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Swedish by name, Swedish by nature

Updated Monday, 29th January 2018

Dr Fiona Harris explores IKEA branding and product names.

The chances are you may have a Poäng chair, a Billy bookcase, an Ektorp sofa or perhaps a Hövåg mattress, Skubb storage or Faktum kitchen in your home. Part of the charm of IKEA’s ever popular furniture products are their sometimes tongue-twisting (for at least some native English speakers) Swedish brand names. Aside from the contemporary classic designs, IKEA products’ brand names underline their Swedish identity. Visit an IKEA store and you can have your children cared for in the Småland crèche, eat Swedish meatballs in the IKEA restaurant and enjoy Swedish fika (Swedish coffee break). Even the IKEA stores and shopping bags echo the blue and yellow of the Swedish flag.

Billy bookcase and Ektorp sofa Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: IKEA Asset Bank Billy Bookcase and an Ektorp Sofa

Brands were originally “a name, term, sign, symbol or design, combination of them, intended to identify the goods and services or one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of competitors”1. However, they have become much more than just a label or logo. Now they represent “a shared desirable and exclusive idea embodied in products, services, places and/or experiences”2. IKEA’s idea is in combining stylishness with affordability, manifest by the marketing message of “making home a better place”3.

Brand names are typically one of five types: coined (made up names e.g. AXA insurance company); arbitrary (real but unrelated words e.g. Caterpillar, the construction and equipment manufacturer); suggestive (evocative words that have implied benefits e.g. Pampers nappies; descriptive (words that describe the product or service more directly e.g. John’s Chicken House); or generic (if the name is a synonym of the product category)4. In the latter case, generic names such as ‘cellophane’, cannot by protected by trademarking5.

IKEA itself is named after Ingvar Kamprad (IKEA’s founder), Elmtaryd (the farm on which he grew up) and Agunnaryd (the village near to his family’s farm)6. Ingvar originally started giving names to IKEA products because he found their order numbers difficult to remember7. IKEA products’ brand names appear to be of the arbitrary variety, although there is reportedly a catalogue of available brand names for IKEA products and a system, with for example male names used for bookcases and place names used for tables, storage and sofas8. However, IKEA’s collaboration with the designer Tom Dixon to create a bed-sofa, which can be personalised by customers, is called Delaktig – meaning ‘involved’. Yet for many of IKEA’s non-Swedish speaking customers, the IKEA product brand names might as well be arbitrary and occasionally prove amusing – a Fniss waste bin anyone? (Incidentally, fniss actually translates as ‘giggle’). Småland, IKEA’s crèche, is the name of the Swedish province where IKEA’s founder was born, but is perhaps also a fortuitous phonetic play on words for IKEA’s UK stores.

delaktig sofa bed Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: IKEA Asset Bank Delaktig bed-sofa

However, multinational companies have to be particularly careful in their choice of brand names and usually conduct or commission research to ensure that a brand name infers the desired connotation and does not mean something inappropriate in some other language. Unwisely chosen brand names quickly become the butt of jokes and the stuff of legend. Other considerations are the ability to trademark a brand name and, in more recent times, to be able to register it as a top level Internet domain name.

The five types of brand names are not mutually exclusive and may be used in combination. Meaningful brand names, which combine descriptive and suggestive brand naming approaches, are easier to remember and are preferred over non-meaningful types of brand names (coined and arbitrary)9. Brand names that communicate meaning through words, symbolism or phonetic associations are sometimes referred to as using the ‘Joyce Principle’ (after the writer James Joyce) as opposed to non-meaningful brand names with no pre-existing associated meaning, which has been dubbed the ‘Juliet Principle’ after a line in Shakespeare’s play ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (‘that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet’)10.

Brand names also need to allow a brand space to grow. While descriptive brand names make the nature of what is being offered clear, choosing a very constrained descriptive brand name can make expanding into offering other types of products or services more difficult. One way around potentially constraining names is to use their initials, removing the meaning-limiting words from view. Examples include HSBC (the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation) which for many years marketed itself as ‘the world’s local bank’ (albeit eventually finding that particular positioning too much of a stretch)11 and UPS (United Parcel Service of America) which, although its parcel service is still a core part of its business, has become ‘a global company and a leading global provider of specialized transportation and logistics services’12.

While brand names often accrue value through the investments made in them over time and the resulting goodwill towards them built up among their consumers, sometimes a change of name becomes necessary if the brand becomes irrevocably damaged by some form of scandal. Stories of such scandals tend to linger online, so we will move on. Other brands however, have lived on beyond their original businesses, with the rights to their brand names being bought for huge sums. One such well-regarded name is the Mini brand, which was the only part of the Rover Group retained when the business was purchased by BMW13. As Shakespeare’s character Othello declared: “Good name in man and woman, … Is the immediate jewel of their souls …  But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him And makes me poor indeed”14. The same might be said of brand names.


1 American Marketing Association (1960) Marketing Definitions: A Glossary of Marketing Terms, Chicago: American Marketing Association.

2 Kapferer, J.N. (2012) The New Strategic Brand Management. Advanced Insights & Strategic Thinking, 5th edn, London: Kogan Page, p. 11.

3 IKEA (2017) About the IKEA Group. Available at: (Accessed: 21 November 2017).

4 Kohli, C.S., Harich, K.R. and Leuthesser, L. (2005) ‘Creating brand identity: a study of evaluation of new brand names’, Journal of Business Research, 58: 1506-1515.

5 Melton, C.A. (1979) ‘Generic term or trademark? Confusing legal standards and inadequate protection’, American University Law Review, 29: 109-133.

6 IKEA (2016) IKEA history – how it all began. Available at: (Accessed: 19 December 2017).

7 Torekull, B. (2011) The IKEA Story. Ingvar Kamprad talks to Bertil Torekull. Älmhult: IKEA of Sweden.

8 Stenebo, J. (2016) IKEA. How to create a global brand and secretly become the world’s richest man. Gibson Square.

9 Kohli, S.C. and Suri, R. (2000) ‘Brand names that work: a study of the effectiveness of different types of brand names. Marketing Management Journal, 10(2): 112-120.

10 Collins, 1977, cited in Kohli, C.S., Harich, K.R. and Leuthesser, L. (2005) ‘Creating brand identity: a study of evaluation of new brand names’, Journal of Business Research, 58: 1506-1515.

11 Gibbs, A. (2016) Why HSBC chose to move on from being ‘the world’s local bank’, CNBC [Online]. 17 August 2016. Available at: (Accessed: 4 December 2017).

12 UPS (2017) About UPS. Available at: (Accessed: 4 December 2017).

13 Building Cars Live (2015) BBC 2, Episode 1, 20 October 2015.

14 The Arden Shakespeare (1997) Othello, by William Shakespear, Edited by E.A. Honigmann. Third edition. London: Thomson Learning, p. 218.






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