Category Archives: language

How to name your brand and get it trademarked

the-name-of-the-beastI’ve just finished reading a great book with an even greater title. The Name of the Beast by professional ‘namer’ Neil Taylor, is a guide to the ‘Perilous process of naming, brands, products and companies’.

You can tell Neil is slightly scarred from his years as a senior naming consultant at Interbrand where he discovered (much like for graphic designers), everyone is an expert. And some are very cynical about the role of professional namers such as Neil.

According to Andrew Mueller in Guardian newspaper;
“There are people, enviable yet contemptible, who make good livings inventing names for companies.

In fact, if you’re a CEO about to shovel a five-figure fee at some twit called Nathan to come up with a name like Twerq or Zamp Plus or X-Zite!, get in touch – for half the money, I’ll do you something at least as good, and certainly no more foolish.”

And people often have strong emotional bonds to brands they have grown up with, and are now being ‘messed about with’. Neil give a classic example of name failure, when Royal Mail changed to Consignia in 2000. He prints three pages of hostile comments from the time, which culminated in an embarrassing ‘volt-face’ just 15 months later.

For me, the most useful part of the book is chapter 3 where he covers the different approaches to naming.

Descriptive names
Ronseal tinBy using the Ronseal approach, ‘they do exactly what they say on the tin’. Obvious examples would be pretty much anything that starts with British (think Airways, Gas, Petroleum, Telecom etc). Sadly these names are often too good to be true, and cause problems when you go international, or change what you do over time.

Neil uses one of my favourite examples, The Carphone Warehouse. This name accurately described the brick sized phones sold in warehouse outlets when they were starting out. But today they sell sleek smartphones is smart high-street shops. I wonder if the chairman Charles Dunstone called a meeting one day to come up with a new name. But someone pointed out they had left it too late, and anyway the business was doing just fine with the original name. The positive brand values had been absorbed into the name, and risked being thrown away with a new name.

MeerkatSo although descriptive names save you having to explain what the company does, they have almost all already been taken, and even if not, can risk being too descriptive to allow you to register a trademark. For instance, Compare the Market and We Buy Any Car have been refused a trademark, but Compare the Meerkat and Webuyanycar.com were allowed.

Image-based names
Moving on from literally descriptive names, image-based names work by association using metaphors. Neil gives the examples of Visa (the shopping equivalent of a passport) and Viagra (think life and Niagra). If successful this approach can give a brand a personality which can appeal to customers.

Abstract names
Some of the most powerful brands on the planet use abstract and in some cases, made up words. Apple is currently the most profitable business in history. George Eastman used Kodak because he thought k’s were cool, so why not have one at the beginning and end of his brand name? Citroen did something similar until relatively recently when they ‘owned’ the letter X. Starting out with CX, BX and XM and then moving onto more creative names such as Xsara and Xantia.

The best thing about a made up name is that it can’t already be registered as a trademark to someone else, although you do still have to be careful it isn’t similar to a word that is in use.

Names of provenance
These are abstract names, but derive from a place or person. In fact, nearly half of the world’s top 100 brands use family names. Examples would be McDonald’s, Ford, Cadbury, Kellogg’s and Dyson.

Names that break the rules
Smeg fridgeAfter spending many pages explaining the options for naming and going into detail about how to brain-storm for names, Neil give some examples of names that break the rules.

For example, I can’t believe it’s not butter, is about as far away from a short and simple brand name as you can get, even though it does sort of explain what the product is. He uses the example of U2 who have a ‘rubbish’ name but global success, whereas Half Man – Half Biscuit have brilliant one, but are long forgotten except by a few faithful fans. Or how about Smeg fridges? Surely no one would by a brand whose name is associated with “a substance that collects inside male genitalia”.  But thanks to their bright colours and trendy retro design they have become very popular indeed.

I am glad to see that Neil spends a bit of time talking about trade marks, even if it is in a rather short chapter titled The long arm of the law. He points out how trade marks trump company or domain names, which means they need to be checked first. The famous cases of Apple Corps vs Apple Computer is covered, and Budweiser US vs Budweiser Czech lager beers.

He explains how a name can exist in different classes of business activity using Polo as an example – a VW car, a mint with a hole, and expensive clothing. As long as the consumer is not confused about what and who they are buying from, there is no problem.

Neil is definitely not a fan of trade mark lawyers, but does admit they can help you work out the risk of choosing a particular name. It all comes down to predicting how the owners of similar names with react. How likely are they to send you a ‘cease and desist’ letter from their lawyers?

cillit-bangSo you don’t have to like a name, or understand what it means for it to be successful. As long as it is legal, available and memorable you should be ok. If Cillit Bang can become a household name, surely anything goes.

