Business Naming And Linguistics – Plosives

Business naming and linguistics – plosives

Business naming can be as easy as having an “aha” moment, or as complicated as introducing the science of linguistics to the naming process and to name evaluation.

Linguistics is a study of language based upon how words are physically formed by vocal cords-lungs-pallet-tongue-lips. It has its own array of distinct definitions for various sounds and how they’re made. There are those who advocate a linguistic approach to naming a company of product, and particularly encourage the use of certain consonants labeled “plosives”.

A depiction of plosive usage

Plosives burst from the mouth

Plosives are letters that when verbalized require three vocal actions (as described in Wikipedia):

Catch: The airway closes so that no air can escape through the mouth.
Hold or occlusion: The airway stays closed, causing a pressure difference to build.
Release or burst: The closure is opened. In the case of plosives, the released airflow produces a sudden impulse causing an audible sound (hence the name plosive).

The letters from English that meet those characteristics are: B, hard C, D, hard G, K, P and T.

Why are plosives encouraged?

First, they dominate other letters in the words in which they appear. They demand our attention when pronounced. This is particularly so when a plosive begins a word. So several naming companies suggest one criteria of a good name is whether it begins with a plosive. Two names are usually cited as good examples of strong brand names using plosives: Kodak and Coke. Other obvious examples: Die-Hard, Texaco, Pepsi, Brillo and Glade.

Plosive usage by INC 500 companies.

But among the fastest growing U.S. companies, as measured by the Inc 500, business names beginning with a plosive are only slightly more popular than those beginning with other letters. (Recall that I’ve analyzed the names contained in those INC 500 lists for the past 12 years, and that I’m reporting some of the conclusions I’ve reached in this blog.)

In analyzing the first letter of the names, the most significant conclusion about plosive usage among INC 500 is that it appears to be almost random. True, two plosives (C and P) are also top-five first-letters, but P declined in popularity since 2001 and not all C’s used in naming are hard C’s. On average, the use of those seven first-character plosive names has remained stable over the 12-year span, and represents 35% of all company names. In contrast, the use of any seven random characters is 27% on average.

I suggest it’s worth investigating the use of plosives as first-characters in names, but only as a secondary factor. There are certainly other factors more important in name creation and evaluation.