How to write brand names

Traffic sign on lamppost showing special characters crossed outBrand identity is important to business, and having a brand name with impact is a big part of that. But when the name breaks the standard rules of English in its efforts to achieve that, it can present writers with a challenge.

In many cases, the company itself will take a pragmatic approach. For example, Twitter spells its name with a lower-case t in its logo, but upper case in text. We do the same at Emphasis. But what do you do if the company consistently describes itself in non-standard English?

Take insurance companies MORE TH>N and LV=, retail consultancy him! or the supermarket ASDA, for example. If you’re writing about ASDA and you need to refer to ASDA several times in a paragraph, the block capitals in the word ASDA can soon appear to shout at the reader and drown out the rest of the text on the page (like they do here). So should you prioritise the brand’s preferences or the readability of your documents?

You need a house style

If you don’t already have a house style and you’re starting from scratch, there are two broad approaches you can take.

1. Write the brand name exactly as the company does. You may wish to do this if the company is a client or partner, or if they have expressed a strong preference for the format of their name and you don’t want to upset them. Also, as rules go, it’s certainly the simplest to follow.

2. Bring the brand name in line with standard English. If your priority is literacy and ease of reading, or if you found yourself wincing at the third paragraph of this article, you may wish to take this approach. It’s OK to make small changes to the format of the brand name, so long as it is still clearly recognisable.

If you decide to go with the second option, the rest of this article will take you through the areas you’ll need to consider. This may also be helpful if you already have a house style but it doesn’t tell you how to deal with the brand names mentioned above.

In each case, we’ve made a recommendation, but it is only that – you may decide differently.

Punctuation marks

Some brand names, such as Yahoo! Which? and him! include a punctuation mark, which can be problematic – and not only because Word automatically capitalises the following word, thinking that you must be starting a new sentence.

For a start, exclamation marks are generally frowned upon in formal writing, even when used correctly. So ending a sentence with ‘according to Yahoo!.’ looks doubly strange when combined with the extra punctuation. And an exclamation mark in the middle of a sentence, such as ‘Yahoo! has filed applications for two patents’, can feel disruptive.

Many publications (the Guardian, the Sunday Times, the BBC) choose to omit the exclamation mark and simply write Yahoo. Others (the Times, the Telegraph) choose to retain it.

Verdict: Yahoo – it’s still instantly recognisable.

Even more difficult is him!, with its lower-cased h, which can leave writers wrangling with sentences such as: ‘The price-marked pack has been a source of confusion within the industry, according to him!.’ (Who is  ‘him’?, asks the reader.) For clarity, it’s necessary to add ‘retail consultancy’ before ‘him!’, but even then you’re still left with the awkward punctuation.

him! told us that their brand name should always be written with the exclamation mark, and ‘always be lower case even at the start of a sentence’ (like this sentence, for example, which we wrote in agony). However, they admitted that many publications refused to follow these guidelines.

Verdict: Him – him! is too confusing.

The consumer magazine Which? throws up similar questions. In fact, it sometimes throws up extra questions where you don’t want them. ‘This research was compiled by Which?’, or ‘Which one performed best in the Which? test lab?’, for example.

Which? told us:  ‘Our policy is to always include the question mark. We haven’t produced any guidance for the press, instead relying on our own presentational material to set the example.  We would encourage anyone who’s tempted to end a sentence with the word Which? to rewrite their sentence.’

Strange though the question mark may be, lopping it off also causes problems.  ‘This research was compiled by  Which’ and ‘Which one performed best in the  Which test lab?’ could be confusing, especially if your style is to write the names of publications without using italics.

Verdict: Which? – the question mark is vital to understanding the brand name.

Non-alphabet characters

There are certain non-alphabetical characters that don’t trouble the reader at all. For example, Marks & Spencer looks more natural than Marks and Spencer, as we are so used to seeing it in the high street and on TV. Even for a non-British readership, the ampersand is so widely used that it’s unlikely to jar.

The same can’t be said, however, for MORE TH>N or LV=, which are unsettling to the eye, not to mention a pain to type. A  MORE TH>N spokeswoman told us:  ‘MORE TH>N  should always be presented in this way and not re-formatted to More Than’,  but we think that’s asking quite a lot.

