As a naming agency, we're constantly astounded, amused... and, yes, occasionally awestruck by the brand names that naming consultants and other marketers come up with over the course of a year. And 2012 was no exception.

Here, then, are Catchword's nominations for the most inspired—and most misguided—product brand names of 2012.

The Best

Microsoft Surface. Microsoft is hoping to take a bite out of Apple with this Windows 8-powered entry in the exploding tablet market. Since few folks will remember Microsoft's limited earlier use of "Surface" as its multi-touch platform name, recycling is fair game. The name Surface is ideal here, evoking both a thin plane and a wide surface area—a deft allusion to the tablet's screen (which is larger than Apple's) and the functionality of the tablet's entire surface, including its cover/keyboard. It's also a welcomed change in a space infested with names like the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime and Ematic eGlide XL Pro.

Chase Liquid. Chase's first prepaid debit card has a moniker that fits handily into its fine portfolio of product names, which includes Ink, a small-business credit card; Jot, the mobile app for Ink; and Sapphire, Chase's rewards credit card. Just as with Chase's other brand names, "liquid" is a real English word and it's short, memorable, and suggestive of liquidity. The word's sound and rhythm evoke both quickness and smoothness. All in all, a spot-on name for a product positioned as the "reloadable card that gets rid of prepaid problems."

McDonald's CBO. Normally, we're not huge fans of acronyms because they require explanation and quickly lose their meaning (anyone remember what BMW stands for?). But when used sparingly, acronyms can add a bit of spice. On a menu stocked with descriptive item names like "Premium Caesar Salad," the CBO stands out, inviting customers to wonder, "Hmm… what's that?" Congressional Budget Office? Chicken Breast Options? They'll be delighted to learn that it stands for "Cheddar Bacon Onion."

PayPal Here. PayPal branched out of the Internet-only payment space this summer with this mobile credit card reader. The name PayPal Here is simple and short, and it fits well with the friendly accessibility of the PayPal masterbrand. One of the most essential words in the English language, "here" is clear yet rich with layers of meaning, and in this context underscores the product's benefit: the ability to do business here and now; here and again; here, there, and everywhere.

Doritos Jacked. Our inner butterball salivates at the name "Doritos Jacked." Though earlier attempts to supersize the beloved chips have failed (Doritos 3D, R.I.P.), this new sub-brand looks promising. The chips are 40% bigger and thicker, and they come in two taste-tosterone-laden flavors: Enchilada Supreme and Smoky Chipotle. The name "Jacked" is aggro in all the right ways—evoking bulging muscles, jacked-up monster trucks, and bigger-than-life flavor: the perfect snack-coutrement for a presumably male audience seeking extreme taste experiences.

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image of Laurel Sutton

Laurel Sutton is a linguistics expert and principal at Catchword, a full-service naming company founded in 1998. For more information, contact Laurel at 510-628-0080 x105.

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