Kentucky Derby Violates (Almost) All The Rules of Naming


Horse racing fans were on pins-and-needles watching the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs last Saturday, but brand naming experts were probably rolling their eyes and guffawing every time the announcer called out the contenders’ names. The Derby’s naming protocol violates the most basic rules of name development. As anyone in the branding business will tell you, successful names have to be unique, memorable, pronounceable, simple, easy to spell, evocative, and trademark-able. In other words, just the opposite of Triple Crown thoroughbred names.

In fairness to the racehorse owners, it is not necessarily their fault. The Jockey Club, the body governing horse racing, has an odd set of naming rules, including disallowing almost all of the 450,000 names that have already been used during the Derby’s 142 year history. The rules also forbid using horse-related words like “stallion” or “mare,” and naming a horse after a living person, without that person’s written permission. Names cannot exceed 18 characters, including spaces (hence, the run-on “Suddenlybreakingnews”); can’t be made up entirely of numbers or initials, and can’t use the name of a racetrack or a race. The Club also frowns on owners who try to ride in on another winner’s fame — e.g. “Secretary Riot” in place of Secretariat.

Horse racing’s naming tradition does bring an amusing dimension to the sport, and makes it worth watching if only to hear the announcers rattle off the names of the contenders. The feats of some contenders are forgotten, but the humor of such names as Horsey McHorseface, Thatswhatimtalknbout, Odor in the Court, Riding Miss Daisy, Bodacious Tatas live on.