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Enter the Lexicon

Susan Purcell, a London-based linguist, and Jay Jurisich, of San Francisco branding agency Igor, explain what makes these big names work


What makes BlackBerry such a catchy name? Purcell says it's all in the letters. "The B sounds relaxed," she says. The Y is friendly, she notes, reminiscent of names Buddy and Betty. In between are a series of short vowels, which, Purcell claims, are "crisp like the clicking of buttons."


The snack Nabisco once bragged was "America's Favorite Cookie" has a name that's become part of the culture. The real brilliance of the word Oreo, says Jurisich, is its symmetry. "The bookending O's nicely mirror the physical shape and structure of the cookie itself," he explains.


The strength of this product name, says Purcell, is in the first two letters. Vigor, vitality, virile, and victory are all things that Viagra indirectly promises to deliver. She also points out that Viagra "rhymes with Niagara," which is especially useful if waterfalls turn you on.


The product is pronounced "we," which, Purcell attests, is a clear expression of group participation. "The ii's could be two players or two remotes," she says. In other words, Nintendo is subliminally telling its customers that playing video games isn't just for social outcasts anymore.


The original name for this popular search engine company was supposed to be "Googol" (a scientific term for 1 followed by one hundred zeros), but the founders made a typo while trying to register it as a domain name. The error, says Jurisich, is pure poetry. "It's warm and human," he says.

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