We Create Breakout Brand Names

A.I. Processor

Naming Project: A.I. Computing

Fitness Tracker

Naming Project: Consumer Tech

TV Network

Naming Project: Television & Film

Portable Display

Naming Project: Consumer Tech

A.I. Processor

Naming Project: A.I. Computing

Smart Cooking App

Naming Project: Consumer Tech

Las Vegas Hotel

Naming Project: Travel & Leisure

Mobile Network Software

Naming Project: B2B Software

EA Sports Video Games

Naming Project: Consumer Software


Naming Project: A.I. Computing

Medical Diagnostics

Naming Project: Healthcare

Food Network Show

Naming Project: Television & Film

Social Groups

Naming Project: Healthcare

Adventure Destinations

Naming Project: Travel & Leisure

IoT Platform

Naming Project: A.I. Computing


Naming Project: Healthcare

North Face Tech

Naming Project: Clothing

VR Games

Naming Project: Consumer Tech

Las Vegas Hotel

Naming Project: Travel & Leisure

Smart Tablet

Naming Project: Consumer Tech

Car Auction App

Naming Project: B2C App

Education Accelerator

Naming Project: Nonprofit

In-Flight WiFi

Naming Project: Consumer Tech


Naming Project: Premium Vodka

More Naming Projects

The Igor Naming Guide

An essential framework, it gives your team a shared set of criteria and a strategy for evaluating new brand names.

Download The Naming Guide:

Naming Agencies

Naming Agency

Gaming Expert Gambling Experts Lottery Consultants Tribal Casino Sports Betting Profound

Fitness Tracker

Naming Project: Consumer Tech

A.I. Processor

Naming Project: A.I. Computing


Naming Project: Healthcare

TV Network

Naming Project: Television & Film

Smart Tablet

Naming Project: Consumer Tech

Las Vegas Hotel

Naming Project: Travel & Leisure

Kids' Dental Chain

Naming Project: Healthcare

No-Code Creative Platform

Naming Project: Consumer Tech

Smart Cooking App

Naming Project: Consumer Tech

Mobile Network Software

Naming Project: B2B Software

Energy Microgrids

Naming Project: Power Generation

EA Sports Video Games

Naming Project: Consumer Software

Medical Diagnostics

Naming Project: Healthcare

Food Network Show

Naming Project: Television & Film

Adventure Destinations

Naming Project: Travel & Leisure

North Face Tech

Naming Project: Clothing

Las Vegas Hotel

Naming Project: Travel & Leisure

Car Auction App

Naming Project: B2C App

VR Games

Naming Project: Consumer Tech

Education Accelerator

Naming Project: Nonprofit

In-Flight WiFi

Naming Project: Consumer Tech

A.I. Processor

Naming Project: AI Computing


  • A Hundred Monkeys
  • Igor
4         4
3         3
  • Idiom
  • Lexicon
  • Metaphor
  • WildOutWest (WOW)
  • Catchword
  • Eat My Words
  • Word for Word
  • Operative Words
  • WhereWords
  • Good Characters
  • Tungsten
  • Applebaum
  • Addison
  • Ashton Brand Group
  • Hayden Group
  • Landor
  • Lippincott Mercer
  • Master McNeil
  • Rivkin & Associates
  • Russell Mark Group
  • Siegel & Gale
  • Wolff Olins
  • Zinzin
  • Tanj
  • Cintara
  • Fresh Lemons
  • Namewell
  • Name Designer
  • Name Development
  • Name Evolution
  • Name Generator
  • NameLab
  • Name One
  • Name Pharm
  • NameQuest
  • Name Razor
  • NameSale
  • Name Sharks
  • Name-Shop
  • NameStormers
  • Name Tag
  • NameTrade
  • Namebase
  • NameWorks
  • Naming Systems
  • Naming Workshop
  • Namington
  • The Naming Group
  • Strategic Name Development
  • The Naming Company
  • Wise Name
  • ABC Name Bank
  • Brighter Naming
  • Moore Names
  • Namix
  • Nomen
  • Nomenon
  • Nomina
  • Nomino
  • Bizword
  • Comspring
  • Logoistic
  • Macroworks
  • Mnemonic
  • PS212
  • Red Peak
  • Brains On Fire
  • One Big Roach
  • Wonsupona
  • Evil Potatoes
  • Brand-DNA
  • Brand A
  • Brand 2.0
  • Brand Channel
  • Brand Design
  • Brand Doctors
  • Brand Evolve
  • Brand Evolution
  • Brand Fidelity
  • Brand Forward
  • Brand Institute
  • Brand Juice
  • Brand Ladder
  • Brand Link
  • BrandMade
  • Brand Maverick
  • Brand Mechanics
  • Brand Meta
  • Brand People
  • Brand Positioning
  • Brand Salt
  • Brandscape
  • Brand Scope
  • Brand Sequence
  • Brand Slinger
  • Brand Solutions
  • Brand Spark
  • Brand Vista
  • CoreBrand
  • Future Brand
  • Independent Branding
  • Interbrand
  • Not Just Any Branding
  • The Better Branding Company
  • The Brand Company
  • The Brand Consultancy
  • Trading Brands
  • Blue Taco

Levels of Engagement: These eight levels (y-axis levels from minus 2 to plus 5) represent the amount of material (meaning, stories, associations, imagery, multiple layers) in a name the audience has to play with and personalize – and how "engaged" they are by a name. Names in the minus 2 level are the least engaging, and likely to be quickly forgotten; the higher the number the better, with level 5 being the best.

Functional Names: The lowest common denominator of names, usually either named after a person, purely descriptive of what the company or product does, or a pre- or suffixed reference to functionality. (Infoseek, LookSmart)

Invented Names: "Invented" as in a made-up name (Acquient, Agilent, Alliant, Google) or a non-English name that is not widely known.

Experiential Names: A direct connection to something real, a part of direct human experience. Usually literal in nature, but presented with a touch of imagination. (Netscape, Palm Pilot)

Evocative Names: These names are designed to evoke the positioning of a company or product rather than the goods and services or the experience of those goods and services. Removed from direct experience, but relevant – evoking memories, stories, and many levels of association. (Virgin, Apple, Cracker Jack)

We encourage you to print this out and move names around, and see if you think they should be classified differently. It's an exercise that will get you thinking about the names in your own industry. (Here is a blank taxonomy chart you can print out.)

List of Naming Agencies

Agencies specializing in naming are in bold . The rest are branding agencies offering naming as a service.

  • A Hundred Monkeys Naming Agency

  • Better Naming Agency

  • Brighter Naming Agency

  • Catchword Naming Agency

  • Cintara Naming Agency

  • Eat My Words Naming Agency

  • Evil Potatoes Naming Agency

  • Fresh Lemons Naming Agency

  • Future Brand

  • Good Characters Naming Agency

  • Hayden Group

  • Idiom Naming Agency

  • Igor Naming Agency

  • Landor

  • Lexicon Naming Agency

  • Lippincott Mercer

  • Logoistic

  • Macroworks

  • Master McNeil Naming Agency

  • Metaphor Naming Agency

  • Mnemonic Naming Agency

  • Moore Names Naming Agency

  • NAME IT Naming Agency

  • Name Designer Naming Agency

  • Name Development Naming Agency

  • Name Evolution Naming Agency

  • Name Generator Naming Agency

  • Name One Naming Agency

  • Name Pharm Naming Agency

  • Name Quest Naming Agency

  • Name Razor Naming Agency

  • Name Sale Naming Agency

  • Name Sharks Naming Agency

  • Name Shop Naming Agency

  • Name Stormers Naming Agency

  • Name Tag Naming Agency

  • Name Trade Naming Agency

  • Name Works Naming Agency

  • Namebase Naming Agency

  • NameLab Naming Agency

  • Namewell Naming Agency

  • Naming Systems Naming Agency

  • Namix Naming Agency

  • Nomen Naming Agency

  • Nomenon Naming Agency

  • Nomina Naming Agency

  • Nomino Naming Agency

  • One Big Roach

  • Operative Words Naming Agency

  • PS212 Naming Agency

  • Red Peak

  • Rivkin & Associates

  • Russell Mark Group

  • Siegel & Gale

  • Strategic Name Development Naming Agency

  • Tanj

  • The Naming Company Naming Agency

  • The Naming Group Naming Agency

  • Tungsten Naming Agency

  • WhereWords Naming Agency

  • WildOutWest

  • Wise Name Naming Agency

  • Wolff Olins

  • Wonsupona Naming Agency

  • Word for Word Naming Agency

  • Zinzin Naming Agency

  • Computer Port Technology Name Taxonomy

Our Brand Naming Process

The Outline

  • Positioning – The more specific and nuanced your positioning is, the more effective the name will be. All great names work in concert with the positioning of the brand they speak for.
  • Competitive Analysis – The next step is a thorough competitive analysis, in which we quantify the tone, strength and messaging of competitive names. This is essential for refining brand positioning. It tells you exactly where you need to be in order to dominate the competitive landscape.
  • Name Development – Name development begins by applying the positioning strategy and competitive analysis results to determine all of the things your new name needs to do for your marketing, branding and advertising efforts.
  • Trademark – We prescreen all names for worldwide trademark availability before presenting them to you. This ensures a process that exclusively produces names you can legally use.

The Execution

A Brand Name Has Work To Do. Create A Job Description For It.

Naming Agencies  

Building the Perfect Beast: The Igor Naming Guide

Everything you wish you didn’t need to know about creating brand names

We wrote the Naming Guide to bring clarity & uncommon sense to the naming process.

An essential framework, it gives your team a shared set of criteria and a strategy for evaluating names.

Our guidebook provides the clear principles & actionable insights necessary for you to create the most powerful name in your space, like a brand naming expert.

Download the Naming Guide:

Naming Agencies

Beware The Happy Idiot

Naming Agencies  

The Happy Idiot, as it’s known in professional naming circles, is a process used by naming agencies who view your naming project as a consensus building exercise only, and not a quest for a powerful name that consensus is then built around.

It’s called The Happy Idiot because an agency deliberately delivers a name that’s a liability to a smiling client who’s happy with the result. It was designed to be the fastest, smoothest route to client buy-in on a name, with the least amount of effort by the agency.

When a Happy Idiot practitioner presents a name candidate that isn’t immediately met with applause by every member of a client team, they’ll smooth down the edges until there is nothing interesting or effective left in the names they are presenting. Going forward they’ll only present names of the vanilla variety, because getting buy-in on breakout brand names requires brains, time, commitment and hard work.

The first step to protecting yourself is learning to spot The Happy Idiot.

Naming Agencies

To illustrate each, we’ll use actual names and case studies created by a single naming agency.

The Happy Idiot

In this classic version the agency invents a word with no resemblance to any existing word. Because the name neither means nor implies anything, there are no objections from the client. It’s been sanitized for their protection. But in order to sell the name the agency needs to convince the client that the invented word has positive, relevant meaning. The agency breaks the name down into morphemes (a morpheme is the smallest meaningful unit of a language) and assigns positive meaning to each. They have someone with a master’s degree in linguistics from Berkeley or Stanford certify the meanings – in languages neither the client nor their target audience speaks – to give it weight and to assure the client that this meaningless construction is not only full of meaning, it’s perfect for them.

When an agency rolls out morphemic rationale, you’re being played:

Mirvie: “Mirvie is a rich coining that draws on several Romance languages: Mira means “objective” in Italian, “purpose” or “look!” in Spanish, and the feminine form of “wonderful” in Latin. Vie is “life” in French and “means” or “paths” in Italian. Mirvie suggests the wonder of pregnancy, a means to your objective, and lifesaving, targeted insights”.“

Is it possible the naming agency believes, “Mirvie suggests the wonder of pregnancy, a means to your objective, and lifesaving, targeted insights”? Depends on what they’re smoking. What matters is the client believes it. Nobody objects, a positive meaning was established by an expert no one feels qualified to argue with, job done! Client is happy.

When agencies rely heavily on this strategy, it’s referred to as morpheme addiction.

Invented words have their place in naming, but their rationale cannot be morphemic pretzel logic based on multiple languages foreign to the audience. An invented name has to work on its own, without explanation, in the context of the company or product it represents: Neoverse, Ventrix. The only exceptions are names of pharmaceuticals and chemicals, where global regulations prohibit rational names.

The Happy Idiot with a Passport

Same basics as the original, but this variation uses real words from foreign languages that neither the client nor the client’s target audience speaks. The Happy Idiot with a Passport produces names that the client can’t object to because they don’t mean anything to the client. Foreign language names function as invented names, but the positive meanings the agency claims the name has are based on their meaning in an obscure language.

When an agency tries to sell you on a meaning in a language unfamiliar to your customers, you’re being played:

Ikena: “Ikena, a Hawaiian word meaning “vista, perspective, knowledge.” The name also recalls “I ken” (an older English word for “know”) and “I can”.“

The Happy Idiot and Happy Idiot with a Passport both reveal an essential naming truth: Having a meaning doesn’t make a name meaningful. Ikena has a meaning but is meaningless unless you speak Hawaiian. Mirvie’s morphemes may have meaning, but Mirvie is meaningless to everyone. Which is why in our opinion, both naming approaches are scams. They’re nothing more than a sales pitch to a client to end a project.

Foreign language names can make reasonable brand names, but they have to work based on their look, sound and personality. Their “meaning” is irrelevant to anyone who doesn’t speak the language.

