What’s in a (phone) name?

We’ve seen some strange phone names in recent months. Motorola’s DEXT and Milestone, HTC’s Legend, Desire and Smart, Sony Ericsson’s Vivaz, Satio, Elm, Hazel, Aino, Yari and Xperia line.

We’ve seen some strange phone names in recent months. Motorola’s DEXT and Milestone, HTC’s Legend, Desire and Smart, Sony Ericsson’s Vivaz, Satio, Elm, Hazel, Aino, Yari and Xperia line. Recently at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, Sagem announced a handset for older people called, rather cloyingly, the CosyPhone.

When phones have numbers rather than names there is little by way of meaning or hyperbole to be conveyed. Newer phones tend to have higher numbers than their predecessors, and lower number ranges can be used to signify less well featured handsets. But there’s not much more to it than that.

Where actual words are concerned things are a lot more tricky. A lot of things can’t be used. Anything that is trademarked by another company. Anything that has a meaning in any language or culture whether as a dictionary defined term or as slang. Anything with any kind of negative connotations.

So, you can see why Sony Ericsson has started to use tree names for some of its handsets. You could say that they give an impression of longevity and being fit for purpose, and also that they have a definite ‘eco’ feeling about them, which companies involved in technology are keen to associate themselves with in deed and in word.

But it does get a bit tricky when what you might call hyperbole comes into play.

Calling a handset the Hero, for example, which is what HTC named the phone I currently use, is ambitious. I like my handset, but I don’t in any way see it as heroic.

Giving a handset a powerful, evocative name means that the next handset must have a more powerful, more evocative name if it is not to be seen as a throwback. And, if a name goes too far down the powerful and evocative road, it can become funny rather than serious, entertaining rather than meaningful.

The safest way to go is to make words up. You start with no preconceptions beyond what a particular combination of consonants and vowels sounds like and feels like as you roll it around in your mouth. It is possible to imbue a made up word with a meaning, and carry that through in marketing.

Moving from one already known grand-sounding word to the next could prove a fairly short track. How far can you go before handset names sound simply ridiculous?

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