Alphabet Soup

Google's proven, in a genius move, that you don't have to be a branding genius to come up with a simple, effective name with impact. (Although it helps!)

When the new name for Alphabet, the new holding company, of which Google is just a portion, was announced this week, wags and pundits didn't even have time to start sniping at it before the company's stock shot up six points. Sergey Brin and Larry Page were once again embraced. No longer wunderkind, they've gracefully aged into their roles as tech industry darlings.

Strategy for their new name was key. Google, as everyone knows now, was derived from a word -- a number, really -- that painted a suitable backdrop of the entirety of the Internet against which their search engine's algorithms played.

Alphabet, on the other hand, represents the simplest building blocks upon which the world's languages are built. With the power of the alphabet, you can spell the names of all the companies that make up the holdings of the new entity. And any other names that future investment might bring. Also, standing for the most basic of basics when it comes to words, Alphabet makes for a great story-telling bookend with Google, which represents the highest of numbers.

Furthermore, the new name flies in the face of recent online naming trends -- made-up nonsense words or horribly corrupted spellings of real words that may or may not have relevant meanings for the sites to which they're attached.

Introducing an original brand name in today's cluttered, confusing and not to mention litigious market, is no easy task. Especially when the company rolling out the name is not a hatchling of a startup but is one of the most visible high tech entities around.

Another side of the name equation is how confident and strategic you are when the time comes to introduce the new brand to the world. Some companies opt for a "soft opening", where the name is quietly, almost timidly, offered to see how it will fly. In the case of Alphabet, there was no hesitation behind their launch of the new entity. No apologies, either.

As someone who crafts names for a living, my natural curiosity Is not so much how they came up with Alphabet -- I've probably cooked that up at least half a dozen times over the years for various projects myself -- but what other names were in the mix that didn't make it as the finalist. That story may never be told, as Google is keeping pretty quiet around the process behind the new name. But that shouldn't keep us from speculating. Or trying to make up our own Alphabet-beating names instead.


With strictly name-game playing in mind, here are a handful of ideas that may well have been on Google's brainstorming whiteboards along the way to finding their Alphabet...

Olio. This real word means (definition), a great metaphor for a virtually limitless collection of companies under a holding company banner. It's short and yet, with those full, round Os at either end, it sounds very expansive for a dinky, four-letter word.

Hive. Another real word but one which creates a natural world image for what Google's offspring is all about: growing and nurturing a potentially limitless supply of products, services, and companies.

Totus. Here's a classic Latin word, meaning "all at once", or the whole of something. It could have represented all of the companies in the Google vortex. And benefited from the sense of history and gravitas, which Latin or Greek brings to a name, a byproduct leveraged by financial and medical institutions for decades.

Plum. Simple but lush name for a fruit that has many positive associations - a plum assignment, plumbing the depths, and Little Jack Horner pulling out a plum with his thumb, for starters.

Gather. A two-syllable word that starts with a G, feeling very similar to Google and creating a deeper relationship through alliteration. There's meaning as well in the sense that Google has gathered its many companies together under a single umbrella -- a gathering of businesses, as it were.

Would any of those names really have been an apt alternative for Google holding company? We'll never know. With even a few weeks since the announcement under its wings, Alphabet is already solidifying itself as the one and only name that could have been the right name. Because while there's a combination of art and science that come together in creating a new brand, once a company embraces and gets behind it, a kind of magic takes over.

That magic is no guarantee of performance over the long haul, of course, although early indications are positive. Only time will tell if Google's Alphabet is going to spell success.


Marc Hershon is Senior Manager of Naming and Verbal Identity for the San Francisco office of Landor. Alphabet Soup originally appeared on the Landor blog and is reproduced here by permission.

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