Guest post by Donna Vincent Roa
The power of the letter “K” has always fascinated me.
In college, one of my favorite adjectives was “kafkaesque,” a word with three “K” sounds.
The first time I heard this word, it resonated with me, and I wanted to say it again and again. There was something special about it.
“K” is the 11th letter in the alphabet and one of the least frequently used letters, but is believed to make people laugh and feel good. It’s a voiceless velar plosive and an oral consonant with air escaping through the mouth only. This cross-linguistic sound is represented in over 40 languages, from Bengali to Turkish to Kagayanen.
Some people ask: “Why do we even need ”˜K’? Isn’t ”˜C’ enough?”
Read the next paragraph slowly. We all should be aware of this letter’s history.
The Etruscan alphabet – a slightly modified form of the Greek alphabet – merged with the Latin language of the Romans. The Etruscan language didn’t have a “G”, but a letter that sounded like “K.”
Latin has both a “K” (written like “C”) and a “G.” The Greek gamma, the third letter of the alphabet, could be written as “<” or in a curved form like “C.” The Romans retained the Greek “K.” Interestingly, in Old English, the letter “K” was rarely used and often omitted.
The Letter “K” in branding
The other day I watched a short video by Sara Blakely – the inventor of Spanx brand products and a fellow Southerner – where she reflected on the value and edginess of the letter “K.” Spanx (ends in the hard “K” sound) delivers a great product that fills an important gap in the undergarment market.
Having a great company and product name adds to market appeal and most likely has had a direct affect on the company’s million dollar sales record.
Why is the letter “K” so strong in branding? Why are we drawn to this sound?
“K” is good for branding. According to one author writing about brand names, those beginning with the letter “K” are easier to remember.
“So, what is there in a name? Absolutely everything. It is one of the most important assets we have, providing instant recognition and a shorthand for our brand values. If we don’t understand the importance of our name, if we don’t nurture and cultivate it, and if we don’t manage it throughout the growth of the company, we are missing a very important trick and we could be in big trouble.”
Think about these successful brands and companies: Kraft, Kellogg’s, K-Mart, Krispy-Kreme, Kimberly-Clark, Kroger, Kleenex, Kit, Kat, Kodak, Kool-Aid, Kotex, Kix, Karo, Kashi, Keds, Keebler, Kenmore, Kenneth Cole, KFC, Kia, Konica, Smuckers, Federal Express, etc.
There are even 25 piano brand names that start with the letter “K.” That should tell you something.
Kidzone calls “K” “a dependable letter,” while another site says that “K” represents extremes and notes that: “when a person with a ”˜K’ in their name enters a room, all know it.”
George Eastman, founder of Kodak, also liked the letter “K” and believed it to be strong and incisive. When asked about the Kodak name, he said:
“I devised the name myself. The letter ”˜K’ had been a favorite with me – it seems a strong, incisive sort of letter. It became a question of trying out a great number of combinations of letters that made words starting and ending with ”˜K.’ The word ”˜Kodak’ is the result.”
Thirteen percent of companies in the 2011 top 100 brands start or end with a “K” or the “K” sound (hard “C” included) or have the sound in the middle of the name.
In Bloomberg BusinessWeek‘s Top 100 Global Brands Scoreboard of the top 12, half have the “K” sound (i.e., CocaCola, Microsoft, General Electric, Nokia, McDonalds, Hewlett-Packard).
Called the granddaddy of funny sounds by the Advanced Public Speaking Institute, the letter “k” is referenced by aging vaudevillian Willie Clark, the main character in Neil Simon’s “The Sunshine Boys.”
“Fifty-seven years in this business, you learn a few things. You know what words are funny and which words are not funny. Alka Seltzer is funny. You say ”˜Alka Seltzer’ you get a laugh … Words with ”˜k’ in them are funny. Casey Stengel, that’s a funny name. Robert Taylor is not funny. Cupcake is funny. Tomato is not funny. Cookie is funny. Cucumber is funny. Car keys. Cleveland … Cleveland is funny. Maryland is not funny. Then, there’s chicken. Chicken is funny. Pickle is funny.”
“K’s are everywhere
“K’s” are everywhere – even on the dollar bill. Well, not all of them (check yours!). The “K” in the black circle on the dollar bill signifies the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas that placed the order for the bill.
There’s even a Facebook page called “The Letter K.”
As of last week, it had 2,838 “likes.” Under personal interests, the site lists “kites, kits, kittens and eradikating (sp) the letter ”˜c.’”
