Ad and marketing creatives

The Mysteries of Naming, Part 1

A name is the title of your story.

You may think you're naming your company or your product. But in fact you're putting a title on the story you're telling investors, shareholders, customers, and employees. If you're smart and lucky, the name you choose will be the title of a great story. A saga. A legend. A tale told around the campfire for generations.

If you're haphazard or confused or pretentious or timid, your name will end up on the equivalent of the remainders table at your local bookstore: piles of copies at 70% off.

You can have a great story that nobody wants to read because the title is pedestrian or perplexing or pompous. Or you can create demand for your story by giving it a title that tells just enough without giving away the plot.

So before you do any internal namestorming or hire a name-development agency (like mine, for just a random example), spend some time thinking about the story your company or product needs to tell.

Thinking about "story" requires a shift away from what you focus on day to day. Your elevator pitch and your PowerPoint presentation may tell your investors and shareholders and customers about your exciting new widget or your global strategy or your (no, no, no!) "passion." They are not your story. They are bits of information.

Here's what Annette Simmons, author of The Story Factor, says about this:

"People don't want more information. They are up to their eyeballs in information. They want faith -- faith in you, your goals, your success, in the story you tell... Once people make your story their story, you have tapped into the powerful force of faith."

And here's what the great Russian writer Anton Chekhov said:

"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass."

How do you find your story? By stripping away everything that isn't story: your products, your process, your team of super-smart engineers from CalTech or the Technion or the Indian Institute of Technology. And by focusing instead on your master narrative.

Story is bigger than "who we are." As the title of a story, Amazon doesn't say "online seller of books, music, and everything else we can get our hands on." On the top level of the story, it says "big, deep, and powerful." On a less conscious level it says "amazing" (a close cognate), it says "on" (the final syllable), and it says "A to Z" (incorporated into the spelling). It even says "am" (first syllable), as in "I the customer am involved with this enterprise."

Story is bigger that "what we do." As the title of a story, Viagra doesn't say "effective treatment for erectile dysfunction." It doesn't say "sildenafil citranate." It says "via -- the way to get there"; it says "virile," "vital," "vitamin," and "viva!"; it says "grow" (so close to "-gra"); it says "Niagara -- ceaseless power"; it says "Agra -- site of the Taj Mahal, that monument to love." And it says "women will love it, too"-- note the feminine "-a" ending.

Do you read all of those meanings into these names the first time you hear or read them--or even the twelfth? Of course you don't. But because the meanings are so positive, their power accretes each time you hear the name or roll it around in your mouth. "Yes," you think without quite knowing why. "I want some more of that."

Can a strong name take the place of sound technology and a business plan and a smart management team and solid financing? Of course it can't. But here's my point: to reach your audience, you need to tell a compelling story about what you're doing. And your name--the title of your story--is your first chance to do it.

Nancy Friedman is chief wordworker at Wordworking, an Oakland, California-based verbal-branding consultancy. She 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.

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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:

Saturday September 23rd 2006, 4:32 AM
Comment by: Susan L.
GREAT article that fits into my current work situation!

I'm being offered a newly-created position within a small Customer Care department which will be 75% pro-active after-sale follow-up with customers, 15% random satisfaction calls and the the rest, a diminishing 10% administrative support. These ratios are estimated and will adjust according to experience, eventually eliminating the administration support role.

The title for the position we have come up with so far is "Customer Care Administrator". However this is misleading and locks the perception of the position into the diminishing 10% of the tasks. The ultimate objective of this position is to seek information from the customer as to the quality of our product, delivery and service and, by delivering a prompt response/solution to problems, learn how to eliminate them in the future. It is, in a way part Ambassador, Ombudsman, Researcher, Change Agent ....

I'm looking for a "word story" which would ignite imagination, excitement and support throughout the company as well as with our customers for this role, especially as it will instigate uncomfortable changes in the way things are currently done.

Any ideas? I need to come up with something by Monday ...
Thanks!!! I appreciate your creative support!
Monday January 1st 2007, 11:36 AM
Comment by: Shannon Forbes (Casper, WY)
How about iCare?

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