Fracking with the F-word on the Battlestar Gallactica

battlestar_galactica_logoOne of the ways I try to ameliorate the boredom of my five hours of daily commuting is to distract myself with entertaining TV shows.

I have always been a fan of Science Fiction, and still remember watching early Doctor Who episodes from behind the sofa in my youth, and revelling in the cult trash of Blake’s Seven in my teens.

So I was aware of Battlestar Gallactica, but was confused by very mixed reviews of the series. It turns out there were two separate versions of the series, with a rather weak original from 1978, followed by a far superior ‘reboot’ from 2004.

The premise of the series is a familiar one from the annals of Sci-Fi. Robots developed to serve humankind develop consciousness, rebel and go to war against their masters. The Battlestar Gallactica version of this story takes place far into the future, after we have left earth and colonised distant space.

It follows on from 40 years of peace after a bloody war against the Cylons. Needless to say the Cylons (dismissed as ‘toasters’) have not been idle. They have spent the time infiltrating the human defences, using replicants (referred to as ‘skin jobs’). When their offensive finally starts the consequences for the human population are devastating, with billions wiped out in a nuclear apocalypse across the 12 colonies.

A mere 50,000 manage to escape destruction in a rag-tag collections of space-ships under the protection of a rather long in the tooth battlestar (think rusting old aircraft carrier), under the leadership of retirement ready admiral Adama. Their desperate hope is to find a new home in the now mythical planet of earth, whilst avoiding any run-ins with the vastly superior fire-power of the Cylon fleet.

Battlestar-Galactica

So far so straightforward, with the addition of lots of fighting to keep things from getting dull. However the writers manage to take the story to the next level by exploring the overlaps between human intelligence, and these newly created sentient beings. For instance the many of the humans have a belief in their ‘old gods’, but this is trumped by the Cylon’s much stronger faith in their one god. They firmly believe it is their destiny to discover and repopulate earth, instead of the humans.

In one episode the humans are shown to be capable of an ‘inhuman’ level of cruelty to a flesh and blood Cylon. An ongoing theme concerns the humans who fall in love with ‘skin-jobs’ and vice-versa. Each being perceived to have betrayed their community. One case even leads to the birth of a human-cylon hybrid child, over whom both sides contest ‘onwership’.

As you can see, the four series of the show has kept me entertained with rapt attention over the past few weeks. But that is not the theme of this blog post…

For many years I have been aware of – and irritated by – the way American television programs are so prudish. Having been used to hearing swearing on British television since a teenager, it always seemed odd to have hard-hitting US programs limit themselves to the occasional mild obscenity. The notable exception to this rule is the HBO subscription channel, who have produced such wonderful series such as Six Feet Under, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Game of Thrones.

So, I was shocked to hear the F word uttered in the very first episode of Battlestar Gallactica. How were the makers of the show allowed to do this on American network channels?

But when I started listening more closely I realised the F word being used wasn’t ‘fuck’, but ‘frak’. Thanks to the hard work of some dedicated viewers it is possible to hear every frack voiced during the show on YouTube.


As you can hear, the word is used in all of its rich and varied contexts and meanings. Needless to say Wikipedia has a whole page on the use of frak and fraking in the series, and difference between the ‘frack’ used in the earlier version of the show.

At first this substitution seemed ridiculous. But after a while it began to seem natural and didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the series. In fact it enhanced the ‘believability’ of the show. After all, people do swear a lot in life and death situations, and the military are famous for their sweariness.

So if you do get the chance to watch this epic series, which according to a friend was a “life-changing” experience, listen out for lots of fraking and try not be offended.

Early innovation – The Italian Academies 1525 to 1700

Academia_SpensieratiA little while ago I attended a staff talk at the British Library on a project to catalogue books published by the Italian Academies dating from 1525 to 1700.

I have to admit this was a new topic for me, but as the speakers explained, the Learned Academies represent a vital aspect of early modern culture. They were the first intellectual networks of early modern Europe. Consisting of approximately 600 Academies in Italy in the period 1525-1700, they were responsible for promoting debate and discussion in a wide range of disciplines. These varied from language and literature, through the visual and performing arts to science, technology, medicine and astronomy.

In some ways these were the Silicon Valley’s or Silicon Roundabouts of their day.

Some were formally constituted, with published rules and lists of members; others were much looser groupings of like-minded individuals, often young men, with common interests. The Academies functioned as alternative institutions to the universities and the courts, and numbered among their members pioneering scientists, writers, artists, political thinkers, and representatives of both sexes and all social classes.