The Happy Idiot with a Wallflower

The Wallflower version employs the one thousand most common words used by brand names, words like Active, Arc, Atlas, Blue, Bridge, Care, Clear, Complete, Core, Curve, Edge, Engage, Ever, Expert, Flex, Fly, Force, Front, Fusion, Future, Gain, Go, Green, Hill, Hub, Key, Lead, Light, Line, On, Next, Now, Path, Plus, Point, Power, Pro, Pulse, River, Sense, Scape, Shift, Sky, Span, Splash, Star, Stream, Sun, Up, Via, Vista, Wave, Wise and Zip. A single word Wallflower is rarely presented. They are overwhelmingly “Compound Wallflowers,” as a combination of two excruciatingly common words is much easier to trademark than one. These words are so generic they don’t draw any objection from the client, and each contains a slight, one-dimensional positive attribute. And so common their effect is that of white noise on the audience. They’re Wallflowers, forgotten in a heartbeat.

When an agency takes the path of least resistance by presenting pairings of white noise words, you’re being sold a Wallflower.

Combining these wallflower words has gifted six different clients of this one agency with these six names:






PSI Bridge

Steve Manning, a former cameraman and editor at the Travel Channel, is the Founder of Igor, a global naming agency. Having worked on the identity of a host of international hospitality brands, he shares his thoughts on the challenge of naming a hotel.

The name of a hotel should work in concert with its brand positioning, which is the tone, personality, design, zeitgeist and target market you seek to embrace. Equally important is that the name achieves separation from your competitors. The name needs to be memorable and tap into something unique in the collective consciousness – the sum of which answers the most important question: “Is this name interesting?”

Laying the foundation

Before you begin, it’s essential to decide what you want your new name to do for you. The right name can create clear separation from your competitors and, crucially, demonstrate to the world that you are different. It should reinforce a unique positioning platform and create a positive and lasting engagement with your audience. It needs to be unforgettable.

Photo: Daniil Vnoutchkov

Photo: Daniil Vnoutchkov

A great name propels a brand through the world on its own, becoming a no-cost, self-sustaining PR vehicle and providing a deep well of marketing and advertising material. It should rise above the goods and services you provide and completely dominate your category.

The key is to find a fresh way into the hearts and minds of your audience, redefine and own the conversation in your industry, and engage people on as many levels as possible. The best names accomplish all of these goals and are advertisements in themselves.

Pitfalls and pivots

The most common mistake is choosing a name that gets lost in the lexicon of competitive soundalikes. For example, if there are hotel names in your locale using the words ocean, harbour, sea, water and surf, it’s counterproductive to jump into the generic gene pool with a word like cove – unless your objective is to have a name that’s impossible to remember.

Potential competitive pitfalls are market specific. We’ve worked on the naming of three hotels in Las Vegas (Aria, Wynn, The Signature), where you need to navigate the expectation that if a name is rooted in a particular country or culture, consumers will assume that the hotel will deliver a themed experience, à la Paris, The Orleans, New York New York, Caesars, Bellagio, Treasure Island, Venetian, Luxor and Excalibur. Additionally, the name can’t sound like the name of a show or club.

Always be on the lookout for a way to twist expectations

When you’re naming a property within a known hotel brand, sometimes the brand guidelines dictate that the new name can’t detract from the parent company’s name. Our experience in naming The Signature at MGM is an example. MGM is the name they want the brand equity to flow to, so the product names need to be on the quiet side. It’s the same brand strategy used by Mercedes, BMW and Audi. In the case of The Signature, it’s also a bit of a wink and a nod to the artist-signed Wynn at the other end of the Las Vegas Strip.

Always be on the lookout for a way to twist expectations in order to give the name some stopping power, to create some audience engagement. Our work on naming Address, a chain of ultra-high end hotels in Dubai, led to the discovery that traditional numbered addresses weren’t used in Dubai. Instead addresses were conveyed by describing what a location was near. It’s a system unique to the area, so by playing into it, it helped make the name distinctive and memorable.

Start-Ups Spend Time, Money In Search of the Perfect Name

Unlike Shakespeare's rose, a company by any other name can end up the butt of consumers' jokes and media ridicule. As finding an original name becomes more important, and more difficult, companies are spending vast amounts of time -- and money -- in their search for the perfect moniker.

In March 2001, the U.K.'s Post Office Group rebranded itself as Consignia PLC. The new name, it said, came from the verb "to consign" and would underline its international role in e-commerce as well as traditional postal services. The company was panned for the move and the new name was ridiculed. Just 15 months later the company is changing its name again, to Royal Mail Group PLC. That pattern may be repeated many more times as firms reassess the trendy but vacuous naming conventions that have dominated recently.

In the 1970s, with relatively few companies competing, firms were likely to go for straightforward, descriptive names like International Business Machines Corp. and Digital Equipment Corp. Today, however, start-ups are under pressure to think up something that will not only pass trademark rules but also make a catchy global Internet URL, distinguish the firm from rivals in an intensely competitive sector, and not be offensive in foreign languages. The result has been progressively wilder names.

Odd word compounds (Red Hat Software) and strange punctuation (E.piphany) are common, and, of course, many Internet firms have the suddenly archaic .com suffix. Fashion retailer Boo.com and the like may have failed but many of the new names are deeply embedded in the consciousness of users even if -- think of Yahoo! and Monster.com -- they once appeared off the wall.

Desperate to Be Different

Desperate for differentiation, many recent ventures such as Ocado, Opodo, Scient, Viant and Accenture have favored made-up names. The companies themselves claim that they are based on hard research but they can lead to confusion at a very basic level. Accenture receives many calls for Adventure while Opodo, a Web-based travel booking service, maintains that its name can be said as OPodo or OpODO. Skeptics say such names are watered-down attempts to avoid legal issues or controversy.

"There's no emotion, [the new, made-up names] mean nothing to anybody," says Steve Manning, managing director of A Hundred Monkeys [now Managing Director of Igor], a naming company based in Sausalito, California. "If I suggested a name like [database software giant] Oracle today it could never happen. If there were 10 executives in the room, you can bet somebody would say 'we're about scientific analytical stuff -- oracles used to only ever forecast death and destruction and we can't be associated with that."'

A Hundred Monkeys is one of a generation of naming firms that are paid tens or even hundreds of thousands of euros to develop company names and brands. These firms research the company and attempt to think up a name that is novel, attractive and memorable in many languages. Increasingly, the demand is for names that trip off the tongue and linger in the mind, while avoiding the pitfalls of trademark legislation.

"There has been a great proliferation of coined words and part of that is down to the simple clutter of trademarks and URLs in the high-tech industry," says Anthony Shore, senior director for naming and writing expertise at Landor Associates, one of the biggest naming groups. "They are less likely to be descriptive and they are more expansive."

For example, Dow Corning Corp.'s spin-off Xiameter -- a Web-based marketplace selling silicon products. The name "has real roots in real meanings for efficiency and speed," says Mr. Shore. Its proximity to the word diameter suggests a connection between company and customers, he adds.

Beware 'Monstrosities'

This won't wash with A Hundred Monkeys' [now Igor's] Mr. Manning, who rails against what he calls "constructed morphemic monstrosities" that create company names like Xiameter and Lucent Technologies Inc. spin-off Agere Systems Inc. Agere, pronounced a-GEAR, has roots in the Latin verb "ago," meaning to lead, according to the firm, which selected the name based on feedback from staff, focus groups and industry analysts. "They're doing a great job of appealing to Greeks and Latins," quips Mr. Manning. Companies all want to sound cool, he adds, "but they don't want to sound stupid and it's all done by committee so they end up with neutered names."

One thing all experts agree on is that the Internet-specific names must be avoided at all costs, especially those once prized generics such as Pets.com that limit a company's area of activity. Also, like dot-com names, many high-tech naming conventions now appear dated.

"Nobody wants to be called dot-com anymore and now we stay away from little i or e, or 'cyber' or 'digital' anything," says Jim Singer, president and creative director of Namebase, a naming agency in Cardiff by the Sea, California.

But while companies spend thousands on coming up with the perfect name, which is often prefigured for months or even years by a codename, some people at the sharp end of the information technology industry's forays into new names and brands are more skeptical. Who really cares what the company is called if the product works?

"I don't understand why they can't just keep the codenames," says Mike Magee, editor of The Inquirer, a Web-based publication that often satirizes high-tech absurdity. "Intel has all these lovely names of lakes, rivers and mountains like Merced and McKinley for its chips but when they come to market it's Pentium and Itanium. A lot of it is pretty daft. I have a Fujitsu Siemens Lifebook laptop. It's a nice computer but, I mean, what's a Lifebook?"

Despite the technicalities, naming decisions can often be pretty prosaic. "The short answer is that if you're a tech business with a hot new service then the chances of coining a good name that is not in use are virtually zero," says Chris Buckham, marketing director of U.K. information-technology services firm Sanderson Group. Mr. Buckham was once on the committee that named Apricot Computers Ltd., one of the U.K.'s most successful computer companies in the 1980s.

"The project code-name was Apricot but we paid a company to come up with a name and top of the list was Rascal, which I quite liked," recalls Mr. Buckham. But Apricot founder Roger Foster "said at the beginning of the meeting that if anybody thought Rascal was a good idea they had no future at the company ... so that was that."

Why Startups Keep Choosing Human Names

Marcus, Oscar, Casper—it seems as if every new company is named after someone’s roommate, or even their cat. There’s a reason for that.

“A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Though Dale Carnegie was talking about nurturing relationships, a lot of startups these days are incorporating his observation into branding strategy.

They are naming themselves after people. 

Over the past few years, a crowd of new companies has emerged across tech, finance and health—all sporting a first-name brand. “Oscar,” “Alfred,” “Lola” —they have the look and feel of a friend, a colleague, maybe even your cat. And that’s the point: Make a connection with consumers that even Carnegie would appreciate.

“A short first name changes everything—as it’s unexpected, less concerned with sounding corporate and serious and is inherently more human,” said Steve Manning, the founder of a Sausalito, California-based naming agency that, of course, goes by one name: Igor

The strategy seems to be working. Research shows that the more simple and human-sounding the name, the greater the company’s success. Brands with short, easy to pronounce names were viewed more positively by investors, a 2012 study published in the Journal of Financial Economics found. By reducing name length by just one word, companies can see a boost of 2.53 percent to their book-to-market ratio—a formula used to find the market value of a company—or $3.75 million for a medium-size firm, according to the study

Likewise, a 2006 analysis by Adam Alter and Daniel Oppenheimer, professors of marketing and psychology, respectively, found that stocks with names and tickers easy to pronounce will outperform counterparts with more complicated names. The simplicity of naming tends to make it more likely people will invest in a company, they said.

The name game isn’t so much about the products or services being sold. It’s a subconscious approach to branding that borders on anthropomorphizing a company.

“If you don’t want to become commoditized, you need to have something special,” said Neil Parikh, co-founder and chief operating officer of mattress startup Casper. “Everything has a brand, from vitamins to your doctor’s office to mattresses, but the ones that have a sense of depth—where you can understand who that person might be like—those are the ones you want to interact with, because you can see what it’s like. It’s three-dimensional.”

The strategy has become an imperative to cut through the cacophony of online brands vying for attention. Gone are the times when a great product or service was enough. Consumers want an emotional connection, something that will cause them to develop brand loyalty—and it starts with the name.

As with any fresh trend, going the first-name route isn’t risk free, according to Jake Hancock, a partner of brand strategy at creative consultancy Lippincott. “Choosing names that signal a human experience really raises the stakes for a brand to deliver it throughout the whole experience,” Hancock, who specializes in brand naming, said. “If you name your company a person’s name, the customer is going to expect every interaction to feel like they’re dealing with a person.”

Here’s what a handful of companies said about the origin of their names—and whether or not consumers have actually taken to them.


For Marcus, the personal lending startup founded in 2016 by Goldman Sachs Group Inc., the biggest question before launch was how big a connection the brand would have, at least publicly, to its parent company. 

“When you called it ‘Goldman Sachs,’ consumers said ‘Well, I’ve heard of Goldman Sachs, but that's not for me—that’s for wealthy people and institutions,’” said Dustin Cohn, head of brand management and communications at Marcus. He’s also led the unit’s “brand architecture,” which included choosing a name.

After whittling down 2,000 contenders to just 10, “Marcus” was added at the last minute, he said: the only human name on the list.

“In addition to being connected to Goldman Sachs’s heritage, the name felt accessible and added a human element to financial services,” Cohn said. “It created this one-on-one conversation from a person, i.e., Marcus, to another person.” One of Goldman Sachs’s founders was Marcus Goldman.

In practice, the bank followed the advice of Lippincott’s Hancock. Using a human name inspired the startup to have actual people handle customer service calls, with no automated-operator pinball preceding contact. “Having a human pick up the phone immediately is another example of us humanizing financial services.”


Oscar, the health insurance startup co-founded by Jared Kushner’s younger brother, Josh, was based on the idea that the health-care system is so daunting that an effort to humanize it might reap dividends.

“Oscar engages and empowers its member to navigate a complex, costly health-care system,” said Mario Schlosser, co-founder and chief executive officer. The key to this effort was to create a more human approach to health insurance, which meant, in part, finding a brand name that would reflect it. “We chose the name ‘Oscar’ because it’s simple and human-focused,” explained Schlosser. 

Many of the company’s advertising efforts used a conversational tone, taking advantage of the friendly sounding name (though some Oscars were famously a bit grouchy) with phrases such as “Hi, we’re Oscar,” “Hi Oscar” and “Meet Oscar,” said Emma Riccardi, the company’s spokeswoman. As with Marcus, there’s also a personal connection tied to the brand: Oscar was the name of Kushner’s great grandfather.