The Guardian’s style guide takes a zero-tolerance approach to  MORE TH>N, reading simply  ‘More Than – not MORE TH>N, which is how the insurance arm of Royal & Sun Alliance styles itself’.

When it comes to LV=, however, most publications retain the  ‘equals’  sign, because the company name is pronounced   ‘  LV equals’  (whereas the > in  MORE TH>N is, thankfully, silent).

Verdict: Marks & Spencer, More Than, LV=.


There is a generally accepted rule for writing acronyms (a set of initials pronounced as a word) and initialisms (a set of initials pronounced as letters). Acronyms are written with the first letter capitalised, for example Unicef and Nasa, while initialisms are capitalised all the way through, for example IBM and BBC.

However, some companies would have us write their names all in capital letters, even if they don’t actually stand for anything. For example, ASDA (a portmanteau of Asquith and Dairies), ASUS, GIGABYTE and UNISON, all of which are pronounced as words, not letters. Of course, they like this format because it makes them stand out. But unless you’re writing something with the aim of actively promoting that brand, there’s no reason why the brand name should stand out more than the other words in the document, which are equally important.

Verdict: Asda, Asus, Gigabyte and Unison. As a general rule, if you can pronounce it as a word, only capitalise the first letter. If you pronounce every letter, capitalise them all.

And then there’s Apple, with their fondness for putting a lower-case i in front of everything. However, iPad, iPod and iMac are now so widely recognised that to replace them with Ipad, Ipod and Imac would be pointlessly awkward.

Verdict: iPad, iPod, iMac – but try to avoid putting them at the start of a sentence.

When nouns become verbs

In 2006, Google tried to stop media organisations using their name as a verb. A spokesman said at the time: ‘We think it’s important to make the distinction between using the word Google to describe using Google to search the internet, and using the word Google to describe searching the internet. It has some serious trademark issues.’

However, like Hoover before them, Google have largely failed in their mission to prevent their name from being genericised. The use of ‘to google’ as a verb with a lower-cased g has caught on and even entered both the Oxford and Collins dictionaries.

Verdict: Google for the noun, google as a verb. But if you use a search engine other than Google, consider using ‘search the internet’ or do an internet search.

Twitter are currently engaged in a smaller battle, over the word ‘tweet’, for which they acquired the trademark in October 2011. Though they have never objected to a lower-case t being used for the verb ‘to tweet’, they do object to the noun being lower cased. Their guidelines state: ‘Please remember to capitalize the T in Twitter and Tweet!’ However, no one except Twitter itself actually does, and this certainly feels like a fight that has already been lost.

Verdict: Twitter, but tweet for both the verb and the noun.


Lastly, make sure you only use a trademarked brand name when you’re referring to something made by that brand. Do you mean Tetra Pak, or just generic cartons? Is it really a Portakabin, or is it a ‘portable cabin-style building’ (see this apology)? And if you do decide to tweak the style to make it more readable, make sure you retain the initial capital letter to signal that you’re referring to a brand rather than a generic noun (except, of course, in the case of a certain brand of products beginning with i).

The Guardian’s style guide sums it up nicely. ‘Take care: use a generic alternative unless there is a very good reason not to, eg ballpoint pen, not biro (unless it really is a Biro, in which case it takes a cap B); say photocopy rather than Xerox, etc; you will save our lawyers, and those of Portakabin and various other companies, a lot of time and trouble.’

Why not test your trademark awareness by taking our trademarks quiz? There are 12 questions, and in each case you need to decide whether the word is currently trademarked, was once trademarked or has never been trademarked.

In conclusion

If it’s an easy life you’re after, and you can stomach block capitals and strange punctuation marks, the simplest rule is to go with what the brand itself does. But you’ll still need to decide whether to follow their logo or how they present their name in official documents, such as company reports, because these aren’t always the same (see Twitter, for example).

Or, if you’re feeling bold, why not make a stand for legibility and carve out a house style of your own?

Do you want to inform, inspire and persuade with your business documents? Our 64-page guide to professional writing, The Write Stuff, will help. Get your free copy here.

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