A funny thing happened on the way to creating a technology industry in America—we created a bunch of funny-sounding names: Covisint, Syntel, Cobasys, and similar hyperalphabetic amalgams. Now Crain’s Detroit Business is taking these and other regional tech firms to task in its subjective list of the top-20 worst business names in Metro Detroit.

It’s a ranking of mostly technology-related firms—including Airfoil Public Relations—with names, according to the publication, that give you "not the slightest inclination of what the company does. Or it just sounds funny." But that’s just the point, according to the latest thinking on brand names featured in the trendy biz pub Business 2.0. in its "What Works" column.

The article points out that, during the dot.com boom, tech companies latched on to distinctive, made-up words as names that were different enough from competitors’ names to gain a foothold in the overburdened trademark office. Perhaps equally important in the hastily evolving tech world of the 1990s, a made-up name allowed a company to invest whatever characteristics it wished to promote in association with its name and to expand into any line of business it chose.

Today, however, the trend is toward using real words that directly or indirectly represent the spirit of the company, its products and services. Business 2.0 states that a simple name that is a real word "functions as an effective metaphor for what the firm actually does.… Silk (soy milk), Method (home products), Blackboard (school software), and Smartwater (beverages) are new names that are simple and make intuitive sense."

So is Airfoil—which was an early adopter of brand-name simplicity. The coauthor of The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, Laura Ries, told the magazine, "It’s effective to use ordinary words out of context." Rolling out familiar sounds like Blockbuster, Curves, Amazon, Palm, and Subway, she says that, "assuming the words are simple, your brand name will be easy to say, spell, and remember." We selected Airfoil exactly because it so distinctive, memorable and indicative of what we do.

While the editors of Crain’s use a dictionary definition of our name to articulate their puzzlement, the relationship of our firm’s name to our services is clear. An airfoil lifts people to a higher level, allowing them to soar. Our hallmark theme of "higher thinking" is an expression of our ability to provide a 30,000-foot strategic view of the marketplace for our clients and home in on the communications strategies that will provide them a competitive advantage. We help our clients rise above traditional thinking and the marketplace clutter, navigating them through the challenges of building awareness, expanding markets and increasing sales.

Business 2.0 notes that "firms are also waking up to the idea that some organic names are fun to say — and that makes them easier to spread by word of mouth. In an age where everything can be found by way of Google, simple names do double duty as easy-to-remember keywords."

Airfoil, Airfoil, Airfoil—it’s not easy to say three times real fast. But once is enough for businesses all across the country to remember who we are and why we’re different from other PR firms. Come on, it is fun to say—and having fun is a key to why and how we succeed. Ask any Airfoil manager or VP who’s struck up a brilliant idea after being chucked in the head with a balloon ball lobbed by an account coordinator. The world wouldn’t weigh on us nearly so heavily if folks would just lighten up, listen up and liven up with a lift up from companies like Airfoil.

–Janet Tyler