The naming process of the Ikea products

Analysis of the names of the early catalogs (1950—1953)

Tzveta Dobreva, Sofia University

CSS Conference 2019, published in July 2020


Introduction - General approach to selecting names at Ikea. Goals and tasks.

Choosing a name is an interesting process. Sometimes it follows strictly defined norms, sometimes it is rather an impulse. Regardless of how it is defined, it is of utmost importance because it influences the further existence and self-determination of an entity: be it a person, an animal, an object, a street, a public institution, etc.

The purpose of this paper is to present the general approach the naming process behind the Ikea products and to analyze the choice of names in the early period of the company's creation - 1950-1953.

In the modern setting of the company such a choice would have seemed even impossible given the diversity of the range available: about ten thousand products per year, with thirty percent of them changing annually. To facilitate this process, there is a system in place that works as well today as it did forty years ago (Hahn, IKEA Museum AB 2017:)1 E-mail from Per Hahn, an archivist from the IKEA Museum, March, 28, 2017.. In the early 1980s the contemporary approach for choosing product names was to produce lists for certain categories.

Each department at Ikea deals with one or more categories depending on its size, for example: sofas and lighting are named with Swedish toponyms, bedroom furniture with Norwegian toponyms, garden furniture with names of islands in Scandinavia, etc.

The above-mentioned thematic grouping is spelled out in the Ikea Naming Convention which, since the late 1970s, regulates the choice of names for different products. This choice is characterized by the following:

Thematic organization of the names

This is how the names of the Ikea product inventory are approximately organized in the current Naming convention and in the information brochures on the company's website. It became implemented a later stage of Ikea’s development and is mainly related to the expansion of its European market, which started in the mid-70s. The incentives are mostly practical and the goal is to avoid time-consuming and costly conflicts with other manufacturers/distributors of goods with identical or close commercial names to those of Ikea products (KML-HK / kim, IKEA Museum AB 1977:). In the documents from the Ikea's archive, dated 1977, 1986 and 1992, this way to give names is initially described as “guidelines” and later identified as a policy guiding the "naming principles and naming process". These principals aim primarily at creating a specific product naming profile for Ikea, so that the user can identify the product with a name from the Ikea’s assortment and prevent conflicts with other manufacturers/ distributors. The initial stage of the organization of names in a strict system and the current practice do not contain any particular differences: the names must be related to Scandinavia, have a Scandinavian sound, be relevant, not abusive in the languages of the countries they operate in. However, in the guidelines (riktlinjer) from 1977, the requirement to choose names possible to be pronounced in Scandinavian languages, German, English, French and Dutch stands out. Such a condition does not exist in the modern policies, where the pronunciation is not an issue. It is typically Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish or Sami, depending on the type of name and is a part of the Ikea brand. Forty years ago the name bank contained mostly two types of words: first names and geographical names. The logical explanation is that they are not subject to patent registration. A similar pattern is observed today with the number of adjectives and nouns steadily increasing. The sequential adherence of a particular product group to a certain type of name in 1977 seemed like this:

The contemporary naming is a lot more detailed because of the growing product inventory, with the explanatory reason being the growing assortment, requiring a higher number and more varied names.

In the 1940s and early 1950s, the furniture only had numbers, but Kamprad decides to change that. His motives were mainly practical. Suffering from dyslexia he himself had difficulty pronouncing numbers. Replacing them with names facilitated the production and sale process. The choice and the validation of the name began on the discussion table when creating a new product. However, it was not in the primary focus of manufacturers and designers. Other factors such as material, workmanship, form and price had priority. There was a working name in the production process, which was usually changed when the product was placed on the market. The official name is endorsed by a special committee (Produktråd) in which the opinion and the recommendations by the product development specialist are at utmost importance.

The name selection process underwent a development. In the late 1950s, one of Ikea's legends, Inga-Brita Bayley, a cousin of Kamprad, returned from the United States and becomes his secretary. He himself said that he had always consulted with Inga-Brita (IKEA Museum AB archive, undated). She began to compile lists of names appropriate for Ikea's products and took on the role of adviser. This model of working with the names was preserved until 1990 when the whole system became digitized and the product development specialist began to search for names in the available digital bank.

