A field of linguistics, not without its skeptics, known as sound symbolism, posits that certain sounds have certain meanings, and that these sounds trigger imagery that is consistent and meaningful. The opposing viewpoint holds that sounds are random--completely arbitrary--and suggest no meaning at all. Opponents of sound symbolism, in essence, argue that any connection between sound and meaning is coincidental.

It is an arguable point, but there is both scientific proof and ample anecdotal evidence to suggest that humans do indeed associate sounds with meanings whether we are aware of it or not.

Try it yourself. Which made-up word, "Tekete" of "Naluma," do you associate with each image below?

87% of respondents call the image on the left "Tekete" and the image on the right "Naluma." Whether they can express it or not, people associate the harsh or hard notes of the 't' and 'k' with the sharper angles of the image on the left, and the softer sounds, like the 'l,' 'm,' and soft 'a' in Naluma with the soft curves of the visual on the right. Applying this phenomenon in name development, say for a new car brand, you might brand your fast, agile roadster, Tekete, whereas if it was a comfortable, luxurious full-size sedan, Naluma might be more appropriate. Sound symbolism is a rich source of ideas, here are just a few.

Eee gads

Words like teeny, tiny, wee, baby and bitsy mean small and when the common sound 'eee' is appended to proper names, Billy or Skippy for instance, the names tend to be affectionate or diminutive depending on context. In any case, the sound is frequently associated with littleness. If you're a maker of nanotechnology, you might consider leveraging this idea.

The science for this suggests that to make the 'eee' sound, your vocal tract, narrows--gets smaller. In other words, the physiology of the sound impacts the psychology of the meaning.

B is a blast

The 'b' sound is formed with an aggressive movement of multiple portions of the vocal tract. Say "blast" and feel the vibration near the back of your throat concurrent with a forceful burst of air through your lips. So, it is conceivable that this physical dynamic may be the driving force behind words like bleat, burst, barrage, beat, bang, battered, bump and others.

H is where the heart is

The linguistic concept known as word clustering is responsible for the many synonyms for the word "home." If your company has an interior design app, perhaps a name that starts with the letter 'h' would suggest home, house, hut, hutch, habitat, hearth and even, arguably, heart.

Your brand name in lights

A powerful letter cluster is 'gl.' Feel the glow when the light glimmers through the gloaming and hope it does not glare, but instead glistens with glitz. Have a light bulb or camera to name? Glean some inspiration here.

Ordinary brand names deliver semantical meaning alone. Extraordinary brand names avail themselves of powerful linguistic tools to deliver layers of meaning. No communication will be used as broadly or as frequently as your brand name so use every means available to make it as strong as possible.

Published on: Jun 5, 2017