If you’re considering a coined name for your company or product, it’s helpful to keep in mind a general rule of English pronunciation: When a vowel precedes a single consonant that’s followed by an e, the first vowel is long. Double the consonant and the vowel becomes shortened.
Later: long a. Latter: short a. Miler: long i. Miller: short i.
Yes, yes, there are exceptions. But coined words are like hoofbeats: we expect a horse, not a zebra. We look for simplicity, not conundrums.
BNJMN is “a paintbrush-wielding bot created by two students at the Basel Academy of Art and Design,” according to a story in Co.Design. The name is pronounced “Benjamin,” and I was surprised to learn it had no relation to the paint company Benjamin Moore (which does sell a product calledben—all lower case). I emailed the creators of BNJMN and asked them about the name; here’s Travis Purrington’s reply in full (the ellipses are his):
BNJMN’s name evolved with his construction and development...
During the beginning of the naming process we originally were brainstorming far and wide for clever acronyms (like everyone) or heavy tech names (THX 1138, etc).
But in the end BNJMN was a warm/inviting sounding name that seemed a nice contrast to his sleek hard-edged body
(plus it looked good on paper and was easy to pronounce without vowels)
It seemed like a good match to the personality of his programming once we got him up and running...so it stuck.
Purrington did not say how many Benjamins BNJMN will set you back.
Perfume is a distillation of essences, so I suppose it’s logical for a perfume name to eliminate a few letters. And HYLNDS (“Aromatic Epics”) does have a vocalized Y, so it isn’t a complete consonant brick.
Refinery29, a design/lifestyle site, reportsthat HYLNDS was inspired by “the rolling hills and dramatic history of ancient medieval cultures.” And yet the aromas of peat, goat, and sweat are strangely absent from the three HYLNDS fragrances, which go for $180 per 50ml bottle: they’re called Bitter Rose, Broken Spear (which smells of “smelted iron, bitter rose,” and “melancholy thistle”); Isle Ryder (“resinous Norway spruce and fir cones with narcotic jasmine, island wildflowers, honeyed mead and bulrush straw”); and Pale Grey Mountain, Small Black Lake, (“a chilling air of wood, water, stone, and shrubs”). Each fragrance has HYLNDS, MDLNDS, and LWLNDS notes. Do I need to tell you that the company behind HYLNDS is “an indie Brooklyn perfumer” and that the product can be found at “stockists,” that Britishism beloved of pretentious Yank hipsters? No, probably not.
Melancholy thistle, indeed.
How to pronounce frrry? “Fry” with a lavishly trilled r? “Furry”?
No and no, according to the New York-based accessories e-tailer Roztayger:
The Frrry collection (pronounced ferry) is all about construction. Designed and made in The Netherlands using vegetable tanned Italian leather, creator Ferry Cornelis Gerardus Meewisse founded the line in 2002 after passing exams for 3D design at the Arnhem Academy of Arts.
Yes, that dangling phrase made me wince a little—Mr. Meewisse isn’t made of vegetable-tanned leather, as far as we know—but my bigger point is: ferry? Why not just spell it that way? “Ferry” would be an excellent name for handbags that ferry your stuff around. (Gorgeously, I must add: this style is fabulous, and not too exorbitant, either.)
It only stands to reason that you can find frrry products at UNDSCVRD.
Where does a style-savvy girl have to shop to buy a vowel nowadays? I’m looking at you, BLK DNM, the newish anti-fashion fashion boutique in downtown Manhattan that the New York Timesprofiled last week. (Reporter Jon Caramanica called BLK DNM “in essence an aggressively priced Uniqlo or Gap for the upper echelon of the invisible.”)
Is BLK DNM texting shorthand for “black denim”? Maybe. Maybe not. Urban Dictionary says “d’n’m” stands for “deep and meaningful.” Perhaps BLK stands for “bulk.” Or “blerk.” Or “bollocks.”
