A recent issue of Esquire magazine had a fun writeup in which it ranked the letters of the English alphabet in order of stylishness and popularity:
G X T R Z F E O Q S V M C N Y P D A W I L U B H J K
Esquire didn’t explain how it arrived at this order, nor did they even suggest the rankings are based on anything other than the personal preferences of their staff writers; but considering Esquire has a well-earned reputation as an authority on American style, that’s good enough for public consumption.
But it’s not good enough for me. After about a decade of education and experience in copywriting and advertising—during which I’ve developed countless company names, product names, headlines and taglines—I’ve got issues with that list. So I’ve concocted a list of my own.
My own alphabet rankings:
Q—Extremely rare letter that looks cool (upper- or lowercase), makes a sharp sound and always draws attention. Downside: comes with baggage (see “U”).
X—Another uber-rare letter that is often stands on its own (X-ray, X factor). So attention-getting that it gets overused and abused—but don’t hate the letter, hate the user.
Y—People subconsciously enjoy those words that have fewer vowels, like Sphinx or Schism. But when the only vowel is a Y (Tryst, Rhythm)—even better.
T—King of the Letters. Tall, top-heavy and majestic, it begins and ends a great number of powerful words.
Z—Last in the phone book but first in the hearts of many. Also known by its British name, Zed.
S—Smooth, stylish, sexy. Starts and ends more words than just about anything. Makes many out of one. Also the first letter in great names.
K—A sharp letter that surprisingly few words begin with. And just to show off, is occasionally silent (Knife, Knave) for seemingly no reason.
W—The only letter whose name is more than one syllable (frustrating back in the days when we all had to say “www” on web addresses). Also the widest letter.
A—First letter should not be underestimated. Associated with all things quality (A List, Alpha). More company names start with the letter A than any other.
V—Just kinda cool. Especially when used by Romans instead of U.
P—Versatile and offers some great potential in combination with other consonants. Think of all the words that start with Ph, Ps or even Pn.
R—Relatively strong at the start or end of a word—sort of a lite version of T.
M—13th letter of the alphabet is 13th on this list. That about sums it up.
E—You’ve got to give some credit to the most common letter of the alphabet. Bonus: its presence elongates other vowel sounds, as in turning Ton to Tone or Mat to Mate.
H—Pretty weak on its own, I’ve been convinced of the powers of H because of what it does to other letters—Th, Sh, Ch, Ph, etc.
O—Nothing special here, though it may be making a resurgence with the organic movement, Oprah and Obama.
B—B List, B Movie, Plan B, Beta. The ugly stepsister of A will never be top notch.
J—Just not that into it.
G—Even Tony the Tiger can’t make this letter that cool.
L—Elegant but weak. The lowercase L is about as lazy as it gets.
N—No. Non. Nyet. Nein. Negative in every language.
C—Some people hate C because its role can be performed by both S and K. I’m not part of the “Delete C” lobby, but I could be convinced.
I—The favorite word of people who talk about themselves.
F—“F you?” ‘Nuff said.
U—Uh. Um. Ugh. The ugly sound of stupidity and disappointment.
Overall trends: rarer letters have some mystique, and can really enhance the cool factor of a word, especially when they’re the first letter or used in combination with other cool letters. Because of my affinity for rare letters, this list looks bottom-heavy, with eight of the top ten letters from the end of the alphabet. On the other hand, the most common letters (E, S, T) get a boost for being on top. Finally, letters that have a hard sound (like T or K) convey strength, while softer letters (like J or F) and vowels feel weaker.
You’ll see some similarities between my list and Esquire’s (X, T, U) and some glaring differences (G, K), and in the end this is pretty subjective. But for all my fellow word nerds out there: enjoy.