The Academies also had a more playful aspect, devising for the academy and for each member amusing names which were often represented visually in punning illustrations and devices. International in membership, and in correspondence with scholars across Europe, they were fundamental to the development of the intellectual networks later defined as the République des Lettres, and to the dissemination of ideas in early modern Europe. The range of interests and the very large number of Academies and their publications makes these institutions central to the study of early modern European culture.

This project involves a collaboration between three of the UK’s leading research institutions: Royal Holloway University of London; the University of Reading; the British Library. The project also has its own Facebook page with some images from the collection.

One of the major outcomes of the project is a comprehensive database of information on Academies from across the Italian peninsula, detailing their membership and publications. This is publicly accessible through the British Library on-line catalogue at: http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/ItalianAcademies/

Galileo_Galilei

Portrait of Galileo Galilei – one of the more well known Academy members

 

On the Road again with Jack Kerouac and the American landscape

kerouac1As I have mentioned before, the British Library is a constant source of cultural surprises and delights.
This time the source is our display of the original 150 foot long manually typed manuscript scroll of Jack Kerouac’s modern classic On the Road. I popped down one lunchtime to have a look at this unusual form of a first draft of the novel, which I had last seen in Russell Brand’s infamous BBC documentary following some of Kerouac’s routes across America.

The notes alongside the display in the library were intriguing and made it sound as though this unedited version would make for a more interesting read than the modified published edition of the book.

on_the_road_scroll

Source – http://ontheroad29.wikispaces.com

Fortunately our shop stocked both the ‘proper’ version and a Penguin edition of the original scroll (in book form). A week later and I have finished this amazingly freewheeling and raucous book and regret not having read it years ago. Kerouac is superb at bringing to life the prodigious American landscape as he criss-crossed the country hitch-hiking and driving various borrowed cars.

His evocative road trip text took me back to my gap year trip, travelling 13,000 miles around the USA and Canada on a motorbike. In particular the steamy heat of New Orleans, the vast open plains and die straight roads of Texas, and the chilly winding passes of the Rocky Mountains heading into New Mexico. I also fell in love with the poetic names of towns encountered along the way such as Indio, Blythe, Salome, Flagstaff, Wichita, Rapid City, Des Moines, Mobile, Clint and my favourite Cimarron at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.

I have to admit the idea of reading a book with no paragraphs and little punctuation was somewhat intimidating, but the story grips you like a roller-coaster from the beginning, and I found myself not wanting to get off. I enjoyed the fact this version contained all the real names, places and sometimes shocking details (mostly changed in the edited version to avoid libel cases and the censor).

As the back page blurb puts it;
‘In this influential odyssey of jazz and drugs, of filling stations and marriage licences, of sex, and poolsharks, and hiballs, Kerouac tells the real story of his travels with car thief and Beat icon Neal Cassady, and the famous friends they met, drank with, and ignored.’

Perhaps the biggest surprise came from the reading the 100 pages of notes that came with the Penguin version. The manuscript had gained mythological status from the story that Kerouac wrote it in one continuous three week blitz, fuelled by coffee and Benzedrine. I found it hard to believe such a literary feat could be produced just like that out of thin air, and the reality proved very different. The manuscript was actually the culmination of many years of experimenting and frustration for Kerouac in trying to create what he called the “Official Log of the Hip Generation”. So although written in a whirlwind of manic typing, Kerouac had several previous manuscripts to call on, as well as being surrounded by piles of notebooks and letters.

An unexpected surprise came in the last few pages of the book as Kerouac, Frank Jeffries and Neal Cassidy (the unlikely hero of the story) and roll into Mexico City towards the end of their final road trip. Apparently a dog called Potchky had eaten the final section of the scroll. It seem hard to believe that this mythological ‘dog ate my homework’ excuse used by teenagers across the world, had actually befallen the sole copy of the novel. Fortunately the editor of the Penguin edition was able to use a revised version written by Kerouac shortly afterwards, so no harm seems to have been done to the ending of story.

For me the biggest irony of the intense three week writing period designed to capture the essence of this new era, was that it took a further six years and much wrangling between the author and publishers before the print version finally appeared in bookshops.

On_the_road_book

 

Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands – I’ve pinned my tale on the map

writing-britainOur great new exhibition which opened last Friday is called Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands, and features some wonderful exhibits which have never been seen in public before.

These include loans coming directly from writers such as Hanif Kureishi, Jonathan Coe, Ian McEwan, and Posy Simmonds. You can read regular updates on the exhibition on the English and Drama blog.

The exhibition is all about exploring how the landscapes and places of Britain permeate our great literary works. And on the exhibition website is the chance to participate by adding your own literary geographic reference.

