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The Mystique of Numbers in Company Names

While visiting the House of the Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts two weeks ago, made famous in the 1851 book by Nathaniel Hawthorne, I mentally tried out other numbers to see if they would sound as spooky and portentous.

To my ear, House of the Five Gables sounds all too ordinary, while House of the Eight Gables lacks anything that would send a chill up someone's spine. Both the sound of "seven" and its properties as both odd and prime give it a reverberating ring.

I would go so far as to say that numbers have personalities that you need to be aware of when using them in company or product names.

Motel 6: Here, "six" comes across as routine and humdrum, very much like the rooms and prices in this chain.

Super 8: If this motel chain was trying to convey higher quality than Motel 6, it works. Note too that with two long and one short vowel sounds to its competitor's one long and two short ones, the name Super 8 commands more attention while taking up no more space.

Heinz 57: Company founder Henry John Heinz engineered the company's address at PO Box 57 in Pittsburgh in addition to using this number in the corporate slogan ("57 Varieties") and in the name of its steak sauce. I doubt it would have lasted since 1896 as Heinz 28 or Heinz 91 or even Heinz 37.

Note that you don't have to provide an explanation of a number you include in a business name. The Heinz company web site says only that the numbers "5" and "7" had a special significance for founder Henry John Heinz and his wife, not what that significance was. Likewise, the bottle of "Formula 3" shampoo that my hairdresser recently sold me says nothing about what the "3" means.

Just be mindful that certain numbers carry heavy baggage to members of some ethnic and religious groups. For instance, "four" is unlucky to many Chinese because in their language it's a homonym for death. And to Christians, the sequence "666" signifies the devil. "Thirteen" is shunned in many cultures for reasons unknown.

Be mindful also that for a local business, people don't know how to look up company names starting with numbers. If you heard the name "18 Candles" for a party products company, should you look it up in the telephone directory under "E" for "eighteen" or in the front of the book, before the A's? When the number comes after a regular word, as with Studio 54, you avoid this problem.

Finally, when it comes to web domains, most people hearing a company name with a number in it will assume it's written with the numeral rather than in words. They'd look up motel6.com rather than motelsix.com. Even so, you'd be smart to reserve both versions. Motel6.com indeed corresponds to the motel chain, but motelsix.com goes to a site for finding a cheap motel room. Likewise, the founder of fivethirtyeight.com, a political web site referring to the number of seats in the U.S. Congress, thought the written-out-words looked more elegant and neglected to reserve the domain 538.com.

Marcia Yudkin is Head Stork of Named At Last, a company that brainstorms creative business names, product names and tag lines for clients. For a systematic process of coming up with an appealing and effective name or tag line, download a free copy of "19 Steps to the Perfect Company Name, Product Name or Tag Line" at www.namedatlast.com/19steps.htm

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