Jan 222015

NFL-Gate-Scandal-NamesDeflategate–the shameful scandal involving under-inflated footballs that Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the entire Patriots organization unbelievably have no knowledge of and no responsibility for–is the latest in a long line of gate scandal names.

As noted in this post from the past, Watergate opened the floodgates for gate scandal names–Deflategate will surely not be the last.

Gate Scandal Names Instant Associations

Effective brand names are those that generate the right instant associations. People have to “get it” and understand the core of what you are trying to communicate in a femtosecond. The popularity of gate scandal names is that you instantly understand that what you are talking about is sordid and scandalous.

The NFL seems a fine breeding ground for scandals–who can forget the wardrobe malfunction that became Nipplegate?

Unlike the wardrobe malfunction, Deflategate has the potential to seriously damage the NFL brand. Nipplegate was about a celebrity during the half-time show. Deflategate’s unsportsmanlike cheating goes to the heart of the sport of football.

Go Seahawks!

Oct 302013

Why is the Redskins team name suddenly a huge controversy? If it is racist, why wasn’t there a huge outcry back in the 1960s? Why has it taken decades for the eternal victim class to make this an issue in 2013? Truly, this is another example of people with nothing better to do suddenly throwing a temper tantrum to get quoted in the media. Offense is taken much more than it is given.


NFL team names celebrate some sort of image. These names are about honor. Anyone who has sung themselves hoarse (I’ll admit it, but beer is soothing) singing “Hail to the Redskins” knows they are singing about honor, respect, pride and achievement, not denigrating a skin color or race.

  • Is Pittsburgh insulting steel workers with their team name?
  • Are Nordic types offended by purple-wearing vikings?
  • Is Nancy Pelosi bent out of shape her hometown team is an outrage to the early California pioneers?
  • And how about Buffalo?–what a slap in the face to everyone called Bill for gosh sakes!
  • And Houston fans must feel terribly affronted that their team is called–gasp–Texans.

The Redskins should stay with the Redskins team name. Fans who paint their bodies burgundy and gold should continue to do so with pride. Someone on Twitter suggested the team should change their logo to a potato–that’s a much better choice than destroying years of tradition and homage just to shut up the latest batch of complainers.


My recommendation: Call them the Washington Thinskins.

Fun fact–the Green Bay Packers were named after Curly Lambeau’s employer, the Indian Packing Company, which paid for the team’s first jerseys and let them practice on company property. How offensive to Indians and native Americans (who are not at all native to this continent).

Okay–comments now open for those wishing to post their gratuitous accusations that I am a racist.

UPDATE: This clear-eyed article in “Real Clear Sports” debunks much of the bunkum behind this fake controversy: What Should Be Redskins’ New Name?

UPDATE: Here is a fun idea from a spoof circulating online: Dan Snyder, owner of the NFL Redskins, has announced that the team is dropping “Washington”
from the team name, and it will henceforth be simply known as “The Redskins.” It was reported that he finds the word “Washington” imparts a negative image of poor leadership, mismanagement, corruption, cheating, lying, and graft, and is not a fitting role-model for young fans of football.

Jun 212013


In celebration of the release of World War Z, here is a run down of the best and worst named zombie movies:


1. Night of the Living Dead
Not only the best zombie movie, but the best named zombie movie.
It has the wit of juxtaposition with living vs. dead and the ominous
promise of night.
2. Shaun of the Dead
Stops your eye and gets your attention with the play on words.
References the classic Dawn of the Dead with a sense of humor.
3. Zeder
Zingy–with a play on Zed, which is undead jargon for zombie and
is a portmanteau for “deader.” Totally ownable as a brand.
Apr 282013

9780982082935_Merriams_guide-to-NamingI am pleased to announce the second edition of my book Merriam’s Guide to Naming is now available. In the half dozen years since the first edition, I’ve led over a hundred company and product naming projects for Fortune 500 multinationals, mid-size companies and start-ups. As part of this work, I’ve helped executives wrestle with questions and deal with challenges that were not adequately covered in the first edition. And, in reviewing dozens of magazine articles I’ve written and media interviews I’ve given, I realized I had a large body of new knowledge on the subject of naming. Merriam’s Guide to Naming was quite overdue for a redo. Click here to order.