Just choose a literary work from any period and any form (e.g. a novel, a poem, song lyric or a play) that relates to a specific location in Britain or Ireland. Then say a little about your chosen item, and how the author has captured the spirit of the place, and what it means to you.

Pooh_Shepard1928

Image from Wikipedia

I couldn’t resist revisiting my youthful playground of the Ashdown Forest. I grew up in Forest Row in the heart of Sussex, and spent many a happy hour exploring 500 Acre Wood. This was the basis for A. A. Milne’s fictional Hundred Acre Wood, the landscape for the Winnie-the-Pooh stories.

I have a strong memory of a 10th birthday party egg-hunt under the tall Scots pines at Camel’s Clump and amongst the ferns and bracken. Thanks to the Conservators of Ashdown Forest the place is pretty much the same as it was back in Winnie-the-Pooh’s days.

Russell_Brand_Arthur_Premier_mike

Image from Wikipedia

I also put in an entry for Grays in Essex as the stamping ground for the young Russell Brand, which features heavily in the first of his two (so far) rather childishly titled autobiographies, (unless you believe his claim to be inspired by the fictional Nadsat language from A Clockwork Orange).

In My Booky Wook, Brand talks at length about growing up in this rather miserable town. He believes that part of his determination to become famous was as an escape route from this grey and mundane environment.

Early on in his career he revealed a passion for Jack Kerouac, and his classic novel On the Road. Together with his writing partner Matt Morgan, he travelled across the United States from coast to coast.

I met the notorious comedian briefly in 2007, when his book signing tour came to Brighton. And, in between seducing the young woman in the queue in front of me, and insulting my 14 year old son, he expressed a great interest in visiting The British Library. Although I suspect he has been rather too occupied with his burgeoning Hollywood film career since then to find the time.

Reinventing Shakespeare with Lenny Henry

Lenny_HenryI have just returned from a trip to the National Theatre in London to see Lenny Henry in The Comedy of Errors.

This is not going to be my attempt at a theatre review, as many others are far better qualified to do that than me.

Also, I had better get my confession to not being a great fan of Shakespeare out of the way early on too. However, I should point out that Lenny Henry himself was also in this camp until relatively recently as he revealed in his Radio 4 series, What’s So Great About…

In fact that show led to an invitation to appear as Othello at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds directed by Barrie Rutter. The Daily Telegraph reviewer described his performance as “This is one of the most astonishing débuts in Shakespeare I have ever seen.” And resulted in Henry winning the best newcomer award at the age of 51.

The point I want to make is how this very contemporary version of the play creates an unexpected new angle on something dating from 1594. Who would have expected to be presented with a helicopter rescue with winch-men descending from above within the first few minutes.

The play was set in its original location of Ephesus, but updated to a rather sleazy present day by Director Dominic Cooke, with gangster bosses, pool halls, throbbing night clubs and racy prostitutes.

It felt really quite strange to listen to Shakespeare’s words coming out of the mouths of Essex bleached blonds with estuary accents. Or watching an ambulance with flashing lights swerve onto the stage and a gang of white-coated men emerge and begin pursuing our heroes Antipholus and Dromo around the stage in a Keystone Cops style chase.

From a comment I heard on the way out of the theatre, “soooo disappointing wasn’t it, none of the gentle charm of Shakespeare”, not everyone was happy with this interpretation. But, for me it not only made for an, at times, breath-taking spectacle, it also made the sometimes impenetrable Shakespearean language alive and vivid. Once again the Bard has been re-invented for another generation to enjoy.

Comedy_of_Errors

An evening in the charming company of Amanda F***ing Palmer and her ukulele

I actually wrote this blog post late on Monday night, but thanks to the unpredictable nature of web editing, the whole thing disappeared in mid-edit. Whilst mustering the energy to start again from scratch, who should pop-up on my iPod but the Dresden Dolls. Considering I have over 5,000 songs, it is set to random, I took this as a sign to finish what I had started.

As I have mentioned before, the British Library is a wonderfully eclectic place, and the events we hold reflect this.

This Monday saw a performance from Amanda F***ing Palmer to a full house of her loyal and adoring fans in the intimate setting of British Library conference centre. With the exception of a couple of songs played on an electronic piano, AFP accompanied herself with a ukulele and mandolin.

 She was also joined on stage for a couple of songs by new husband Neil Gaiman, who just happens to be an award winning science fiction writer, who surprisingly hails from my home town of East Grinstead. Neil also gave a talk earlier in the day as part of our excellent Out of this World science fiction exhibition (which closes on 25 September).

