It’s common practice in naming to stitch together two or more existing word parts in a novel way to create a new word.  I first called these ‘Frankenstein Names’ in a talk to the Harvard Club of Silicon Valley this spring.

The perceived benefits of doing this are (a) instant trademark availability and (b) instant domain name availability, particularly for .com.  Fair enough.

These names almost always strike us, however, as awkward in feel and awkward to say.  And hard to remember.

As a result, when a business choses a Frankenstein name it sacrifices word-of-mouth sayabilty and the ability to create an evocative, emotional connection to the brand through the name.  That’s a serious liability.  Your name is an important marketing asset.

Here are a few fictional examples (at least, as far as I know).

Synctastic          Equistrat          Edutegic          Hypnomity

The reason these words feel awkward:  the way they were stitched together is NOT the way new words enter English, or any other natural language for that matter. When the time for a new word is ripe – i.e., emergence of a new concept begging for a label – new words are coined and entered into our mental lexicons out of whole cloth.

The practice of stitching pieces of words together is based on the false premise that these pieces are little packages of meaning.  Various studies in linguistic analysis as well as those using brain imaging indicate that these pieces are not in fact stored separately in the brain with their own meaning.  Consider ‘understand’ and ‘undertake’ – is there a consistent meaning for ‘under’ here?  Do ‘-stand’ and ‘-take’ in these words have the same meaning as the full words ‘stand’ and ‘take’?  No and no.  The fact that we can see subparts of these words is simply a reflection of the fact that humans are hardwired to recognize patterns, not circumstantial evidence of how words are formed by our mental grammars.

This hardwiring works against a Frankenstein name in a second way.  Say you name your company ‘Autobile’ by removing the -mo from ‘automobile’, or ‘Extomobile’ by replacing the au- with ‘ex-’.  (There are, by the way, existing brand names based on these patterns.) Each time we hear the name our hardwiring will automatically kick in with the response ‘Something is missing … where’s the -mo; where’s the au-?’  Do you really want to provoke the reaction ‘Ooooo, awkward!’ every time someone hears or says your name?