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information What Makes A Word Beautiful? Should It Matter To Domain Investors?

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Is it possible that recent branding trends have resulted in overlooking beautiful words? Is there an advantage to having a beautiful name? What does beautiful even mean in the context of words?

What Do We Mean By A Beautiful Word?

The primary purpose of words is utilitarian, to describe something or some action or feeling, rather than to be beautiful. Nevertheless, some words are more attractive or beautiful.

A word can be beautiful because:
  1. the sound when pronounced is aesthetically pleasing (e.g. plethora), or
  2. how the word looks when printed, or
  3. the emotions or associations the word evokes (e.g. home), or
  4. the power or beauty of the ideas expressed by the word (e.g. justice).
More than one of those aspects are interwoven in overall beauty of the word. This article will deal mainly with the first aspect, however.

Beauty of words is subjective, and we won’t all agree on which words are beautiful or ugly.

Enter Phonaesthetics

There is a field of study for the inherent beauty and pleasantness in both words and phrases. It is called phonaesthetics.

The field is not yet as well defined as many scholarly pursuits, and is somewhere on the intersection between psychology, linguistics, phonetics, and poetics. Phonetics itself is a branch of linguistics.

It is possible that the term phonaesthetics was first used in this sense by J. R. R. Tolkien in a lecture around the middle of the twentieth century.

Academic linguist Dr. David Crystal has researched and written extensively on rphonaesthetics, including a 1995 paper Phonaesthetically Speaking. That work explores lists, created by through polling and author input, of words generally considered beautiful sounding, seeking common patterns. More on that later.

I will save you a trip to dotDBphonaesthetics is only registered in three TLDs as I write this: .com, .org and .de. The number was two prior to my research. The .de is developed and goes to a Vienna Phonaesthetic Research Group, where you can be a participant in their research from Dr. Susanne Reiterer’s team.

Lists of Beautiful Words

There are a number of lists of beautiful words. Keep in mind that beauty is subjective, and that these lists do not take into account other aspects of a strong name, like lack of confusion, ease of spelling, or memorability. Nevertheless, it is probably worthwhile for domain investors to at least consider words that others have found beautiful. Here are some lists to get you started:
Retired academic and linguist Dr. Robert Baird wrote an entire book The 100 Most Beautiful Words in the English Language. It is available on Amazon in electronic or paperback formats, including with their Kindle Unlimited subscription. The book can also be purchased from the author’s website at AlphaDictionary.com. He is also known as Dr. Goodword.

Of course, there are beautiful words in languages other than English, and many believe that the most beautiful words are in French, Italian or Spanish. Here in a list of beautiful French words. A few from the list are amour, chérie, esprit, mélanger, mignon, and vivant.

Latin is the basis for words in a number of languages, and if looking for a list of beautiful Latin words, this will get you started.

What Makes A Word Sound Beautiful?

While the lists of beautiful words noted earlier are far from in agreement on which words are most beautiful, there are a number of words repeated across multiple lists. For example, lyrical, melody, galactic, nomadic, and aurora all appear more than once.

Say the above words out loud and what do you observe? They all have three syllables, and almost all have emphasis on the first syllable. While other beautiful words from the lists, such as nimble, ripple, tranquility, epiphany, serendipity and scenic don’t have three syllables, many do.

Dr. David Crystal, in a paper Phonaesthetically Speaking published in English Today in 1995, summarized his research on the aspects that tend to lead to words considered beautiful. The full text of the paper is available on his website.

The results are summarized in the table A Matrix of Criteria found in the article. Many beautiful words have 3 syllables. Of the 114 words he studied, only 25 were single-syllable. He also looked at which consonants and vowel sounds tended to be preferred.

After a caveat that the sample size was small, Dr. Crystal helpfully summarized the main results of his research on the aspects many beautiful words share.
It is possible to see how we can create phonaesthetically pleasing new words. It would seem advisable to give them three syllables, to stress the first syllable, to use at least one m or I (preferably both), to introduce high-frequency consonants and avoid low-frequency ones, to have at least three different manners of consonantal articulation, to keep the vowels short, and to have the vowels move from mid towards high, and from front towards back (in terms of where the sound is formed in the mouth).
Words such as melody or radiant match almost all of the optimum characteristics.