Regrettably, I do not have a “K” in my name.
Shonali Burke does.
Donna Vincent Roa is a master strategist and communication rainmaker who designs and builds best-in-class communication portfolios. She is Managing Partner & Chief Strategist for Vincent Roa Group LLC, a small, woman-owned firm that specializes in communication about the earth and its people. She also blogs and can be reached at donna [a] vincentroagroup [dot] com.
[…] It’s the letter “K”. It is believed to make people laugh and feel happy. […]
ok my last name is King, my daughter’s name is Kayle ( helped a little in beginning my online store)
I initially thought about King’s Kreativity also thought KreativeKings Krafty Kings
King’s Krafty. The last two were already used as a business name.
What do you think? do you have any suggestions?
I am selling handmade jewelry and crafts, paintings, and I need to sell my barely used classroom items since I no longer am using them. What shoulod i put in the name that the customers will be receiving?
[…] 3. “K” is King in Brand and Company Naming […]
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[…] 3. “K” is King in Brand and Company Naming […]
So glad you are – it was a fab post!
I wonder why… :p
Ok fellow southerner, we all know the three K’s together is not a good thing……….doh………however, that is about the only thing k is not good for as your excellent post attests to. It also used in kontrast when the americanized version would be using a c; like Outkast. Very distinctive and easily brandable.
I too thought Shonali’s influence in every thing Kardashian would have some bearing on this post.
Great topic and great post; thanks for sharing.
@bdorman264 Wait. How did you know I was a southerner? As for Kardashian, it’s was tempting, but I felt like it was a bit overused and I was trying for freshness. Talking about pianos seem more refreshing than a recently divorced socialite.
Thanks for pointing this out. I’m partial to k. Best S Kayser
I was waiting for you to mention Shonali’s specialty Kim Kardashian in the mix of K’s. Now every time I see a “K” I am going to think of this post, especially when I play words with friends on my iphone ;)
@rachaelseda I toyed with the idea of mentioning the Kardashians and actually had it in an earlier draft. Word count and article length forced me to choose between that and some more historical information.
Makes you wonder if Kim’s mom had some idea of the power of K in branding with her choices of names and the first name, last name alliteration. shonaliburke already has so many mentions too, I thought I would let this one go.
Now I could dream up another article…
I’m glad my name is Ken!
@KenMueller I knew the K’s would come out first. You proved my thesis!!
Interestingly, I had the idea for the article a while back, and it was nice to have it on my editorial calendar when shonali asked for posts.
By the time I reached the end of the first draft, it dawned on me…I have to mention shonali burke because of the K in her last name. It was a good catch. I am sure she picked John because of the K in his last name. My husband also has K sound in his first name. We do it for the K’s!!
@DonnaVincentRoa@KenMueller Hah! You don’t know how much I agonized over changing my last name when we got married. OK… I didn’t agonize too much – I figured i would – but when it actually came time to do it, I felt like I was letting a part of me go. But Shonali Ghosh-Burke wouldn’t have sounded very good…
At the risk of sounding biased, this was a fun post to read and to learn about the history of one of the most prominent letters in branding. Thanks for sharing it and for making my morning knowing my name starts with one of the most powerful letters in the alphabet :)
@Krista You go girl! You should feel proud!
What a great post! The further on I read the piece, the more it made sense… there is something intrisi(k)ally alluring about words which have the letter K in them.
As for making people laugh… that’s probably why kids at school were always laughing behind my back*… my real name is RaKesh LaKhani.
*or it could have been my freakishly huge nose…
@raxlakhani I am a firm believer that those who get laughed at (and bullied, too, most likely) in school are destined for greatness. Just a theory of mine.
Your early greatness, coupled with the two K sounds in you name were just way too much for their little minds to handle.
In my humble opinion, people with K in their name are ever so likeable, too. I was thinking of you guys when I wrote this…my friends with a K sound in their name. julie lenzer kirk jasondonaldking liesl gromen lukacs kathleen dezio elisa knebel rona livnat kronenberg beri rothstein kravitz kristofferkelly krissi folsom
shonali burketina mccollough cardosikikivickyorourkekarenaddiskaywallaceheathere evans-keenankendrakojkdpainekmatthewskhartlinekarl reichleykatie reutemann davisonkevinarrow@kateperrin
karen ancheta pruittkaren jeanne collinskarla chamankatie yourishin mainstephanie coreyavril kinseykeith vincentkeith stricklandmelinda keraciklinda griffin keanmike finemike hennesseymike moore
and… kate perrin kathybates