How Long Should a Brand Name Be?

July 31, 2009 by  Filed under: Branding 

Some naming specialists and branding companies advise that brand names should be no longer than four syllables. Others state confidently that thirteen characters should be the maximum length. Their advice might sound logical or as if it is based on sound principles, but it isn’t. To talk about the length of a brand name is a red herring. Here’s why.

First of all, how do you measure the length of a word? By number of letters? By number of syllables? Coca-Cola has four syllables, but it is a lot easier to say than Eighths, which only has one. Ikea has four letters but three syllables, while the nine letters that make up Strengths form just one syllable. The three-letter abbreviation www has nine syllables and takes more time to say than the ‘longer’ world wide web.

Far more important than the length of a brand or business name is whether it flows easily or not. Names that flow best are often made up of alternating consonants and vowels; think of Motorola, Adidas and Toyota. Coca-Cola belongs to this group, too. Note that it is the sound of the word that is important, not the spelling, so Google and Apple also have the same consonant vowel consonant pattern, since there is an unwritten vowel sound between the g and the l of Google and the p and the l of Apple. Even though there are two os in Google and two ps in Apple, they form just one sound. Ikea also follows the same pattern, since there is an unwritten consonant, the y sound, between the two vowels e and a.

It is true that most of the top brands have two or three syllables. It is also the case that the public likes to shorten long names; Federal Express became FedEx, people ask for a Coke or a Bud, not a Coca-Cola or a Budweiser. But a long name that means something and trips easily off the tongue is always going to be more memorable than a short name that is difficult to pronounce or spell and doesn’t mean anything to people. Think of the successful brands I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter and Now That’s What I Call Music.

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