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Sound Symbolism and Your Business Name

Wednesday, 15 May 2013 16:38 Written by 
By Char S www.charlottestonephoto.com By Char S www.charlottestonephoto.com

It is quite the phenomenon the way some words actually sound like what they mean. Take for example the words ticket, freeze and sting. These words are not onomatopoeic, like bam and boom, but somehow they sound like their subjects. The word “ticket” makes a similar sound to a ticket machine. The word “freeze” has almost the affect of freezing, a slow and gradual pronunciation. The word “sting” has a sharp and quick pronunciation, similar to the feeling of being stung.

Many linguists even suggest that every letter has a meaning based on how they are pronounced. The combination of these letters influence how we feel about a word. This principle is called sound symbolism and can be applied to understanding how people might react to your brand name. By finding the stressed syllables of your name you can use the chart below to begin to understand how people may feel about that name.

To identify the stressed syllable listen for the louder parts. The vowels length is usually longer and their clarity is better. They also tend to have higher pitched sounds than unstressed syllables.

The stressed syllable in the name “Pepsi” is “Pep.” The stressed syllable in “Coca Cola” would be “Col.” Once you have found the stressed syllable in your name you then combine the meanings of each letter. The meaning of the first consonant represents the foundation of the names personality. The vowels represent how the name moves forward, or lives. The ending consonants represent the names outcome.

These definitions are derived from Margaret Magnus’ sound symbolism chart:

Vowels

  • Short a (as in “cat”) – Balanced and unwavering
  • Long a (as in “snake”) – Flexible and prevalent
  • Short e (as in “red”)– Hard worker and makes connections
  • Long e (as in “eagle”) – Stamina and endurance in the face of hardship
  • Short i (as in “fish”) – Accelerator, easygoing but a bit tense
  • Long i (as in “tiger”) – Oriented towards art
  • Short o (as in “fox”) – Fundamental, the pioneer of all things
  • Long o (as in “polar”) – Well-rounded, whole and earthly
  • Short u (as in “bunny”) - Thoughtful and relaxed
  • Long u (as in “puma”) – Goes with the flow, yet fast moving

Consonants

  • B – Sudden and powerful
  • C – If pronounced like “Cecilia” see S. If pronounced like “Cathy” see K
  • CH – Heroic, successful and overcoming
  • D – Decisive and authoritative
  • F – Spontaneous, fanciful and free
  • G – Giver, receiver and intelligent
  • H – Helpful
  • J – Leader, guide and judge
  • K – Smart, secretive, caring and intimate
  • L – Passive, feminine, light and mysterious
  • M – Maker, mother and master
  • N – Subtle, thoughtful, wise and noble
  • NG – Musical and cooperative
  • P – Problem solver, precise and honest
  • QU – Combination of K and W, curious explorer
  • R – Energetic and enforcing
  • S – Suave and sexy, distinguished and firm
  • SH – Protective, resilient and tenacious
  • T – Dreamer, designer and adventurous
  • TH – Thrilling and imparting
  • V – Serving and quiet
  • W – Willful, mature, determined and decided
  • Y – Trusting, energetic, and expansive
  • Z – Fast moving and dispersed

Using these definitions, lets put together the sound meaning of the popular fitness brand, Zumba. First we find the stressed syllable in the name, which would be the first syllable, “Zum.” Then we gather its letter meanings:

  • Z – Fast moving and dispersed
  • U – Goes with the flow, yet fast moving
  • M - Maker, mother and master

If we had not known what Zumba was we could have gathered what the word would best be applied to by just using these definitions. It sounds like something that is the master of moving fast. The name could be applied to racing, fast technology or even a delivery service. In this case, it applies to a dance fitness program, which is aptly effective. Zumba might seem out of place if it was the name of classy restaurant, a bookstore or an architectural firm.

There is a reason why some names work better than others and why we connect and remember some names better than others. While these definitions are perhaps subjective and do not apply to every word, there is no arguing that the sounds of many words have a relationship to their meaning. If your prospect business name sounds out of place, it probably is. While the idea of sound symbolism comes mostly naturally, there are methods of roughly figuring out how an audience will react and attach to your new business name.  

Last modified on Monday, 12 August 2013 11:53
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Michael Rader

With over ten years in web development and design, Michael Rader has expertise and technical know-how. But more than a skilled technician, he is an entrepreneur and innovator who helps startup’s and new businesses identify and define their future with a unique, brandable business name. Michael Rader is the founder and CEO of Brandroot®, a leading dot-com domain name marketplace. He currently lives in San Diego, California where he runs Brandroot® and authors a blog dedicated to naming and brand name establishment.

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