these folks are schooled in literalism and resistant to metaphor, no matter how strongly it's supported by a story.
There are exceptions. Weisman cites the beauty-products company OPI "for its clever, hard-to-copy nail polish color names like Didgeridoo Your Nails, a mauve hue from the brand’s Australia collection for 2007." (Other names in the collection include Tasmanian Devil Made Me Do It, Fit for a Queensland, and Kangarooby--the last described as "a deep ruby red you'll jump for!")
And if you're thinking, "That's fine for chick stuff, but I can't give a name like that to my molto serioso techno-gizmo," think again. Elsewhere in today's Times business section, I learned of a new 20-gigabyte external hard drive from Seagate called Dave. You read that right. Yes, it's an acronym (or more likely a backronym) for Digital Audio-Video Experience. (A hard drive is a "digital audio-video experience"? Yeah, right.) But it's also something wholly new: a technology name that sounds like your next-door neighbor or your kid brother rather than The Gadget from Planet ZYQ3WX.
I especially admire Seagate's Dave because I've been trying for years to persuade clients to take this particular leap. I once failed to name a condom Roger, which would have been right for so many reasons. (The client eventually chose eZ-on, a descriptive name we'd generated as a backup option.) More recently, I lobbied for Greg as the name of an online content aggregator; I even invented a backronym. Again, the client wasn't ready to veer so dramatically from straightforward description, no matter how patiently I explained that descriptive names are impossible to trademark. But I remain hopeful. I like to think I was just a little ahead of the times, and that personal names represent a significant and largely untapped naming pool. After all, don't we know that happiness is just a thing called Joe?