Naming Your Business: Five Hidden Pittfalls of Using Creative Spelling in Your New Company Name

If you’ve ever run across the old joke that “fish” should actually be spelled “ghoti” (“gh” as in “tough,” “o” as in “women” and “ti” as in “nation”), then you won’t be surprised to know that many companies put this quirk of the English language to work by concocting an alternate spelling of a key word for their name. This associates their organization with a certain quality while standing out with a unique-looking name.

Examples of creatively spelled names that sound like a real word include:

  • Acxiom

  • Cinergy Health Chempetitive

  • Enalasys

  • Engauge

  • Flickr

  • Genesys

However, the perils of this strategy are many. First, sometimes not everyone understands the original word, as with “axiom” and “synergy.” In that case, the intended implication of the company name gets even more lost with the creative spelling.



Second, many of the creative spellings are extremely hard to remember accurately. I’m quite sure I could never remember how to spell Enalasys, even if I remembered that it sounded like “analysis” and started with an “E.” There are two additional spelling changes in that eight-letter name. Note that on the Internet, someone who gets your company’s spelling only partially right will not find your web site and may not be able to get email through to your employees.

Third, these names can be difficult to pronounce when seeing them “cold.” This point gets overlooked because a popular site like Flikr has many people talking about it, and once you’ve heard there’s a photo-sharing site called “flicker,” you readily understand that that’s how the name is said. But just from looking at the name, you might equally want to pronounce it as “Fly-ker” – or just be struck silent at the unfamiliar sequence of “k-r” at the end of the name. Likewise, I’m not sure from the spelling whether “Genesys” is supposed to be pronounced like the English word “genesis” or like the separate parts – “Jean-sis” (which emphasizes the component word “gene”).

Fourth, creatively spelled names with a double meaning like Chempetitive (sounds like “competitive” but suggests chemicals) or Engauge (sounds like “engage” but suggests measurement as in “gauge”) do not easily pass the telephone test. Their significance doesn’t come across to the ear. That is, someone hearing “Competitive” wouldn’t suspect the connection to chemicals – or the correct spelling.

And fifth, when you have a creatively spelled name, it becomes tiresome to spell it out every single time you say it to a new vendor or potential client. Take it from someone blessed with the last name of Yudkin!

If you’re a visual person, thinking mainly of how a company name might look on signage and a logo, you might value these names highly because of their distinctive eye appeal. However, it would be a mistake to forget about all the business situations in which communication happens primarily by ear.

With a sizeable marketing budget, you can overcome these disadvantages to a certain extent, drilling the correct spelling and punctuation into the minds of the public. After all, most people got it that AT&T’s wireless company was pronounced “singular” but spelled with a “C.” But if you have a limited marketing budget, it’s best to select a new company name that can be understood right off correctly by both the eye and the ear.

Copyright ?? 2010 Marcia Yudkin

— Marcia Yudkin is Head Stork of Named At Last, a company that brainstorms creative business names, product names and tag lines for clients. For a systematic process of coming up with an appealing and effective name or tag line, download a free copy of “19 Steps to the Perfect Company Name, Product Name or Tag Line” at http://www.namedatlast.com/19steps.htm

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