What’s in a name? Daesh and the branding of terror

by | Sep 30, 2016 | Analysis, Online News, Politics and Government - Global

Sticks and stones may break bones, but names can never hurt — or can they?

For the world’s first marketing-conscious terror organization, names appear to matter very much. Initially branded in 2004 as “al Qaeda in Iraq” (AQI), the group has been known in the past several years under several names including IS, ISIS, ISIL, and Islamic State.

But one moniker the group has never embraced is “Daesh”. Despite the myriad of misinformation surrounding the name, it is simply an acronym of “al-dowla al-islaamiyya fii-il-i’raaq wa-ash-shaam” – the Islamic State in Iraq and the Sham (Syria).

Unfortunately for the group, however, media analysis shows it is the fastest growing name being used in Western media coverage.

MediaMiser tracked the popularity of the group’s various names over the past several years, and analyzed the rise of the term “Daesh” in Western media.

Daesh, Daesh online news


While ISIS and Islamic State are still used in the media far more frequently than Daesh, since France’s declaration in September 2014, media use of the latter has grown dramatically while the use of all other terms has declined. (The name “IS”, which is also sometimes used by media, was not monitored for this analysis.)

A share of voice analysis of relevant online sources shows instances of “Daesh” to have increased 237 per cent since September 2014, while the terms “ISIL”, “ISIS”, and “Islamic State” have dropped by 23%, 4.3%, and 3%, respectively.


So why is it so infuriating to the group? Three reasons: first, acronyms are extremely uncommon in Arabic; though second nature in English-speaking countries, they’re largely perceived in the Middle East as Western neologisms.

Secondly, some have argued that referring to the group with an acronym delegitimizes their claim, as the speaker circumvents the use of both “Islam” and “state”. And finally, it simply just sounds a little funny. In addition to acronyms sounding inherently strange to Arabic speakers, Daesh is homophonically similar to several other unflattering Arabic words.

Though perhaps a small victory, and one in name only, it’s nonetheless heartening to see the world media’s growing solidarity in expressing contempt for a reprehensible organization who place so much emphasis on name and image.



Myles Leach
Myles has been with Agility PR Solutions since December 2015, first as a lead generation specialist and now as a data analyst with the Media Insights Group. He is the analyst for and author of reports for government departments and large oil and gas clients. Myles has a degree in International Relations from Carleton University.


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