Not Just Dictionary Words

While David Crystal applied his research to dictionary words, there is no reason to believe that the principles that he enunciated would not also apply in the creation of new brandable terms.

As Sten, @trelgor, reminded us in the interview Challenging Persistent Domain Name Views, the whole purpose of a name is to be distinctive. In a list of over 1200 unicorn company names, almost none were words that matched the company product or service.
We use and coin names to point to a specific source. That is the function of a name. The more broadly descriptive of the source, the more the inherent function of ‘name’ will evaporate, in that it no longer represents the specific instance, but instead something general.

Brandable domain name marketplaces like BrandBucket, SquadHelp and BrandPa are mainly populated with distinctive created names. Surely some of these are more beautiful than others. Do prospective buyers care?

Do Businesses Like Beautiful Names?

This is far from a definitive investigation, but I decided to look at a list of words considered beautiful, from one or more of the lists, and see if the terms tended to be used in business, or organization, names. I also looked at how widely registered they were, as another sign of desirability for business use, or investor interest, or both.

My list is biased by my own views about beauty, but the following table shows names on one of the other lists that I agreed were beautiful. The table I created below gives the number of active listings in OpenCorporates for the name, along with the number of TLDs in the exact term and related using dotDB. I also looked at how many times the exact term has a sale listed on NameBio.

word
aOCs
TLDs
Exact Sales
aurora
21,843​
441​
7​
ethereal
1,288​
233​
0​
felicity
1,043​
136​
0​
galactic
1,648​
252​
3​
lyrical
436​
84​
1​
melody
4,881​
234​
2​
mystical
1,166​
103​
1​
nemesis
1,092​
210​
2​
nimble
1,264​
248​
2​
panacea
1,619​
236​
1​
plethora
274​
83​
1​
radiant
6,917​
309​
4​
rhythmic
384​
58​
0​
ripple
2,381​
355​
4​
scenic
4,987​
119​
2​
scintilla
207​
81​
1​
serendipity
3,526​
282​
3​
silhouette
1,378​
131​
1​
talisman
1,319​
196​
2​
tranquility
2,802​
114​
3​

Aurora was the most used word from my list. It is a beautiful word associated with an impressive natural phenomena, and not surprising that it is used by so many business and organizations. Radiant, melody, scenic and serendipity from the list also have noteworthy use numbers. At least the first three of these are easy to spell and pronounce, and well suited to brand use. Radiant and melody in particular bring strong positive connotations, and as we saw earlier earn high marks in the structure of a beautiful word.

In terms of registered extensions, aurora leads, although ripple and radiant are not far behind. Only lyrical, rhythmic and plethora have fewer than 100 TLDs, and even they have more than 50 registered extensions. Many of the words I included in my list are adjectives or adverbs, while nouns, or verbs, generally are preferred as brands.

I also looked at the value of the highest exact match sale, but since most of them were probably wholesale transactions, I decided to exclude that from the table. Only one name sold in low six-figures plethora.com, and it is currently listed for sale again. There were a few five-figure sales, melody.net and radiant.org, both of which are in use. There were a number of four-figure sales, the highest being scenic.eu and talisman.xyz. Readers can consult NameBio to get the details of each sale.

I also checked out the use of each word in the .com, .io, .org, and .xyz extensions, and in some cases checked the .net as well:
  • .com: 7 of the names were developed, and 3 others used in redirection, while 7 were for sale, 3 parked and 2 not in use.
  • .io: 4 of the names were developed, and 2 others used in redirection, while 6 were for sale, 2 parked and 6 not in use.
  • .org: 4 of the names were developed, and 4 others used in redirection, while 8 were for sale, 1 parked and 3 not in use.
  • .xyz: 2 of the names were developed, including the sold name, and 16 were for sale, with 2 not in use.
Among the interesting redirections, felicity.com redirects to the main Disney site. A Grand Canyon flights service uses scenic.com. Ripple is used in both .com and .org by the well known company. Talisman.com is used by a small farm in Colorado with interests in cider production – the website is limited, but they say the name is not for sale.