Looking through the archive documents with memories by Ikea employees who were closely related to the selection of product names all the way from the company's founding up to the present day, I come to the following conclusions:

To answer the question whether the initial choice of names was random or there were certain patterns, I will examine the first catalogues.

Analysis of the names in the catalogs from the period 1950-1953. Sources and method.

The source for name analysis are the catalogs from the period 1950-1953. The analysis is based on a systematic arrangement of the product names in an alphabetical order in tables. By comparing and then commenting on the similarities and differences in synchrony and diachrony I reach a conclusion and make an argument. Each of the listed catalogs is presented in three columns. The name is given in the first column, in the second is the type of the item that it denotes or the above-mentioned thematic group, and in the third column I place the type of onyms. This arrangement aims to show the variety of names in the given period in terms of number, frequency of use, named item and used onyms: anthroponym, toponym, noun, adjective, etc. The catalogs are presented in table 1 (1950), table 2 (1951), table 3 (1952) and table 4 (1953), respectively. In the course of the analysis, the names will be written in original in Latin characters. In the terminology used, the name and naming are used as synonyms, as well as product and article. The term product name is used to designate the product.

Catalog 1950

In the archives of the Ikea Museum in Älmhult, the first catalog dates back to 1950. It is a brochure distributed by Kamprad under the name Ikea-nytt3 News in Ikea, my translation. as an appendix to the Union of Farmers' magazine, in which, like the local furniture producers in the 1940s, Kamprad announced his first furniture in 1948. The 1950 brochure consists of 16 pages, which promote goods, divided into different sections: home and household (household appliances such as pots, pans, spoons, forks, knives, coffee mugs); jewelry; cosmetics; fashion. Half of the brochure is devoted to the furniture section. Items other than furniture are presented only by a number and a common name: No. 729 knife, №730 potato peeler, №754 electric cooker, etc. This template is retained in the furniture section, but some of the articles, apart from the number and the common name, also receive their own name. As shown in table 1, the total number of names in the 1950 brochure is 21. They are used only once for a particular item: Ideal names a bookshelf, Diplomat also names a bookshelf, Emma names an armchair, Inge also names an armchair except for Exellent4 With this spelling Exellent only in 1950, from 1951 it was written Excellent., Lars, Visthall, which are used for a set of dining room furniture and a set of living room furniture. The type of items that are named are bookshelves, sofas, armchairs, shelves. In this initial stage of presentation of the available products the garden furniture, lighting fixtures (chandeliers, table lamps, wall lamps), tables, sofas, mattresses and desks remain presented only with a number and a description of what they represent. The larger and probably more desirable pieces of furniture receive the following names: Ideal, Diplomat, Emma, Exellent, Inge, Lars, Lyx, Modern, Populär, Servo, Stilwall, Viking, Visthall. As a kind of onyms, anthroponyms are used: the old Scandinavian name Inge and the name Lars, the old German name Emma, as well as common nouns and adjectives mainly of Latin origin: Ideal, Diplomat, Exellent, Lyx. Servo, Stilwall and Visthall stand out as rather peculiar. In the Swedish language, the word servo is used only as a prefix in compound nouns such as servostyrning, servobroms, servosystem. The loanword is from French and has the same use. Its origin is from Latin servus (slave, servant). Stilwall and Visthall do not have meaning in Swedish, so they are defined in the attached table as quasiwords. The possible significance of Stilwall could stem from the English style and wall combination in the sense of a stylish wall to which the Stilwall bookshelf is placed. The name Visthall could have the following interpretations of its meaning: from the word visthus with the meaning of a barn, a warehouse; from the combination of the Swedish verb vistas (to reside) and the noun hall in the sense of a warehouse or from the combination of the Swedish verb visa/visas (to show) and the noun hall (hall, entrance hall) in the sense of an exhibition hall.

In the Ikea-nytt brochure, the choice of names is arbitrary and does not give enough ground to begin talking about a systematic approach. The number of names is insufficient and they do not fall in any way under the above-mentioned thematic groups (see pages 3 and 4). The armchairs are named with anthroponyms, the bookshelves - with regular nouns, contrary to the later rule that sitting furniture is always matched with toponyms, while bookshelves always carry male names.

