Enough with the banter

Sam Russell
23 September 2016

Names. Tricky things.

Take this restaurant near our office. I haven’t eaten there, but whenever I walk by I think, boy, this place looks nice. Menu, decor, staff – all of it just looking really, really nice.

There’s just one problem. The name. See, this restaurant is called Scoff & Banter. Scoff & ‘Banter’.

Let me explain. There was a time when ‘banter’ was just another quirky shirt in the higgledy-piggledy wardrobe of the English language. Dusted off every once in a while, but definitely not for everyday wear.

(Like other fun but potentially tiresome words: argy-bargy, gimcrack, ramshackle, and so on.)

And then just a few years ago…kablam! (Or, kablanter!). Banter was everywhere. In a thousand different varieties.

First came the Banterbus.

the-banterbus

 

Then Bantersaurus rex.

bantersaurus_rex_banter_merchant_gift_poster-rba1abef892954801aab037d8f0ee98b2_wao_8byvr_325

 

Finally (and sacrilegiously), we met the Archbishop of Banterbury.

the-archbishop-of-banterbury

 

For a time, we loved it. But like all fads, we soon got a bit sick of this banter. Because what started as an ironically old-fashioned description for playful conversation between friends became associated with frat-party, Dapper Laughs obnoxiousness.

(Here’s Urban Dictionary to back me up: banter is ‘no longer cool due to excessive use by children’ and was ‘hijacked by Justin Bieber lookalike student LADS’.)

Now back to the restaurant. Three years ago Scoff & Banter probably sounded like a name absolutely on trend. But three years later, I’m not so sure.

(This is nothing against the people behind the name, by the way. I think the underlying proposition – that restaurants are as much about conversation as food – is pretty smart.)

So why does this matter? Because it shows how complex naming can be.

Names have to balance a couple of things. One, the need to make a business sound relevant to customers. And two, the need to stay relevant.

This first one is why so many companies end up choosing names that sound great for a couple of years – but which quickly lose relevance.

And it’s also why a name that goes against the grain can end up being more powerful in the long run.

By way of example, think how odd ‘Google’ sounded the first time you heard it. And how much it stood out against more traditionally ‘tech-y’ sounding competitors like AOL and Altavista.

So here’s our advice.

Using the language of your customers is great. But how customers talk changes all the time.

So when you’re choosing a name, avoid the fads and aim for something more permanent. That way, when linguistic fashion changes, your name won’t have to change with it.

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