Citgo and other five-letter words

posted by on 2009.05.04, under Advertising, Naming

I can’t find a transcription or recording of it anywhere online, but Citgo has been running a radio ad recently that touts its ability to provide “local jobs in your community.” I thought that seemed a little redundant. Where else could I get a local job?

But aside from nitpicking the word choice, the ad got me thinking about the name “Citgo.” I’ve been making a mental note of five-letter brand names ever since the Venza launched and I started wondering how many five-letter coined names are left. It seems like a silly question—and maybe it is—but I thought about how much time and money Toyota might have spent dreaming up “Venza,” and whether it would have helped to have a list of pronounceable, available five-letter strings that don’t have clear negative connotations (in English or other languages). Plenty of companies want short names, and rightly so (they’re easier to remember, among other advantages). How hard would it be to create a list of remaining possibilities?

For starters, there are about 12 million possible five-letter strings, assuming you limit yourself to the 26 letters in the English alphabet (let’s leave the umlauts out of it). That sounds like an awful lot, but how many of those are easy to eliminate (“bbbbb”) or clearly unpronounceable (“xktlv”)? Probably a lot of them are. And how many are English words with negative connotations (“farts”—although depending on the nature of your company/product…) or already taken by well-known brands (Avaya, Apple, Adobe, Citgo, Kmart, Sears, Venza, etc.)?

Those questions might be difficult to answer for such a long list, but maybe if a linguist teamed up with a programmer, and created a site where an online community could rank how pronounceable each letter string is…and that’s when you have to ask yourself whether it’s worth it. Should naming be reduced to such a cold world of computation and list-building? Just because “Pluxt” is easy to pronounce and no one owns it, does that mean it’ll ever make a good brand name? (Alternatively, how long would you have to wait for an eyebrow-plucking service to ask you for naming advice?) Or is naming more of an art—one that needs to build from a core idea that’s unique for every brand? And while we’re making lists, what about four-letter names (under 500,000 combinations to start from!) or six-letter names (don’t even bother)?

So, is it silly, or worthwhile? Well…I suppose it depends on how much Toyota paid for “Venza.”


These are good questions. Because they prepare for what will be the inevitable requirements, answering questions for tasks any good naming/branding team will have to address….eventually.

This is a good place to go at it from a ‘feels-like’ and ‘sounds-like starting point:

BTW, you probably knew this, but the Venza name is an amalgamation of “venture” and “Monza,” (an Italian race track and city) – and the vehicle itself is considered an adventure ‘cross-over’ vehicle.

Paul van Winkle ( 2009/05/05 at 10:22 )

Thanks, PvW. To be honest, I hadn’t yet gotten around to looking up what “Venza” is supposed to mean. That would’ve been good research to do while writing this little post, however. I wonder what percentage of Venza owners know what/where Monza is.

And hilarious that you brought up the Scrabble word lists. Probably not surprising, but I’m a bit of a Scrabble geek and sometimes do consult the OSPD during naming projects.

Rob Meyerson ( 2009/05/05 at 14:58 )

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