“Having the ‘Oscar’ name continue to be this friendly, personable human name, that point is still core, and—I say—the string that has connected us from when we first launched in 2012 to today to the future of Oscar.”


Like many startup stories, the tale of mattress company Casper begins inside a New York apartment. 

“We had a roommate whose name was ‘Kasper’ with a “K,’” explained Parikh . “He didn’t quite fit on the mattress that he had in his room, so we started thinking about the name ‘Kasper.’” Eventually it stuck—only with a C, because the other way didn’t make sense , he said. 

At first glance, their reason for pairing a human name to a mattress company seemed counterintuitive. “We specifically didn’t want something that would just connect us to mattresses,” Parikh said. “Mattresses happen to be the first product we would sell, but we always knew that it had to be about something more than that—about living a better life, especially as it correlates to rest and sleep.”

For a product as intimate as a mattress, the need to create something that “feels very human” was important, Parikh said, and the name was key. “We realized that having something that makes it feel like it could be a person actually kind of lets your guard down a little bit and lets you have that deeper connection,” he said.


In 2016, Molly Hayward founded subscription-based organic tampon company Cora . While searching for a name, she knew it had to be something feminine—but not “girly.” 

“A lot of newer brands in the space were using euphemistic names, and that completely gave me the ick,” Hayward recalled. “When I said ‘Cora’ for the first time, I thought it was nice. It’s short, easily a woman’s name, but no t that common.” The company, created on the idea that menstruation shouldn’t be commercially stigmatized, also chose Cora because it was meant to brin g to mind “core,” evoking a subtle feminine sensibility. 

“When you think of where many of these industries have come from, it was very dehumanized,” Hayward said. “It was euphemistic in some senses, it was abstract in many ways, and there was this lost connection between the person and the brand.”

Warby Parker 

Yes, it’s two names, but the story behind them shows that meaning nothing at all can also offer an advantage.

When Dave Gilboa left his pair of $700 prescription eyeglasses on an airplane, he decided not to bother getting them back. This was a bold decision for the future co-founder of Warby Parker, since he had just arrived in Philadelphia to start his MBA at Wharton.

Bonding over his frustration, he and three classmates decided to start a company aimed at personalizing the eyeglass-buying experience while drastically reducing prices. “The best brands build a strong emotional connection with consumers, and we wanted a name that would give the sense,” Gilboa said. “We joke that finding a name that we all liked was the hardest part about starting a company—took us about six months.”

The team went through about 2,000 potential names until Gilboa stumbled upon two Jack Kerouac characters. They decided to combine them—Warby Pepper and Zagg Parker—into “one that sounded somewhat familiar but not like anyone” their customers would know. 

“Given that most people don’t know someone named Warby, people don’t come in with preconceived notions about the personality of our brand,” said Gilboa, who is also CEO. “It was this interesting, unusual, sophisticated canvas that we could craft our own brand into, and that’s what we were looking for.” 


Launched in Berlin in 2016, Ada is an interactive chat service that combines artificial intelligence and medical knowledge to provide explanations for common symptoms. Like many AI-based companies, the human name plays a key function in the interaction between digital assistant and user. (Think Siri or Alexa.)

“Friendly conversation, underpinned by medical precision, is at the core of everything Ada does,” said Daniel Nathrath, a co-founder and the company’s CEO . “Interactions with Ada should feel like you’re speaking with a friendly, assured and trustworthy medical expert.”

Nathrath said the name “Ada” was a nod to the street name of its headquarters in Berlin, which is Adalbertstraße 20. “Ada, pronounced similarly to ‘aider,’ which means helper, is what our ‘guide’ is,” he said. The name was also that of Ada Lovelace, an early computer programmer who recognized the full potential of a “computing machine,” which Nathrath saw as a nod to his focus on AI. 

“Ada is always there when you need it, and takes the time to listen. With a professional and respectful manner, Ada aims to help you better understand and take care of your health.”


    • When an agency rolls out morphemic rationale, you’re being played.

    • When an agency tries to sell you on a meaning in a language unfamiliar to your customers, you’re being played.

    • When an agency takes the path of least resistance by presenting pairings of white noise words, you’re being sold a Wallflower.

    Preventing a H.I. Jacking

    If you’re looking for a branding or naming agency to create a brand name, have a quick look at their naming portfolio. Agencies who’ve somehow found a way to ethically rationalize The Happy Idiot don’t just dabble, they’re all in. The vast majority of their portfolio will be chockfull of Compound Wallflowers, Invented Words and Foreign Language names.

    All Happy Idiot names are mindless brand zombies, neither interesting, differentiating nor memorable. They create a marketing money pit that you may never climb out of. If you can spot a Happy Idiot, avoiding the trap is straightforward.

    Want To Create A Viral Brand Name?

    Naming Agencies

This is the most overlooked, counterintuitive truth in naming – the difference between the way a literal critique will evaluate a potential brand name and the way a target audience will receive it.

A literal approach judges names based on dictionary definitions or a singular association, in the form of an objection. It asserts a negative meaning or association means the value of the word as a name will also be negative, but it's the tension created by positive and negative forces that makes a name engaging. The literal evidence cited is irrefutable fact, yet 180 degrees from the reality of how the brand name will perform.

Every viral name is a provocation: Slack, Virgin, lululemon, Target, Yahoo, Caterpillar, Hotwire, Bluetooth, Google, Oracle. To qualify as a provocation, a name must contain what literalism would label "negative messages" for the goods and services the name is to represent.

As long as the name maps to one of the positioning points of the brand, consumers process these supposedly negative messages positively, which means they aren't negative at all. They're positive.

Potential names need to be judged on how well they map to positioning, memorability, stopping power, emotional impact, connections to the collective consciousness, distinction from competitors - the sum of which answers the most important naming question, "Is this name interesting?"

Here are some literal objections to some of the best brand names:


  • In business, Slack means “characterized by a lack of work or activity; quiet."

  • A Slacker is someone who works as little as possible. A terrible message for our target audience.

  • Slack means slow, sluggish, or indolent, not active or busy; dull; not brisk. Moving very slowly, as the tide, wind, or water.



  • We are an upscale brand for women, lululemon sounds like a character from a 3-year olds’ picture book: “lululemon and her best friends annabanana and sallystrawberry were climbing Gumdrop Hill, when suddenly from behind a rainbow the queen of the unicorns appeared.”


Virgin Air

  • Says "we're new at this!".

  • Public wants airlines to be experienced, safe and professional.

  • Investors won’t take us seriously.

  • Religious people will be offended.



  • It has one meaning, “to steal a car!”

  • Crime is the last thing we need to be associated with.



  • Yahoo!! It's Mountain Dew!

  • Yoohoo! It’s a chocolate drink in a can!

  • Nobody will world information seriously from a bunch of "Yahoos".



  • Unscientific.

  • Unreliable.

  • Only foretold death and destruction.

  • Only fools put their faith in an Oracle.

  • Sounds like "orifice" – people will make fun of us.



  • Tiny, creepy-crawly bug

  • Not macho enough – easy to squash.

  • Why not bull or workhorse?

  • Destroys trees, crops, responsible for famine.


Banana Republic

  • Derogatory cultural slur.

  • You'll be picketed by people from small, hot countries,



  • Target of an investigation

  • To have a Target on your back

  • A Target gets shot, killed, slaughtered.

  • The Target of a manhunt

You’ve never felt threatened by Target, dismissed lululemon as a child’s brand, deemed Virgin’s pilots inexperienced or thought car thieves ran Hotwire. The reason is because as long as the name maps to one of the positioning points of the brand, people never take its meaning literally, and the negative aspects of the name just make it more memorable and engaging.

These literal, negative objections are not reasons to abandon a name, rather they have demonstrably positive effects on the public. They're what make a name engaging, differentiating and unforgettable. We don't process names literally; we process them emotionally. Getting your committee to acknowledge this counterintuitive truth and to interact as the public does with names, rather than the way the dictionary does, is essential:

  • Slack

  • Positioning: DISRUPTIVE, naming the problem we solve!

  • Qualities: Interesting! Confident, different, focused on solving the target’s problem.



  • Positioning: DISRUPTIVE, a travel hack, exciting, fun.

  • Hotwiring a car is a hack, Hotwire.com is a travel hack. That’s why this name works.

  • Qualities: Interesting! Exciting, different, memorable, viral.



  • Positioning: DISRUPTIVE, different, confident, exciting, alive, human, provocative, fun.
    The innovative name forces people to create a separate box in their head to put it in.

  • Qualities: Interesting! Self-propelling, connects emotionally, deep well.



  • Positioning: DISRUPTIVE, different, confident, superhuman, evocative, powerful, forward thinking.

  • Qualities: Interesting! Self-propelling, connects emotionally, deep well.


Competitive Analysis

A competitive analysis is an essential step in any naming process. How are your competitors positioning themselves? What types of names are common among them? Are their names projecting a similar attitude? Do their similarities offer you a huge opportunity to stand out from the crowd? How does your business or product differ from the competition? How can a name help you define or redefine your brand? Can you change and own the conversation in your industry? Should you?

Quantifying the tone and strength of competitive company names or product names is an empowering foundation for any naming project. Creating such a document helps your naming team decide where they need to go with the positioning, branding and naming of your company or product. It also keeps the naming process focused on creating a name that is a powerful marketing asset, one that works overtime for your brand and against your competitors.

We display the results of a given sector of names in the form of taxonomy charts. Here are some example name taxonomy charts, along with a blank one for your own use. This format is also utilized at Igor to examine taglines and language common to an industry.

  • Accounting and Business Services – As usual, and as you might expect, most of the companies on this list have lower-level functional names.

  • Agency Names of Naming Agencies – If you think that's a mouthful, take a look at this chart of the company names that most of our competitors in the naming and branding space chose for themselves.

  • Airlines – Some major airline names classified by category and by level of engagement.

  • Biotech / Pharmaceutical – This is an extensive taxonomy of company names in the biotech / pharmaceutical industries, classified by category and by level of engagement. On this chart, note that nearly all of the company names are heavily clustered in the lower levels of engagement.

  • Computer Port Technology – This chart compares the names of computer peripheral device ports and the devices that love them.

  • Continuing Medical Education (CME) – Nearly all CME companies have names that are identical.

  • Juice – If you're looking for a juicy name taxonomy, you've come to the right page. Here is our competitive analysis name taxonomy of juice brand names. Fresh squeezed, and all the usual metaphors.

  • Margarines – If you thought that margarines -- aka "butter substitutes" -- existed in a parallel universe, you were right! Here is our competitive analysis name taxonomy of margarine brand names. Eat your heart out.

  • Music and Media Download Servicesy – AKA the iTunes space, but here including movie as well as music download services, plus tangential services such as NetFlix and TiVO that offer different combinations of online, offline, broadband, cable or satellite delivery of multimedia content.

  • Search Engine, Browser and Web Portals – Here are some names you may be familiar with in the Internet industry. Note how many search engines went with Functional names that include the words "search" or "crawler."

  • Social Networks – Social networks have existed on the web for some time in the form of discussion groups, online communities, bulletin boards, webrings and matchmaking services. This chart is confined to rating the names of the new breed of social networks, those that leverage many levels of relationships in the form of "a friend of a friend." Included is the name Tickle, which Igor created.

  • Sport Utility Vehicles (SUV) – This chart compares the (mostly) rough-and-tumble names of the behemoth cars many people either love or hate. Note the prevalence of Western themes, both of the American and Spaghetti varieties.

  • Sweet Snack Food – The names of snack foods are tough to rank in an unbiased way. Our perceptions of snack food names are deeply influenced by emotional connections to the products formed at an early age.

  • Toothpaste – When you Reach for those Pearl Drops to give your mouth an Ultra Bright Super Smile, is your Sure Choice based solely on what will make you the most attractive Close-Up, or is it Ultrabright branding that's taking Aim at you as if yours were the First Teeth to Crest the tide of Oral-B(eauty)?

  • Your Name Taxonomy – Here is a blank name taxonomy chart you can print. Try plotting your competition's product or company names on this chart and see how they sort out.


November 30, 1999

The Name Game

Welcome to the vicious world of corporate name-creation, where $75,000 buys you a suffix and competing shops slur each other over the virtues of Agilent and Avilant.

When Hewlett-Packard decided last year to spin off its instrumentation and measurement division into a separate company, executives at the computer hardware giant did everything they could to smooth the transition. Shareholders had to be notified. A top-flight management team hired. The trades brought on board. But such housekeeping duties were a minor matter compared to the vast existential task that loomed -- a five-phase, cross-unit "identity project," intended to unearth a suitably momentous name for the $8 billion enterprise. The name had to be a grand, monstrous, powerful thing -- broad-shouldered yet luscious, tempered by oaky bass notes of maturity, courage, character -- like a 1961 Cheval Blanc. "This was similar to the Lucent process," says David Redhill, global executive director for Landor Associates, the identity firm hired last year to supervise the project. "We needed a tremendous name that really was magisterial and compelling, and had a certain amount of stature right away."

As with Lucent, Redhill and his team approached the problem with ingenious thoroughness, devising a naming module that would eventually cost the client more than $1 million and involve up to 40 Landor executives around the globe. The first step was to interview key executives at the massive new entity, then known only by its code name of NewCo. "We wanted to know what the company needed to be; what it was aiming to be," says Redhill. "The aim was not to manipulate them, but really to draw out of them exactly how they visualized people feeling about their brand."

