When I begin a name-development project, I'm open to all possibilities that are relevant to my client's objectives. After all, I'm aiming to develop not one name but a list of 250 or so from which I can identify 15 to 20 strong candidates.

Still, there are words and word parts I avoid — and if you're naming your own product or company, I recommend you avoid them, too.

Why? Because they're nomenclature clichés, leached of meaning by rampant overuse. Choose them at your peril: they'll blend into the brand landscape and confuse your customers. They may even run the risk of a trademark challenge.

I must pause here to acknowledge with regret that I have good friends and colleagues whose business names include words from the No-No List. They are smart, hard-working people, and I wish them well. I also wish they'd consulted me before going over to the dark side.

You, however, can benefit from their mistakes! Here are the top ten words to steer clear of when considering a business name.

360: It's panoramic in more ways than one. Unfortunately, "360 degrees of X" really is all over. It's been grabbed by almost every category of enterprise, from a radio show (Studio 360) to a beverage (Vodka 360) to a global photography site (360 Cities) to a series of "brain-training games" (Mind 360). Then there are the big guns: Yahoo 360° and Xbox 360. Step away from the globe and find a fresher, more distinctive metaphor to tell your story.

Cast: Since the birth of the Internet, companies have vied to represent themselves as the broadcast revolution. But it's hard to sound like the new new thing when so many companies have claimed cast in their names: Comcast, Flycast, Farecast, Fancast, Socialcast, Edgecast, Quantcast, Cellcast, Sharpcast. It really is a cast of thousands.

Catalyst: Yes, we know you're an agent of change. So are your competitors. Putting catalyst in your name won't distinguish you from them or tell me how you're going to improve my life. Words like catalyst describe you from the inside rather than from the outside, where your customers are. Besides, everyone who had trouble with high school chemistry will feel slightly panicked about what catalyst really means. Something to do with enzymes? Will it be on the test?

Flux: Remember the flux capacitor in Back to the Future? So do a lot of folks who were teenagers when the movie came out in 1985. But what seemed cool back then is a bad naming idea now. For starters, there are 122 trademarks for flux in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database. (A sampling: Mega-Flux, PureFlux, Flux Studios, NovaFlux, Thermaflux, Channelflux,UltraFlux. There's even a Flux Deluxe.) Second, flux sounds unlovely in English, especially when forced into awkward coinages such as Fluxiom. Finally, there's a meaning problem. Yes, flux suggests flow. It's also a medical synonym for diarrhea. Run, don't walk, from this word.

Hub: It's short and it means "center point." Perfect for a business you want to position as central to your customers' lives, right? That's what SecureHub, BidHub, BuildHub, HomeHub, EzyHub, and many other companies thought, too. In my opinion, only the ticket seller StubHub — with that catchy, memorable rhyme — does hub right. All the others are just spokes.

Share: Share is to the interactive Web 2.0 what cast was to the original Web's one-way channel. We're all exchanging information now, so how better to express the concept? Plenty of ways, actually. But lazy naming practices have given rise to the lion's share of names like SlideShare, BubbleShare, ConceptShare, ShareMeme, ShareNow, ShareThis... and, not surprisingly, many LionShare companies and products. As we learned in kindergarten, to share is good. But too much share is bad.

Shift: I put the blame on paradigm shift, which Thomas Kuhn coined in 1962 to express a revolutionary scientific advance. Now, however, shift turns up in many nonscientific contexts where it's as meaningless as catalyst. What's more, if not enunciated very carefully, shift can sound... well, scatological. The most unfortunate example is DeepShift, an actual company "created to provide spiritual guidance for organizations." As they say, shift happens. Don't let it happen to you.

Solutions: Everyone has problems. And everyone, it seems, has solutions in their company name. Meaningless and trite.

Space: If you want to suggest a vast, blank emptiness, go ahead and use space in your company name. Alternatively, choose space if you want to sound just like a bunch of other companies. Hey, it worked for BambooSpace, WikiSpace, EventSpace, Workspace, MyCatSpace, and MyDogSpace, didn't it? Well, maybe not.

