Ad and marketing creatives

The Mysteries of Naming, Part 2

To create a good name, you need to create a lot of names. Okay, I'm cribbing a bit. It was the Nobel Prize-winning chemist Linus Pauling who originally said, "To come up with a good idea, you need a lot of ideas." But his observation bears repeating and paraphrasing. In creative endeavors, quantity often begets quality.

When you first try to develop names, you feel tapped out after writing down fifteen ideas: the three obvious names, the three you labored on, the three you got from the thesaurus, the three that feel forced and stupid, and the three that came to you while you were showering or driving. You feel proud of your creative output. Smug, even. And now, as the psychoanalyst told Portnoy at the very end of "Portnoy's Complaint", now we can begin.

Consider this: Given a decent creative backgrounder and a week on his or her own, a professional namer will come up with 250 or 300 names per assignment. Some of the names will be obscure. Most will be unavailable legally. And a few, just a few, will be good candidates for the job.

How do we amass 250 to 300 names...or more? (I've worked on naming projects in which four team members came up with more than 2,000 names.) Here are three techniques to crank up the volume:

Name stairs. I love this term, which I picked up from a post on Baby Name Wizard. Start with a word and add one letter to the beginning or the end to create a new word. An example of a baby name "staircase": Ana - Lana - Alana. The game works with product and company names as well, and you can add whole syllables instead of letters. Start with a linguistic unit relevant to your naming objectives--for example, CARE for a health-insurance company. Now start adding prefixes or suffixes to CARE: ProCare, QCare, WiseCare, CareForce, CareMark, CareGuard. A lot of your names will be silly or contrived or taken by someone else, but at this point you don't, um, care.

Triangulate. The creative backgrounder, or naming brief, will contain a list of features, benefits, and intangible qualities that go into the brand you're naming. It's virtually impossible to create a name that embodies ten attributes, but quite feasible to hit two of the points. So take any pair of naming objectives and write down words that suggest both. Example: a technology that cools integrated circuits by means of a soundless flow of water. What suggests "flow" and "cool"? Cascade, Rivulet, Floe, Running Ice... Pair "silent" and "water"? Oasis, Damper, Rushhh, Liquid Silence?

Go global. Besides Latin and Greek, from which many English words derive, consider French (especially for beauty brands), Spanish (whence Ariba, Marimba, Adobe), or Italian (Bravo, Presto), all of which may resonate as acceptable to the native-English ear. Depending on how much of a story (and marketing budget) you're willing to invest in your brand, you can look at more "exotic" languages, too: Hawaiian, Chinook, Basque, Esperanto, Farsi. You'll want to double-check for pronounceability, but that comes later.

I often turn for inspiration to Terry Ryan's wonderful The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, which tells the story of Ryan's mother Evelyn, who supported her large family by writing jingles and rhymes for contests. "Mom worked on her entries day and night, honing them until the rhyme or the sentiment, in her mind, perfectly fit the sponsor's expectations," Terry Ryan writes. "She never submitted just one entry when she had enough ideas for ten or eleven."

Be generous in your naming. Aim for abundance. Remember e pluribus unum: out of many, one--one really good one.

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:

Friday September 15th 2006, 1:02 PM
Comment by: Drusilla G.
In Latin, Drusilla means, "Descendent of Druses." Druses, "The Strong One," was a Roman warrior who killed the Gallic chieftain Drausus in combat. In Greek, Drusilla means "Watered by the Dew." One out of every thousand baby girls in the U.S. is named Drusilla making it the 2,589th most popular female name in the country. For more info, see the book Celebrating Drusilla available at

Best Wishes,


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