The exercise got off to an unpromising start. NewCo executives volunteered that they wanted the company to be perceived as strong, innovative, dynamic and caring. "We've done this process with hundreds of companies," Redhill says wearily. "They all say, 'We want to be perceived as strong, innovative, dynamic and caring.'" And therein, it seemed, lay the problem. Though top NewCo executives had avowed their intention to be different, to change the paradigm, to think outside the nine dots, "the qualities they were aiming to project were in fact common currency," Redhill sighs.

Fortunately, the Landor identity crew had come prepared for exactly this possibility. "We did mood boards," Redhill says. "We did random visual associations, attached to sequential words. And so, when they said, 'We want to be strong,' we would show them a picture of an ocean wave breaking. And we'd ask: 'Do you want to be strong like a force of nature?' Then we'd show them a picture of a metal chain link fence. And we'd ask, 'Do you want to be strong like a chain? Strong but breakable?'" The final slide was a close-up of a human face. "We said, 'Perhaps you want to be strong like human nature -- indomitable and immutable.' And they said, 'Yes, that's us. That's exactly how we imagine people feeling about our brand.'"

After four months of this sort of intensive brand therapy, the group settled upon the only name capable of conveying such protean emotions -- "Agilent." They took the name into focus groups, where, to their great delight, it was received with admiration, approval and total open-mouthed attention. "I've never seen anything like it," says Amy Becker, who works alongside Redhill in Landor's verbal branding and naming group. "This was a pretty rarefied crowd. We're not talking about the mass-consumer, chips-eating sort of person. This was a very particular sort of business-to-business decision maker. A hard group to impress. And they were just delighted." The name was also a hit among the NewCo rank and file. "It's funny, because 'Agilent' isn't even a real word," muses Redhill. "So it's pretty hard to get positive and negative impressions with any real basis in experience. But I'm pleased to say that when we unveiled the name last month at an all-company meeting, a thousand employees stood up and gave the name a standing ovation. And we thought, 'We have a good thing here.'"

But did they? Among Landor's rival name-slingers around the Bay Area, the choice of Agilent was immediately greeted with snorts of derision. "The most namby-pamby, phonetically weak, light-in-its-shoes name in the entire history of naming," declared Rick Bragdon, president of the naming firm Idiom. "It's like a parody of a Landor name. It's insipid. It's ineptly rendered ... It ought to be taken out back and shot."

Steve Manning of A Hundred Monkeys [now Managing Director of Igor], a San Francisco naming firm, was also appalled. "What a crummy name," he says. "It sounds like a committee name. 'Who's your competition?' 'Lucent.' 'Well, we want to play off Lucent -- only we're agile. I mean, if you wanted a name like that, I could come up with that kind of name in about four seconds."

Naseem Javed, president of ABC Namebank in New York, tries to be more charitable in his assessment. "Mm-hm. Mm-hm. Yes, I did hear about the Agilent mess," he says. A long sigh escapes his lips. "Perhaps it would be best if Landor just closed up shop," he says quietly. "I don't want to trash them too badly. It's just that their last four, five naming projects have been total disasters."

Landor, for its part, is quick to defend its handiwork. "To our critics, I can only say, vive la difference, vive the competition and vive individual entrepreneurialism," says Redhill, in his gentle, grandfatherly voice. "We have the utmost confidence in our model." To drive home that point, Redhill put me in touch with Darius Somary, the research director who had confirmed to an empirical certainty the allure of names like Agilent. "From a quantitative standpoint, it's a very appealing name," Somary told me. "On all the scalar measures of distinctiveness and appropriateness, it tested right off the charts."

Welcome to big-league corporate naming, a Pynchonesque netherworld of dueling morphemes, identity buckets and full-scale linguistic sabotage. What was once a diverting sideline for mild-mannered grad students has become an increasingly lucrative and increasingly cutthroat profession, as blue-chip consulting firms schedule raids on college English departments and linguistics nerds scramble to shift their focus from the syntax of negation in the Anatolian languages to the murkier precincts of corporate identity.

The professional back-stabbing is a bit puzzling, given that professional naming, above all, is supposed to be fun. The literature of the namers brims with references to "joy," "play" and to the capacity for childlike wonderment. This image of naming gurus as paragons of corporate delight would be more believable, however, if the namers didn't spend so much time tearing each other to shreds. "You should call up Ira Bachrach of NameLab," breathes one namer. "He doesn't even have meetings with clients. It's just taking a bunch of morphemes and phonemes, and crunching them through the computer. Unbelievable." Another whispers honeyed words of ill counsel about Enterprise IG. "Their names are nothing more than a bunch of concatenized prefixes and suffixes -- totally soulless," he insinuates. "I'd love to see you blow this wide open."

In the extreme sport that is modern corporate nomenclature, trust is in short supply, and paranoia reigns. "I used to work by writing names on individual pieces of paper and sticking them up on the wall," says Steve Manning of A Hundred Monkeys [now Managing Director of Igor]. "I don't do that anymore." The reason? "People were walking around the room with cameras, taking pictures of my names," Manning says blearily. "It got a little creepy. I mean, this is Silicon Valley. People move around a lot ... If they liked one of my names, they might be drawn to register it as a URL. And that would be very bad. Because, you know, I own those names."

What can explain this tense, sour mood? Part of the reason is increased competition. While the corporate-identity racket used to be dominated by a few big players -- Landor, Interbrand, Enterprise IG -- the market is now glutted with professional namers, all scrounging for the same clients. In addition to Lexicon, Idiom and Metaphor, the discriminating brand managers may now choose between NameLab, NameBase, Name/It, NameTrade, Namestormers and TrueNames. Each of the firms has its own jealously guarded methodology, a signature "naming module" that distinguishes it from its competitors. Enterprise IG has its proprietary NameMaker program, good for generating thousands of names by computer. Landor uses a double-barrelled approach; deploying both its "Brand Alignment Process" and a "BrandAsset Valuator." Others find that their module must be described in more than a few words. "We have a wonderful approach," says Rick Bragdon of Idiom. "We use an imaginative series of turbo-charged naming exercises, including Blind Man's Brilliance, Imagineering, Synonym Explosion and Leap of Faith ... We find that when clients are playing, literally playing creative games, they create names that come from a place of joy, a place of fun. A place that allows them to transcend the drudgery of naming, and come up with names that are fresh and different." Bragdon's most recent naming project? "I-Motors," he says sheepishly.

But a cutthroat marketplace isn't the only reason for the jaundiced mood. Among ad agencies and corporate marketing departments, and even at the naming companies themselves, there is a grim consensus that, despite all the frantic bonding and interfacing, despite the morpheme-munching computer modules, names today are worse than ever. "I tend to steer clients away from hiring naming companies," says Marc Babej, a brand planner at Kirshenbaum, Bond & Partners, a New York ad agency. "As naming has become professionalized, it's led to a certain norming standard. The names have come to sound more and more alike." Babej explains what he means by this. "You can imagine how, at one time, Livent might have sounded new and hot," he says. "Well, but now we have Lucent. And we have Aquent and Avilant and Agilent and Levilant and Naviant and Telegent. What's next, Coolent? What you have here is clients being taken for a ride."

Naseem Javed, president of ABC Namebank in New York, speculates that someday, historians will look back on the late '90s as a low point in the annals of naming. "There were periods in history of terrible architecture," he says. "But this architecture was actually presented to popes and kings and lords. And they actually went out, and lived in this type of housing! Why, then, should we be surprised that corporations are going out and spending 5, 10, 15, 20 million dollars promoting these dumb names? And then going out and changing them to names that are even dumber?"

Javed elaborates: "As I see it, there is a real malpractice issue," he says. "If you've just developed a great stereo system, I can see paying $1 million for a great name -- Sony. But what if you hire the same company for another naming project? And the names they come back with are Bony, Cony, Dony, Zony? At what point do you say, forget it, this is not worth $1 million? This is not even worth $5."

At no point, responds Landor. "We don't have an issue at all" with sound-alike names, Redhill tells me. "Think of the names Larry and Mary," he says soothingly. "They have the same suffix. But the meaning is completely different!" So, too, he says, with Landor creations Livent, Lucent and Agilent. Other top naming firms, aware that their names have come to resemble each other, have taken to attaching lagniappes of meaning to individual letters. Think of it as a couture touch, the syntactical equivalent of scalloped stitching on an inside hem. Michele Lally, global marketing director for Reuters-Dow Jones Interactive, recently renamed Factiva, is grateful to her naming company, Interbrand, for helping her stand out in a world of Factevas and Actevas. She has sought refuge in, as she puts it, "the semiotics of the letter i." "Have you seen our letterhead?" she asks. "We do the i as a biacron. An i with a circle on top. Or 'the bubble,' as we call it internally." Lally herself is bubbling over with enthusiasm for the bubble. "The brand circle denotes infinite possibilities," she says. "We very much hope that bubble, that icon, will come to symbolize business information in airport lounges worldwide."

Ron Kapella, head of Enterprise IG, seems to be pursuing a similar tack with Naviant, an online data-mining company. Eager to distinguish his brainchild from its sound-alike cousins Agilent and Navigent, he, too, has honed in on the letter i. "Notice that the letter i is exactly in the middle of the word," he says. "Notice also that it has a circle over it. An i with a circle over it is the international symbol for information. It's a visual symbol we've created. Consumers will come to associate it with endless inspiration, endless possibility."

Unless, that is, they associate it with googly eyed teenage girls who dot their i's with hearts and smiley faces. And indeed, among some companies, a backlash against the naming companies has taken hold. For some, the fact that they came up with their names all by themselves, without recourse to professional help, has become a point of pride. "I love our name," Jeff Mallett, president and CEO of Yahoo, recently told an industry newsletter. "It's fun, irreverent and consumer-focused. And it wasn't conjured up by Landor, or some huge naming agency."

It's this sort of chutzpah that makes the namers at Landor see red. "The Internet is filled with arrogance," says Amy Becker coldly. "You might have a provocative, fun name. But do you have the basis for a lasting brand? We still don't know how compelling a brand Yahoo will be 10 years from now. I sense a real missed opportunity."

"Let's put it this way," says Redhill. "Over the years, we have created and sustained many of the world's most durable brands. We make a lot more hits than companies who think up their own symbols and names. I'm not suggesting that a company couldn't get it right with a stroke of insight or genius or luck. But if it's your own brand, how can you possibly be objective? I mean, would you name your own baby?" Redhill thinks for a minute, then backpedals. "I mean, of course you would name your own baby. But wouldn't you ask your friends and family for suggestions and recommendations? Perhaps they would open your eyes to a name you'd never considered."

Redhill is not alone in warning against the dangers of dilettantism in naming. Other namers are quick to deplore the proliferation of amateurs -- naming arrivistes who don't know the difference between denotative and connotative meaning, and who hilariously confuse brand equity with brand awareness. "A typical naming process costs about $75,000," says Ron Kapella of Enterprise IG. "Now, that might sound like a lot of money. But naming is very difficult and challenging. There are rules to follow. Rules of linguistics. Rules of trademark. Rules of international corporate nomenclature ... It's not just a process of pizza and beer around the table."

In hushed tones, Naseem Javed of ABC Namebank talks of the seamy underbelly of naming -- of squalid, Dickensian naming mills operating late into the night. "I've heard of those outfits," he says. "They've piled up thousands, zillions of names, which they'll sell for a buck each. For $1,000, they'll give you a thousand names. But look at the names! It's garbage in and garbage out." His voice lowers ominously. "Names like 'Oasis,' 'Advanta,' 'Advantia,' 'Advantia Plus.' Clients don't realize how many times those names have been recycled and recycled. Then, all of a sudden, it's Friday afternoon, and the press release has to go out on Monday." Apparently unaware of Redhill's description of the arduous process, culminating in an outburst of mass euphoria, that generated the name of Hewlett-Packard's new division, he speculates, "That's how you end up with a name like Agilent."

The naming pros love to trade stories of shortsighted CEOs who attempt to go it alone before finally turning to them in humble desperation. "Our system really is a quite powerful system to make new words out of English," says Ira Bachrach of NameLab. "We comprehend how identity structure works. We're creating natural language solutions from a morphemic core ... When clients try to do it themselves, out of word fragments, they end up throwing their hands up in disgust. Luckily for us," he adds, laughing uproariously.

Bachrach recently completed a renaming project for MacTemps, a specialized talent agency that provides print production experts who are proficient on Macintosh computers. Bachrach didn't much care for the name. "It didn't function well," he says. "It didn't suggest a brand." Bachrach thought he could help. "What MacTemps needed," he says, "was a name that was aggressively novel, shockingly different. A name that grabbed the perceiver by the throat and shook him."

Bachrach and his team of constructional linguists rose to the occasion. They presented MacTemps executives with their recommendation -- Aquent. Aquent? "It doesn't mean anything," Bachrach cheerfully explains. "But if it did mean something, it would mean, 'Not a Follower.'"

Bachrach elaborates. "This is a company that advocates for independent professionals," he says. "They have asequential career paths ... 'A,' as in 'not,' comes from ancient Greek. 'Quent' comes from the Latin 'sequor,' meaning, 'to follow.' These are people who are striking out on their own, charting their own course."

At MacTemps -- Aquent -- the name change went into effect last month. Befuddled employees are struggling to get with the program. "Let's see if I'm explaining this correctly," says Nunzio Domellici, an Aquent vice president. "The root of 'sequential' is 'quent.' 'Quent' itself is not a Latin word. But if it were a Latin word, it would mean, 'follower.' Or 'not a follower.' They share the same root." Domellici pauses. "Anyway, it's not something we stress when we pick up the phone."

