What’s In a Name?

By the time they hire me to voice their IVR’s, it’s probably too late to talk to people about why they’ve named their companies what they have —  many late nights have already been spent and reams of legal yellow paper consumed brainstorming about how to make their company’s name as unique and significant as possible; coming up with imaginative and innovative ways of spelling ordinary words to make them their own, riffing on existing words and modifying them to make them unique, or building a name from several different components which represent their company; a name which will identify their organization and which will no doubt look great on letterhead, website, booth banners, and business cards.

I am astounded at how many companies have me re-do their opening messages — after having voiced them to the best of my ability — due to mis-pronouncing their company’s name. I’ve even had clients — at the outset of a job — send an intonation file of *them* voicing the company’s name — or they schedule a pre-recording call with me — because (in their words):  “The company name is kind of tricky — in fact, almost everybody gets it wrong!  But it’s really important that you voice the opening message with the definitive pronunciation..”

I’ll say! I would think it would be crucially important that *everyone* say it in the “definitive way”, from the receptionist to the UPS delivery man to the people manning your booth at a trade show to someone seeing it for the first time. While it’s important that your company name be unforgettable, distinct, not apt to be confused with your competitor’s, and easy to recall, it should also probably not need a special tutorial on how to pronounce it properly.

I’ll add even further to that list, and suggest that not only is it important that your company’s name visually *look* impressive — I submit that it is crucial that the name actually “scans” to ear effectively. You will be *saying* your company’s name probably more than people will see it in its written form. You need to take into consideration how easy the name will be to “hear” — and to “say” — and imagine someone hearing your company name for the first time and immediately turning to type it into a web browser — wouldn’t you want to ensure that they hit *your* website every time; that your site is as easy as possible to find, and that the complex and unique spelling of your company’s name isn’t snagging their search?

I, of course, wish to protect the identities of valued clients (and to not offend, ever), so the examples I’m going to use to illustrate my point are company names *I’ve* manufactured, but hopefully get the point across.

Suppose — after much late-night workshopping,  you’ve decided to call your exciting, innovative company “Ignyshyn”. Cool, right? A play on the word “Ignition”! It sounds just the same as the mainstream word, but it’s spelled so……imaginatively!

I’m officially begging you to re-think any and all clever liberties taken with the spelling of words to snazz up your company’s moniker. It needlessly complicates the name, and makes it almost impossible for customers to find you — especially if you don’t take measures to have your voice talent painstakingly spell out the website (“Go to Ignysyn.com. That’s I-G-N-Y-S-H-Y-N, dot com”) — which a surprising number of clients don’t have me do.) Do they just presume people are going to magically type in “Newtrality.com” or “Akwizytion.com”? Chances are, (especially if the difference in spelling isn’t pointed out in the copy), they’ll follow what their ear is telling them and go to “Neutrality.com” and “Acquisition.com”, experience brief confusion, and move on to your competition.

Doubly befuddling to me, as a voice talent, are the instructions I occasionally get to make the unusual spelling stand out — but not stand out too much (for example, if I’m voicing for a company called “TechKNOWlogy”, and they want me to emphasise the appearance of the word “know” in the title, (which is darned clever, you have to admit)  but not at the expense of ruining the flow of the word…..customers should still “hear” “TECHNOLOGY” but just “nudge” the play on words by hitting the “KNOW”…but not too hard. Tricky, even for an experienced vocalizer of prompts.

Especially vexing are company names with numerals written in — some seem straightforward (“Innov8”) but even those also frequently come with instructions to point out the play on words (“but try not to really say ‘eight’ at the end..”) and others are just plain befuddling (“4ti2de” — “fortitude”. Gah!)

I recently read the opening greeting for a company who decided to make their name an amalgam of the founder’s first names — similar to “Johareth, Inc.” Given no guidance as to the pronunciation, I went for the pronunciation: “Joe-HARR-eth.” Turns out, the names the title is based on were actually Johann, Harry, and Ethan — it would be more like “Yo-HAIR-eeeth.” But how was I to know? And how will the customers of Johareth possibly know? Especially without the “tutorial” on how to pronounce it. The company name “Keyknowt” *might* be pronounced “Keynote”, except if it’s for a UK-based voice synthesis engine manufacturer wanting to emphasise a hands-free, no-typing feature of their product, and their play on words involves the British “Nowt” — literally “nothing”. “Key Nothing” — get it? Me either.

