Naming typefaces: had Book Antiqua been a name as good as Palatino?

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Alexis Luengas Zimmer's picture
Joined: 23 Feb 2011 - 1:30pm
Naming typefaces: had Book Antiqua been a name as good as Palatino?

Naming a typefaces is probably one of the greatest pains that comes with typographic design. As usual, my list of name alternatives grows faster than a rabbit population, and the chance to decide upon one falls into the deep. One is tempted to eeny-meeny-miny-moe... but there's this other mind:

  1. To which extent is the name of a font a catalyst for good sales?
  2. How important are these characteristics in your opinion?: (e.g. Is Palatino a name as good as Book Antiqua?)
  • Semantics.
  • A name that relates to yourself.
  • A ‘good looking’ name.
  • A ‘good sounding’ name.
  • Great number of letters with different characteristics (a show-off name).
  • Length of the name.
  • Single word vs. multiple words.

Note that I just want to know your personal priorities, not which one you think is ‘the most efficient’.

Examples of names you like (whatever the reason) are also appreciated.

Mark Simonson's picture
Joined: 3 Dec 2001 - 11:00am

Well, Palatino was so successful that it inspired numerous copy cat fonts, including Book Antiqua. I don't think Book Antiqua has been marketed per se, so much as served as a stand in for an already popular font to get around licensing issues (presumably). It's all a moot point since a single company now owns the rights to both faces.

That said, the name Palatino has not seemed to stand in the way of its success. Hard to say how much it contributed.

Héctor Muñoz Huerta's picture
Joined: 21 Feb 2003 - 11:00am

If the second letter of your font name is an a it shows first on lists.

Nick Shinn's picture
Joined: 8 Jul 2003 - 11:00am

I always thought that Palatino was a great name, from the first time I came across the typeface in the 1970s.
Immediately, it conveys the patina of classical antiquity (if one knows a little about Ancient Rome), and the capital P is a distinctive feature of the face, its open counter also referring to the style of antiquity.

The allusion to Antiquity is appropriate for a design which follows the principle of the first humanist types, basing letter forms on broad-nibbed scribal styles that are considered to be classical and ancient.

While Renaissance styles of type had been revived since the days of Morris, and designers such as Goudy had produced new designs in the Renaissance idiom, they had referred to the printed tradition. What Zapf did with Palatino was address the process, which is what made it so radical and of its own time. The name, in providing a type-historical critique of the face’s genesis, may even suggest that the design is Post-modern.

Book Antiqua is a phony name, seeking to deny the plagiarism of a clone by asserting that the original is generic.

So yes, semantics!

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am

The name is very important.

It has to have the right feeling, it has to make a designer want to see what the font looks like, and hopefully confirm what the designer thinks it would look like. Choose a name that sounds right (doesn't have to be a positive sound or meaning) and that brings attention to what makes the font special when set in that font.

And what Héctor said.

One of the best-named fonts is Newlyn's "Luvbug". Another really good one is Parkinson's "Azuza" (not least because it's "misspelled" so does not get overwhelmed with search results against the SoCal city). I've helped name other people's fonts (like Sindre's "Satyr"*) and have pages of names ready to go; making as many fonts is another matter. :-/



Alexis Luengas Zimmer's picture
Joined: 23 Feb 2011 - 1:30pm

Next time I'll first choose the name, then make the font :-)

Maxim Zhukov's picture
Joined: 8 May 2005 - 11:18am

Many current font names are either Anglo- or Germanocentric.

A font name better be reasonably short—at the maximum, three syllables—and easy to say. Just think of a string of style names that may follow a family name, like “ultrabold extra compressed oblique”. If the typeface is multilingual its name should be easy to transliterate to other (non-Latin) scripts, and easy to say for the target users. Arno, Bembo, Octava, Pepita are easy; Haettenschweiler, Benguiat Gothic, Cheltenham Handtooled, Agedage Cancelleresca, Berthold Englische Schreibschrift are not.

Martin Silvertant's picture
Joined: 31 Dec 2009 - 11:51pm

Coming up with a name which has some relation to the design of the typeface seems most appropriate but I've never really done that. I guess it's somewhat logical as I rarely have a central design philosophy behind my typefaces. Considering my last name is Silvertant however I do have some options for personal typefaces which refer to my name. I do want to name one typeface after myself.

Generally though I give my typefaces names which to me resemble the design. I'm aware it's very subjective and it might not work for others, but I like how personal the name is. Each word invokes a certain feeling or atmosphere so I do try to match that to the typeface.

I do however make sure it's not hard to market. I won't use names which are very long or very complex, I never use names consisting of more than one word (descriptive names like Sans, Serif, Grotesk etc. not included) and if there is a character in my typeface I feel needs to be shown prominently I try to include it in the name. I also try to show several letters and TRY to avoid a repetition of letters.

I also want my typefaces to be easy to pronounce, but I don't make sure that it will be pronounced in only one way. I tend to use Dutch words sometimes and I'm fine if people pronounce it differently than I do or don't know the meaning of the word.

By the way, I always wondered how you're supposed to pronounce Calibri. Does anyone know? Cálibri or Calíbri? As a Dutch person I use the first pronunciation as it's similar to the Dutch 'kolibrie' (hummingbird). I can imagine most people will use the second pronunciation though. As Lucas de Groot is Dutch I wonder if he had intended a certain pronunciation or he doesn't quite care either.

Do you feel like the pronunciation should be a specific way or don't you care about the pronunciation of your typefaces?

Agedage Cancelleresca... I feel like this one goes too far in terms of pronunciation, either way. 'Agedage' sounds terrible no matter how I pronounce it.

John Savard's picture
Joined: 23 Nov 2009 - 8:42pm

There may be a current imitation of Palatino called Book Antiqua, but, of course, Book Antiqua was a name considered for Palatino before it received its current name. (EDIT: My memory was playing tricks on me. It did have a different original name, but that was "Medici". In addition to Aldus, actually Aldus Buchschrift, there were also two differently-named titling forms of Palatino, [[|Michelangelo]] and [[|Sistina]].)

And, for that matter, the typeface that probably ought to be called Palatino Book is, of course, instead known as Aldus - and it is not as widely used as it deserves to be - and so this typeface provides two studies in the choice of name for a typeface.

John Hudson's picture
Joined: 21 Dec 2002 - 11:00am

By the way, I always wondered how you're supposed to pronounce Calibri. Does anyone know? Cálibri or Calíbri?

I don't know how Luc pronounces it, but at Microsoft it's always pronounced with the stress on the second syllable: Calíbri.