Tips for naming brands, products & pets: Part 3
by Shane Loorham
16 August 2018
Springboards and nets
Generating name ideas is all about associations. It’s about finding as many related but unexpected directions you can take yourself off in to explore. I start with the words in the brief, taking a good look at the obvious synonyms and themes that a quick Google search might bring up. Obviously, you need a great thesaurus and you can find word lists for any given topic by diving into those specific areas online. But beyond that, it’s worth shaking things up and trying other resources—anything and everything to spark new ideas and reveal new tangents. Stepping outside of language altogether can also be helpful. I’ll often use stock image libraries to refresh my thinking, looking at what insights images can evoke that words alone cannot.
Everyone has a different approach to generating ideas: some like to write lists by hand, some use index cards or post-it notes, some go it alone while others get together in ‘group brainstorming sessions’. In my experience, group brainstorming is ineffective. It’s great to bounce ideas off one another within a team, but you need to generate your initial thoughts and ideas independently. There is a lot of recent research and writing on the importance of rethinking the ‘brainstorm’. This piece from the HBR supports the idea.
“A meta-analytic review of over 800 teams indicated that individuals are more likely to generate a higher number of original ideas when they don’t interact with others."
When generating name ideas over a period of time, either individually or as a group, you eventually run into a wall. It’s inevitable. Sometimes it’s ‘writers block’, other times you’re simply in a rut, wading through the same old ideas. Either way, it’s not particularly helpful to just keep at it. Getting away from the task at hand is my best advice here. You need to reset your brain. Different people have different techniques to help them refresh: it might be that you jump onto another task for a few hours, or take a long walk. Exercise and fresh air can work wonders.
As your ideas come together, you naturally need to get them written down somewhere. When documenting ideas and developing lists, thoughts, themes and potential directions, I recommend using a spreadsheet rather than a word doc or any sort of open canvas, and I find it handy to have the information in a digital format rather than a Moleskine (sorry Hemingway). We use Google Sheets for collaborative projects, as it’s easy to add rich, filterable data. You can build up your sheet with columns for various criteria which will help sort things out as your list gets longer and longer. A spreadsheet will help you to group themes and compare ideas at a glance, and to move name options through the process and build on the data set associated with each option.
Good ideas / Bad ideas
When developing a name for a product that’s going to be in market for 12 months, it’s probably fine, important even, that you are ‘on trend’. But if you are naming an organisation, then you probably want it to last the organisation’s (hopefully very long) lifetime. You should answer this question in your brief as longevity is not always important, but generally, you should strive for timeless concepts rooted in brand truths. Names should be underscored by authenticity. They should fit your organisation now, and the best will still fit in 10, 20, 50 years time.
Trends become very apparent in naming as in every other creative area, and we can all recognise them with the benefit of hindsight. But it’s important to be aware of why you are leaning towards a certain name and make sure it’s for the right reasons. The emergence of new technologies and ideologies has lead to themes popping up consistently in naming. A few years ago, companies jumped onto Apple’s idea of adding ‘i’ to products and services.
More recently, and due to the availability of top-level Libyan domain names, tech companies have been popping up with names that end in ‘ly’. There are plenty who have used ‘.com’ in their naming, and for most of these businesses, even with costly high-level domains, this has proved a sound strategy.
A note on Brand Architecture
When developing a name for a product or group of products, it’s important to first take a step back. In these cases, a naming brief can actually open the door to the question of ‘Brand Architecture’. Brand architecture is the relative structure of an organisation’s brands, and it’s important that you get that Architecture right first! With foundational Brand Architecture, you can set naming strategies for differing product streams or sub-brands. As an example, we recently developed an Architecture and Naming Strategy for a small software business called Draftable.
One interesting, much larger-scale example I’ve come across when looking at models for Brand Architecture and naming, is this system developed by Siegel + Gale for Motorola. It provides a good reference for understanding the importance of Naming Strategies for business. The model shows how a rigorous strategy was able to take the guesswork out of developing product names for a global business who are faced with these questions constantly. After all, you can imagine how many product releases Motorola would have in a given year.
The legal implications of naming your business or product are huge. I can’t overstate the importance of this. I’d recommend anyone embarking on a naming project to consult with legal counsel early in the process and determine what level of legal checking and trademark registration work is going to be right for your situation. You’ll need to allow time and budget in your process (registration can be slow) and you’ll need to line up the right people for the work.
It’s critical that someone ascertain whether there are any registered or unregistered brands in your market with similar products or services and consider any brand names which present similarities (and therefore risks). Your legal advisor can help you to weigh up any adoption risks throughout the process before a final decision is made. Then they can help you with the necessary registrations to protect all future investment in your brand. We aren’t lawyers here at Liquorice and can’t advise too much in this area but we can help point you in the right direction where the need exists.
Another area worth considering, depending on the nature of your project, is cultural and linguistic checking. If your new brand or product is to launch globally, or in any combination of international markets, it will be worth testing the name linguistically within these markets. You need to ask a lot of questions of your test subjects. Can the name be pronounced? Is its meaning well understood? Are there any negative cultural connotations (even obscure ones)? Does it remind them of other local brands, names or products? Asking the right people in your key markets will help flag issues early.
In 2013, Honda learned the importance of this due diligence when their small Japanese Honda ‘Fit’ wouldn’t translate so easily as a product name in Scandinavian countries. Honda reportedly came very close to launching their car with the Swedish slang word for the female genitalia. Their tagline “small on the outside, but large on the inside” clearly would not have helped. Five years later, the Honda ‘Jazz’ is a known name around the world.
There are so many things to watch out for when entering foreign markets. In many Chinese languages, the word for ‘four’, sounds quite similar to the word for ‘death’ thus is considered unlucky, to the point where some buildings in East Asia omit floors and room numbers containing 4 (not dissimilar to the number 13 in Western countries). On the other hand, the pronunciation of ‘eight’ (Ba) sounds similar to the word (Fa), which means ‘to make a fortune’, so, by contrast, it’s considered very lucky. So many nuances of language need to be factored in across every market in which your brand will be present.
Name generation resources:
A handful of basic tools are all you need to get started on your idea generation. Some of the most common resources I use include:
Oh, and one other amazing resource I’ve only recently come across in researching for this article is this Psycholinguistic Database of the University of Western Australia - it looks fantastic and I’ll be giving it a try on our next project!
I could go on and provide strategy resources, industry-specific word lists and baby name generators… but then someone already did that, they did a much more thorough job of it than I ever would, and they are maintaining and updating it, too! Visit onym.co for a whole world of resources for namers.
Thanks for reading! If you missed it, this was part 3 in a 3 part series. You can go back and catch up on parts one and two if you want to learn more.