You could be forgiven for thinking that a functional, descriptive name such as MacTemps, for all its pedestrian clunkiness, might be preferable to a name like Aquent, which to the casual observer evokes something vaguely liquid, perhaps a mouthwash, and whose meaning only becomes clear, if then, when parsed by a listener who is profoundly familiar with the morphemic structure of Latin and ancient Greek. But to the new pros of nomenclature, such quibbles are irrelevant. To hear Bachrach tell it, he couldn't care less whether company executives actually like the name he has bestowed upon them. "We're not really interested in what the client wants," he says. "What we do reflects what the client needs. We have our own analytic system for looking at what the structure of a name should be, and actually, tend to ignore the client's wishes."

Bachrach is joined in this view by many of his naming compatriots. Some go so far as to say that it's actually better if the client doesn't like the name. "We actually prefer that clients don't fall in love with the name," says Rick Bragdon of Idiom. "If they fall in love with the name, it's a good sign there's something wrong with the name."

"By establishing criteria, and by developing names against those criteria, we've taken the arbitrariness out of the process," says Ron Kapella of Enterprise IG. "And so, when a client says, 'I don't like it,' I say, 'It doesn't matter whether you like it or not. The question is: Does it meet the criteria?'" In addition to Naviant, Kapella's brag book includes Navistar and Tempstar, Telegy and Telegent, Verbex and Azurex, Nortel and Meritel.

Despite all the complaints about unlicensed amateurs, the true threat to great naming may come not from the slapdash fumblings of anarchic freelancers, but from something close to the opposite. In their zeal to professionalize and standardize what used to be a goofy, freewheeling, fly-by-night enterprise, the naming conglomerates tend to produce names that are reflective not of the client's corporate culture, but of their own. The result: a slew of names that are sterile, antiseptic, talcum-powder bland.

To find the soul of the Agilent generation, you need look no further than Darius Somary, a bright, eager research director at Landor. Somary is a firm believer in the need to subject all names to the rigors of quantitative and volumetric research. "The advantage we see in quantitative research in name testing is that it yields definite statistical results," he tells me. "It's easier to pick a winner."

But language, of course, is not digital, but organic. It comes from that wet, sticky place that we call our brain. How, I ask Somary, can Landor quantify an emotional response to a word? Easy, he says. "We set up phone interviews in which the interviewer has a very clear script to follow. And she can't really interact outside of that script. The questions are quite straightforward. She might say something like, 'On a scale of one to 10, how strongly does the name 'Agilent' communicate the following attributes: 'high quality,' 'very strong customer focus,' 'adapted to my needs,' 'truly cares about its customers.'

"Then we look at the results," Somary tells me. "We chart it all out. We make name graphs. And we go back to the client, and we say, 'Here's our winner.'"

Lu Cordova, president of TixToGo.com, is among the CEOs who roll their eyes at this sort of hubris. "Let's face it," she says. "We know who's in these big naming companies. We went to college with some of them. They say they're experts at this and experts at that. But they're really just our peers. They don't have any special mystical powers."

Cordova learned this the hard way earlier this year, when she sought out a new name for TixToGo, a popular online booking, ticketing and reservations service. After several months of probing and crunching, the naming firm she'd hired came back with a strong recommendation: YourThing.com. "The first 10 people we mentioned it to all said, 'It sounds like your, um, thingy," Cordova says drily. "So we said, whoops, OK, that one's gone."

Finished with the naming companies, TixToGo decided instead to sponsor a contest. Last month, the company picked a winner, David Nader, from over 128,000 entrants. In return for his winning submission, "Acteva," Nader received the keys to a Porsche Boxter. The shy young software engineer was thrilled -- and so was Cordova. "We love the name," she says. "And we're especially delighted it came from a civilian. The [naming companies] are unbelievable. I had one guy from a naming firm ask me me how I expected to get a name from a non-expert. He literally said, 'I charge $150,000 just to sneeze.' His whole attitude was, 'How could you go to them when you have me?' The snobbery, the credentialism was incredible."

Cordova casts her decision to snub the namers in populist terms. "We bet on America, and the bet paid off," she says. "We spread awareness. We grabbed a lot of creative names ... The whole thing was tons of fun. What a vindication of the American population -- to show that they could do it."

For those corporate souls not brave enough to put their brand in the hands of the American citizenry, another option is to turn to a renegade naming firm. A Hundred Monkeys, headed by Danny Altman and Steve Manning [now Managing Director of Igor], is leading the fight against terminal blandness in corporate naming. "We don't do names like Agilent," Manning tells me. "And so we have to pass on a lot of big contracts. We'd name a car for GM for free, if they'd just let us do something cool. Something with some emotional connectivity. It'd be such a fucking public service."

"No one names a car Mustang or Thunderbird or Monte Carlo anymore," Altman chimes in. "Instead, you have Acura. Alero. Xterra. Integra. All thoroughly researched committee decisions. All emotionally empty ... By the time they've been laundered, and pressed and packaged there's nothing left."

Altman and Manning, whose clients include Nickelodeon, Apple and Matchbox toys, are contemptuous of their morpheme-crunching rivals. "It's like using a computer program to write a song," Manning says. "You can do it, but why? Why go there? Why do that?" They regard their names as organic, throbbing beings, deserving of courtesy and respect. "I think all the time about the names that didn't make it," Altman says mournfully. "I think about what those names would have been like had they lived."

"It's like the names are our foster children," Altman says eagerly. "We have to give them up to someone. But we want to make sure they go to a good home. And that they're going to be used in a good way."

Some would say they love their names a little too much. "It's like [the names] are these little creative pearls, and they're casting them before us swine," says one advertising executive who has worked with the pair. The executive puts down the phone. "Lorraine," he yells, "what were some of those names that A Hundred Monkeys kept trying to shove down our throats? Oh yes. Jamcracker. Calabash. Wallop. Kitamba, which is apparently some kind of Hindu cloth. Totally inappropriate for our client."

"Who told you about Jamcracker?" Manning asks. "If you printed that, there would be legal issues. No one's taken that name yet! That name is our intellectual property." Later, however, Manning relents and allows me to publish the name. "There's actually been an issue with Jamcracker," he admits.

It seems that when Altman and Manning presented the name Jamcracker to a client recently, the reception was not everything they had hoped for. "I put the name up in front of their creative people," Manning says. "There were a couple of women sitting in. One of them got up and said, 'Oh, that's disgusting.' Another said, 'This is really sick.' I said, 'Excuse me, what are you talking about?' They said, 'We can't explain it, but that name is just creeping us out. We don't know what it is, but could you take it off the wall, please?'" Manning remains mystified by the incident. "There's apparently some strange, uncomfortable meaning attached to it in the minds of some women," he says. "God knows what that could be."

But while the Monkeys' methods aren't universally popular, some people can't get enough. Satisfied clients describe their experience as akin to the religious epiphany that follows an agonizing exile in the desert. "It's not all fun and games with the Monkeys," says Robin Bahr, marketing director for MedicaLogic, a health-care Web site. "At the end, you see the light. But early on, when the primordial soup is still being stirred, there's a lot of contention. There's fear and trepidation."

"They just kept digging and digging," says Gary Siefert, the company's director of Internet services. "There's a Walter Payton confidence about what they do. They were actively, if not aggressively, challenging our business model and our thinking. They were asking questions and more questions. Until they got to the essence of what we do. It was like digging into a huge watermelon on a summer day, just breaking it down, piece by piece. They kept drawing us back and back, from the playground of our inner child to the reality of our business model. It was an almost mystical experience."

Bahr and Siefert are thrilled with their Monkey-furnished name -- "98point6." "It's perfect," says Bahr. "It's just what we wanted. No Latin roots. No suffixes of any kind. I mean, these guys are good."

The monkeys don't come cheap. "We charge $65,000 per name," says Altman. "But we work with you for a month. And for that month, we are basically yours. It's actually a much lower price point than many of our competitors."

He's right. What's more, at A Hundred Monkeys, $65,000 will buy you an entire word. Some rival firms charge more than that for a mere suffix.

Consider Luxon Cara's $70,000 "identity program" for US Air. The airline "wanted to be repositioned and perceived as a major U.S. airline," says John Hudson, Luxon Cara's president. "And so we researched this. We checked it out globally. We basically lived with them for nine months to a year. It was one of the most exciting things we ever did."

Tom Lagow, US Air's executive vice president of marketing, says it was exciting for him, too. "They did an extensive amount of research," he says. "A hundred to 150 hours of interviewing. And I'll tell you, I was very impressed. They peeled the onion back to the point where they were able to define what business we were in. They determined that we were in the business of proficiency. And that, very unfortunately, that message of proficiency was not conveyed by the name US Air."

What was the new name? I asked. And when would it be unveiled? I was guessing Skystar, Glident, Proficienta. "Oh, it's already been unveiled," Lagow explains. I was perplexed. "But isn't US Air still US Air?" I asked. "I was just in an airport the other day, and I could have sworn ..."

"No, no," Lagow says. "It's been changed to US Airways."

"That's it?" I asked.

"That's all we needed!" he said eagerly. "What we found was that airlines that end in 'Air' tend to be thought of not as major. What we found is that if you stretch the name a little bit -- don't throw it out, just stretch it a little bit -- you create the perception of a larger, more substantial airline. Strategically and structurally, we are now oriented toward the international."

The renaming, which was announced in April 1997, was worth every penny, says Lagow. "We've heard comments from around the industry that it's one of the best identity programs ever done," he says.

If $70,000 seems like a hefty price for a word fragment, consider the chutzpah of Ira Bachrach. Several years ago, he charged Infiniti $75,000 for a single letter. Or, to be fair, two letters.

"We wanted to express the idea that [Infiniti] was a philosophically different kind of car," Bachrach explains. Proclaiming E, S, Z or X to be yesterday's news, Bachrach recommended that the company adopt different letters for its model identifiers. "I told them to use letters that weren't conventional," he says, "that were, in fact, aggressively unconventional."

Bachrach decided he was sweet on "q" and "j." "Utterly unused letters," he says. "Aggressively novel letters which didn't necessarily parse to luxury and performance. These were marketing guys with courage."

One model became the Infiniti J30, another the Q45. "I know it doesn't sound like much," Bachrach admits. "But I'm prouder of that than anything I've ever done in the model business. It was a marvelously condensed way to convey something that would have taken millions of dollars in advertising to convey." Instead, they scraped by with a mere $37,500 per letter. Lucky Infiniti.

In the end, however, attempting to quantify the benefits of a naming project may be just as small-minded as, well, attempting to quantify the benefits of a name. For the lucky client who truly clicks with his or her namer, the collateral benefits go far beyond nomenclature. There are new words to learn. Fun games to play. And, in the case of the Monkeys, unimpeachable warmth and love. "We got so much more than a name," says Robin Bahr of 98point6. "I mean, I got a name for my daughter. One of our senior executives identified strongly with 'Mescalanza.' No one calls him Jim anymore. His name is Mescalanza." Meanwhile, she says, "our senior manager for Internet development just fell in love with the name 'Jamcracker.' And so today, the Harvey meeting is known as the Jamcracker meeting. There are 300 people at this company who identify Jamcracker with Harvey."

Bahr claps her hands over her mouth. "Oh my God," she says. "I forgot. I shouldn't be mentioning these names to a reporter. Technically, we don't have ownership of those names. Jamcracker is still the Monkeys' property."

Bahr stops for a moment, as if listening to herself. Then she bursts out laughing. "Listen," she says. "I take it back. You write whatever you want to write. If someone out there wants to name their company Jamcracker, God bless them. And good luck to them."

10 Questions to Ask Before Naming Your Business

10 Questions to Ask Before Naming Your Business

What's in a name? When deciding what to call your company, the answer is plenty. A business name can be too broad--or too confining. It can be too quirky--or not memorable enough. The challenge is to pick a name that's catchy, but also fits well with your particular type of business.

Here are 10 questions to ask as you ponder various names, keeping in mind that the choice could make all the difference in establishing your company in the marketplace.

What do I want a name to accomplish for my company?
A name can help separate you from competitors and reinforce your company's image, says Steve Manning, founder of Sausalito, Calif.-based Igor, a naming agency. He suggests clearly defining your brand positioning before choosing a name, as Apple did to differentiate itself from corporate sounding names like IBM and NEC. "They were looking for a name that supported a brand positioning strategy that was to be perceived as simple, warm, human, approachable and different," Manning says.

Will the name be too limiting?
Don't box yourself in, says Phoenix-based Martin Zwilling, CEO and founder of Startup Professionals Inc., an advisor to early-stage startups. Avoid picking names that could limit your business from enlarging its product line or expanding to new locations, he says, citing the example of Angelsoft.com, a company formed in 2004 to help connect startup companies with angel investors. A couple of years ago, the company realized it needed to appeal equally to venture capital and other types of investors. So, it did a costly rebranding to Gust.com, which is less specific and evokes a nice "wind in the sails" image.

Does the name make sense for my business?
For most companies, it's best to adopt a name that provides some information about their products and services. That doesn't mean it can't also have a catchy ring. Lawn and Order, for example, is a good name for a landscaping business because it gets people's attention and also clearly relates to the company's services, Zwilling says. While unusual words like Yahoo and Fogdog sometimes work, quirky names are always a crapshoot.

