The Writer’s Toolbox – A Company Affair, Part I

What’s in a name?

No, It’s not a rhetorical question?and it touches on something vital that writers need to remember when talking about companies, brands, and organizations.

Corporate logos, business names, products, and brand taglines may look or sound simple, but they often have a complex history. In fact, frequently they represent huge investments of time, energy, and brainpower and are considered every bit as important to a company as, say, its bank account or main manufacturing plant. That’s why It’s so important to get it right when using these names in your writing.

A rose by any other name…

When referring to a company or a company-owned product name or brand in your writing, you no longer?in most settings?need to include the ® or ? symbols to show ownership. But as a general rule, you should use the spelling and punctuation of the original?even if there are small spelling or punctuation eccentricities.

don’t add anything, either (like italics or quotation marks), unless the original and/or the treatment in the text specifically require that.

Example A: I read mental_floss on my iPad. Here, iPad does indeed have an internal capital, and mental_floss is lowercased and has the underscore in between the two words, just like the original. Note that mental_floss is italicized here only because It’s a magazine name.

Example B: I’m heading over to the 7-Eleven. Here, you do mix the numeral and the written-out number, because That’s how the company does it?style guides be damned.

Note that I referred to a general rule. Most professional editors agree that you don’t need to go too far in reproducing unusual or difficult symbols, like the backward R in Toys”R”Us. In fact, TRU’s own website indicates that Toys”R”Us is itself a registered name, and the company uses it in their own marketing copy.

There’s another consideration. As this Economist article points out, some company names, like those which involve an exclamation point (e.g., Yahoo!), are created to “arrest the eye”?and some journalists prefer to keep their writing free of what could be seen as corporate preferentialism.

There’s no easy answer on this other than to be consistent. If You’re dropping exclamation points, do it across the board?and leave in the internal capitals if taking them out will be distracting (and it usually will be). And if a company specifically requests that writers refer to their name or product in a certain way, follow that if you can.

Where to look

The easiest source is the owner of the company name, logo, or trademark. Check out their corporate headquarters website, particularly the pages detailing the company’s history (you might even find that the name has changed over time, which is helpful if You’re writing about a non-current time period). They may also have media kits readily available, and you can always call corporate headquarters in a pinch.

And never assume; don’t cut corners. The consumer web page or even the logo may be spelled differently than the company’s preferred name or usage for text references. Walmart’s signs may be visible across the country as Wal-Mart, but corporate communications indicate that in writing the corporation is to be referred to as Walmart.

In the coming weeks we’ll cover some of the more difficult questions of use: what happens when you need to make brand or company names into plural or possessive form, how to start sentences with lowercased brand names, what to do about genericized brand names (like Kleenex vs. tissue), and when and how you can abbreviate names. we’ll even touch on using trademarked names in fiction (and when you should just make up an equivalent brand instead).

Christina M. Frey is a book editor, literary coach, and lover of great writing. For more tips and techniques for your toolbox, follow her on Twitter (@turntopage2) or visit her blog.