What’s in a Name?

I want to make a serious point or two; but, then I also want to step out of character and have a little fun with this post.

Serious Point #1

Naming a brand is one of the more difficult and important challenges for both products and corporations. It is one of the first things a consumer is exposed to and has a major impact on initial perception. Your name conveys a message and its tonality connotes a personality (e.g. reliable, fun, sophisticated).

According to Fast Company, “A great name is like extra octane in a brand. A bad, boring, or sound-alike name won’t necessarily kill a brands chances for success. In most cases however, it dramatically dilutes the brand equity and potency.” One of the best examples of a great brand name is Nike. Nike is Greek for victory and is also the Greek goddess of victory. It conveys a clear message to the athlete persona that with the help of a Nike product you will most certainly be victorious.

Great brand names 1) build off of a clearly defined strategy and value proposition, 2) are distinctive and memorable, 3) create an emotional connection, and 4) are easy to bring to life creatively. Brands like Coca Cola, McDonalds, Google, and Ivory are examples of what great looks like.

But what if your brand name is a challenge? Can it be detrimental to success? The short answer is definitely yes. It is one more obstacle to overcome in the market place. And it has been my experience that “obstacle” typically translates into significantly higher promotional costs.

A Little Fun

Clairol launched a product named ‘Mist Stick’ in Germany. Unfortunately “Mist” is German slang for manure. As you might expect sales were crappy (groan).

General Motors launched its Chevy Nova in South American markets and it flopped miserably. Imagine their surprise when Management discovered ‘Nova’ means ‘it doesn’t go’ in Spanish.

In case you think GM is unique, Toyota introduced the ‘Fiera” model to Puerto Rico, only to find out the name means ‘ugly old woman’ in Spanish.

And one of the biggest name blunders was Ford when it launched the Pinto model in Portugal. That name mistake was so bad, I will have to let you Google it youself to find the local market slang translation.

Serious Point #2

Bad names are definitely not unique to the private sector. Many economic development professionals are saddled with community names that present real challenges to capital attraction. Unfortunately, the opportunity to create a community name from scratch is rare. And, if your community is stuck with a name that makes a bad first impression, you undoubtedly have one of those “obstacles” to overcome that I mentioned earlier.  A sense of humor and thick skin are mandatory to your career success.

A Bit more Fun

If you think your community’s name is a liability, I just thought it would help you feel a little better to know there are economic development professionals that might even be a little more challenged than you are. Here is my list of the top 20 most challenging community names (believe it or not, they are all real names).

Top 20 Most Challenging Community Names

  1. Toad Suck, Arkansas
  2. Roaches, Illinois
  3. Hoot and Holler Crossing, Texas
  4. Deadmans Corner, Maine
  5. Ticktown, Virginia
  6. Hobo Station, Mississippi
  7. Shacktown, North Carolina
  8. Fleatown, Ohio
  9. Ding Dong, Texas
  10. Hell, Michigan
  11. Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky
  12. Tightwad, Missouri
  13. Hurricane, Utah
  14. Burns Down, South Carolina
  15. Hooker, Oklahoma
  16. Horneytown, North Carolina
  17. Looneyville, New York
  18. Two Egg, Florida
  19. Devil’s Den, California
  20. Trickem, Alabama


When you are having a bad day and none of your capital investment leads appear to be making progress, I want you to take a moment and remember everything is relative. You could be the economic development professional in Satan’s Kingdom, Vermont.


Does a bad community name create an extra challenge in economic development, or is it simply a great conversation starter? What community do you think would be the toughest to market for capital investment based on its name?  Any tips on how to successfully deal with a challenging community name?

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7 Comments so far

  1. Beth Gerber

    October 28, 2011

    Sometimes a good tagline can soften the impact of a bad name. Smucker’s fruit spreads are a good case in point. They turned the joke on themselves in the 60s with the tagline: “With a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good.” Today they’re doing just fine.

    By the way: while it’s used to underscore the importance of vetting a name in foreign languages (always important!), the Nova disaster story is a classic urban legend. The single word “nova” (Latin for “new”) is pronounced differently in Spanish than the two words “no va” (Spanish for doesn’t go”), and is about as likely to suggest to Spanish speakers a malfunctioning car as the word “freelance” is likely to suggest to English speakers the idea of a weapon given away free of charge. And the car sold quite well in several Spanish-speaking countries .

  2. Dave Smith

    October 28, 2011

    How about Pittsville, WI?

  3. Dan Hill

    October 28, 2011

    Pithole, PA (…now a ghost town, which is probably not a surprise.)

  4. Cristián Saracco

    October 29, 2011

    Kid’s Exchange… in its URL (kidsexchange.com) you could read ‘Kid Sex Change’ 🙂 #branding

    Mitsubishi Pajero (the 4×4 vehicle) needed to change its name in the Spanish markets to Mitsubishi Montero… Pajero in Spanish means ‘onanism’ (to be precise, sorry, ‘jerker’)

    Atento (the call center from Telefónica) in Japan needed to change to Atento Pesona because Atento in Japan are adult diapers

  5. Kimberly Ratcliff

    October 29, 2011

    Hanging Limb, TN…I was recently there. Can’t believe that they haven’t changed the name.

  6. Ralph

    November 2, 2011

    Correctionville, Iowa. It sounds like a prison town even to people who live nearby and know otherwise …actually this town is a spot where they corrected and aligned initial surveys from before Iowa was settled.

  7. Joan

    November 3, 2011

    This is way more helpful than aythnnig else I’ve looked at.

7 Responses to “What’s in a Name?”

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