Exclusive: How the bizarre OnePlus Nord name was conceived

OnePlus Nord
(Image credit: OnePlus)

OnePlus Nord. No, really, that is the name for OnePlus' new affordable product line, and also for the first device in that line – an affordable smartphone. 

Not OnePlus 8 Lite. Not OnePlus Z. OnePlus Nord. 

Why? TechRadar spoke exclusively to Carl Pei, Assistant Head of OnePlus Nord, to find out.

Originally rumored to be OnePlus 8 Lite, and then OnePlus Z (OnePlus even set up a teaser Instagram account called 'onepluslitezthing'), the actual name for the firm’s new handset is a little more left-field… and it began as one among 400 possibilities. 

'There's not a single good name'

"When we started this project, we had a list of 400 names," Pei told us. However, the process of narrowing down the names wasn’t just a case of crossing less-favorable ones off a board – there was some legal complexity involved too.

"In 2020, there are a lot of names that have been registered at the different patent offices around the world… and there's not a good name," he added. 

"By good I mean something short and something easy to remember and pronounceable. There's not a single good name that has zero other people using it. So we had to work really closely with our legal team to assess the risk, [but] there's no [option with] zero risk."

Companies are facing increasing difficulties when it comes to naming new products. With so many patents for various names in play around the world, it's no longer only about finding a name that isn't in use, but a name that carries a low risk of any legal action from avenues where it is already in play.

Nord certainly isn't an exclusive name for OnePlus. The word is used by a variety of other companies, such as NordVPN, instrument maker Clavia Nord and Swedish keyboard maker Nord Keyboards.

After the legal checks, the field of 400 names had been reduced to a smaller subset, but the dedicated team created within the company to focus solely on the project still had to pick the right name for a whole new product line, which would also be inherited by its first device – an affordable smartphone.

Watch our OnePlus Nord video where we reveal exclusive specs about the phone

Why OnePlus Nord?

So why did OnePlus ultimately opt for Nord? The fact that the company set up the aforementioned Instagram account suggests that it was perhaps considering the rumored OnePlus 8 Lite and OnePlus Z names, which were heavily used in leaks in the lead-up to the official confirmation of the name.

OnePlus looked at the type of consumer it wanted to target with the Nord. With its more affordable price tag, it's no surprise that the aim was to attract a younger generation of phone buyers. However, based on research into consumer behavior, OnePlus decided that it actually wanted to target those with a younger mindset, regardless of age. 

What OnePlus is really getting at here is that it wants to be able to appeal to a wider audience, and a new demographic will give it the potential to shift more units. Because, really, that's why the OnePlus Nord exists – as a way for OnePlus to reach a new audience and sell more products.

"People with a younger mindset today, they're much more individualistic," Pei explains. "People five or 10 years ago were more likely to follow a success pattern defined by society or by their parents. The new generation, they're more into following their own truths."

OnePlus Nord

Has the name sunk in yet? (Image credit: OnePlus)

It was these conclusions that helped inspire OnePlus, although the leap from there to Nord is still a big one, and one which may not be immediately apparent to, or understood by, the public. 

"There's this concept of your inner compass, or a North Star… that everybody has a path they want to follow," Pei adds. "That's where the inspiration for the name Nord came from, as in a lot European languages, it's the word for north. 

"In a way, this is also OnePlus. Going back to our true north, to some of our initial ideas in the very beginning where we wanted to create a great product, and also sell it at a more accessible price. That's why we named it Nord; we feel like it has a deeper meaning."

Does it have global appeal?

Nord may make sense for those in a number of European countries, but it seems like it may be a trickier name to understand in other areas of the world. 

If you look at the mobile market, many smartphones carry either a letter, number or combination of 'plus', 'pro' and 'max' in their name, giving consumers a clear picture of where a product sits within a range, and how new it is compared to other products.

When it comes to the OnePlus Nord name, its natural place in the market, and in the firm's own range, is less clear. The sub-$500 / €500 price point will signal to consumers that it's a mid-range product, but the Nord brand needs to make sense to consumers across multiple countries and languages. 

How people perceive it will depend on how the product is

Carl Pei, OnePlus

"As long as the name is easy to remember and easy to read, how people perceive it will depend on how the product is," Pei told us.

"There's a lot of names out there that sound a little bit confusing out of context, but because a company is so strong, or because it creates such great products, the name itself gets kind of a halo afterwards."

If we look back through the history of tech launches, we saw jokes made at the expense of the Apple iPad when it first launched, but it's now a household name, and synonymous with the best tablet experience you can buy. 

Pei is upbeat about the prospects for the OnePlus Nord – "it's a name that our team really, really liked and appreciated, and they're excited to see how consumers eventually react to it," – but we'll have to wait and see if Nord can generate that 'halo' effect.

According to Counterpoint research, OnePlus is a top five brand in the premium smartphone segment for North America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, APCA (excluding China, where it doesn't make the top 5), and the Middle East and Africa.

However, while it has a solid presence at the premium end of the market, it's nowhere in the mid-tier due to its recent smartphone ranges being priced solely at flagship levels. This throws into question whether OnePlus is a company that consumers will consider in a new segment, as it attempts to target buyers who are potentially less aware of its history.

OnePlus is putting a lot of faith in its new Nord brand, and is hoping the handset can stand out in what is a very busy middle-market, with plenty of choice for consumers, and strong offerings from big-name players. 

We may have the name, but OnePlus knows that the work of selling the OnePlus Nord to the world is only just beginning. 

What do you think of the OnePlus Nord name? Let us know in our Twitter poll:

John McCann
Global Managing Editor

John joined TechRadar over a decade ago as Staff Writer for Phones, and over the years has built up a vast knowledge of the tech industry. He's interviewed CEOs from some of the world's biggest tech firms, visited their HQs and has appeared on live TV and radio, including Sky News, BBC News, BBC World News, Al Jazeera, LBC and BBC Radio 4. Originally specializing in phones, tablets and wearables, John is now TechRadar's resident automotive expert, reviewing the latest and greatest EVs and PHEVs on the market. John also looks after the day-to-day running of the site.