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Finding A Great Name For Your Perfume

Step # 2 in a series of 5 articles

In the first article in this five part series I suggested that your fragrance itself is the most important element in making sales successfully. Not all would agree for, in the big, commercial world of perfume, a "perfume brief" precedes the development of the fragrance and, while the perfume brief may not finalize the naming, it certainly points to the final name.

For the major perfume marketers, the market itself is the first consideration. A perfume is developed to exploit a particular market. The marketing company writes up its brief which suggests, at least in some vague way, what the fragrance should smell like.

The major perfume marketer, now armed with the brief for the new fragrance, approaches an outside fragrance company such as Quest, Givaudan or IFF and highly skilled professional perfumers go to work to develop a perfume based on the verbalizations and visual images provided by the brief.

But the "home" or independent perfumer generally does not work this way. The home perfumer starts with a series of experiments and develops a fragrance that he or she — and hopefully some friends and neighbors — like!

Thus, unlike the professionally crafted perfume that emerges from a corporate perfume brief, the home perfume's perfume can be born without a clue as to what it should smell like or who if anyone might buy it.

The weird world of perfume naming

Let's look a bit at the names of famous (best selling!) perfumes to see if we can learn any smart tricks. Pierre Balmain names his first perfume "Elysees 64-83." Was this something out of Greek mythology? No. It was simply his phone number in Paris.

L.T. Piver sold "Trefle Incarnate." The name of the perfume was simply the name of the species of clover that it was supposed to smell like. Likewise, Francois Coty's "La Rose Jacqueminot" represented the fragrance of this particular species of rose.

Gabrielle Chanel names her first perfume "No. 5." Lucien Lelong named his first perfumes "A," "B," "C," and "N." At least "N" stood for his wife's first initial.

How would the marketing people at any advertising agency react to these names? Badly, no doubt. We do know for at fact that her marketing people urged Elizabeth Arden not to name a fragrance "Blue Grass." She ignored their advice and "Blue Grass" was a huge success.

So names aren't everything. But, if the choice is between an out-and-out poor name and a brilliantly good name, I would certainly put my money behind the good name. In spite of the success of so many perfumes with lackluster names, I think most people — particularly people with a lot of marketing experience — would agree that a good name can boost product sales dramatically.

Some good names from successful perfumes

Estee Lauder made her business breakthrough with her bath oil/perfume, "Youth Dew." Today, more than 50 years later, the company is still trying to milk "Youth Dew." The name had been that good!

When Caron named a fragrance "Tabac Blond," it captures the spirit of an age when women were being "liberated" and finally free to smoke tobacco in public.

When, at the height of the Great Depression, Jean Patou introduced "Joy," he was giving hope to clients would were experiencing financial complications and needed a little joy in their lives!

Guerlain's "Shalimar" captured the Oriental spirit that had swept France and "Vol de Nuit" captured the spirit of the opening of the age of air travel and the literary world of Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

To jump ahead, Calvin Klein was a master of fragrance naming with "Eternity" for romance and "CK One" for the rebellious unisex generation.

So what are the rules for coming up with a great perfume name?

Over the last 30 years I have named many product. After a product has sold a certain amount of goods, I can safely tell myself that the name I chose was, at least, acceptable to the consumer. Sometimes when sales are better than expected, I've been able to conclude that the name was actually a good one.

A name appears on the product, in this case a perfume. So I have to ask myself, "How will the consumer feel about the name I have given my perfume?" Will the name give the consumer a good feeling toward the product? Will the name strike the consumer as bland? Or, as can happen, will the name actually repel the consumer or discourage sales in some way?

Two elements of a name

The first element of a perfume name is how the consumer will feel about the name. Will the consumer feel good to possess a fragrance with that particular name? How good will the consumer feel about possessing a fragrance with that particular name? The higher on the scale of "good feelings," the stronger the bond that will be created between the perfumer and the consumer and the more likely the consumer will be to buy.

The second element involves the bond between the fragrance itself and the name you give it. Piver's "Trefle Incarnate" smells like the trefle incarnate clover. Coty's "La Rose Jacqueminot" smells like the rose in question.

