From Abarth to Zzzquil, it’s been an exciting year in the world of brand naming. Our look at the Top 5 Best and Worst of 2012:

THE BEST

5. ZzzQuilZzzQuil literally uses “a few Zs” to achieve a clever riff on NyQuil, introduced in 1968 and long a universally recognized brand name. As with iterations including DayQuil, ZzzQuil takes advantage of NyQuil’s substantial goodwill, in this case to convey a promise of quick and solid sleep.

But: there are many negative reviews of the product to be found online, highlighting the fact that to be truly great, a name must live up to its promise.

4. Hail-o
Hail-o, a smartphone app for taxi drivers and their patrons, was active in Europe before 2012 but was introduced in Canada (in Toronto) this year. Hail-o gives passengers the remarkable convenience of seeing in real time where available cabs are, then to hail one and then to pay, including tip. For drivers, the value proposition is that when idle, they can accept a Hail-o fare – regardless of which cab company they ostensibly work for.

As a short and straightforward moniker, Hail-o’s dual angelic and cab-related meanings suggest to drivers and passengers alike that the service is a speedy, simple and ultimately elegant solution to their problem. From a legal standpoint, the mark is coined (“made up,” in other words) and thus inherently distinctive, which augurs well for eventual trade mark registration and successful protection.

3. Outlook.com
Pretty much everyone had a Hotmail address at some point – before Gmail took over. Microsoft bought Hotmail way back in 1997, but only this year did they change the name to Outlook. Suddenly it seems so obvious that Outlook should offer email accounts, one wonders why they didn’t do it much earlier.

This brand extension is clearly a wise way for Outlook.com to ride the coattails of the considerable goodwill long associated with Microsoft’s ubiquitous and highly-regarded Outlook products.

2. Mondelez
In 2012, Kraft separated itself into two companies: Kraft Foods Group, which operates in North America, and the new Mondelez, the international arm, which accounts for 80% of revenues. Pronounced “mon-dah-LEEZ,” the name is intended to evoke “world” and “delicious.”

Easily the most controversial and criticized brand name of the year, putting Mondelez on the Best list was a difficult decision. On the negative side of the ledger, the name is not intuitively pronounceable in English, is not easy to spell, and is said to have vulgar connotations in Russian (although apparently only if mispronounced).

But these negatives are outweighed by the enormous attention it received at launch, and continues to receive, from the investor press – which invariably mentions that Mondelez is Kraft’s international business, and that its growth prospects are considered to be strong. The name thus tells the international story and beautifully sells the stock, which is the whole point of being in business.

That Mondelez may not be the most meaningful name to consumers is a secondary consideration, because the brand is not targeted at them. That task is left to the multitude of instantly recognizable brands under the Mondelez umbrella, including Oreos, Cadbury Creme Eggs and Fig Newtons.

Finally and from a legal perspective, Mondelez is a strong choice – because as a coined word, it is inherently distinctive, which makes it a very good candidate for successful trade mark registration and protection.

1. Justin Bieber’s Girlfriend
What percentage of young girls in Bieber’s target market dream about being his girlfriend? Exactly. This simple insight – that the best way to sell a product to fans of the planet’s most popular young heartthrob is to help them imagine dating him – makes Girlfriend the best new brand name of 2012.

From an official description describing the fantasy: “Girlfriend is an enticing fragrance made to get your heart racing as you experience that feeling of getting personal with Justin. One spray and you’ll finally experience the exhilaration of holding on and never letting go.”

From the legal perspective, the word Girlfriend on its own is not inherently distinctive, which would bode poorly for trade mark registration. But attached to Bieber’s full name, Girlfriend acquires sufficient distinctiveness to make registration of the mark, and then its successful protection, a high probability.

THE WORST

5. BufferBoxJust acquired by Google for $17-million, Bufferbox is the name attached to the big green lock boxes you may soon see in well-trafficked public locations across North America. The idea is that you don’t have to sit at home anymore waiting for shipments to arrive – online retailers will send your shipments directly to the BufferBox nearest you, for pickup at your convenience.

Unfortunately, BufferBox is not just meaningless in relation to the service or its benefits, but confusing: how exactly is this service a “Buffer”? A disconnect which may foretell the outlook for this concept, when considered alongside the location of the first Bufferbox spotted in downtown Toronto: in the Concord Cityplace condominium development, where everyone has a 24-hour concierge to receive packages.

4. Fiat Abarth
What the heck is an Abarth? It’s a name known in Italy since 1949, lent by Carlos Abarth to the racing car company he founded. But attached to a new brand of tiny and cute Fiat automobiles in North America, it has absolutely no meaning, is difficult to spell and hard to remember. And to the uncharitable, Abarth may evoke the sound of retching more than the sexy European tempestuousness Fiat has brilliantly conveyed in its television advertising.

3. SkyActiv
The name SkyActiv refers to Mazda’s new transmission technology. We understand from the Mazda website that these transmissions are about reducing emissions, but the reference to “Sky” in this name fails to make that connection, and “Activ” only confuses things further.

2. WestJet Encore
What a disappointment – that the highly regarded WestJet would develop an exciting new regional airline offering and then name it “Again.” One can see how Encore might imply that passengers will receive the great service they’ve come to expect from the parent brand, but articulating it as “more of the same” is hardly inspiring, and is a lost opportunity to convey the regional nature of the new product.

To get a sense of the potential foregone, here is a comment from one of our blog readers that contrasts Encore with Chinook, another name that was on WestJet’s shortlist:

“I think WestJet Chinook is a stroke of genius. It has creativity on its side and speaks to the brand identity that WestJet has cultivated: it imparts the warmth and welcome of a Chinook wind. And there is a subtle regional tone: Chinooks only occur in the western provinces.”

1. CanesOral
Believe it or not, this name is for a pill that cures yeast infections. Do we really need to explain why – even though the pill is taken orally – the word “Oral” in this name may not be the best choice? Add to that, Canes can easily be construed as evoking “canine,” or even “dogs,” meaning the latter in Latin.

Andris Pone