Give your friends Crop for the holidays

Originally published Dec 11, 2008

While perusing the New York Times magazine last weekend, The Name Inspector saw a big ad for a new organic vodka called Crop. It’s clear what they were going for with this name. It connects the product to its agricultural origins. It makes the vodka seem like something natural and fresh and wholesome–like food!

Let’s try the name out in some natural-sounding contexts. You might walk into a bar and say I’ll take a Crop! Or, you might order martinis* with a friend, and your friend might turn to you and say What kind of vodka do you think they used? And you might say I don’t know, but it tastes like Crop to me! Then you ask the bartender, who says I mix a strong drink–that’s almost pure Crop! Then she gives you a plate of those little cheese puffs and says These taste great washed down with a mouthful of Crop.

Hmm. The name Crop just doesn’t sound that appealing, does it? The Name Inspector realizes it’s kind of childish to say this–he’s embarrassed to bring it up, really–but this name looks and sounds like crap.

The problem stems from a phonetic resemblance, but goes beyond that. Since the name Crop is used to refer to the vodka, it winds up in the same kinds of contexts in which the word vodka gets used. The word vodka is a mass noun–one that refers to a substance that gets measured rather than objects that get counted–so it occurs in contexts like this tastes like ____ and a mouthful of ____. Like vodka, the word crap is a mass noun, at least when it refers to a substance. The word crop, on the other hand, is a count noun. We say things like They export three crops and We got a good crop this year. So the phrasal contexts in which the name Crop is used are much more similar to those of crap than those of the word crop. That pushes us toward the less appealing interpretation. The name Crop can be used in certain count-like contexts, like We’ll take three Crops, but in a bar- or restaurant-ordering situation, any mass noun can be used that way: three watersthree soups, etc.

Setting aside the main problem, the word crop is only marginally appealing. You can have a good crop, or course, and that’s great. But this clipped, no-nonsense word has none of the romance of, say, harvestCrop evokes the industrial more than the bucolic.

Crop also has other meanings. You can crop a photo, and that’s okay but pretty irrelevant. Then there’s the riding crop, which vaguely calls to mind WASPy horse culture (which is related to cocktails, of course) and sexualized discipline, but is also mostly irrelevant.

So The Name Inspector has to give this name a thumbs-down. Please don’t give him a lot of Crop.

* UPDATE 1/8/2009 The Name Inspector knows that a real martini is made with gin.

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