When the buyer tries the fragrance, will he or she say, "Oh yes, the name says it all!" Or will they find it difficult to make any mental link between the name and the fragrance?

For example, my wife is usually my first "test" for a new perfume. I might bottle it and give it a name that will be pleasing to her. This is exactly what happened in the case of our "Summer Air" perfume which started out as "To Janice For Christmas."

Once I decided that I wanted to produce this fragrance on a large scale and sell it, the name presented two problems. First, by using the name "Janice," the perfume might make a strong bond with all those women named "Janice". But there are a lot of women I would like to sell to who are not named "Janice. In fact, I would guess that there are very few "Janices" in China, India, South America and the Middle East. Since I don't want to exclude these women from wanting my perfume, the name "Janice" had to go. (If my wife was a big celebrity, the situation would be quite different!)

The second problem with the name is that it relates to Christmas, a Christian holiday that comes only once a year in a particular season. For non-Christians (most of the world!) the name might be expected to give a negative impression in spite of a world-wide secular trend which accepts Christmas simply as a festive holiday. Caron, for example, marketed Nuit de Noel. But the market they were shooting for, at the time, was predominately Christian, even if the perfumer himself was not.

Also, as mentioned, Christmas is seasonal. Why be trying to sell a Christmas item from January through October?

So the name "To Janice For Christmas" started to evolve. Experimental artwork was produced and a "star" shape emerged. So a "star" name was considered.

But the "star" name didn't link with the fragrance itself. (It didn't smell like a star!) The fragrance had been inspired by a particular section of a particular garden in August, not a star. Finally that mental link was made the the fragrance became "Summer Air." Now all we had to do was change the colors of the artwork from cold "star" colors to bright "summer" colors!

Names To Avoid

Over the last few years I have been presented with a number of names for a new fragrance by home perfumers and would-be perfume marketers. At times I cringe when I hear a particular suggestion. I try to be positive but honest in my evaluation but I have some suggestions for names to avoid.

Names that, all by themselves, are expected to sell a perfume

The most outstanding error in name is to think that a name alone can sell a perfume. Some of my knowledge here is confidential but it boils down to this: "I have a name for a perfume. Do you think my perfume will sell?"

That's it. A name alone. No perfume. No marketing plan (or marketing experience!). No financial backing.

I have to point out to this person that they don't have a perfume, they only have a name. And to turn the name into a successful perfume is going to take a lot more money than they have to spend and only equally ignorant partners would be willing to invest with them.

Names That Are Very Personal

If you are a known personality, you can sometimes get away with a name that is very personal to you — the name of your dead departed; the name of a family pet. If you are Gabrielle Chanel, you can name your fragrance "No. 5" (your lucky number?). If you are Estee Lauder, you can name you men's cologne "J.H.L" for your husband. If you are Charles Revson (Revlon), you can name your perfume "Charlie," for yourself. But it is because you are Gabrielle Chanel or Estee Lauder or Revlon that people are buying the product, not because of the name.

If you are not a known personality — a person with a personal following — stay away from names that have meaning only for you. They won't necessarily kill your perfume sales but they won't help sales either. It's better to work to find a name than will help sales.

Names that are very trendy

Ironically, some celebrity perfumes fall into this category. He or she who is a celebrity today may be a great unknown tomorrow. If you don't believe me, see the movie "Sunset Boulevard".

Events out of today's newspaper are largely forgotten tomorrow.

If you want to introduce a perfume to "capture the moment" of a particular event, don't plan to market it to an audience who is unaware or indifferent to that event. An example of this would be my "To Janice For Christmas" fragrance. Exactly one, 2-ounce bottle with this name was produced.


The name of your fragrance is important and can be a positive factor in making sales. Thus it is worth spending some time developing a name for your fragrance.

A good name links to the fragrance itself. The consumer can associate the fragrance with the name. If the fragrance "matches" the name, a stronger bond is created between the consumer and your perfume.

A name that is universal rather than tired to a time and place (unless it is a fantasy time and place!) tends to give you more years in which you can make sales.


My book, How To Create A More Valuable Name For Your Perfume, can be found at Amazon

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Philip Goutell
Lightyears, Inc.