The Disemvoweling of Modern Brands

5 months ago  •  By  •  0 Comments

Why brands are embracing a tech-driven, vowel-dropping strategy when it comes to choosing a name.

Disemvoweling may sound like a coined word, but I promise you, it’s not. It’s a brand naming technique that owes its origins to texting culture. Ever since the advent of the smartphone, people have been eliminating some or all of the vowels in words to help make communication faster and more convenient think OMG, LOL, and Srsly! Over the years, this technique has become a language all its own and, for those who know how to speak it, a badge of hip, edgy, and clever conversational style (even I’ve tried it, but no matter how much texting lingo I use, my kids are always ready to remind me that I’ll never be hip oh well.)

The other thing driving the popularity of disemvoweling? It can make registering a domain name easier. Domains are hard to come by these days as almost all real words are registered (especially .coms). Eliminating some or all vowels can increase the chances of getting a url.

Examples of disemvoweled names are everywhere these days, and are commonly used by web-based companies, rock bands, and even food brands looking to make an edgy, hip, and clever brand impression.

Disemvoweling is not necessarily new. Some brands (and bands) were using similar techniques years ago. But, the amount of new brands now embracing disemvoweling seems to be increasing exponentially especially brands wanting to connect with a millennial or younger target audience.

But, SRSLY, can disemvoweling make a good brand name?

If you are planning to name or rename a brand, the disemvoweling technique may appeal to you because of its conversational style and cultural relevance. As with anything, there are pros and cons, so you want to ensure that the decision to use disemvoweling is a strategic one. Here are a few things to look out for if you’re thinking about exploring disemvoweled brand names.

Make Sure the Potential Name is Legally Viable.

While a truncated name can be easier to register as an internet domain, just because you can secure a URL, doesn’t mean you have the right to use it for your brand. That’s why trademark registration is so important. By registering a name with the right trademark organization (in the U.S. that would be the United States Patent and Trademark Office), you can avoid expensive trademark infringement litigation, as well as protect the name from others who might try to copy it.

But, beware. Just spelling a name differently doesn’t make it free from infringement. If you use disemvoweling, check the USPTO database for the real word with the correct spelling using the vowels, within the right category of products or services (you can find international class codes here). At COHO, we also recommend working with an experienced IP attorney to do a full legal search and render a usage opinion before proceeding with any brand name.

Avoid Negative Associations & Unintended Meanings.

Disemvoweled names can be even more susceptible to negative associations than traditional names. That’s because there may be more than one way to pronounce a disemvoweled name and some pronunciations could be detrimental to your intended meaning.

Imagine creating a name for a large toy squirt gun that shoots an amazing amount of water. It might not be a good idea to call it The Big SHTr. Even though some may pronounce this The Big Shooter, others may have a less appealing takeaway. One of our criteria for naming brands is that If you can’t pronounce it intuitively or if there is more than one way to pronounce it don’t do it.

Know Your Audience.

If your brand is targeting young, tech-savvy people, then disemvoweling a brand name may be a great way to connect with them. But, if you are targeting older, non-digital natives, disemvoweling may come across as annoying or, even worse, confusing. Make sure you’ve researched your intended audience to understand the style of language and speech that appeals to them before selecting any brand name especially one that is disemvoweled.

Don’t Cut Too Deeply.

Disemvoweling sounds a lot like disemboweling (A barbaric execution method from the dark ages). In disemboweling, if you cut too deeply, you will kill someone. The same principle applies to disemvoweling. Sometimes cutting out all the vowels makes the name too hard to understand. One technique that we do is to eliminate one vowel at a time, until you get to the point where the name is simplified but still clearly understandable. Some good examples of this are Tumblr, Flickr, and UNBXD. Without their remaining vowels, these names would be much harder to read and probably lead to major confusion about the intended name – Tmblr, Flckr, NBXD.

Rdy 2 frgt yr vwls?

So, is disemvoweling a true naming technique or a passing fad? Will brands continue to drop their vowels well into the future? Done incorrectly, disemvoweling could have some disastrous consequences. But, I believe its popularity will continue to rise until a company uses it in the wrong way and it becomes a PR nightmare. At that point, the branding industry will drop it like a hot potato.

If you’re considering a disemvoweled brand name, make sure it is one your intended audience will embrace. You can do this by working with a professional naming expert who can make sure you’re considering the right set of naming criteria. They’ll have the processes, tools, and experience to help you get a better, stronger name, and avoid expensive mistakes. We have a few brand naming experts at COHO who can help you can reach one of them at jshapiro@cohocreative.com.

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Jon Shapiro

Founding Partner & Chief Creative Officer at Coho Creative
Coho Creative’s Founding Partner and Chief Creative Officer, Jon Shapiro, inspires our team to deliver a quality of strategically thoughtful & fresh design that is uniquely Coho. When Jon isn’t leading a verbal strategy meeting or creating hand-lettered typography, he can be found enjoying Ethiopian food with his family, breaking into abandoned warehouses for a photo shoot, or swimming 60 laps in the pool.

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