Is the name easy to remember?
The shorter the name, the better, Zwilling says, suggesting that business owners limit it to two syllables and avoid using hyphens or other special characters. He also recommends skipping acronyms, which mean nothing to most people, and picking a name whose first letter is closer to A than Z because certain algorithms and directory listings work alphabetically. "When choosing an identity for a company or a product, simple and straightforward are back in style and cost less to brand," he says.

Is the name easy for people to spell?
That may seem to be a given, but some companies purposely select names that consumers can't easily spell. It's a risky strategy to try to make a company stand out, and some naming consultants recommend against it. "If your name looks like a typo, scratch it off the list," says Alexandra Watkins, founder and chief innovation officer of Eat My Words, a naming service based in San Francisco. She also believes that it's important that your name be spelled exactly as it sounds. Otherwise, you will forever have to spell it out for people when saying the name or your company's email or website address aloud. "Think of how often you have to spell your own first or last name for people," she says. "Why would you want a brand name with the same problem?"

How will potential customers first encounter your name?
Some naming experts believe there are exceptions to the easy-to-spell rule, especially if most people will see your name for the first time in a print or online ad. For example, consider Zulily, the online company offering daily deals for moms, babies and kids. "If you just heard that name, you might not guess how to spell it, but the company's aggressive online ad campaign has meant that most people first see it spelled out," says Chris Johnson, a naming consultant in Seattle and author of The Name Inspector blog, who came up with the name Zulily. "The payoff is that the unusual sound and spelling of the name have helped them create a very distinctive brand."

Does the name sound good and is it easy to pronounce?
Manning says the sound of the name is important in conveying a feeling of energy and excitement. You also must be sure potential customers can easily pronounce your company's name. "It is a hard fact that people are able to spell, pronounce and remember names that they are familiar with," he says, pointing to Apple, Stingray, Oracle and Virgin as strong names. But he doesn't like such company names as Chordiant, Livent and Naviant. "These names are impossible to spell or remember without a huge advertising budget, and the look, rhythm and sound of them cast a cold, impersonal persona," he says.

Is your name meaningful only to yourself?
A name with hidden or personal meanings evokes nothing about your brand, and you won't be there to explain it when most people encounter it. "Refrain from Swahili, words spelled backwards, and naming things after your dog," Watkins says. She gives the example of Lynette Hoy, who was using her first and last name for her PR firm in Bainbridge Island, Wash. The name didn't work because it failed to evoke Hoy's fiery personality and passion, Watkins says. So, the company was rebranded Firetalker PR, and Hoy took the title of Fire Chief. She called her office The Firehouse, and began offering PR packages such as Inferno, Controlled Burn and The Matchbox. "Her entire brand is built around that name and lends itself to endless ways to extend the name," Watkins says. "Her prior name didn't lend itself to any theme or wordplay."

Is the name visually appealing?
You also want to consider how the name looks in a logo, ad or a billboard, Manning says. He points to Gogo, the inflight Internet service provider, as a good name for design purposes. "It's the balance of the letters, all rounded and friendly, versus a word with hard, angular letters like Ks and Ts and Rs," Manning says. Other visually appealing names include Volvo because it has no low-hanging letters and Xerox for the symmetry of beginning and ending with the same letter.

Have I conducted a proper trademark search?
A great name is worthless if someone else already has laid claim to it. Start with some free resources like Trademarkia.com or USPTO.gov to do a cursory search to see if the name is already in use. Then, hire a trademark attorney to do a more thorough screening, and if the name isn't taken, to register it with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. "Get it right the first time," Watkins says. "A third of our business comes from companies who are being threatened with trademark infringement."

Cisco Makes a Play for Mainstream Market

B-to-B Networking Giant Spies New Revenue Stream in Consumer Products

By Rita Chang

SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- For an advertiser that doesn't sell anything directly to consumers, Intel has made a name for itself among them. Now another tech titan, Cisco Systems, is hoping to follow in its footsteps.

While it's not hurting for market share -- it owns more than 70% of the business-to-business networking-equipment market -- Cisco's mature equipment business is hitting a wall, and the slowing corporate-IT spending isn't helping. So the company felt the time was right to tap a new revenue stream.

"We like to enter new markets when there's a transition going on ... because it's easier to take market share," said Ken Wirt, Cisco's senior VP-consumer marketing. "If there isn't some kind of transition going on, then you just battle the established players, and there's trench warfare." Mr. Wirt said the current transition Cisco is hoping to cash in on is consumers seeking to connect the entire home rather than having silos for each piece of technology.

Consumer technology has been a plank in Cisco's strategy since it acquired home-networking company Linksys in 2003. As part of its bid to cross over into consumer electronics, Cisco in March acquired Pure Digital, maker of the popular Flip camcorder, for $590 million.

Cisco wants to be in the consumer space, Mr. Wirt said, because a lot of innovations driving networks are coming from consumers. Moreover, he said, the company has the reach to market Flip globally.

But some wonder what Cisco will gain by associating itself with the Flip products.

Beyond networking

"If consumers know Cisco, they only know it as a networking company, which has no relevance to someone looking at a video camera," said Jay Jurisich, creative director at Igor International, which advised Cisco earlier this decade. "Capturing the memories of your life and family coupled with the small form factor of the Flip -- that's where it resonates emotionally. If you pair it with 'brought to you by the people who bring you routers' -- that's going to fall with a thud."

Transition tips

A trio of experts -- Scott Piergrossi, VP creative development at the Brand Institute; Karl Barnhart, partner at CoreBrand; and Jessica Chalifoux of Wolff Olins -- offer their advice:

  • Make sure you have a strong consumer value proposition that doesn't muddy the waters of your core business.
  • Make a significant marketing investment: You have to tell people you've made the jump.
  • Start internal and move external. Your employees, as brand ambassadors, can help.
  • Eliminate technical jargon.
  • Be friendly and soften the corporate brand image. Talk less about the products and more about the core value of the brand and its benefits.
  • Evolve the brand over time to allow consumers to digest the new positioning.

But the company's ambition to become a household name is nothing short of a bid to own the network inside the home that ties together electronic devices from the TV to the PC. As consumers increasingly download videos and games to their TVs and cellphones, Cisco is counting on these bandwidth-hungry applications to fuel greater demand for the equipment that process them.

Whereas Intel is needling shoppers to demand Intel-powered PCs from computer makers, Cisco will have to go beyond the soft-sell, if it wants to reach its stated goal of quintupling its consumer business within three to five years. Though Cisco's consumer business generates far less than 5% of total revenue, analysts expect Cisco to further beef up its electronics portfolio, which also includes set-top boxes.

Cisco plans to brand its consumer products using a "master-brand strategy," said Marilyn Mersereau, Cisco's senior VP-corporate marketing, taking a page from General Electric, whose "Imagination at Work" sits above all its products. The Cisco nameplate would figure most prominently on the physical product itself, though the company would go to market with names consumers are familiar with like Linksys or Flip, she said.

Room for Cisco?

But is there space for another player in the crowded, low-margin consumer-electronics space that would pit Cisco against the likes of Sony and Apple?

"The question you could ask is: Does Cisco have to own this?" Jason Ader, an analyst at William Blair & Co., said. "Even if they advertise the hell out of [Flip], will it drive adoption at a faster pace? It's pretty viral. I'm not sure if anything Cisco does will accelerate [the adoption]."

Cisco's agency of record is Ogilvy. The company spent $46 million in measured media last year, down 37% from the prior year, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

Cross-over hits ...


The "Intel Inside" campaign put the microprocessor maker on the map, spurring consumers to ask for it by name.


The disk-drive maker made a deep dive into the consumer space by launching devices that store digital media, giving them friendly names like Barracuda, Pipeline and FreeAgent.


Being the top PC-operating-systems vendor gave the software behemoth a huge leg up into the consumer market when it bundled its spreadsheet and word-processor applications with little competition, eventually giving rise to Microsoft Office.


Once a conglomerate that made everything from rubber and telephony cables, it eventually focused on the telecommunications business. Today it's is the world's biggest mobile-handset maker.


Taking on Sony successfully in the home-electronics space cemented Philipsas a consumer brand. Many also know Philips for its electric toothbrushes and lighting products.

... and misses


When Big Blue marketed its ThinkPad PCs, it moved from mainframes to mainstream. It returned to its roots after selling its unprofitable PC business to Chinese computer maker Lenovo in late 2004.


Intel didn't hit a home run with consumers all the time. Through the late 1990s and early 2000s, it tried to extend its name into selling everything from wireless computer mice to digital cameras. It also marketed wireles-home-networking cards and WiFi systems under the moniker "AnyPoint." Ultimately, the company decided it was most at home with microchips and shuttered the line.


Launched in the mid-'90s, Microsoft's WebTV had a promising proposition: connect to the Internet via the TV. The service never paid off, thanks partly to expensive customer service problems.


DuPont hoped shoe shoppers would ask for its synthetic leather substitute, branded "Corfam," by name when it was introduced in the '60s. But consumers didn't buy it, and leather manufacturers began to drop their prices and increase quality.


For an industry that employs armies of salespeople to trawl the halls of hospitals and doctors offices, Big Pharma is not exactly on the cutting edge when it comes to pitching directly to consumers; but more drug marketers are moving in that direction. They're dogged by a perpetual image problem, however: criticisms over high prices, safety concerns and lack of trust. Still, the U.S. remains one of the few countries that allows drug makers to market prescription medications directly to consumers.

Naming Exposed

The most common approaches to naming entail describing your business in the name or taking an 'empty vessel' approach. Naming specialist Igor (and the people behind the acclaimed Snark Hunting naming & branding newsletter) highlight the flaws of these naming strategies and explain the fundamentals behind the best evocative names, providing many useful tips in the process.


For many companies, the process of naming and branding is almost an afterthought: the founder names the company, the first products are descriptively named, and branding means marketing, which means, for the most part, advertising. The assumption is that the names aren't that important, that the number of dollars you put into advertising is what will get you noticed.

This approach may have worked fine in decades past, but it is increasingly anemic in today's saturated marketplace. There are simply too many companies and products out there for anyone to remember, so only the ones with the most memorable names stand a chance. And that's true whether you invest millions into advertising or nothing at all. Advertising can get you seen; it cannot, however, guarantee that you will be remembered.

So, if naming has become that important to modern business, how do you go about approaching the process in the right way, and why have so many companies dropped the ball when it comes to naming? Let's take a deeper look.

Descriptive Names

An important first step when naming a business, product or service is to figure out just what it is that your new name should be doing for you. The most common decision is that a name should explain to the world what business you are in or what your product does. Intuition dictates that this will save you the time and money of explanation, which actually turns out not to be true. Why not?

Let's consider the arena of online bookstores. Here are a few of their names:

Q: We are a very small meat processor serving local farmers and rangers since 1929. We are expanding into a retail operation selling high-quality steaks and have named our operation "Brush Steaks" after the city where we are located. My question: We had students from a university marketing class study us, and they recommended that we change our name. Their argument was that nobody knows our town and the words "brush" and "steaks" have no real meaning together. Personally, I think our name is different, not generic, and I believe it connects us to our smalltown roots. What do your experts think? -- A.K., Brush, Colo.

First, congratulations on being resourceful enough to bring in university students and have them critique your operation. There's nothing wrong with getting an impartial, outsider's opinion -- and having young people deliver it for free is a terrific idea. However, you certainly aren't obligated to implement all the recommendations you got from the university. Those coming from academia sometimes lack the sort of real-world experience that can transform a theoretical concept into a practical recommendation. The name of your company is important and changing it is a big deal, so getting additional opinions is a great idea.

Here's how our branding experts weighed in after chewing over your current business name:

"Using the name 'Brush Steaks' could be a great foundation for branding and you could paint a whole story around it," says Sharon Berman, of Berbay Corp. "I'd build on the small-town theme, paint a whole picture: 'What is a Brush Steak?' -- and then tell the tale of the family history and the small town. You could do some great stuff. 'Brush' is different, and has a reason for being different. Brush Steak really lends itself to becoming well-known for a flavorful steak." WELL DONE!  Laura DuDell, of DuDell & Associates, agrees. "I like your name," she says. "Brush makes me think of the real West, and 'steaks' conjures up visual images from "stake in the ground" to "claim your stake." It's a Western theme that, applied effectively with a well-designed logo, tagline, or visual image, would clearly define your product. A brand identity is more than a name, it's an image that captures the intangibles about the business and product. I'm already thinking of a thick juicy steak!"

Eric Swartz, owner/principal of The Byline Group confirms the Western cattle lore surrounding the town of Brush and its founder, cattle pioneer Jared L. Brush. "The name also has metaphorical appeal," Swartz notes. "Brush connotes 'sparsely settled country,' i.e., the Old West, with images of cattle drives, ranches, cowpokes, Westerns, etc. Beef was a form of currency way back then. It was a way of life." Using Brush as a metaphor for a bygone era also lends the company credibility, he says. "Who knows steaks better than Brush? It's like Boston Baked Beans or San Francisco Sourdough!" Match up the name with a memorable logo and tagline (see his article for more info). Swartz's conclusion: You've got a winner.

Jay Jurisich, the creative director of Igor is not so enamored. "Brush Steaks is a little different -- it's not 'Colorado Meat Processing' at least, but the name could be doing much more," he says. "Specifically, it has several problems, not the least of which is that nobody outside of the 5,117 residents of Brush, Colo. is likely to connect the name to the idea of 'smalltown roots.' Another problem is the appendage 'steaks.' Contrary to what the marketing class reported, this pairing of words does have a real meaning. However, it's not terribly great. It implies a different kind of 'brush,' that of wild lands dense with bushes or shrubs, so that `Brush Steaks' conjures up euphemistic images of grass-fed wallaby meat, grilled flying squirrel, or jackrabbit filet. It might as well be 'Bush Steaks.'"

