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Nintendo invokes good names to defend a bad one [update 1]

Vladimir Cole
Since announcing that they'd be renaming their new console from "Revolution" to "Wee," Nintendo's been busy explaining the name to press, often invoking other household names in the process.

Here are some representative quotes:

  • Perrin Kaplan to MTV News: "Many top companies have successfully used names or phrases that might seem odd at first blush: Virgin for an airline, Caterpillar for construction equipment, Yahoo! for Internet services, Naked for juice, Prius for a car, Napster for a Web site."

  • Perrin Kaplan to IGN: "You think about Google being an unusual name. You think about Virgin Airlines. Amazon. Napster. All those. I think it's as unique as those. They aren't just unique, but loved names for places that we all know."

  • Perrin Kaplan to CNN: "I'm sure people felt the same way when Google was named – or the iPod. Napster. Yahoo. There's a whole host of unusual names that have become a part of everyday conversation and I think they're viewed now as unique."

Next, after the "continue" link, we unpack and unravel the defense:

Is Wii really like those other names?

  • Virgin: Not just an airline, as Kaplan states. "The Virgin Group is the group of companies using the Virgin brand of British celebrity business tycoon Sir Richard Branson. The core business areas are travel, entertainment and lifestyle..." According to history of the company, "The first Virgin record shop opened on Oxford Street, London." As a name associated with records, music, and entertainment, Virgin is quite fitting, as it evokes sex, youth, and vibrancy. It also has a touch of the taboo, in it. Just right for a media and entertainment empire.
  • Caterpillar: "Caterpillar" was a specific type of track-type employed on tractors used in World War I to distribute weight more evenly so that large vehicles could move without sinking into mud. Wikipedia notes that at least one soldier was observed remarking that the machine's movement was caterpillar-like. A very fitting name indeed.
  • Yahoo!: The word "Yahoo" actually comes from a cowboy shout. It is an exclamation of excitement, exultation, or delight. It probably came from the familiar "Yoho" (as in "Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum"). Excitement, exultation and delight are great words to describe the delight of discovery enabled by an internet search engine and portal. 
  • Naked: This word has come to mean "unadulterated," "clean," "stripped of all disguise or concealment," "Left without any addition; not strengthened or increased in any way," "undiluted," "vulnerable" and "delicate." A "Naked Juice" is therefore a juice without pesticides, without additives, that's vulnerable and fragile because it's so fresh. It's an honest juice, stripped bare of all of the garbage that goes into, say, SunnyD or other sugary beverages.
  • Prius: According to the OED, it means, "That which takes precedence; the superior, first, chief." It's a combination of "pri" (before) and "us" (from the masculine Latin suffix "us"). It evokes the words "prior," and "pious." The name has a technical feel (thanks to its Latin roots) and is short and simple. It's also "ownable" (nobody else had much of a claim on it).
  • Napster: A 19-year old college kid used his own nickname for the company. What else do you expect? Even so, it's appropriately irreverent and collegial. It's certainly unique (or was, before all of the me-too clones).
  • Google: From the word "googol," "a fanciful name (not in formal use) for ten raised to the hundredth power." In use since 1940. A great seed word for a company that wanted to build the biggest search index on earth. Unfortunately, the name sounds a little like baby talk: "goo goo," "ga ga," and "gurgle."
  • iPod: The lowercase "i" was first introduced in 1998 with the iMac. The iPod was launched three years after. Three years is a long time, during which Apple built a brand around that little "i." They've got the iBook, the iMac, iPhoto, iWeb, iMovie, iDVD, iChat, iCal, iSync, iLife, iWork, iDisk, and so on. The "pod" part of the name works too. Pods are small containers that contain seeds of life and energy; seeds that can give birth to worlds. The "pod" can envelop its user, wrapping him in a safe womb where he can be alone with his thoughts and his music. Granted, there was a teensy bit of unfavorable reaction to the name, but not nearly as much as met the Wii.
  • Amazon: It's huge. It's teeming with life. It's the Amazon river, basin and tributary system. It's got everything from "A" to "z" in it. It's organic, lush, and vibrant. It's fun, too, and full of life. The name is believable and unobjectionable. The big issue with the name is that there's an entire region of the world with this name, so any company hoping to carry this name would need to work that much harder to rise above the din.
[update 1: fixed a minor typo.]

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