Quick -- which of these car names sounds "faster" -- Tarin or Parin? Which sounds more luxurious?
If you're like mist people, you think "Tarin" sounds faster and "Parin" sounds more luxurious. Those were the findings of researchers at Lexicon, a firm profiled in the October 3 issue of the NEW YORKER. Lexicon helps companies find brand names for products. They've made a science of studying how people react to individual letters, to phonemes, and to words. Surveying 500 subjects in Europe, Asia, and the United States, they discovered, for instance, that "c" and "v" and "p" all convey "vigor, liveliness, and well-being."
In the new scientific approach to naming things, you can't call a spade a spade -- or a mop a mop. That word has an image of dirt, limpness, drudgery. When asked in the mid-1990's to name Procter & Gamble's new mop, Lexicon generated thousands of possibilities. They finally chose "Swiffer," because (1) it sounds like "swift," implying that mopping that floor won't take too long, (2) it ends in "er," the suffix of agency (teacher, driver), implying that the mop is the agent doing the work, not you, and (3) "f" is a friendly consonant. Lexicon also named Pentium, Dasani, and Wisp, a portable mini-toothbrush.
I own a Swiffer. Did I buy it in part because I was suckered by a good brand name? Maybe. I'm not immune. George Orwell would have understood -- if not necessarily approved.