Catalog 1951

The 1951 catalog is considered to be the first genuine Ikea catalog, consisting of 68 pages. The number of products included is significantly increased since the 1950 catalog, with all 98 names, if we count the repeats. The number of names without repeats is 52.

It is important to mention here that Ingvar Kamprad who kept his personal contact with clients wrote his own catalogs until the early 1960s (Bjarnestam 2009: 29). Only four of the 21 names from 1950 do not repeat the following year. Lars, Lyx, Moderne, Servo. The other Diplomat, Emma, Excellent, Ideal, Inge, Populär, Stilwall, Viking, Visthall are back in use. Populär, which was used to name a bookshelf the previous year is now used to designate an armchair and a sofa bed. From the comparison, it can be said that products which are still being produced and sold are present in the second catalog under the same name.

The variety of names in the 1951 catalog is significantly larger than that in the 1950 brochure, as shown in table 2. One reason for this is the almost quadruple increase in the number of names -- from 13 to 52, which can be explained by both the amount of space available – more pages, as well as the desire to use names in general. One should keep in mind that the initial trend of product numbering remains here as well. The most common items that receive names are armchairs, sofas, auxiliary tables, bookshelves and single shelves. Carpets, for example, still have no names. On page 12 they are mentioned for the first time only with a number and a description related to the way they were made. On page 36 different designs of chairs are presented, which also carry only numbers. Similar are the presentation of the tables and chandeliers on pages 44, 45, 46. The detailed familiarization with the catalog leads to the conclusion that smaller items such as lamps, tables, pictures, clocks, kitchen utensils and silverware are not named.

Of the names used, the majority are anthroponyms: male and female, with a ratio of 9:1 in favor of female names. In 1950, for example, it was 2:1 -- again with a female advantage. The most commonly used female names are Eva, Mary, Rita, Törnrosa, Vera. They are used on average three to four times to designate different items. For example, Rita denotes eight products and is used ten times. The male names used are Erik and Inge. The rest of the names are nouns and adjectives. Master, President, Populär are borrowed from English. The use of toponyms is extremely limited. There are only three of them: Stockholm, Siljan and Sinetta (from the Finnish village of Sinettä). According to its use, the name Lassi could be considered as a toponym and as a noun.

The female names being in the majority is typical for the 40s and 50s. Different factors influence their choice: the name Anita, for example, which dates back to Sweden in 1864 ( 2018-03-03) is one of the most popular names in this period. The choice of name is often influenced by fashion, or the spirit of time (Aldrin 2010: 136 - 153). In the tradition of namegiving, the names of popular personalities are often preferred by parents. The choice of the name Anita in the case of Ikea could be provoked by the popularity of the Swedish actress Anita Eckberg at that time. Worth mentioning is also the use of the literary names Törnrosa (Sleeping Beauty) and Singoalla. Singoalla means "the little gypsy." Viktor Rydberg's novel Singoalla was published in 1857 in the Aurora magazine, and in 1865 it came out as a separate individual publication. In 1940, the Swedish Royal Opera produced the Singoalla opera in four acts with the libretto based on the novel by Rydberg, while the composer Jan Carlstedt created a ballet with the same name. In 1949 the novel became the basis of a feature film. The wide interest in this literary work is the public factor influencing the use of the name during the 1950s in Sweden. Nowadays, however, it does not enjoy much popularity. By statistics, the number of women in Sweden in 2017 with the name Singoalla is only 49; men do not even have it as a second name (, 2018-03-04 ).

The product names used in the 1951 catalog largely repeat the pattern of the previous one, with the difference being that their number is significantly higher. This fact does not change, however, the choice of names. Anthroponyms, nouns and adjectives dominate. The number of toponyms is modest. Table 2 illustrates the focus on the use of female names, some of which have romantic and exotic sound: Törnrosa, Singoalla, Lyxita, Rosita.

