Originally published Sep 29, 2011
At first glance, Kindle Fire seems like a pretty good name. It uses a thematically coherent naming strategy, similar to the one that Apple used when it named the Macintosh, presumably inspired by the apple variety McIntosh. What’s more, the word fire, like the word apple, is simple and familiar, and has lots of metaphorical significance and emotional oomph.
But the name Kindle Fire doesn’t work the way the name Apple Macintosh did. The name Macintosh applied part of the taxonomy of apples, in a witty analogy, to the world of Apple products: just as a McIntosh is a type of apple, a Macintosh was a type of Apple. The name Kindle Fire is different. While the words are thematically related, there isn’t a taxonomic relation between them.
The relation that does exist between the words kindle and fire makes the name Kindle Fire unsatisfying.
First, it’s redundant. The concept of fire is implicit in the concept of kindling. The word fire, being so generic, doesn’t add any information.
Second, Kindle Fire is metaphorically incoherent. The metaphor behind the name Kindle suggests that the device is something that kindles, or starts, fire. The fire itself could be the flame of knowledge, or burning curiosity, or something else interesting like that. Successful branding of the device could reflect those interpretations and the broader emotional and cultural significance of fire.
But giving a Kindle device the name Fire short-circuits the coherent and appropriate metaphorical interpretations, forcing us to apply the word fire to the device itself, and that doesn’t make sense. It can’t kindle and be fire at the same time.
For those reasons, the name Kindle Fire doesn’t burn as brightly as it should.