Assonance and brand names

What’s in a name? Assonance. Assonance, of course, is the repetition of vowel sounds in successive words. I’ve long theorized, without any real research to either confirm or deny,* that one way to create a memorable or pleasant name is to use assonance. Incidentally, this mostly applies to brand and band/album names, I’ve found.** For example, the fifth studio (and third best) album by The National, a band I like, is titled “High Violet.” Now, there could be some artistic rationale for the title, but there is no corresponding track name and as far as I can tell no mention in any lyrics of either “high” or “violet.” At the risk of oversimplification, I’m left to conclude that, on some level, The National decided on High Violet because it sounds cool. Whether or not that’s why they arrived at that name is irrelevant, because it does “sound cool.” Why? Because the long i in “high” assonates with that in “violet.”

At least, that’s the only reason I can find for pairing High with Violet. Moreover, other, non-assonant but equally conceptually distant word pairs don’t sound as cool or pleasant or memorable. Consider: does Low Violet work as well? What about Quick Violet, Wet Violet, Brown Violet, Dumb Violet, Credible Violet, Expensive Violet? Now consider these assonant alternatives: Dry Violet, My Violet, Sky Violet, Why Violet, Like Violet, Shy Violet, White Violet. The second set preserves the same pleasance as High Violet, presumably through assonance.

But maybe you disagree with me or you don’t like assonance, yet you still want to pair your words in some subtle, playful way. You’re left with three other common phonological maneuvers: rhyme, consonance, and alliteration. Unfortunately, all three are too easy, too campy, too childish. Assonance achieves a more sophisticated attention to phonological detail. It suggests rhyme, but doesn’t go so far as to rhyme for you; it repeats open and round vowel sounds, not harsh, quick consonants (consonance); and unlike alliteration it doesn’t occur at the beginning of words, something you might find in a tongue twister or nursery rhyme. No, assonance is adult.

Assonance can occur within a single word, like Nirvana. And single word names/titles are trending hard, last I checked, especially for restaurants and bands.*** But what I’m diagnosing here is more the deliberate assonating of two or more conceptually unrelated words to create some ambiguously pleasant aura; that assonance, then, becomes the only connection between the words. Iconic band names frequently employ it: Led Zeppelin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Joy Division, Rolling Stones, and so on. And corporate America confirms my thesis too. When their names consist of more than one word, corporate brands love assonance. Out of the 50 most profitable brands, only 10 have names consisting of more than one word (though the one-worders often inter-assonate, like Toyota and Microsoft) but 6 out of those 10 use assonance. Examples include Coca-Cola, General Electric, Wal-mart, Home Depot. In general, brand names tend to have less conceptual distance between the name and product they offer (Home Depot is a home improvement store, after all) than artistic projects which involve layers of interpretive distance. But that proves my point further: even when constructing a practical brand name, using assonance can make your name/title that much more memorable. What if Home Depot were called Home Warehouse?

Maybe I will tell my students that I am renaming this Rhetorical Device Thursday to Assonate Day.

*I only do this with silly theories of no importance. I promise I don’t make a habit of willful ignorance.

**This is because over the last 7 years if I’ve ever been trying to name something, it’s either a band I’ve been in (all of which have had terrible names, maybe with the exception of Mote) or a hypothetical Brewery Zack and I will start and the subsequent beers we will brew. The name of one of the last beers I brewed used assonance–it was called “Hot Gold,” a phrase I got From Toni Morrison’s Sula.

***Bands also have a fixation on one word plurals (e.g. Battles).

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