I submit some very strong cases in point: some of the most recognizable and profitable companies operating today do so under names which have practically no chance of mis-interpretation, mis-pronunciation, and have zero confusion associated with the names: Apple, Microsoft, IBM, Google. Nobody’s inclined to say “Ibbim” instead of saying the individual letters of “IBM”; I would wager that there has never been an operator at Microsoft who had to correct a customer calling in: “Well, actually, it’s pronounced “MY-crow-soft”, not “MEEK-ro-soft…”, and even at first glance at the nonsensical, entirely manufactured word “Google”, you instantly knew how to say it, and I’ll bet you never slipped and called it “Goggle” (or typed in “Gewgal” as a search term.)

Simplicity, accessibility, and a turnkey approach to naming your company is key — the name should speak for itself. It should stand alone. It should not be an unpronouncable in-joke, and it only benefits you and your company if you create as simple a path as possible for customers to find you.

The blog will be on a brief summer hiatus for the next two weeks — I’ll be back blogging in September and look forward to marking one whole year of the Voicegal Blog! Thanks to all of you for reading, and thanks for making this blog so well received, and such a passion to write!



  1. This is great advice, which unfortunately is ignored by so many companies assuming that if Google can make up a word and become billionaires, so can they. In addition to customers not knowing how to type a name, things that appear misspelled to the search engines will be “corrected” to the common spelling, making it difficult to even search for it.

  2. John Todd Said:

    I agree with everything you’ve said, but I’ll comment that sometimes even the most obvious words can’t be pronounced by some. Try, for instance, having people say the word “Asterisk” without saying it to prompt them. It’s stunning how often it’s mis-pronounced, even by “professionals” who do radio/voice interviews/public speaking for a living (this has happened twice in the last two months that I’ve witnessed.)

    I’ve been a part of these naming discussions many, many, MANY times. It typically boils down to the cheaper of these two considerations: how much does it cost to fight a trademark and copyright battle with an easy-to-pronounce name that is probably already used or sounds like something that exists, versus how much of a pain is it to create some new tongue-twister that has nothing to do with the product of the company. The latter almost always wins, because that is a more hidden cost and is easier to ignore in a meeting where everyone has been “primed” to say the name correctly without considering it from an unbiased perspective.

    • voicegal Said:

      Fabulous insight, Mr. Todd, as only you can render. I remember Mark Spencer starting off one of his keynotes at Astricon with a “pronunciation guide” of how to say — or rather not to say — “Asterisk”. As someone who is approached daily by Asterisk deployers to record for them, I, too, hear the mangling of what should be a pretty straightforward word.

      You, as many in the community know, have first-hand knowledge of the naming of companies, having been at the inception of more than a few ventures. The process of naming a company involves legal and copyright issues (which you were astute to point out) in addition to the more visceral, esoteric considerations I touched on.

      I guess a meld of our two ideas might be: if you’re going to go through trademark and name searches, and domain registration machinations, (and you’re going to go through that no matter what) you might as well do so with either: 1. A name which not only sounds familiar, but is spelled intuitively, or 2: Create a name (either completely from gibberish or an acronym) — but make even that “scans” well, and has some predictability in how an unknown might type it into a browser. A name that need no special lessons or tutorials.

      Never to complain about this incredibly sweet gig I have, but if I have to voice another company name like WANOCSUAS (an acronym for: We Always Name Our Companies Something Unpronouncable And Stupid) — deciding while recording it that it’s *probably* said: “WANN-ock-SUE-az” only to be informed by the client that a redo is needed because “it’s actually pronounced ‘wuh-NOCK-sue-az”, I’m gonna plotz.

    • Carlos Alvarez Said:

      Maybe this is all a part of the (d)evolution of our language into SMS speak.

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