Catalogs 1952 and 1953

The number of product names in catalogs 1952 and 1953 is doubled compared to 1951. In 1952, it is 123, and in 1953 - 127 names without their repeats. The catalogs are bulkier, with a wider variety of products. New models appear under new names. A part of the old names continues to be used to refer to the same product in the period 1950-53: Diplomat is again a bookshelf, Emma is again an armchair, Populär also refers to the same design as from 1950 and 1951.

In this sense, we can trace a pattern of naming: the old designs retain their names. As mentioned above, in 1951 items such as sofas and armchairs, for example, bear mostly female or male names: Inga, Erik, etc. In 1952 and 1953 there is a change (see table 3 and table 4). The use of toponyms increased significantly from three in 1951 to twenty-four in 1952 and twenty-nine in 1953. Their number is increased eight, nine times, with about 70% of the 1952 toponyms being repeated in 1953. The names of Swedish settlements and islands prevail: Åseda, Birka, Björkö, Djursholm, Ekenäs, Lidingö. They are the names of sofas, chairs and armchairs. There are also exceptions with the choice of non-Scandinavian toponyms: Oxford – a chair and a cupboard (1952), Cuba - a bed (1952), Rio - a desk (1952). Yet, one cannot claim that the use of toponyms prevails over that of anthroponyms. Most of the sofas retain the male and female names: Lars, Karl-Johan, Linda, although others start to bear geographic names, such as Köpenhamn (Copenhagen), Lidingö, etc. In 1952 and 1953, the number of antroponyms again remains the highest. What is different is that more items, which in the previous catalogs are represented only by numbers, begin to acquire names in these two catalogs: lamps (Aladin, Barock), chandeliers (Drottningholm, Gripsholm, Greta, Onkel), clocks (Delfin, Gustavian), teacarts (Elsa, Greta), plafon (Eva), luminaire??? (Facette), mattress (Lyx), turntable (Opera), carpets (Orient, Skövde, Tilberga, Värmland), mirrors (Snövit, Törnrosa). These names are varied. Their choice is random but not systematic. Some of them are given on the principle of association: Opera to a turntable, Orient to a carpet, Snövit (Snow White) to a mirror. Some of the names are of French, Italian and Latin origin: Facette, Picolo, Opera, Barock, Orient, Rex.

From table 3 and table 4, it appears that in the catalogs of 1952 and 1953 the majority of Ikea products are named. A smaller number of products carry only numbers (page 86, catalog 1952). The pattern of using names from the previous catalogs for the same products (Diplomat, Populär) remains, but there is a tendency for the new names to be of Old-Scandinavian, Greek, Jewish, Italian, Latin origin: Agda, Sara, Balder, Milano, Delfi, Empire, Sempjone (catalog 1953).

Summarizing discussion

The naming process of the Ikea products is conscious and systematic. It undergoes different phases of development. In each of them the goal remains unchanged: that the products have names to make them easily distinguishable and memorized by the customers. Practicality also plays a crucial role since remembering names is much easier than remembering numbers. There are different categories of product names, and the specificity of each one clearly distinguishes the group from the common set of names. The choice is a subject of statutory rules, the non-compliance of which could result in the removal of the product from the market with all its consequences. A team of specialists within IKEA of Sweden AB selects product names from pre-made lists that only became digitized in the early 1990s. The study of the first Ikea catalogs from the period 1950-1953 presents the naming process as largely lacking a systematic approach, with the names for certain products selected randomly. The analysis exhibits the following patterns:

These observations lead to the conclusion that the selection of the Ikea's product names at this initial stage of the company's development is not regulated but based on randomly selected names that are mostly anthroponyms. This does not exclude the presence of a large number of nouns, adjectives and toponyms that are also used. Scandinavian names predominate at this stage, mostly of Swedish, but also Finnish, Norwegian, French, Italian and Latin origin. In this, what I would call “system of randomness”, the most interesting aspects, in my opinion, are the conforming to the fashion trends of the day, as well as naming following the “principle of association”.

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Ikéa-nytt, 1950

Catalog 1951, Catalog 1952, Catalog 1953

*Special thanks to Gergana May, IU Bloomington, for editing my English text, and to Prof. Staffan Nyström, Uppsala University, for his valuable advices.

Table 1

Catalog 1950