HARD TO SWALLOW.  His colleague, Igor Managing Director Steve Manning, agrees that while Brush connotes a sense of locality, it doesn't do so on a national level like the name "Omaha Steaks" does. "You would first have to try and get people to understand that Brush is a small Western town, where a name like Jackson Hole communicates 'Western town" without spending a cent. Even with a huge marketing budget, it makes little sense to try and position your brand in a similar way and take on the titans. The opportunity here is to position yourself in a fresh way that awakens a customer base that has grown bored with hearing the same talk from everyone in the industry year after year. Tombstone Pizza and the tagline 'What Do You Want On Your Tombstone?' is an example of the power of breaking out of standard naming-and-messaging conventions. The whole point of marketing is to stand out from the crowd and be embraced by your audience."

He also points out that "Brush steaks" is a common term found in recipes, as in "brush steaks lightly with butter before grilling." Adds Manning: "Anyone searching online to place an order with you will have to wade through scores of irrelevant results."

Q: I have been working in the urban apparel business for six years and see a lot of potential in this field, but the problem is the longevity -- or lack of it -- of names or brands. I now have an investor to help start my own brand, and the hardest thing is coming up with a name. Can you give me suggestions about what strategy I should employ? -- D.L., New York City

A: You are right to focus on your brand. A successful fashion label will transcend your name, even if you name the company after yourself. "Figuring out which naming strategy will work best means first figuring out your brand positioning," says Jay Jurisich, creative director of Igor, a naming-and-branding consultancy based in San Francisco. Says Jurisich, you must "carefully define your attitude, your particular sense of style and fashion, and what sets you apart from the other labels."

A lot of fashion names come and go quickly because the clothing, brand, and name are dated to a particular moment in time, warns Steve Manning, Igor's managing director. "Don't pick a name that references or plays off anything in the temporal world of rap, hip hop, or pop culture," he says. A name that is linked to one of today's red-hot trends will become passé far too quickly.

Anything goes in the world of fashion names, and the trick is to do something different and interesting -- but without going over the top. "Don't try to do anything too 'out there,'" warns Manning. "It's been done to death and comes off as desperate, a la FCUK." The urban apparel sector is already saturated with fanciful, made-up names, like Phat Farm, Kik Wear, G-Unit and Wu Wear. Notes Jurisich: "They have lost all power to shock or stand out from one another, making them a less desirable choice for a new brand."

RIGHT TIME, RIGHT PLACE. Your naming strategy will likely depend on whether you position your brand as the product of a designer or not. In the fashion business, cults of personality are the norm far more often than in other industries. When both names of the designer are used -- Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Ann Taylor, Tommy Hilfiger -- the brand is strongly identified with the designer, Jurisich notes. When only the surname is used -- Prada, Versace, Armani, Gucci -- the brand can transcend that attachment.

There are some powerful fashion brands that don't depend on a particular designer, such as Nike and Fila, but such brands usually take many years and huge marketing budgets to build. Evocative, memorable words are a naming strategy worth pursuing to differentiate your brand from, on the one hand, the designer labels, and on the other, fanciful and made-up constructions, Jurisich says. "Torrid is an example of a line of clothes with a real, evocative word for its name that works especially well at positioning in its target niche, which is overweight teen girls," he notes. "And one of the hottest young New York designers, Wenlan Chia, recently made her Fashion Week debut with her label named Twinkle."

Going with a designer's name is probably the best way to transcend the styles of the moment, however. "When Daryl K [designer Daryl Kerrigan] started, she rented out a storefront in New York's East Village, riding the wave of creativity and notoriety that was oozing from that neighborhood in the '80s," Manning says. "Now, her brand is a fixture on Fifth Avenue and in SoHo, and the name still works."

SEW AND TELL. Jurisich agrees. "The thing I like about Daryl K is that it plays off the designer's name, but in an unusual way, with echoes of Kafka's character, Joseph K., giving it a dark, anonymous edge that piques my interest," he says. "So the name Daryl K not only alludes to the designer, but it becomes a character whose story can be filled in by the branding, the clothes themselves -- and, most importantly, by the mind of your audience, creating an emotional connection."

Give serious consideration to using your own name or playing off it, or else finding a memorable, evocative name based on a real word that relates to your style and audience. Then concentrate on creating great clothes that get noticed. "I can say from experience that when you find the right name - the name that best supports your brand positioning - you will know it because, suddenly, all the other names you were considering won't do it for you," Jurisich says.

When the need is to make your business stand out from the pack, the best way is the most obvious: Stressing what makes you different

Q: Being a Realtor in today's hot market is tough. There are agents who just go for the discount and the client doesn't realize many times that you get what you pay for. I would like to know how to set myself apart. I guess I am talking about branding. I am honed in on customer service, but then many say that. I really care about the client and really care that all is well. Thanks for any help you can offer. -- S.H., Alta Loma, Calif.

A: You're ahead of the game in one key area -- recognizing that there's a lot of noise and clutter out there. To stand out in a crowded field, experts say, you do need to determine your special qualities of mind, character, and spirit, and how they make you both different and better than the masses of competitors. You mention customer service and really caring about your clients' wellbeing. That's a good start.

Now, think more about what makes your service distinct -- perhaps by asking a few colleagues and clients for their feedback on the question. It might also be helpful to go about the task backwards -- start by asking yourself what kinds of customers you want, then think about their values and needs, what they are they looking for in a Realtor, and how you fit the bill.

CRYSTAL CLEAR. "Are there palpable synergies between your personality, values, and skill set and those with whom you wish a close business relationship?" asks Eric Swartz, a marketing and branding consultant with The Byline Group. Come up with several more qualities and rank them objectively, he says. Then make a list of those most likely to appeal to potential customers and differentiate your business from those of competitors.

Once you have compiled that list, you'll need to articulate them clearly and present or package them in a consistent and compelling manner in order to "brand" your service, says Swartz. "For branding purposes, you may want to focus on the one thing that really sets you apart from the pack and distinguishes you in some way," Swartz says. "Perhaps develop a tagline that expresses the nature of that positioning advantage."

Next, thoroughly survey all of the names, slogans, and messages your competitors are using, with an eye toward standing apart from the pack. "Most independent agents -- and even many that are attached to firms -- brand themselves and rely on name recognition and word of mouth to build a network of clients and referrals. You can probably see their portraits on bus-bench ads around your community," says Jay Jurisich, creative director at Igor, a naming-and-branding consultancy.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. Another Realtors' strategy is to use a geographic name tied to their towns or regions, Jurisich says, cautioning that such a focus sometimes can be counterproductive. "We spoke with a Realtor recently whose company began 40 years ago as the only agency in the small resort community that it was named after," explains Jurisich. "Now, the community has grown considerably, and this agency has three dozen competitors who use all or part of the town name or other local place names. The resulting confusion is taking business away."

If you aspire to build a large real estate outfit, you will want to find an evocative name and message that sends your customers an emotional connection. Jurisich gives the example of mortgage broker Fannie Mae. "Not only does the name demonstrate warmth and friendliness and differentiate it from cold 'First National' type competitors, but their tagline, 'We're in the American Dream business,' really taps into the emotional aspects of home buying," he says.

His partner at Igor, Steve Manning, offers another example: Curves, the successful new fitness franchise. "Everybody says that they are different -- the key is not having to say it," he explains. "Curves has positioned itself, in a consistent voice, as a clear alternative to a traditional fitness center -- and by breaking free of every known norm in their business.

Notably absent from Curves' ads are the word 'fitness,' 'health,' or 'gym.'" All other health clubs use models with perfect bodies in their advertising. Curves uses headshots of normal-looking people, never showing their bodies, notes Manning. Curves doesn't talk about working out, but of self-respect. "They talk about helping women make intelligent choices based on clear priorities and straight talk," says Manning. "By doing so, and by invoking self respect, they aren't just creating separation from their competitors, they're creating a brand that is perceived as bigger than the goods and services that they provide."

WEB SAVVY. Along with creating the right brand image, you also need to find a new way into the hearts and minds of your customers by actually doing things for them, rather than merely talking about what you do. Says Jurisich: "Actions will speak volumes, and a happy customer in a local real estate market is your best way to get a number of new referrals."

Using the Internet intelligently to provide information about houses for sale for prospective buyers, using e-mail to keep clients informed and answer their questions, sending small thank-you gifts to clients who refer others, and being open and helpful to people without using hard-sell tactics are just a few examples of marketing actions that can help you stand out from the crowd. Sometimes, giving value-added information and ideas not even related to the sale or purchase of a home can be very influential. "I had a Realtor once who was very good at fixing cars. I came to depend on him for a number of things," Swartz says. Get to know your clients, take stock of how you can be valuable and, in short, take note of what your run-of-the-mill competitors are doing. Then do the opposite.


The Game of the Name

Not only is the process of christening a new product a lot trickier than it sounds, the most obvious candidates can be the most perilous

Let's just say that you have come with a product so revolutionary that it seems a short-odds bet to set the world on fire, but there's a problem: What to call it? As any parent knows, picking the right name can be a very tricky business indeed -- and the potential pitfalls become even more of an issue when your business, livelihood, and financial security may well depend on making just the right choice.

At this point, since you need to give your brainchild every chance of success, it might seem like a grand idea to conduct focus-group testing. If the reaction is favorable, then you will know you have a winner. If not, then it's back to the drawing board for another brainstorming session.

BIG BOYS' WISDOM. All very safe and one-step-at-a-time logical. Right? Not at all -- in fact the approach detailed above couldn't be more wrong, as Corporate America knows all too well. Most major companies won't formally test their business or product names, experts say, and for compelling reasons.

For starters, if they start testing a name in public, they telegraph their moves to competitors and reduce the element of surprise that would otherwise help their latest offerings make a bigger splash. Another problem is that testing names by subjecting them to an opinion survey can sometimes be the most effective way of ensuring that the best and most catchy ones never see the light of day.

"Here is the type of feedback you could have expected had some powerful names run such a gauntlet," says Steve Manning, managing director of Igor, a San Francisco naming-and-branding consultancy. "'Virgin Airlines' says 'we're new at this' and the public wants airlines to be experienced, safe, and professional. 'Caterpillar' is a tiny, creepy-crawly bug that's not macho and easy to squash. 'Banana Republic' is a derogatory cultural slur that could draw protests from small, hot countries. And who would take stock quotes and world news seriously from the bunch at 'Yahoo!'"

EXPENSIVE ERRORS. Many well-known and very successful names would not have survived focus-group testing, Manning says, because, viewed in isolation, they yield more negative connotations than positive ones. Yet they work fine in the real world. Why? "A target audience never engages in this type of literal deconstruction, only focus groups do," he explains. "When a name is rolled out, the public's perceptions are based on the entire experience of the brand. Consumers don't separate the name from its context."

Even with a brand or product name that could convey a negative spin, the worth and value of the actual product can often overcome the apparent negatives and, ironically, bless the name with a sense of depth and an aura of intrigue. If the name is presented as a consistent part of a well-positioned brand experience, Manning says, the target audience will accept it in the way it was intended. Another problem with testing a name, especially for startups and new products, is that test audiences typically prefer familiar names. But if a product or business name is familiar, the name is not likely to get trademark clearance, says Athol Foden, the owner of Brighter Naming in Mountain View, Calif. "You really should have a professional who knows about linguistic, legal, and international issues scrub the names for you, rather than leaving such a big decision up to a focus group," Foden urges. "A name is very important. If you make the wrong choice it can be very costly, whereas a small company can hire a professional naming agency for as little as $5,000."

ADS AND MINUSES. That sum may sound like a lot, he adds, but the costs involved in changing an unpopular name can be astronomical -- and that's before all the lost revenue as salespeople drop other, more productive matters to concentrate on explaining the switch to customers, whose understandable confusion may well make them wary of issuing purchase orders.

Still, for those entrepreneurs determined to get focus-group feedback on your name choices, Name One! partners Lee Ballard and Lauren Teton suggest contacting a local chapter of the Sierra Club or Public Interest Research Group with a view to circulating a simple questionnaire to members at a meeting or online, or simply asking for informal responses.

At a focus group, you could come out with useful information if you go in with the equivalent of a print ad, Web site design, or product package, Manning says. "If it's a print ad, have five of them that are largely identical, except that the graphics or illustrations or taglines are different. Ask people, 'Which photograph works best?' or 'Which tagline do you like?' Don't ask about the name. Take note if anyone volunteers an opinion on the name. If they don't, that will tell you just as much as if they did."

The new naming game

By David Rowan

When a new online music service declared last month that it would be taking on iTunes, nobody thought about giving it a cogent, relevant name. Instead, pop fans were invited to visit something inexplicably called SpiralFrog. And when Nintendo recently revealed its groundbreaking new games console, someone decided to name it the Wii – pronounced as in the toilet word. Maybe it’s just that all the good names have been taken, but something very strange is going on in the arcane world of strategy brand consulting.

During the first dotcom boom, at least you knew where you stood. If you wanted a trendy name for your startup, you’d just combine two randomly selected words – a fruit and a colour, say – and lo, you were in business as a meaningless Redmango or a YellowGrape. We are all much wiser now, of course, as Web 2.0 has come along with a plethora of online ventures devoted to your digital lifestyle. But eeeuw, what a bizarre set of apparently random letter combinations today’s web gurus are foisting on their businesses.

