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.”
* 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.