Sound Symbolism: You Must Consider How Your Brand Name Sounds!

by Mark Stephens
Integrating Sound Symbolism into Your Brand Name

The waves of the ocean, the cool mountain breeze, or Beethoven’s hauntingly beautiful “Moonlight Sonata” have something in common – a deep feeling of calmness. These feelings that arise from the deep corners of the heart cannot be explained through mere words, or can they?

Well, let me share some good news with you: sounds have a deep emotional connection that can create a powerful impact. Big brands and marketers know how sound symbolism can be used to establish brand identity. Brands use the hidden power of sound in every syllable to create their name. Names such as Google, Apple, and Twitter have something unique about them that truly set them apart from their peers.

Let us explore how you can harness the power of sound symbolism to create your brand name, but first, let’s soothe our minds and hearts with Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.”

What is sound symbolism?

For most people, finding the rhythm in words such as pen and paper or night and day is difficult. We generally use words to convey information and not meaning or depth; however, scientists and researchers believe that sounds have meanings and go beyond the words that they create.

Sound symbolism is a concept that propounds the theory that every sound bears a unique meaning along with having an emotional impact.

Experts have been exploring sound symbolism for decades to understand how it impacts human beings. According to research, people experience various sounds exactly the way they would experience taste and colors.

The concept may appear, or sound, confusing at first, but once you understand how various syllables and letters affect people, you can create amazing brand names using sound symbolism. 

The power of sound symbolism

David Crystal, in his book “A Little Book of Language,” mentions: “People sometimes say: ‘A picture is worth a thousand words.’ That’s true. But language is never far away. To talk about the picture, you may need a thousand words.”

Crystal further mentions that letters symbolize various personalities, which is why sound symbolism affects brand names. For example ‘M’ and ‘N’ appear friendly and inviting, whereas ‘G’ and ‘T’ appear hard; therefore, it is important that you choose a name that is concise and memorable. A name that highlights the uniqueness of your brand will set your company apart from your peers. “We’ll never get them to notice us if we say ordinary things in an ordinary way,” writes Crystal.

Types of sound symbolism

Based on a model proposed by Wilhelm von Humboldt, Author Margaret Magnus describes the following types of sound symbolism:

  • Onomatopoeia: Words that mimic the original sound fall under this category. Words such as “boom,” “whoosh,” and “bang” are some examples of onomatopoeia. According to linguists, this category of sound symbolism is not as significant as the other types.
  • Clustering: This type of sound symbolism is language-specific, meaning a group of words that share a similar sound and have things in common.  Words like battered, bruised, banged, beaten, and bashed denote the same thing and can be clustered together in a group.
  • Iconism: According to Magnus, iconism refers to a particular action; however, they differ in their sound. “Step,” “tramp,” “tromp,” and “stamp” refer to the same action except they sound different. If you notice carefully, you will find that “stamp” sounds more forceful than “step”; however, they indicate the same thing.
  • Phenomimes and psychomimes: Phenomimes and psychomimes are midway between onomatopoeia and common words. While onomatopoeia imitates actual sounds, phenomimes and psychomimes imitate soundless states. Phenomimes are words that represent external events, and psychomimes describe psychological or mental states.

Sound symbolism and neuroscience

Vilayanur Ramachandran shared his research in the 2003 BBC Reith Lectures. In the fourth lecture of the series, Ramachandran speaks about the synesthesia phenomena. Ramachandran describes synesthesia as the ability of people to experience sound in terms of taste and color. He also clarifies about there being various kinds of synesthesia. In another kind, people have the ability to see the colors of various alphabets and musical notes.

Sound symbolism and poetry

Sound symbolism plays an important role while writing poetry or a song. Rhyme, euphony, and alliteration are important tools in the hands of the composer to create amazing-sounding poems or songs.

How to use sound symbolism in your brand name

The concept of sound symbolism can make naming your brand more confusing than it already is because of multi-layered symbolism embedded within every sound. However, the complexity of sound symbolism begins to disappear once you realize how human beings react to various sounds and languages.

Contrary to the belief that sound symbolism could hinder the naming process of your business, it could act as a catharsis and make the process incredibly simple. Here are a few ways you could integrate sound symbolism during the brand naming process.

1. The value of vowel sounds: You’d be amazed to think about how often we use vowel sounds to express ourselves. Be it the disappointing “Oh” or the enlightening “Ah,” human beings are hardwired to express themselves through vowel sounds. Depending on where the sound originates in your mouth, the meaning of the vowel sound could change. For example, “Oh” or “Ooh” could signify greater power than “E” and “I.”  Imagine if “Google” was called “Giggle,” then Google would lose half its power. Using powerful vowel sounds could make your brand both memorable and unique.