Jan 182013

When a brand’s strength is tied to a real person–when it is a celebrity brand–its fortunes rise and fall with that person’s reputation and behaviors (see Osama bin Laden, Michael Vick, Tiger Woods). In the case of the Livestrong brand, Lance Armstrong’s “doing the dirty” complicates his business and his charity.

lance-armstrong-livestrongThe Livestrong brand is tightly tied to the cancer fighting Livestrong Foundation, but the brand is not strictly altruistic. The Foundation licenses the brand, which is personally owned by Lance Armstrong, and it is the driver of his multimillion for-profit empire. The dynamic is a complex one. Armstrong’s modest fame as a cyclist built the Foundation, and the Foundation burnished Armstrong’s reputation, catapulting his fame, marketability and fortune far beyond that of a mere road racer. Can you even name any other famous cyclists?

Lance Armstrong has confessed to doping by Oprah. The irony is the profit and fame dynamic of Livestrong was a key driver in Armstrong’s decision to cheat. He needed performance enhancing drugs to stage the comeback that built his celebrity that built the foundation that built the million-dollar enterprise. Now those performance enhancing drugs are dragging down the whole thing. It pays to be a winner. Being a cheater? No so much.

More: When a Brand Is a Person

Oct 232012

Jets player Tim Tebow has filed trademark applications in some seven categories for the term “Tebowing.” The blogosphere has erupted in complaints that the football player is trying to trademark kneeling in prayer.


A look at the actual filings (you can look at them here) show that is simply not the case. The applications are for the word mark itself. People can rest assured that they can take a knee in prayer without paying a licensing fee to Tim Tebow.

Trademarking your personal brand makes sense. Lady Gaga sued last year to protect her name, which has been valued at north of $1 billion. Trademarking a gesture, however, is not so easy to do, especially one so common as kneeling in prayer.

Jun 292012

The latest AIG rebranding is actually re-rebanding: Returning to its old name, finally correcting a an ill-considered and ineffective name change.

AIG Rebranding 2009

“AIG is trying to outrun its old reputation by adopting a new brand. Will it work? Most people aren’t buying it. The entity, formerly known as AIG, is firmly attached to its reputation of irresponsible financial stewardship and credit default swap schemes that played a major role in the global financial collapse of 2008. The payout of millions in bonuses, particularly to executives responsible for the collapse along with lavish executive spa trips using the millions of US taxpayer bailout money haven’t helped. With record losses mounting and a reputation in shambles, a name change isn’t fooling anyone.”

May 242012

IABC_Logo_9-11-07I gave a webinar on naming brands for the IABC on May 22nd. The presentation is available for replay (and you can also request a download the presentation deck) here:


Dec 162011

Owning your brand name is critical for your business, but what many people don’t realize is that owning a trademark on your brand name is not the same as owning a unique name. In fact, shared brand names are more common than you might think.

brand-twins-deltaFacebook raised a ruckus last year when it applied to trademark “face”–yet there were hundreds of “face” trademarks granted before Facebook made their application. There are almost a thousand trademarks on the name “Delta” for everything from airlines to faucets to power tools. That is because trademarks are granted by classification of goods and services as defined by various international agreements. You cannot own a word exclusively and universally; only for the actual products and services you offer.

You’d be surprised at how many well-known brands share names:

Domino: Sugar and pizza

brand-twins-dominosBurlington:  Brand shared by discount retailer and holding company

brand-twins-burlingtonDove: Brand twins for soap and chocolate


Finlandia: Cheese and vodka share a brand


Apple: Records and computers are famous brand twins


Eos: Cameras, cars and software share brands

brand-twins-eos-share-brtandPink: Victoria’s Secret and Thomas Pink


Then there are the sound alikes: Thompson and Thomson, Sonoco and Sunoco, Sysco and Cisco, Coke and Koch…

Dec 122011

MashableMashable has an interesting take on the do’s and don’ts of creative job titles quoting Merriam Associates. Your job title is part of your personal brand so make sure it says the right things about you. Here’s the advice on Mashable.


Other quick tips:

1) Be clear. If it makes people stop and wonder, it’s a mistake.

2) Job titles are not the place to convey personality. More often than not, that corporate personality does not fit the person carrying the business card. It’s disconcerting to get a business card that calls someone a “rock star” when they are over weight, middle aged and quite shy.

3) Don’t over-promise or promise something you really don’t want. You can’t have a “guru” answer “I don’t know; I’ll get back to you.” As a client, do you want a “ninja” pressuring you to buy?

© 2014 Lisa Merriam