Ad and marketing creatives
How Words Become Names (Part Two)
In Part One of this series, I talked about three common ways to create product and company names: from people's names, from connecting two words, and by creating a blend or portmanteau. As naming exercises go, those three techniques are among the most basic. In this installment we move into Intermediate Naming: techniques that require a bit more mastery of the workings of language but can reward you with distinctive, memorable names.
Affixed words. An "affix" is a word element that can't stand alone -- a prefix, suffix, or infix (a word part inserted in the middle of a word, like Homer Simpson's "saxomaphone"). Affixes can be descriptive, like the bio- prefix in BioMedicines, BioPure, and Bio-Synthesis; or the -cast suffix in Tubecast or Fancast. Other affixes are playful or hip: Napster, the music-sharing site, owes a lot to "hipster"; it in turn inspired Friendster, Dogster, Feedster, and other sound-alikes. Other suffixes du jour include the -ist in Gothamist and Sartorialist and the -ish in Ticketish and Revish. Two Google applications -- the Writely word processor and Presently presentation software -- made clever use of the adverbial suffix. To search for affixes that aren't overused, get yourself a copy of Michael Sheehan's Word Parts Dictionary, which includes an alphabetical list of word parts, a concept finder, and a reverse dictionary organized by category (animals, the environment, and so on).
Invented words. Most coined names are crafted of meaningful word parts (sometimes called morphemes); it's the rare name -- and the even rarer successful name -- that's a true "empty vessel." Pharmaceutical names depend for their success on the positive associations consumers make with the sounds of the words: think of Claritin (from clarity), Viagra (from vigor, vitality, and other words), and Prozac (from prosaic). Global corporations often give themselves made-up names to avoid sounding provincial: Altria (formerly Phillip Morris) draws on its association with "altitude"; Cision (an international "reputation management" firm) hopes its name makes you think of "precision" and "decision" (and not "incision"). More and more, new technology companies -- especially "Web 2.0" companies -- are giving themselves invented names like Zafu, Meebo, and Thoof simply because those Internet domains are available. Beware: It takes a lot of money and effort to create a viable brand from a wholly invented name, and few startup companies have the necessary resources. One famous exception: Kodak, which was coined by company founder George Eastman. He started with the letter K, which he found "strong" and "incisive," and kept trying different combinations of letters until he discovered a word that was short, easy to pronounce, and meaningless in all major languages. It surely didn't hurt that Ko- sounds like co-, a Latin prefix meaning "with" or "together."
Phrases. Can't come up with one perfect word that defines your product or service? Maybe more words are the solution. Many corporate or product names are actually brief descriptive or metaphorical phrases. For example, By The Book is the name of a software package for churches and nonprofits; Meet With Approval is a meeting arranger; Teach the People calls itself "the people-powered university." Think too of the phrasally named nonprofit organizations Habitat for Humanity and People for the American Way. There's even a name-development firm in San Francisco whose name is a short sentence: Eat My Words specializes in -- you guessed it -- food and beverage naming.
When you're looking for a name, it's a good idea to try all of these approaches. If nothing else, the exercise will fire your creative synapses. And if after working through them all you still haven't found the right name, don't give up. Next month we'll move into Advanced Naming territory and explore three additional sources for names.