Psychology of Brand Naming

3 min read

Subtly influence human decisions with your brand name’s vowel sounds.

Samantha was all set to launch her Fintech startup. Her brand was to evoke reliability, innovation and experimentation. But she was stuck at one crucial step in fully launching her startup. ‘What should she call her brand?’ She did not want something too serious sounding and yet she wanted the brand name to be taken seriously. After some careful brainstorming, she came up with a few options and was about to settle with Fintechoo when her branding consultant stepped in. The consultant suggested Fintechie.

Now, what do you think was wrong with the name Fintechoo? Being in the midst of the startup frenzy, Samantha missed the obvious; the obvious understanding that Fintechoo ‘sounds’ less serious than Fintechie. But why is it that the sound “oo” implies less professionalism or some might even say frivolity than the sound “ee”?

There is an inherent relationship between sounds and meanings that is called by scientists as Phonetic Symbolism [1]. This study classifies vowels as back vowels and front vowels. While the back vowel sounds (like “oo”) typically communicate notions of dullness, darkness and being large, the front vowel sounds (like “ee”) are known to imply sharpness, brightness and being small. Think of, for instance, the brand name IKEA. The “aa” pronunciation at the end insinuates qualities like large, broad and strong. Whereas think of the brand name Nike. The “i” and “ee” pronunciations project agility and lightness, quite apt for selling sportswear and sports shoes.

Similar to implying personalities like professional and frivolous, and qualities like thick and thin, vowels also imply a sense of distance. Back vowels evoke abstract, high-level construal or something far away. And front vowels elicit concrete, low-level construal or something near. Think Tumblr for something abstract and far away and Visa for something concrete and near.

Now that we have understood phonetic symbolism and brand names, dear reader, please help me pick my brand name based on whatever sounds right to you –

  • What should I call my creamy ice cream shop? – Frish or Frosh
  • What should I call my waterpark? – Splish or Splash
  • What should I call my bell shop with the largest bells in town? – Ding or Dong
  • What should I call my petite little baby boy? – Mike or Gabon

Sorry, I am joking about the last one. While these questions have been posed in jovial spirit, the 1st question about the ice cream names was actually part of an experiment conducted by Journal of Consumer Research (Vol 31, June 2004) [2] Professors of Marketing, Eric Yorkston and Geeta Menon. This research ended with the children picking the name Frosh for a creamy ice cream rather than calling it Frish. Hopefully, that is what you picked as well!

This construal happens subconsciously. You may see this in your daily life while naming your kids or even dogs, but if you are thinking about rebranding your company, you can leverage what the human mind processes subconsciously to create a stronger emotional connect with your target audience.

And yet again, with this piece of research on the relationship between sound and meaning, we have presented the opportunity to mock Shakespeare’s old adage – ‘What’s in a name?’ A brand’s success or failure, some might say!


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