Beauty Matters More In Some Sectors

I don’t have firm evidence for this, but it would seem logical that a beautiful name matters more in certain sectors and niches. Possibly fine furnishings, fashion, cosmetics, luxury travel, jewelry, and some niches within art and design, might benefit most from a name that sounds beautiful.

It is also probable that the importance of the beauty in a name depends at least to some degree on gender, age, and society.

Final Remarks

The article in Readability on What Make a Word Beautiful or Ugly? covers associations and meanings, as well as the linguistics of the word. It also mentions the case of cellar door, not a term I find particularly beautiful personally, but J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and a host of other writers have commented on the beauty of the term.

Scholars have been talking about beautiful words for a long time. Almost 100 years ago, Sean O’Faolain wrote in VQR on The Cruelty and Beauty of Words. It is a long and philosophical piece, but a worthwhile read.

ThoughtCo published a wide-ranging article entitled Phoaesthetics (Word Sounds) by Richard Nordquistin 2019. Read it to learn many things, including some discussion of beautiful names and brands, and even a Monty Python connection.

Flowers have particular beauty, and the NamePros Blog covered Beautiful Brands With Flowers.

I urge NamePros members to add in their discussion below their own comments.
  1. Do you consider beauty when deciding on an acquisition?
  2. Have you sold a name that you think the buyer liked because it was beautiful?
  3. Do you think beauty should be one aspect in ‘rating’ domain names?
  4. What sectors do you think seek beautiful names?
  5. What major brand do you think has the most beautiful name?
  6. Do you think the emphasis on names with search volume, generic terms, short names with few syllables, etc. has worked against beauty in naming?
If my Google search “beautiful” site:NamePros.co results are to be be believed, the term beautiful has appeared 603 times on NamePros, not as many as I might have expected.

Many occurrences of beautiful on NamePros were related to names listed for sale, but new NamePros member @adofolily wrote a particularly nice introductory post this summer, and that came up first in the Google search. I thought it was a nice way to end this article:
Hello beautiful people. I'm new here and I'm glad to be here.


Shoutout to Sten, @trelgor, who helped spark my interest in researching what structures lead to beautiful words. Also to @Kate Buckley, an accomplished poet and domain broker – she knows words. As almost every week, thanks to both NameBio and OpenCorporates for data used in the analysis portion of the article. My thanks to the various researchers and writers on the topic of beautiful words that are cited in the article. Special mention of David Crystal who carried out the research on what aspects make a word beautiful.
 
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The views expressed on this page by users and staff are their own, not those of NamePros.
Your articles are really interesting I love it makes me think.

sorry if I make mistakes in writing I do not speak English well
 
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  • What major brand do you think has the most beautiful name?
- FireFox, Tiktok, Twitter, AirAsia, Indigo Airlines, SpiceJet
  • What sectors do you think seek beautiful names?
- Airlines,
 
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Thank you Bob, always appreciate the time you put into researching all those topics.
 
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Sounding great is probably not much of a factor in SEO/keyword domains but it is essential in brandables. From answering the phone to cold calling to radio ads and viral videos, it can be the sound of success -- or failure.

I agree that luxury items like fashion, travel, etc. can benefit from sleek sounds.

My most melodious domain is Abatam/com; it just makes me happy to see it listed in my portfolio. (Feel free to buy it though; I'd be even happier to see it in use.)
 
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Didn't know "phonaesthetics" was a thing! Thanks @Bob Hawkes for this!

BTW, a quick Google search tells me it's called "phonesthetics" (without the 'a') in the U.S. and .com of this U.S. version is still available! Just saying in case anyone is interested :giggle:
 
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I always liked the word "Whippoorwill".
 
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Learn something new every time I read one of your posts Bob, thanks!

Didn't know "Phonaesthetics" was a thing, now I do!
 
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