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Nokia Lumia sign

LONDON, United Kingdom – Nobody calls their children ‘number 1 daughter’ or ‘number 2 son’ these days. Most of us consider our names an essential part of our humanity, even if they sometimes tell the world far more about us than we’d like. (Shout ‘Maude’ and you’re likely to get a response from either a Victorian Great Aunt, or a 10-month-old enfant-terrible with an urban media mommy who does baby yoga.)   

If few of us ever change our own names, we can at least aspire to greater things through the names of the products we buy. That’s why S.U.V drivers on the school run like a model name that evokes the spirit of setting off across the Prairie. 

A product name has been described as a small poem, hitting the right sounds and striking the right resonances. Or sometimes – it just does what it says on the tin.

retro advert

For Nokia, names are something new. A generation of users struggling to remember the difference between a Nokia C3-00 or a Nokia X3-00 can breath a sigh of relief with the introduction of the New Nokia Lumia and Nokia Asha families. 

The number of Nokia products on the market had become so great that “even we were becoming confused by our naming,” Chris George admits. As part of the Nokia brand architecture team in London, Chris worked on the introduction of the new names. In August the company took the decision to introduce names for some products: “There has been a major trend in the industry for naming devices. It’s about bringing humanity and technology closer together. If you have something you cherish, you name it.”

The decision to name products by families, rather than individually, was driven by two factors: The success of similar strategies for other technology companies and the complexity of finding so many individual product names each year.  “It’s also about highlighting the different consumer experiences you can have through Nokia,” Chris explains.  For the first Nokia generation of Windows phones, this seemed to make particular sense. 

Choosing the name itself however, is far from straightforward. 

Products have been trade marked with brand names since Italians used water marks in the 12th Century.  The Industrial Revolution brought together reassuring family names with what would otherwise have been harsh mechanical processes – and so we have Singer Sewing Machines. Products names like Brasso and Brillo at the turn of the 20th Century gave way to Pyrex and Windex in the 1920s, and professional sounding initials like I.B.M and G.M in the 1960s. 

Sometimes big names happen by accident: Coca Cola was named by a company accountant who thought two Cs would look good in adverts. 

Ford Edsel

And sometimes it all goes wrong. The Ford Motor Company employed poets and actresses to think of names for a great new car. Then it rejected all advice and plumped for the name of Henry Ford’s grandson. Edsel was a clunking name for a clunking product. 

Now product naming has taken on something of the mystery of poetry combined with marketing science. 

If you’ve ever wondered why so many technology products are named after fruit, it’s because people find fruit names relaxing – more than naming a device after something which reminds people that an avalanche of work emails await them every time they turn it on. 

That’s the poetry part. Once the ideas have been generated, the first stage of the hard research is trawling a massive global database of trade marked names to ensure nobody else already owns it.  

In 1980 there were only 10,000 trade marked high tech names in the US, now there are more than 300,000. 

“From an initial list of nearly 200 names only a handful made it through this stage for what was eventually the Nokia Lumia,” says Chris George. 

Then experts in 84 dialects started work, checking for any negative associations in different languages and assessing how easy they are to pronounce. Some letters like J, L R and V are difficult to pronounce in certain countries. Some languages don’t have certain letters in their alphabet (like Q in Polish). This process is never foolproof – as a couple of comments pointed out lumi, or lumia, is a very old Spanish word, long fallen into disuse. Chris George says “Although it was slang, we did pick that up and decided to run consumer research to check the connotations.  The results showed that over 60% of Spanish consumers thought it was a great name for mobile technology. They thought firstly of ‘light’ and ‘style’ rather than the more obscure, negative meaning”.

Lumia has particular meaning in Finland where lumi means snow, and lumia means snow in plural (they know a lot about wintery weather). 

The final stage involves running through the shortlist and working out what sounds best with the Nokia brand name. 

One of the best selling product names, the Intel Pentium Processor, came about because researchers found people liked the ‘tium’ ending. It was better than any explanation of which processor was faster than another. Pentium just sounded smarter. 

In the case of the Nokia Lumia the team were looking for a name that sounded great when used with the Nokia brand name and ended with a vowel to make it work phonetically. A shortlist was presented to the Nokia Leadership team and Lumia emerged as the winner. 

The Nokia Asha range has more multi-cultural connotations. Knowing that the Series 40 phones were most heavily sold in emerging markets, the Nokia team worked through a different range of name possibilities. Asha is the Hindi word for hope: it sounds good, and it has meaning.