Naming Themes

A brief introduction to one kind of naming convention.

McDonalds does it. Apple does it. So, naming themes must be a good thing. Right? We’ll play it safe – and say “it depends.” McDonald’s naming theme is great. Apple’s is, well, not theirs.

Let’s take a step back and define a naming theme. A naming theme is a system of names that shares a unifying or dominant idea or motif. This can be a common word such as Nike’s “Air__” or Kellogg’s “__Jacks”. Or, it could be a common letter or word-part such as McDonald’s “Mc___” or Apple’s “i___”. The more common, and “looser” model utilizes a common style, such as Dodge’s Avenger, Charger and Challenger.

One type of system is not necessarily better than the other. In fact, arguably the best and worst examples are the same type. McDonald’s “Mc” is great. Apple’s “i” is terrible. On the surface, they’re the same – a letter or two in front of a common noun and Poof!, there’s their new brand or product. The big difference comes down to trademark rules. McDonald’s “Mc” is proprietary – no one else can use it. They own it. So, anything they attach it to is instantly recognized as theirs and is completely protectable as a trademark (as long as the new part isn’t already spoken for).

That ubiquitous “i” on the other hand does not belong to Apple. It doesn’t belong to anyone. Apple’s use of “i” goes back a long way (1998 at least). The problem is that everyone’s use of “i” goes back a long way. Apple couldn’t and didn’t protect it. It’s not a “trademarkable” term. So, anyone can stick an “i” in front of a word, and call it a name. Worse, much of the usage of the system is by companies other than Apple, trying to associate with Apple.

Don’t be an i______ . (Would you believe that iBlank is actually an existing product name?!)