x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

A firm by any other name is not as sweet

A company has to take great care when crafting a moniker as it has to reflect security and confidence. By sector, city or family, it is a public business face.

You don't have to start with AD when you are naming a company based in Abu Dhabi, but it makes sense for a lot of them.
You don't have to start with AD when you are naming a company based in Abu Dhabi, but it makes sense for a lot of them.

A company has to take great care when crafting a moniker as it has to reflect security and confidence. By sector, city or family, it is a public business face. You don't have to start with AD when you are naming a company based in Abu Dhabi, but it makes sense for a lot of them. If you are a state-owned or state-run company such as ADIA, ADNOC or ADNEC, it gives you a certain authority and reassures your clients and customers that you have close links to the government. It has been the same story in Dubai, with CBD, NBD, du and DUBAL.

However, there is a sense that this habit has been overused, making it hard to differentiate between similar monikers. Some companies have moved away to create something new. For example, The Abu Dhabi Investment Company formerly known as ADIC has renamed itself InvestAD, partly to stop any confusion with the Abu Dhabi Investment Council. Some people do not like acronyms. I think they work well when you can say them. IKEA is actually an acronym, standing for "Ingvar Kamprad from the family Elmtaryd near the Agunnaryd village".

The IMF is well known and less of a mouthful than the International Monetary Fund, although it can also be dubbed the "International Misery Fund", which is not very helpful. Partly for this reason, acronyms are usually best avoided. On the other hand, one of the largest banks in the world has successfully changed its name to HSBC, initials that work everywhere in the world. Few people in Africa or America probably know that it stands for the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. They probably don't care either.

In short, while there are no clear rules for naming, everybody can recognise a good one. In the Gulf, there are basically six different types of names: 1. Names that use the UAE as a basis for their name, such as Emirates Airline, The National, EMAL. 2. Names using the emirate they come from (NBF for National Bank of Fujairah, RAK Ceramics, DUBAL, Dubai Bank, ADNOC). 3. Names that are descriptive of what the company does (Emaar Properties, Aldar Properties, Tameer Holdings Investment, Mubadala Development).

4. Family names (Al Tayer, Al Rostamani, Al Habtoor, Al-Futtaim). 5. Evocative names, invented or not: Reem, Al Qudrah, Samarah, Noor, Nakheel, Jumeirah, Mashreq, Jazeera, Bloom. 6. And finally the acronyms such as RTA, DIFC, DEWA, SEWA. A name is good if it is different from its competitors, it sounds right, is easy enough to be pronounced and has nice evocations beyond its first meaning or interpretation.

Like any creative business, naming's biggest enemy is subjectivity. It is like naming your baby. If you announce a selection of baby boy names to family and friends before the birth, you will acquire all sorts of comments, usually negative. Once the baby smiles, they love him! So it is not only about the name. It is about what or who's got the name. It can make a difference. We can wonder if Dolores-Benz would have been a successful German car. We can ask ourselves if Cherry computer was a better idea than Apple computer. We could even say that Tonio (from San Antonio) was as good as Cisco (from San Francisco). Having said that, potential buyers would have to admit that Tonio sounded more like a pizzeria. Cisco has the advantage that it makes you think of company and system.

Still, there are hidden dangers. The telecommunications company Alcatel faced a few problems some years ago in the Arabic-speaking countries because it can be translated as "killer". Arabic naming is more difficult because a single word can have so many different meanings. Therefore, it can be very difficult to control and use the evocations of a name. "Ain", for instance, can mean eye, spring, assign or essence. It can be confusing.

Arabic names can also be difficult to export because they are hard to pronounce, or because they don't convey the right evocations. Arabic names with no vowel can be a problem abroad. Names with "kh" or "gh" can be challenging for non-Arabic speakers. Actually, it does not matter if the name is said in different ways all across the globe, but everybody should be able to say it. In some cases, it is almost impossible.

Jumeirah is a good name. It comes from the coal used by the fishermen on the beach to signal their presence, although few people know this today. When we tested the name Jumeirah throughout our network, all correspondents - without knowing the meaning of the name - evoked a beautiful oriental princess, an enchanted garden, a legend or a rare perfume. We received all sorts of positive and interesting comments from which we could build a great hospitality brand.

It is also a good name because it is easy and nice to say. There are other types of common names with high potential as well: mina, manara, wadi, burj, saga, noor, muna or sama. Unfortunately some of these names have been seen everywhere and been placed on everything. They can lose a bit of their appeal and originality over time. It becomes a problem when the word is overused. Let's come back to the name Jumeirah. Driven by the premium location of Jumeirah district in Dubai, the name has been associated to all sorts of businesses and sites, sometimes kilometres away from the original site. The best example is the Jumeirah Beach Residence. Over time, Jumeirah has been dropped. People say JBR. End users always twist names the way they want.

In the UAE, I also heard that the names of the cities were overused. Many companies use Dubai in their names and many corporations start with AD in Abu Dhabi. It can be a good thing, though. Dubai or Abu Dhabi have good equity and strong evocations. Is it the same in Europe? Absolutely. Italy's national railways are generally called Trenitalia because the name of the network's owner, Ferrovie dello Stato, is cumbersome. One of the nation's main banks is called Capitalia. It works.

A name is successful because consumers adopt it. It makes them feel good about themselves and the company's products. Apple, anyone? Olivier Auroy is the managing director of the global branding and design consultancy gsFitch