Thursday, January 5, 2012

Sending the wrong message

A few years ago, while driving around in Vermont, I saw an electrician’s shingle: “Sure-Fire Electric.” The electrician probably meant something like the dictionary definition of sure-fire (adj. Informal. Bound to be successful or perform as expected). However, he overlooked an important fact: one reason why the typical homeowner hires a professional electrician is that he is afraid that if he does his own wiring he may burn down his house. In an electrician’s company name, fire is probably the worst possible word besides electrocution.

More recently, I noticed a tax preparation service called “Taxing Matters.” The tax preparer behind this frivolous name is probably competent, but her business name doesn’t do her justice. A sober name could inspire more confidence.

And speaking of frivolous company names, in 2006 a woman in Texas actually named her PR firm “Blabbermouth” (n. Informal. One who talks indiscreetly).* When I saw that name, my first thought was to imagine how strange it would look at the bottom of a non-disclosure agreement. My second thought was to imagine a pharmaceutical company inadvertently disclosing a few thousand patients’ names via email and then asking its PR firm, Blabbermouth, to prepare a press release to explain the indiscretion.

The Takeaway: If you are considering a certain word or phrase as the name of your product, service or company, be sure to study all the denotations and connotations of the word or phrase. Put yourself in your prospective customer’s place and imagine all the ways in which he may react – both positively and negatively – to the proposed name. This is not to say that you should skip over an otherwise good name because it has one unfortunate connotation; it is only to say that you should make an informed decision.

See disclaimer.

*In 2009, the firm was renamed “Penman.”


  1. About ten years ago, in Chicago, I saw a work truck blazoned with the business name, 'Surge Electric'. That was the proprietor's family name. Sometimes things work out well.

  2. Two notable business names here in the vicinity of Natick, Massachusetts, as displayed on their vehicles: the tree-removal service "Lynch Tree" (with an illustration of the tree), and "Tingley Electric" (with a lightning-bolt graphic). The world, it's a funny place.