Functions of product names
In terms of their function, product names are also used as identifiers, i.e. they refer to non-linguistic objects. As Nubling, Fahlbusch, and Heuser (2012: 32) show, referring to Debus (1980), that this happens directly, as with all other names. Thus, in contrast to common nouns, no concept, content or lexical meaning (signifie) is connected with the material (graphic or phonic) expression (signifiant), but rather the non-linguistic reality is referred to directly. This should not be confused with the semantics of the lexical material used to create product names or with the origin of or motivation for product names, provided that it can be reconstructed. Reference books, such as Praninskas (1968), Room (1982), Lotscher (1987), Watin-Augouard (1997), and Galisson and Andre (1998), as well as the title of Lodige (2002), testify to interest in the etymology of members of this name class, not least from a lay audience. However, it should be taken into account that the large number of product names (Ronneberger-Sibold 2004: 563 talks of around 30,000 names which are registered yearly with the German Patent Office) and their instability make researching them difficult. Furthermore, Lotscher (2012) rightly notes with regard to company names that in many cases producers’ own interpretations of names tend to resemble “private mythologies” which cannot be binding for researchers and need not be universally recognisable (Lotscher 2012: 109).
From a marketing perspective, without doubt the most significant, a further important function of product names consists in their advertising function; the product name should generate attention and positive interest among potential buyers. As Zilg (2006: 14-16) states, the social conditions under which product names are marketed are characterised by information overload and market saturation, so that products are often barely differentiated by their objective and functional quality. A trend can therefore be assumed “from product advertising to communication advertising” (Zilg 2006: 15), in which the product name is accorded a prominent role. According to Ronneberger-Sibold (2004: 563), in order to fulfil its advertising function a brand name must be conspicuous, not too long, easy to say and memorable, as well as invoking positive associations. If the product name is to be protected as a brand name, it has to fulfil further legal requirements (cf. Ronneberger-Sibold 2004: 563-564). For example, descriptive common nouns in current use are barred, while the chosen name may not be identical, or very similar to, names already protected in the same class of goods.