Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Mystery Behind IKEA Product Names

Swedish furniture retailer, IKEA, is often known for its affordable and Scandinavian-inspired products, do-it-yourself assembly and large showroom stores. But, perhaps almost as well known, are their product’s distinctive names. A simple google search brings up numerous articles on the topic, a game dedicated to matching IKEA’s product names with the item type, even an interactive product name generator application. What might seem to be a mishmash of unfamiliar words and characters to the average shopper is actually much more. With product names ranging from “Billy” to “Snitta” and everywhere between, IKEA actually employs a complex Scandinavian naming system to the over 10,000 products they sell.

For instance, in my home there is an Aneboda, Bjursta, Malm, Aläng and Mongstad, or in other words, three locations in Sweden and two in Norway. So how do a dresser, dining table, bed frame, lamp and wall mirror turn into place names? Here are just a few of the Scandinavian naming rules that apply to IKEA’s many products:

• Beds, wardrobes, and hall furniture: Norwegian place names
(e.g. Elgå - “Location in Norway” - wardrobe)

• Children’s items: mammals, birds, and adjectives (e.g. Mammut - “Mammoth” - wardrobe)

• Bathroom articles: Scandinavian lakes, rivers and bays
(e.g. Boasjö - “Swedish lake name”- 5 piece bathroom sink set)

• Chairs, desks: men’s names (e.g. Gustav - workstation desk)

• Textiles, curtains: women’s names (e.g. Felicia - throw blanket)

• Upholstered furniture, coffee tables, bookshelves, media storage: Swedish place names (e.g. Ektorp - “Location in Sweden” - upholstered sofa)

• Kitchen utensils: foreign words, spices, herbs, fish, mushrooms, fruits or berries, functional descriptions (e.g. Snitta - “To cut”- knife set)

• Carpets and rugs: Danish place names (e.g. Gåser - “Location in Denmark” - floor rug)

Now you are probably asking yourself, “where did the idea for these IKEA names come from?” Ingvar Kamprad, IKEA’s founder, created the naming system in the hope that naming the products with words and proper names rather than numbers would be easier for the shopper to remember. It was also helpful for Kamprad, as he is dyslexic.

While IKEA’s unique naming system is certainly one of the most well known, it is hardly the beginning of the trend toward retail product naming. Furniture Chairman at the Savannah College of Art and Design, Antonio Larosa, pre-dates the idea much farther, saying, “Throughout history, furniture pieces were given the name of a monarch, such as Queen Anne or Louis XIV, to gain favor and influence.” Giving proper names to retail items creates a visceral connection and many retailers have taken cues from these early ideas in an effort to lure shoppers.

No matter the reason behind IKEA’s product naming procedure, one thing is certain, knowing the nomenclature makes a trip to IKEA all the more interesting, and perhaps even informative.

Itching for some additional examples of IKEA items with a Norwegian moniker? Here are a few to get you started…
Trondheim: Collection of bedroom furniture
Tromsö: Collection of loft and bunk style beds
Stolmen: Collection of wardrobe furniture
Fåvang: Collection of foam mattresses
Figgjo: Decorative bathroom mirror
Nidelva: Bathroom storage tins

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