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.

Christopher Johnson, aka The Name Inspector, is a branding and naming expert with a PhD in Linguistics. He’s the author of the newly-released book, Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little.

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  • Thomas M. Schmitz

    As soon go kindle fire with snow, as seek to quench the fire of love with words. — William Shakespeare

  • Livethelifestyle

    Entertainment is addicting, consuming and hypnotising.  Have you ever sat in front of a campfire and felt these same things?  Kindle is the device to entertainment as kindling is the device to fire.  Kindle…Fire…done.  Makes perfect sense to me.

  • Tyson Supasatit

    According to Amazon’s TV ad for the device, the name is from a Voltaire quote: “The instruction we find in books is like fire. We fetch it from our neighbours, kindle it at home, communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all.”

  • Guest

    Remember when so-called “experts” were questioning Nintendo’s wisdom of choosing “Wii” as its game console’s name?

    Remember the sophomoric giggles when people compared “iPad” to a sanitary napkin?

    • Anonymous

      Exactly. Wii, iPad, Kinect, etc. All cringe-worthy. Then we got over it.

  • Roy Leban

    Uh, fire is something you can kindle, but it is not the only thing you can kindle. Kindle means light, to set fire to, etc. Not only is there a relationship between the words, “kindle fire” is a meaningful phrase. One can kindle fire. It is not metaphorically incoherent.

    In addition to the Shakespeare quote that Thomas showed Bartlett’s has many. For example:

    Richard Watson Gilder: “You need not kindle the fire / You need not call her at dawn.”
    The bible: “Heap on wood, kindle the fire, consume the flesh, and spice it well, and let the bones be burned.”
    and: “…but I will kindle a fire in the wall of Rabbah…”

  • Peter H.

    I think the article is overly pedantic.

    I’m not in love with the name for a different reason – doesn’t really flow in conversation.  “I’ve got that book on my fire”.  “I watched that on my fire”.  Who knows, probably we’ll get used to it over time.  But at the moment the name doesn’t feel right in conversation.

  • Tim Holman

    While reading a book on Kindle for Mac I saw the word “Kindle” right next to the word “File”.  My take on Amazon’s decision to use the word “Fire” came from a marketeer with a deadline that just so happened to fall on a metophor which became a new product.  The best ideas to a person in marketing happen on accident.

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