October 1, 2015

Under The Pun: Have Brand Puns Reached Their Peak?

If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s puns. This, coming from a guy whose mom called him “Drew Drop” when he was little, shouldn’t be very surprising. As a copywriter and content creator, I get to utilize my brain’s Puntal Lobe quite a bit (for better or worse) and can confidently say I’m one of the top three punsmiths here at the punnery that is Delucchi Plus. I try and weave puns, good or bad, into client work and internal announcements whenever I can (see exhibit 1).

Pumpkin Spice Blahtte

Yesterday, the folks over at Atlas Obscura took things to a whole new level, releasing the “Ultimate Crowdsourced Map of Punny Businesses in America” to the masses. In August, the website hosted an open submission for users to submit punny businesses near them, resulting in nearly 2,000 mapped businesses in the U.S. There are real gems: “The Lone Arranger,” a flower shop Ingleside, TX or “Latte Da” in York, PA. There are bad efforts: “JaMakin Me Tan” in Vancouver, WA or “Centsable Fashions” in Aberdeen, SD.

There are also TONS of repeats. Curl Up & Dye hair salons and Brewed Awakenings coffee shops appear across the country. Pho King was the most common restaurant pun (and in fact, Atlas Obscura reports that almost 20% of all restaurant names submitted contain a pun on “pho”). And let’s not even get started on Thai restaurants.

(Photo: 50.FridayPM.Logan by flickr user Elvert Barnes via Attribution 2.0 License)

The sheer amount of repeats begs the question: Have we reached peak pun? Or are we just getting started? Take a look at any brand on social media when the 4th of May rolls around and notice the volume of brands trying to insert their brand into a made up Star Wars holiday. Craft beers are all hopped up on punny names like Boom Shakalager and Tart of Darkness. Will we get to the point where forced cleverness or puns are just tired dad jokes? Are we already at that point?

I think it depends: Taste and unoriginality definitely have an impact on a punny brand’s perception. You could absolutely develop a tasteful yet playful brand around Freudian Sip or The Lone Arranger. They’re original and not yet played out. If you’re opening a Pho restaurant, maybe stay away from Pho King. It’s been done. Same goes for Brewed Awakenings.

If you really want to employ the art of the pun in your brand, look for the uncharted territory, but also realize that this territory shrinks with every new pun that is born. Consider doing word association to get away from the obvious word choices (for coffee it’s brew, bean, perk, grounds or grind; for salons it’s shear, hair, cut; for optometrists it’s eye). As a rule of pun, never go with your first idea. Dig into your word choice to find the real gems. I’ve listed the Atlas Obscura Editor’s picks for a few of the business verticals just to help you see how satisfying the originality is. Get punning!

Coffee Shops

  • Burial Grounds (Olympia, WA)
  • Freudian Sip (Northridge, CA)
  • Scone Pony (Spring Lake, NJ)
  • Sister Sludge (Minneapolis, MN)

Pubs + Bars

  • Anchor Management Bar and Grill (Lake Oroville, CA)
  • Neil’s Bahr (Houston, TX)
  • Stocks and Blondes (Chicago, IL)
  • Tequila Mockingbird (Ocean City, MD)

Doctors and Dentists

  • Spex in the City (Seattle, WA)
  • Fiddler on the Tooth (Seattle, WA)
  • Eye Society (Chicago, IL)
  • Rhode Eyeland (North Kingston, RI)


  • Edifice Wrecks (demolition company in Watertown, MA)
  • My Aiken Body (massage therapist in Aiken, SD)
  • Haulin’ Ash (chimney sweeps in Bellingham, WA)
  • Sure Lock Homes (locksmith in Port Orchard, WA)