Two global companies, both in the Chicago area, announced the names of spinoff brands yesterday. That’s two opportunities to observe that it isn’t only small, underfunded startups that make bad naming decisions.
Exhibit A: Health-care company Abbott Laboratories will name its new pharmaceutical company AbbVie. According to the Abbott press release, AbbVie “is derived from a combination of Abbott and ‘vie’, which references the Latin root ‘vi’ meaning life.” Richard A. Gonzalez, who will become the chairman and CEO of the new company, explained: “The ‘vie’ calls attention to the vital work the company will continue to advance to improve the lives of people around the world.”
“Vie” and “vital”? So AbbVie must be pronounced with a long I sound in the second syllable, right? Wrong! The first sentence of the press release has a phonetic cue in brackets: “Abb-vee.”
Which leads me to repeat a general rule of naming: When you have to provide a pronunciation guide, you’re acknowledging that your name is confusing. Not a promising start for a business.
AbbVie has another liability: that pile-up of plosives consonants [see comment from @kirinqueen] in the middle of the name. It’s difficult to say “AbbVie” without stuttering—and all that occlusion suggests a slow, sputtering business.
Exhibit B: Kraft Foods, which calls itself a “global snacks powerhouse”—it’s the parent company of Oreo, Cheez Whiz, Jell-O, and many other brands—is splitting into two companies, a North American grocery foods business and a global snack foods business. This week it announced that the snack business will be called Mondelez International.
Perhaps you had this initial response: “World of lesbians?” Or maybe it was just me.
My second inclination was to start humming “On the Road to Mandalay.”
But no. Once again, the press release has to come to the rescue: the name, we’re informed, is to be pronounced “moan-dah-LEEZ.” Indeed, in the headline, there’s a macron—a short horizontal line—over the second E, indicating a long-vowel sound. (There’s no equivalent hint for the O in “Mon-.”) The macron appears nowhere else in the press release, nor does it appear in the many news stories about the name announcement.
Another general rule of naming: If you need diacritical marks to clarify the pronunciation of your name, it isn’t clear enough on its own. A corollary: Print and online media won’t bother to use your fancy accent marks.
I am unsurprised to learn that this name resulted from an employee contest. More than 1,000 employees around the world submitted more than 1,700 names, according to the company. (If Mondelez was the best of the bunch, I don’t want to think about the worst.*) According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the “inspiration” for Mondelez came from two submissions, one from Europe and one from North America.
A third general rule of naming: Employee contests may be good for morale, but they rarely result in effective names—unless your employees are professional name developers.
The Kraft press release provides some background:
“Monde” derives from the Latin word for “world," and “delez” is a fanciful expression of “delicious.”
(I love this comment on WSJ.com: “Mondelez Industries – Isn’t that where George Constanza claimed to work as a latex salesman?”**)
Fortunately for us consumers, “Mondelez” won’t appear on packaging: it’s a corporate name only. The grocery unit will be named Kraft Foods Group.
These aren’t the first instances of Abbott and Kraft making dubious name decisions. I recently wrote about two confusingly named (but not competing) Kraft Foods brands, Velveeta and belVita. And in 2009 I wrote about the Abbott Labs drug Humira, which the company insists is pronounced “hu-MARE-ah.”
Thanks to Deborah Schneider of the Kineo Group in Chicago for tips about both stories. Both Deborah and I are quoted in an article about the new names published in today’s Chicago Tribune.
* UPDATE: According to Alan Brew, who blogs at Name Droppings, one of the also-rans was Tfark. That’s “Kraft” spelled backward.
** It was Vandelay.
Humira: I know a minister who pronounces "miracle" MARE-acle.
Posted by: Tom Goodwillie | March 22, 2012 at 06:41 AM
I confess that I actually like saying "Mondelez," but I don't think there's a way it can be spelled to convey the desired pronunciation effectively. But AbbVie? That's abby-normally atrocious.
Posted by: Jessica | March 22, 2012 at 06:51 AM
Mondaleezza mac and cheese, Mondaleezza rice, ...
Posted by: Tom Goodwillie | March 22, 2012 at 09:56 AM
V is not a plosive, it's a fricative. The only stop in the middle of "AbbVie" is thus the b. But the real problem is that because b and v are produced in nearly the same place, and are both voiced, they're just going to run together, so people saying this name will be saying "abby" or "avvie", not "ab vee".
Posted by: Kirinqueen | March 22, 2012 at 02:55 PM
@Kirinqueen: Thanks for setting me straight!
Posted by: Nancy Friedman | March 22, 2012 at 03:55 PM
Why go back all the way to Latin? "Vie" is more clearly borrowed from French "vie" than Latin "vita," and "monde" from French "monde" than Latin "mundus".
Posted by: Neal Whitman | March 23, 2012 at 07:31 AM
@Neal: Why? Politics. They're selling globally, and they don't want to piss off speakers of other European languages by appearing to favor the French. Latin and Greek, being dead, are always safe in name-origin stories.
Posted by: Nancy Friedman | March 23, 2012 at 07:46 AM
I know why the Mondeleza smiles ;-)
Posted by: Mojo | March 23, 2012 at 07:47 AM
But wait! There's even more problems with Mondelez (well, I'm not sure it's THAT big a problem...)! Follow this link from today on my naming blog:
Posted by: Mark Gunnion | March 23, 2012 at 11:39 AM
Update! In that Huffington Post post my link linked to (Is there an echo in here? in here?), they have "cleaned up" the language in the article. In an earlier version of the story, they quoted a Russian speaker as saying the word sounded like...well, I don't want to repeat what he said it sounded like, but now the headline/link on my blog, that links to the Post post, doesn't make as much sense as it did three hours ago!
Posted by: Mark Gunnion | March 23, 2012 at 11:45 AM
Both those names are totally Tfarked up.
And dang, hadn't they even ever heard of http://www.fark.com/?
One of the first and best weird-internet aggregators ever.
Posted by: Namer X | March 23, 2012 at 11:49 AM
Following Kirinqueen, just as "obvious" is pronounced "ovious" in casual speech, so, too, will AbbVie become Av(v)ie--which is slang for an Internet or gaming avatar. Do they want to target the youth gaming market, which may want pharmaceutical stimulants in order to play MMORPGs all night?
Appropriately, "avie" (reportedly from French "à l'envie," "with envy, enviously") is also an obsolete English adverb meaning "emulously" (adv. for "emulate," "competitively," "ambitiously"; http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/avie).
"Mondelish" would be too cutesy, but at least, unlike Mondelez, it would make sense. We just wouldn't know if it's a blended "monde-delish" or a stereotyped Jamaican "Delish, mon!"
Posted by: languageandhumor | March 23, 2012 at 02:16 PM
Link from my comment above without unintended punctuation: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/avie
Posted by: languageandhumor | March 23, 2012 at 02:19 PM
Totally with you here. I would *love* to see the names that Mondelez beat out.
By the way, thanks for linking to your old post about Humira. I take a similar medication, so I'm always reading about Humira and the other drugs in that category, and I never could understand why they insisted it was pronounced hu-MARE-ah. I thought it might have been some sort of regional accent thing. Your idea makes more sense.
Getting back to the original point, though, do they really have no one with common sense on these naming committees?
Posted by: Lukobe | March 25, 2012 at 12:18 AM