Coined names, dictionary-word names, an acronym, a surname: the year now ending was full of variety for anyone interested in branding trends. Here, in alphabetical order, are my top ten brand names for 2015.
Addyi. In October, a daily pill to enhance female libido became available by prescription in the U.S. Everything about Addyi was newsworthy, from the condition it purported to alleviate ("acquired, generalized Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder") to the side effects (nausea, fainting) to the brand name itself, with its curious spelling, punctuation, and humanoid qualities.
In conjunction with the feminine pronoun, the name – pronounced ADD-ee – is meant to suggest a woman's nickname: Addy or Addie. (The accented i in the wordmark is evidently just a graphic garnish.) The similarity is close enough to have sparked a protest on Facebook, where a group of girls and women created "Addys Against Addyi." Read more about Addyi.
Airbnb. One of the giants of the so-called sharing economy, this lodging-rental company – originally named AirBed & Breakfast – was founded in San Francisco in 2008; in 2015 it was valued at $20 billion. With all that growth has come increased criticism, no more so than in Airbnb's home city, where a November 15 ballot proposition attempted to restrict short-term rentals. Airbnb spent $8 million to defeat the measure, some of it on outdoor ads that were decried as "tone-deaf" and "passive-aggressive." Bowing to pressure, Airbnb removed the ads before the election. The company may have lost the battle but it won the war: the proposition was defeated by a 10 percent margin.
Alphabet. In August, Google announced a corporate restructuring under a new holding company, Alphabet. The name broke with company precedent: no G, no Google. Also intriguing: the choice of a domain name – not a dot-com but rather abc.xyz. Read more.
Corinthian Colleges. The bankruptcy filing of Corinthian Colleges, in April, marked the largest shutdown of a for-profit college in U.S. history, and it called into question the practices of for-profit higher education generally. Sixteen thousand students were "displaced," as official reports put it. (One hundred of the students petitioned the federal government to forgive their student debt.) Corinthian — an adjective meaning "of Corinth," a city of fabled wealth in ancient Greece – has had many figurative meanings in English since the 16th century, including "elegantly or elaborately ornate" and, as a noun, "a luxury-loving person." Corinthian columns are heavily decorated with acanthus leaves; in Christianity,Corinthians is the name of two chapters of the New Testament. (And currants derive their name from "raisins of Corinth.") Corinthian leather was coined in 1974 by a copywriter at the advertising agency responsible for marketing Chrysler luxury vehicles; most of the leather came from a factory in much more prosaic Newark, New Jersey.
FIFA. Ordinarily, corruption at the highest levels of international soccer's governing body wouldn't attract much attention in the United States, where professional soccer (or football, as the rest of the world calls it) is still a minor sport. This year, though, the U.S. Department of Justice led the charge against high-level officials at FIFA, handing down indictments leading to the arrest of 14 officials in May and another 16 in December, and prompting the resignation of the organization's president, Sepp Blatter. Swiss-based FIFA (pronounced FEE-fa) is always known by its acronym; the full (French) name is Fédération Internationale de Football Association (International Federation of Association Football).
Karma/Carma. It was a good year for brands named for the Hindu and Buddhist principle of retributive justice. (The word itself is Sanskrit, and translates roughly to "action" or "fate.") In September, the Southern California–based Fisker Automotive and Technology Group, which makes a $100,000 plug-in hybrid car, announced that it was rebranding as Karma Automotive. ("It's always been Karma. It's in our DNA," the website proclaims.) In November, the mobile-hotspot company Karma, based in New York, announced a new unlimited data plan. AndCarma, a carpooling app, began offering monetary incentives to drivers in the traffic-clogged San Francisco Bay Area. Karma is a popular baby name, too: Every year since 2006, according to Social Security Administration statistics, it has ranked in the top 1,000 for girls born in the United States. Read more about Karma Automotive and other Karma brands .
PRIV. BlackBerry's latest bid to remain relevant in the mobile-phone market is the company's first device that runs Android apps – while, of course, keeping the keyboard that BlackBerry fans demand. The company spells the name in all caps, but it isn't an acronym: CEO John Chen claims it's a truncation of privacy ... or maybe privilege. (It's pronounced with a short i.) Read more about the BlackBerry in my 2013 brand roundup.
Slack. The hot new messaging platform for work teams – far better than email, its fans maintain – launched less than two years ago, is provided free to more than two-thirds of its users, and was recently valued at $2.8 billion. The name is, of course, a dictionary word that comes to us almost unchanged from Old English and has counterintuitive meanings (for a work tool) of "sluggish," "languid," and "indolent." But slack is also a concept in software development, where it's known as agile slack and is a positive quality. Read more about Slack.
Theranos. Founded in 2003 by Stanford dropout Elizabeth Holmes, this life-sciences company made headlines in October when several current and former employees revealed that the flagship device – which was supposed to revolutionize blood testing – might provide inaccurate results. Subsequent articles called into question other claims by the once high-flying company, and several large partners cancelled their commitments. According to the Theranos website, the name is a portmanteau of therapy and diagnosis.
Trump. Yes, Donald J. Trump is a contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. But his name is also used commercially in myriad contexts, extant and defunct – from The Trump Organization (the real-estate business he inherited) to the Trump World Tower, Trump Restaurants, Trump Productions, Trump Golf, and Trump Chocolate – which makes him the first presidential candidate to also be a brand name.
Trump is also a dictionary word with at least two distinct meanings: "to deceive" or "to cheat" (from Old French tromper) and "to surpass" or "to beat" (from an alteration of triumph).
Nancy Friedman is the chief wordworker at verbal-branding consultancy Wordworking, and the author of a fine blog on naming, branding and more called Fritinancy. Nancy has named a venture-capital firm, a laser hair-removal device, a mobile-money service, and many other companies and products. A former journalist, she still writes or ghostwrites articles, speeches, white papers, and books.Click here to read other articles by Nancy Friedman