I have to admit to not being aware of what I now understand is the cult of AFP, before Monday, so like any good librarian did a bit of desk research. I discovered she has performed as a solo performer, the driving voice of The Dresden Dolls, the Emcee in Cabaret, and as half of the conjoined-twin folk duo Evelyn Evelyn. And that her approach to clothes seems to be ‘less is more’. So I was somewhat surprised by her initial rather prim and proper outfit (below).

All rights reserved by Hannah Daisy

However, it did not take long for her to revert to her more ‘traditional’ attire of basque and suspenders (below with Neil Gaiman).

(Many thanks to Hannah Daisy for allowing me to use her wonderful photos of the evening.)

All rights reserved by Hannah Daisy

Although Amanda’s cabaret style of music is not normally my cup of tea, I was really impressed by her intelligent lyrics, humour and emotional depth.

The only slight niggle from the evening’s entertainment was the swearing. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not easily offended by rude words, and of course AFP’s stage name gives something of a clue to what might be expected at her shows. But I am now rather bored by the number of visitors to the British Library who seem to think that swearing in such an august institution is terribly naughty, and so irresistibly cool.

My first encounter with the  f word at the library was back in 1997, courtesy of James Brown founder of Loaded Magazine, and perhaps not so surprising given his role as father of the ‘Lads mag’. You can still see him in action on our YouTube channel.

Not long after came Richard Reed of Innocent Smoothies fame,
and Sam Roddick founder of ‘erotic emporium’ Coco De Mer, and daughter of the Body Shop legend Dame Anita Roddick.

Perhaps both could be excused because this was how they expressed their great passion for their business activities.

However, the same cannot be said of comedy veteran Arthur Smith, who during his set at What’s So Funny @ British Library last January, lead a rousing chorus of “I am the Mayor of Balham / oh yes I f***ing am / I am the Mayor of Balham / I f***ing f***ing am”

I could see he was positively revelling in his ‘rebellious’ swearing.

So, I’m afraid on Monday I refused to sing along when Amanda asked us to yell “f*** it”, in response to prompting during her performance of Map of Tasmania. Although, from the sound of it, I was probably the only one not joining in.

The evening wasn’t all swearing however, and including a surprisingly warm mention of my local (and rather dull) town of Crawley, for being the home-town of Robert Smith founder of 80’s pop band The Cure.

She has also covered Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in concert with her father, which is a good sign of musical taste in my opinion.

Needless to say, in our age of social media connections, you can follow both Amanda and Neil on their twitter feeds with half a million, and one and a half million followers respectively.

I can’t wait to see what surprises the library will throw up next.

Evolving English exhibition – One Language, Many Voices

I just love words. They are one of my favourite things in life, so I am really excited about our new Evolving English exhibition, where we will be exploring our wonderful language, from Anglo-Saxon runes to modern day rap.

My favourite word for some time has been serendipitous, both for its sound and meaning. As a very poor speller (sp), I am intrigued by what I consider to be ridiculous spellings, which I would never guess how to say. For instance, how about the dance groups The Cholmondeleys and The Featherstonehaughs. Did you get they are pronounced Chumleys and Fanshaws respectively?

I also noticed last week that David Usborne writing in the new i newspaper from the Independent, is not averse a bit of language creativity. He used the term ‘courtesy-impaired’ passengers in reference to the story about Steven Slater the ‘air rage’ steward. I did a little digging a found an article titled Courtesy-impaired peers frustrate fellow worker by Diane Crowley in the Chicago Sun-Times from 20 September 1990.

Here are some great language websites I have come across over the years:

Wordia – the online dictionary, which brings words to life through video.

Dictionary of English slang and colloquialisms of the UK

Save the Words is all about trying to stop them from disappearing.

ToneCheck™ is an e-mail plug-in that flags sentences with words or phrases that may convey unintended emotion or tone, then helps you re-write them.

Phrases.net Thousands of common phrases, sayings and idioms that can be browsed, searched, heard, and translated to several language.

100 Most Often Mispelled Misspelled Words in English

AlexHorne.com Can one man deliberately invent a successful new word? Is it possible to break into the dictionary? What is a pratdigger?

Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices

The first exhibition to explore the English language in all its national and international diversity. Iconic books and manuscripts, set alongside engaging everyday texts, show the social, cultural and historical strands from which the language has been woven.

In the exhibition and on this website you will also be able to take part in a national initiative to record how English is spoken all over the UK. You will be able to submit a recording of yourself reading ‘Mr Tickle’ to form part of the British Library’s collections. Add your email address at the top of the page to join our mailing list.

‘Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices’ also looks beneath the tip of the linguistic iceberg at comics, adverts, text messages, posters, newspapers, trading records and dialect recordings that make up the bulk of the English language.