I’d dismiss BLK DNM as a pretentious anomaly if I hadn’t seen evidence that it is in fact part of an annoying trendlet. Let’s take a look:
BHLDN, which I wrote about a year ago, is Anthropologie’s entry into the wedding-fashion market. As I said in the post, it begs to be backronymed. (“Beware Hardly Literate Dumb Names”?)
Asmbly Hall, a new boutique on San Francisco’s Fillmore Street, scrounged up enough cash to buy a couple of A’s, but had to cut the E (and an S) out of the budget.
JNSQ, “the first independent, multimedia style magazine for iPad,” takes its name for French texting shorthand for “je ne sais quoi,” which means “I don’t know what.” How we’re supposed to pronounce the name? Moi, je ne sais pas. The online version of the company, according to a TechCrunch post, is called Jenesqua. Gen-ess-kwa? Donnez-moi un break.
The Gap is catching the consonantal drift, too. Its new online catalog, Styld.by, “taps fashion bloggers from popular sites including FabSugar, Lookbook.nu, and Refinery29, to style and showcase pieces of Gap clothing,” according to a post on Co.Create, Fast Company’s branding/entertainment/tech blog. (The “by” in the name looks like a country code, but isn’t: the URL is www.styld-by.com. There is no .by country code … yet.) Styld.by was created by a San Francisco agency called AKQA. AKQA doesn’t stand for anything except a certain JNSQ.
Of course, the whole thing started several years ago when tech companies like Flickr, Plnnr, and Dlvr.it (RIP) eliminated vowels to obtain short domain names. It sends one message when a scrappy startup cheats on spelling and quite another when the vowelless name belongs to an image-conscious fashion brand. By belatedly jumping on the bndwgn, are retailers trying to sell us austerity? Or are they just moving too fast to vowel up?
Which is why I was puzzled and, yes, bewildered when, earlier this week, I received an email announcement of Anthropologie’s new spinoff, which launches on Valentine’s Day.
What is this BHLDN? Is it an acronym? (“Brides Heart Low Droopy Necklines”?) A large legal partnership? A stock-exchange symbol? A texting abbreviation?
No, apparently we’re meant to take our cue from “Behold”: We’re supposed to fill in the blanks and pronounce the brand “Beholden.”
Alack! Alas! And also WTF!
Because while both “behold” and “beholden” come from the same Old English source, their meanings diverged almost 600 years ago. “Behold” lost its “hold” sense and today means “observe” or “look upon”; while “beholden,” a rarely used adjective, maintains its archaic meaning of “morally obligated” or “duty bound.”
The fact that “beholden” is archaic bothers me less than the fact that it’s so inappropriate for a bridal business. BHLDN has no romance, no elegance, no flirtatiousness: it lacks any of the promise one seeks in a bridal brand. If Anthro wanted us to think “to have and to hold,” they’ve missed the mark. If they wanted us to think that a bride is “beholden” to her mate, they’re just cuckoo.
Then there’s the mystery of the capital letters and the missing vowels. What was Anthropologie thinking? (The press, by the way, has been divided on how to represent the name: New York Magazine spells it Bhldn; Glamour spells it BHLDN. Fashion blog TheGloss spells it BHLDN and originally speculated that the name was to be pronounced “Buildin’.” Way to spread a consistent message, Anthropologie.) Was the marketing team taking a cue from publicly traded parent company Urban Outfitters, Inc., which now styles itself as URBN (its ticker symbol and URL)? At least URBN has one vowel. BHLDN isn’t edgy or alternative; it’s dopey. It begs to be backronymed: “Betty Has Less Draper Now.” “Bless Her Little Drippy Nose.” “Blink Hard Learning Dismal News.”
Sorry, Anthropologie. This isn’t “turning tradition on its ear”—it’s slathering three-egg omelet on your face.
In other news, beginning tomorrow (Friday) I’ll be stepping away from 21st-century technology for a few days. If your comment doesn’t reach me before I untether, I’ll review and publish it on Monday.