Column | What’s in a name?

Does it really matter how you name your products, projects, or even your business? Sometimes you would be tempted to think so. The film industry is full of stolen and borrowed names. A well-chosen name can make a product catch the crowd’s interest, even though it would normally receive only marginal attention from the media and the public.

name your product

Column by Arjan van den Born

Yesterday I attended a meeting with successful organizations. It caught my eye that all these award-winning organizations had very clear names. Names like “Buurtzorg” (lit. Neighborhood Care), an organization which, guess what, facilitates those in the neighborhood that need personal care, and “Studentenwerk” (lit. Student Jobs), which provides students with jobs. I wondered how important a name would be for a creative business and for a creative product.

Luckily there has been a lot of research about this subject, especially within the movie industry. We already know that a smart choice or a correct name for a movie doesn’t only lead to increased recognition of the movie, but also to a greater trust in its quality. A movie’s name partly determines the audience’s expectations.

A good title hints what the movie is about and makes you want to see it. A bad title just leaves you scratching your head, wondering whether the movie is a western, a chick flick, an action movie, or a science fiction thriller. If you don’t know what you’re going to get, you probably aren’t going to bother trying it.

Therefore, the movie industry knows many names stolen and borrowed names. After the commercial success of “Lethal Weapon” (1987), many movies were released with the adjective “Lethal”, like Lethal Combat, Lethal Force, Lethal Ninja, Lethal Lolita, Lethal Seduction, Lethal Justice, Lethal Tender, Barely Lethal, Lethal Eviction, Lethal Obsession, and L.E.T.H.A.L. All these movies tried to free ride on the original movie’s success. The importance of a recognizable, and trustworthy name should’t be underestimated. It is one of the reasons why sequels (like Rocky II) and series (such as “007” and “Harry Potter”) are usually performing so well. People stick to what is known.

Is pursuing the name effect in essence evil and plain aiming for commerce? Well, maybe not. A recent research by Zhao, Ishihara and Lounsbury (2013) shows that the strategic naming of movies is especially important for creative movies. Especially for movies that can’t be boxed in directly (for example as action movie, thriller, drama, comedy, etc.) a clear name can do miracles. A well-chosen name might cause innovative movies, which would normally receive too little attention from media and public, to catch the crowd’s interest. So, what we take home is that real pioneering, innovative and creative products need to connect to proven and trusted brand names in order to provide your idea with sufficient attention; the attention it deserves.