2. The consistency of consonants: Just like vowels, consonant sounds could be just as         effective. Choosing the right sound symbol must be aligned with what your brand does. For example, “K” in Kodak symbolizes the sound of a camera click and “C” in Pringles Crisps symbolizes the crispy sound of the potato crisps.

Various studies show that harder consonant sounds such as “B” and “G” are likely to be retained by the brain for a longer period than their softer counterparts. However, they could also suggest harshness. While it is true that harder consonant sounds could be effective, one should use such sounds with softer vowel or consonant sounds, for example, Baskin and Robbins, and Gucci.

Just like various sounds, colors impact the human mind in various ways. The colors of the rainbow can be used in various ways to create unique designs.

3. Choose your poetic devices: Poetic devices bring depth and meaning to your brand name. Poetic devices are a common but inseparable part of sound symbolism; they give your company name memorability and value. You can integrate the following poetic devices into your company name:

  • Onomatopoeia: As explained above, onomatopoeia mimics original sounds. While this category of sound symbolism is not considered to be of much significance, it could be extremely effective as a poetic device. “Zoom,” for example, provides quick communication solutions to the customers, and the name reflects the speed!
  • Alliteration: Coca-Cola and Krispy Kreme have something in common! The first two letters at the beginning of the two words are the same. The repetition of sound brings rhythm to the brand name, making it unique and memorable. PayPal and Lulu lemon are also examples of companies using the alliteration effect to make their brands more memorable.
  • Rhyme: Using rhymes can add a touch of music to your brand name. Such a name easily sticks in the customer’s mind for a long time. A name such as “Stubhub” is simple and easy to remember due to its musical quality.

Sound symbolism in brand names

Big brands don’t just tell customers what they do or sell through their names. Big brands such as Google or Facebook know that the name is the most used word while communicating information about the brand. While logos and websites play an important role in establishing the brand identity, the name adds value and meaning to the label.

Here is a list of brands with amazing sound symbolism.

YouTube

YouTube is a clever word, which is intelligently used by the company. At first glance, the name appears to describe what the brand does: putting “you,” the common people, on the tube. However, there is a twist in the tail! The “oo” sound both in “you and “tube” makes it extremely pleasing to the ears. The sound subconsciously attracts you to the platform. 

Google

Big tech company Google appears on every list that talks about iconic brands. From the logo to the website to the name, everything about Google screams about its sheer size. While the repetitive “G” in the name is suggestive of the power and strength of Google, the “oo” sounds reflect the company’s gigantic size.

Twitter

Twitter is a textbook example of a brand naming done to perfection. The “T” sound in the name suggests the sound of typing on a keypad or a keyboard. The short “i” vowel sound is indicative of the limited characters you can type while sharing a message.

Apple

Steve Wozniak, in his biography, iWoz, wrote: “We both tried to come with technical-sounding names that were better, but we couldn’t think of any good ones.”

While the tech giant stuck to Apple due to the lack of a better name, the simplicity of the name has stuck with the customers. The name begins with an “A” sound, which is symbolic of a new beginning, and ends in “e,” which stands for everlasting existance. The two together make the company a storehouse of name, fame, and energy.

Coca-Cola

The name, as explained above, is a fantastic example of alliteration: a poetic device often used by brands to make their name more memorable.  The first two letters of the two words are the same, i.e., “CO.” The sound represents positive energy, joy, and celebration. The logo, colors and sound all portray similar attributes of joy and fun.

Integrating linguistics in your brand identity

Naming your brand is not as delicate as it sounds. Once you understand the science behind sound symbolism, you can create a memorable brand name. Apart from the above, you may also consider the following elements of linguistics:

  • Distinction: Sound symbolism is a special ingredient that helps you stand apart from the crowd without trying too hard. Sound symbolism allows your brand to talk about what it does in a creative way. The right emotional impact, proper use of vowel and consonant sounds, and proper rhythm makes your brand name distinct.
  • Pronunciation: A report published on Nielsen suggests that “92 percent of consumers around the world…trust earned media, such as recommendations from friends and family, above all forms of advertising…” But, what does this have to do with pronunciation? A name that is difficult to pronounce can easily turn into a hindrance for a brand looking to make its mark in the market.  For word-of-mouth marketing, having a simple and easy-to-pronounce name is suggested. 
  • Memorability: The right sound symbolism, which is perfectly aligned with your brand’s mission, vision, and values, plays like a melodious song in the consumers’ minds.  Additionally, the brand name should strive to strike a balance between vowel and consonant sounds to make it more appealing and memorable.

Conclusion

Yes, it is difficult to keep so much in mind while naming your brand, but at the end of the day, it is all about what feels right to you. While there are many platforms that may help you with naming and designing, it is finally what resonates with you that truly matters. You may like Jazz while someone else may like the Blues, which is why you should follow where your heart leads you. While it is true that articles such as this can guide you in working out a good name for your brand, it is you who has the final word!

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