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Alliteration has no right to work as well as it does

Irene Wong makes a case for us to use alliteration in our work.

My mother wanted to name me Georgina Goodes. Worried that the alliteration would be a burden on me, she settled on Irene, a soft sounding Greek name meaning peace.


Would Georgina have been a burden? Has an alliterative name been a burden for Bridgitte Bardot, Greta Garbo, Adam Ant, Tiny Tim, Kim Kardashian, Janet Jackson or Janis Joplin? The clever combination of sounds calls attention to these names and fixes them in our memories. Therefore, I was delighted in the mid 1990s to grab myself a new global identity: WongWord@... In summary, alliteration ‘is a stylistic device in which a number of words, having the same first consonant sound, occur close together in a series’1.

Hundreds of English professors and linguists have written about using exactly the right word or name. But I prefer to quote the plain language of Dr Frank Luntz, word adviser to rightwing America, who says, “It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear”. In his book, unsurprisingly entitled Words that work2, Luntz’s rule 6 is that ‘sound and texture matter’.


He claims that repeated letters, sounds or syllables appeal more to our emotions and are more memorable than a random mix of sounds. For example, he recommends: ‘exploring for energy’ because it appeals to the ear as well as sounding cleaner and more desirable than ‘drilling for oil’; and ‘climate change’3 instead of the more frightening ‘global warming’.


Alliteration can intensify the meaning, effectiveness and persuasiveness of words by creating the right atmosphere. But not all letters produce the same acoustic impact and mood. Compare, for example, the relatively peaceful sounds of l, f, h and e with the harsh and blunter p, b, m, n, t, d, k and g. In


Word painting4, Rebecca McClanahan says that “our words must reinforce their imagistic and emotional content”. This is not only true in fiction, nonfiction and poetry, it is vital in branding, where the memorability and mood are critical. There are naming consultants to help you name your latest product or service. Alliteration is one of their popular tools. Children are attracted to Barbie, Tonka Toys, Tim Tams and CocaCola. They love the playfulness of word sounds and immediately remember the rhymes about she who sells sea shells and Peter’s pepper.

The repeated sounds add rhythm, almost music to text.

Authors have targeted this love with alliterative character names such as: Digit Dick; Peter Pan; Bathsheda Babbling, Gellert Grindelwald and Dedalus Diggle (in Harry Potter books); and Willy Wonka. And of course there are the unforgettable sounds of Dr Seuss. Don’t brush off alliteration thinking that it is just a branding and advertising trick to seduce children. We use BlackBerries, Samsung, Google, Twitter, PowerPoint, Range Rover, Weight Watchers, PayPal, You Tube, Alcoholics Anonymous and the world wide web.


We are attracted to the sounds of names, we remember them and are sucked in by the emotion, mood and images they create in our brains. Alliteration is also used to add humour and sarcasm. Newspaper headline writers, journalists and politicians seem to have a knack of effectively combining common sounds to drive home a point or embarrass an opponent.


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