I’m not saying that product names don’t matter, they clearly do. I’m saying that the origin and subtle connotations associated with the lexeme in other contexts don’t matter.
Branding, in general, is very important, and brand borrowing and leveraging an established brand can be very effective. Consistent use of logos to tie product lines together is important and all that good stuff.
But what matters in a name is what you have made of it, the value that has been instilled in it by the customers’ experiences with the product. Brand borrowing and leveraging work because people associate good stuff with those product names.
When people think of drinking a Coke, they don’t associate the product with Colombian drug cartels. The same goes with new product names. People may snicker a bit at the funny ones, but they are smart enough to differentiate between the product and the other thing that brings negative connotations to the name.
As for the linked article from NPR, the guy being interviewed is exactly the type I was discussing. He’s selling a naming service. Of course he’s going to say that names matter. The key to the conversation is this:
Yes, Nova. And that, of course, was the name of a car here, and in Spanish it means no go, so that’s not a good name. Although I have to say a branding professor that I spoke to named Bernd Schmitt said to me that, in fact, names are less important than these naming companies that are trying to make us think, and he insists that the no go, the Nova, sold very, very well, for instance, in Mexico. So I don’t know if he’s right. I confess I didn’t fact check that because it didn’t make it into my story.
Now, he’s supposed to be an expert in product naming and he doesn’t know the Chevy Nova story? He’s either lying or incompetent.