What’s in a Name? David Burd

What’s in a Name? David Burd

David Burd

As a professional namer, I’m often asked to comment on issues related to naming things such as new stadiums, office buildings, even sports franchises. Although our primary concern is developing trademarks for new products and services, many of the same principles apply in these other areas. However, when it comes to re-naming something such as so-called contemporary classical music, I think there’s a different set of rules.

The name of a product is something the manufacturer decides on and the consumer has no choice but to go along with it. In the case of a street name, it’s clearly marked on a sign. With a new building the name is literally set in stone. No so with the name of a musical genre. The name “contemporary classical” is not a piece of intellectual property that is protected by trademark laws or enforced by marketing, it’s a general term and one that is in common use by the masses.

Typically, these kinds of names are coined by journalists, or in this case, music writers, who invent a word or phrase and it is adopted by the general public. It’s hard to say who really coined the term popular “rock ‘n’ roll,” but it certainly caught on. No one owns it; it’s part of the vernacular. But how do you coin a term like this and get it to stick?

An even better question is how do you get the public to drop one term and embrace a new one? Naming is tricky but re-naming is even trickier.

There’s a lesson to be learned from the world of advertising and big business. Federal Express courier service had been established for years. Gradually the public began to shorten their trademark to “FedEx.” What did Federal Express do? Did they try to force people to use the correct name? “No, no, no, you must say ‘Federal Express’ when you refer to our company!” No, they registered “FedEx¨” as a trademark. The point being that the public coined the nickname and it became a trademark, not the other way around. The public has a lot of power when it comes to language.

Getting back to music, it may be possible to coin a new name for this type of music, but there’s no guarantee it will become part of the terminology. If you want to give it a try I suggest that you first reach a consensus among contemporary composers and start using the new name exclusively. Drop “contemporary classical” from your vocabulary. Delete it from your websites, omit it from your articles, remove it from your liner notes. Replace it with the name you’ve agreed upon. Then wait and see if the public starts to use the new term. You might get lucky.


David Burd, President of The Naming Company, has been advertising, marketing, positioning and naming since 1981. With a specialty in entertainment and broadcasting, his advertising and branding clients include MTV, Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite, Showtime, HBO, Cinemax and American Movie Classics as well as Consumer Reports, Pentech International, AT&T and General Mills’ Cheerios, Lucky Charms, Cocoa Puffs and Trix.

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.