What’s in a Name?

People often ask what makes Bullhorn different. Is it our process? Our approach to design? Our culture? In subtle ways, the answer to all of those questions is yes. But a clearer differentiator is our approach to language. The way we think about language and how it fits into branding is nuanced and unique.


We consider the name to be the most distilled form of brand language. It’s the perfect focal point – and it encapsulates three areas we consider during the brand language process.

Sonos launched their groundbreaking sound system product that connects your listening experience wherever you go. Their branding is a strong demonstration of that connection and innovation.



When analyzing language we look at literal, metaphorical, and associative meaning. Sonos is a made-up word that doesn’t come with literal or metaphorical meaning. It is rich with associations, though. It is based on the latin word sono which means to make a sound. There are related words in most latinate languages (French, Spanish, Italian, etc).

This works well strategically for a start-up. They want people to have an idea of what they do. You know the company does something related to sound. But, you don’t have the generic downside of a common noun or the potential baggage of other real words.

(There is a fourth component to meaning that comes out in longer form components like headlines. That is tonality. Tonality can change meaning. But, more on that later.)



There are two things to consider when thinking about form. The first is shape. A word can be different lengths. In sentence case there is a memorable visual cadence. It can, like Sonos, be a blocky shape created by the choice of all-caps in the word mark. Here, the upper case letters makes the word more memorable. It makes you stop to read it. They emphasize the mirroring effect created by the palindrome. The mirroring is much more prominent than when shown as Sonos.


The second is typography. They choose a sans-serif that emphasizes the reflexive visual. It looks like a contemporary company using a sophisticated typeface. The way the word looks reiterates the idea of sound. The word looks like surround sound. It looks like an echo, like reverberations. The word looks like it is wearing headphones.



The way language sounds is important. The word Sonos is easy to say. It sounds liquid, like the sound of wind in the trees. That is important. What they are selling is a system that makes listening to music easier. And, they want to sell it to as many people as possible. The name of the company shouldn’t sound complex. It shouldn’t sound elite. It should sound intuitive. And, it does. The sound of the word reflects and reiterates the brand’s value proposition.


This is the first in our new series Word is Bond, an exploration of language as a design object.

And check out our fond memories of the 2016 Brand New conference in Nashville.