Think: I certainly hope some thought is involved in your services or products. But don't tell us; show us. And please don't combine Think with any of the other words on this list. ThinkSolutions? ThinkSpace? FluxThink? Just say No-No.


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Nancy Friedman is the chief wordworker at verbal-branding consultancy Wordworking, and the author of a fine blog on naming, branding and more called Fritinancy. Nancy has named a venture-capital firm, a laser hair-removal device, a mobile-money service, and many other companies and products. A former journalist, she still writes or ghostwrites articles, speeches, white papers, and books. Click here to read more articles by Nancy Friedman.

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Comments from our users:

Wednesday May 13th 2009, 7:33 AM
Comment by: Lenny (Stow, MA)
My company has "Solutions" in it. Ouch.
Wednesday May 13th 2009, 8:45 AM
Comment by: Dorothy G. (Canada)
It used to be 'International', which meant that you had once done some work for someone out of country. I have always felt that if you felt that you were doin a good enough job for your clients, your name should be enough. Mind, that has some lurking pitfalls, too.
Wednesday May 13th 2009, 1:31 PM
Comment by: Marian C. (Murphys, CA)
Your column relates to all writers, even those whose words fail to make money. It is good to point us directly at words we want to avoid because it is so easy to slide them in without a thought. Thank you.
Wednesday May 13th 2009, 2:37 PM
Comment by: Clarence W.Top 10 Commenter
Reminds me of this dialogue from Seinfeld (http://www.seinfeldscripts.com):

ARONSON: Yes, we combined Morgan and Poland.

ELAINE: Yeah, I know, but... "Moland"? I wouldn't drink anything called "Moland".
Wednesday May 13th 2009, 3:04 PM
Comment by: Bryan S. (State Center, IA)
Those are all definite no-no's. Now if we could move onto meaningless taglines....
"Your partner in _________" and The Industry's Leading ____________"

Great article, but now I'm depressed: I have a upcoming marketing meeting with someone claiming "Our Difference? Our People!"
Thursday May 14th 2009, 5:36 AM
Comment by: Tove P. (Oslo Norway)
Hi and thanks for a very interesting article on naming. I do agree in all your statements, Nancy Friedman! I am also the managing director of a naming company - the only professional one in Norway, called NameAbrand. Like Nancy we have named lots and lots of companies and products in Norway and abroad, and we also do the tradmark law-bit, like registrations, controls and so on. Like Nancy I am also a former journalist, - perhaps is that the right background for naming-people? Visit us at www.nameabrand.no or www.nameabrand.com if you would like to learn more about us. Thanks again for the article! Best regards from Tove Pharo Ronde, NameAbrand AS, Oslo - Norway
Thursday May 14th 2009, 5:55 PM
Comment by: M J. (Spokane, WA)
There are a lot of deterers amoungt us. Thanks for sharing a widely, quite contraversal a tightly held dogmatical approach on societies narrowmindedness; something simple and stupid, or confused and complex, sprig of spice.

A name for a business, or the business, is an imprinting to the subconsious role of our (the customer) mind plays, the arch of a doorway---adversaly, not a doormat. be rightously right when proposing a name for a business.

note: this may not be grammatically correct, but the point gets accross.
Thursday May 28th 2009, 1:01 PM
Comment by: JoAnna T. (Rock Rapids, IA)
Love the article.

But isn't the name of this website called "ThinkMap" Visual Thesaurus.com? :)
Monday June 1st 2009, 9:56 AM
Comment by: Julianne A.
But map is not on the list...
Thursday July 9th 2009, 5:11 PM
Comment by: JoAnna T. (Rock Rapids, IA)
No, but "think" is..... :)

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Nancy takes aim at the top business clichés.
The stories behind eight successful brand names.
Ten questions to ask before deciding on a business name.