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What’s in a name? A case study of the Nike brand.

Naming something like a company or product sounds easy enough, but as soon as you sit to write all those delicious, creative ideas down, writer’s blocks come out of nowhere with a right hook… BAM!!! Now what? You’re sitting and staring at that blank piece of paper with nary a clue as to what you’re doing.

I know how hard naming can be. It took me 5 whole days after my son was born to name him, and I didn’t even give him any of the names I spent months writing down and thinking of. Naming is important to all of us. We want that perfect name right off the bat. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. For a proper name these days, it takes more than luck to get the perfect one. Let’s examine one of my favorite brands.

There are companies out there that have catchy names, but few of us ponder why it is what it is. Take, for instance, Nike. Everyone knows who they are, and we can recognize their logo easily, but what about the name? Did you know that in 1968 Nike was actually incorporated as Blue Ribbon Sports? It was only in 1978 that they became Nike. Think about that name “Blue Ribbon Sports.” It’s like saying that everyone who wears their product is blue ribbon winners. It’s very straightforward, and you don’t need to think too much about it, but the name isn’t very catchy.

Now let’s look at the name Nike. Nike is a short 2 syllable word so it’s really easy to remember. Do you know the meaning behind the word? There’s no better place to look for athletics than Greece, where the Olympics was born. It’s a mystery how the Olympics all began, but legend has it that it was all started by Heracles and Zeus. We all know that the Olympics is a battle of strength, courage, wits, and determination, and who better to aid in your battles than Nike, the goddess of strength, speed, and victory.

It all starts with Pallas, who was a titan associated with war, and Styx who was the goddess of the underworld river Styx who personified the spirit of hatred. Now you put war and hatred together and they have 4 children, Zelus (Rivalry), Nike (Victory), Cratos (Strength), and Bia (Force). Nike was the goddess of strength, speed, and victory. She awarded gods and goddesses around the battlefield with glory and fame. So wearing a Nike product is like being awarded just that. Knowing this background story makes me want to buy Nike products even more, and I’m sure they want people to know the meaning of it.

Going back to the original name “Blue Ribbon Sports,” Nike never diverted from the original goal of their name. Everyone is a winner with Nike. Wearing the product itself makes you a winner. So if you ever wondered “what’s in a name,” there you have it. This is one of my favorite brand names for this exact reason. It means something. It’s not just a random name chosen out of a hat. They could have picked from several Greek gods or goddesses also. They went with Nike because she was what best represented their product.

Believe it or not, this is how Nike got its name. It was a way more complicated process than what I explained here though. It’s easy to figure out once you know the answer. Sort of like how you know a clever, cool logo design when you see it, but coming up with that design is a tough process.

So naming is pretty tough and it takes a bit of work, but hey, that’s one big part of branding. If you find a method that works for you, stick with it. Don’t be afraid to try something new, and go for the gold.

Here are some helpful tidbits on naming:

Identity Works: http://identityworks.com/tools/naming.htm

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