To anyone weaned on the English language, the latest corporate names are gibberish. A website called Woomp allows you to share online picture galleries, while Gliffy lets you edit diagrams on the web. Then there are Goowy, Skobee, Zlango, Zoozio and Blish – with hundreds more absurd names creating their own long tail of inanity.

"It’s such a bad idea, as these names don’t have any real value and there’s nothing to grab on to mentally," says Steve Manning, who specialises in inventing business names through his San Francisco branding agency, Igor. "Every generation likes having its own language and musical styles, and people who use these names are just trying to associate themselves with a movement." These businesses are also deliberately choosing names that distance them from the failures of the earlier dotbomb generation, Manning says. "So this is just the next wave of banality."

There is also the practical matter of needing an available and relatively short web address, which explains all those strange word combinations – the Bluekangaroos and Fatbrains – we laughed at during Web 1.0. But this time round, the naming has hit such levels of absurdity that one website is running a "Web 2.0 or Star Wars character?" quiz, testing players’ knowledge of terms such as Trumba, Eskobo, Meebo and Qoop. There is also plenty of fun to be had in following the business owners’ strained justifications for their creations. The founders of an online "expert exchange" called Oyogi, for instance, explain that, "The word ‘yogi’ refers to the fact that people who may answer your questions could be considered experts or ‘yogis’… and the ‘0’ is an attempt to capture... [a] cry for knowledge." O, right.

So what should you call your forward-looking online business? "Certainly not a random string of vowels," advises Steve Manning, who has named ventures such as Steve Wynn’s Las Vegas Hotel and MTV’s Urge download service. And do check that your cutting-edge neologism connotes no unforeseen doubles entendres. When Microsoft announced that it would be taking on the iPod with something called Zune, did its branding team realise that the word translated into French slang for genitalia and a Hebrew term meaning getting laid?

New York Times

February 24, 2021

Why Plus Is a Minus When Naming Your Streaming Site

An idea that seemed like a real plus when streaming was newer has fallen into cliché.

By Tiffany Hsu

First there was e.

Then came i.

Now it’s +.

With the proliferation of streaming platforms, the plus sign has become an all-purpose marker that signals endless hours of on-demand shows.

Plus-sign streaming services include ESPN+ (started in 2018), Apple TV+ (2019), Disney+ (2019), BET+ (2019), AMC+ (2020) and Discovery+ (2021). On Wednesday, streaming entered peak plus with ViacomCBS’s rebranding of CBS All Access. The company has decided to call it Paramount+.

Tacking on the plus sign to the name of a well-known movie studio might be a very effective way to tell customers that the platform offers movies and something extra. Or it could be “a disaster,” said Mike Carr, the co-founder of the branding company NameStormers.

“The plus is a great idea short-term and a terrible idea long-term,” said Mr. Carr, who has helped come up with names for thousands of clients, including CarMax, the used car company, and Angry Orchard, the hard cider label.

“It’s cool and hip now,” Mr. Carr continued, “but you can’t own or define a generic term like ‘plus,’ because all of your competitors are out there doing the same thing.”

The use of the plus sign goes back to at least 1984, when the French television channel Canal+ made its debut. Google was part of the trend from 2011 to 2019, with its Google+ social network.

The streaming platform Hulu used it in 2010, when it started the Hulu Plus subscription service. In 2015, the company subtracted the plus and the name became just plain Hulu. “We’ve had a blast with our old friend Plus,” Hulu said when it announced the change, “but it’s time to move on.”

The plus trend came along after the craze for dot-com era names — eBay, Esurance and Eharmony — that seized on the ‘e,’ for electronic, as a signifier of online leisure and shopping. Apple famously popularized the lowercase ‘i,’ followed by iGoogle, iHeartMedia and iZotope. Ampersands also flourished, thanks to a slew of fashion labels such as Me & You, Me&Ro, Stella & Haas and Stella & Dot.

The plus sign has become such a streaming-industry commonplace that the movie star and entrepreneur Ryan Reynolds mocked the trend in a commercial for his Mint Mobile wireless carrier. His parody promoted Mint Mobile Plus, a fictional streaming service.

Several professional brand namers — the naming industry has exploded from a handful of specialty shops in the 1980s to thousands of outfits — said that using “plus” could end up stifling growth. Mr. Carr pointed to financial institutions that struggle to differentiate between new credit card offerings and must resort to assigning colors such as silver, gold, platinum and black.

“I can’t say how many times I’ve seen this happen — there’s always a next generation, a version 3.0 or 4.0,” Mr. Carr said. “So does it become Paramount Plus Plus? Paramount Plus Plus Plus?”

Last year new streaming services like NBCUniversal’s Peacock platform and AT&T’s HBO Max managed to resist the fad. But with so many others relying on the symbol, the early adopters “are probably now feeling kind of irritated that everybody copied them,” said Julie Doughty, who runs the Naming & Verbal Identity practice at the branding company Landor & Fitch.

Now the plus sign may end up becoming shorthand for streaming itself, “in the same way the pound sign became the hashtag,” Ms. Doughty said.

Executives at naming companies said that ViacomCBS and Disney most likely went through months of debates and focus groups, as well as trademark and foreign language checks, before approving the plus-sign brands.

“It’s not that ‘plus’ is the best name,” said Steve Manning, a founder of the Igor Naming Agency. “It’s the one that survives, because everything else is eviscerated. It’s the least objectionable choice to a massive audience.”

Mr. Manning, whose firm turned Court TV into truTV, likened the task of name selection to choosing a pizza by committee.

“Somebody’s going to be lactose intolerant, somebody’s not going to eat meat,” he said. “You’ll be lucky if you’re eating anything more than just a gluten-free crust with cheese on a good day.”

Alexandra Watkins, whose branding firm Eat My Words came up with Smitten for a California ice cream business and Neato for a robotic vacuum, said she tried to avoid names “that look like someone got drunk and played Scrabble.” She acknowledged having once sold a client on a name that included “plus” — and was surprised to earn $30,000 for it.

With so many streaming companies having adopted the symbol, she said ViacomCBS “completely missed an opportunity” by naming its platform Paramount+, rather than going with something more imaginative.

“Plus is the lowest common denominator,” she said. “It’s lazy, and the easy way out.”

When considering potential names for your company, product or service, it is vital that the process be kept as objective as possible, and that subjective personal responses to names, such as "I like it" or I don't like it" or "I don't like it because it reminds me of an old girlfriend/boyfriend" are exactly that – subjective and personal, and have no bearing on whether or not a potential name will actually work in the marketplace as a powerful brand that supports all your positioning goals. All well and good, but clients often ask us to be more specific, to explain objectively just what makes a name work. With that in mind, we created a straightforward way to dissect potential names into the following nine categories to make it easier to understand why name work or don't work, and to more easily weigh the pros and cons of one name versus another: Appearance – Simply how the name looks as a visual signifier, in a logo, an ad, on a billboard, etc. The name will always be seen in context, but it will be seen, so looks are important. Distinctive – How differentiated is a given name from its competition. Being distinctive is only one element that goes into making a name memorable, but it is a required element, since if a name is not distinct from a sea of similar names it will not be memorable. It’s important, when judging distinctiveness, to always consider the name in the context of the product it will serve, and among the competition it will spar with for the consumer’s attention. Depth – Layer upon layer of meaning and association. Names with great depth never reveal all they have to offer all at once, but keep surprising you with new ideas. Energy – How vital and full of life is the name? Does it have buzz? Can it carry an ad campaign on its shoulders? Is it a force to be reckoned with? These are all aspects of a name’s energy level. Humanity – A measure of a name’s warmth, its "humanness," as opposed to names that are cold, clinical, unemotional. Another – though not foolproof – way to think about this category is to imagine each of the names as a nickname for one of your children. Positioning – How relevant the name is to the positioning of the product or company being named, the service offered, or to the industry served. Further, how many relevant messages does the name map to? Sound – Again, while always existing in a context of some sort or another, the name WILL be heard, in radio or television commercials, being presented at a trade show, or simply being discussed in a cocktail party conversation. Sound is twofold – not only how a name sounds, but how easily it is spoken by those who matter most: the potential customer. Word of mouth is a big part of the marketing of a company, product or service with a great name, but if people aren’t comfortable saying the name, the word won’t get out. "33" – The force of brand magic, and the word-of-mouth buzz that a name is likely to generate. Refers to the mysterious "33" printed on the back of Rolling Rock beer bottles from decades that everybody talks about because nobody is really sure what it means. "33" is that certain something that makes people lean forward and want to learn more about a brand, and to want to share the brand with others. The "33" angle is different for each name. Trademark – As in the ugly, meat hook reality of trademark availability. Scoring is easy here, as there are only three options, and nothing is subjective: 10 = likely available for trademark; 5 = may be available for trademark; and 0 = not likely available for trademark. All of the names on this list have been prescreened by a trademarked attorney and have been deemed "likely" for trademark registration. These are the categories we scrupulously consider every name we present to clients, and we've done it so much that it has become second nature to us. But for those just stepping into these confusing brand waters, it often helps to rate names in each of these categories and compare the rankings. In the table below, we have attempted to quantify our impressions of several brand names in the music / media downloading sector by assigning up to 10 points in each of the nine categories; the more points, the better (90 maximum total points):


The Twitter Effect

The struggle to create the next perfectly weird company name

By Eric Spitznagel

What's in a name? If it happens to be Twitter, the answer is roughly $1.1 billion. In just four years, Twitter has gone from birdsong to the most used word in the English language, according to Global Language Monitor data for 2009. ("Obama" was a close second.) Twitter spokesman Matt Graves explains that his company's insipidly brilliant name was "the result of a brainstorm between a small group of employees at Odeo, the San Francisco podcasting startup where Twitter initially began as a side project. They came up with possible names, including 'Jitter' and 'Twitter,' and put them in a hat," Graves says. Twitter won.

Now the race is on to coin the next weirdly memorable company name. The challenge is that coming up with something as powerful as Verizon (VZ) or Häagen-Dazs (GIS) (made-up words that have entered the cultural lexicon), let alone Google (GOOG) (the founders' own misspelling of the numerical term "googol"), has become even harder. There are more than a million names, slogans, and logos registered at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. And according to VeriSign (VRSN), a global domain name registry company, 11 million Internet domain names have been registered in the last 12 months alone, a 6 percent increase from the year before. In all, 193 million Internet domain names are now unavailable to new businesses.

"The days of accidental naming are over," says Naseem Javed, the founder of ABC Namebank, a New York-based consultant specializing in corporate nomenclature. To stand out in the overcrowded global marketplace, he says, a company's name must now be especially odd. "Ten, twenty years ago you could start a business and take the name in any direction," he says. "Now, with 200 countries on the cyber-platform around the globe, finding the right name has become an expert's field."

More companies than ever are seeking professional advice about their identities. Although client numbers are hard to come by, there are some 50 naming firms worldwide, the majority of them launched within the last decade, according to DMOZ, the Open Directory Project, the Internet's largest yellow pages. "It's just like modern art," says Phillip Davis, president and owner of Tungsten Branding, a business-naming firm in Brevard, N.C. "I study words. I live inside words. What could they become, what could they be shaped into, are they malleable?" He takes his profession very seriously. "In our industry, we call [words] a partially shaped vessel."

One of the most popular recent naming trends, according to Javed, is the Google-derived double-O. "A lot of companies feel that the double-O gives them some kind of comfort level," he says. "You have names like Joost, Boost, Wakoopa, iSkoot, and Qool." According to Javed, there is a guiding principle in the double-O strategy. "Basically, you put the double-O in the center, and then you drop one letter on the left and one letter on the right," he says. "Hopefully it gives you some magic." By ABC's estimate, there are approximately 760 double-o company names around the world.

The true art of corporate naming is to be weird—but not too weird. Jay Jurisich, creative director at San Francisco-based naming and branding agency Igor, points to the array of companies that seem to have been assigned a random combination of letters: Xignux, Epizon, Spansion, Assurant, Primaxis, Qorus. "While every snowflake is technically unique," Jurisch says, "in a blizzard they all blend together and become indistinguishable."

A weird name with an idea behind it, however, can stand out: take hairyLemon, for instance, a Web development company in Christchurch, New Zealand. Graham Dockrill, hairyLemon's co-founder, explains that the name comes from cockney slang for "here at eleven"—as in 11 a.m., when pubs typically open in New Zealand. "So you would say 'hairy lemon' and I would know to meet you for a pint when the pub opens," he says. Technically, drinking in the morning has nothing to do with the company itself, but it has attracted potential clients. Dockrill estimates that at least a third of hairyLemon's business comes from the name. "People might be looking at three or four different companies," he says, "and they'll pick us because we've got such a quirky name."

Like those who named Twitter and Google, the people behind hairyLemon simply had the touch. Not every do-it-yourself namer is so successful. In June 2009, Russian gas company Gazprom announced a joint venture with Nigeria's NNPC, which gave rise to an offshoot company they called "NiGaz." However, the amalgamation of "Nigeria" and "Gazprom" struck many Americans as better suited to an N.W.A. album than a Russian gas monopoly. Perfecting a name in the Digital Age, according to Tungsten's Davis, is both art and science. His most famous invention is PODS, short for Portable On-Demand Storage. The moving and storage company's original name was Portables, but Davis thought it "sounded too much like a toilet." A name like PODS, he says, creates a feeling of "what, tell me more" instead of "huh, I don't get it."

The biggest mistake among amateur name creators, Davis believes, is overanalyzing the language. Amateurs can become too focused on the linguistics and the number of vowels and consonants. "They're so grammatically focused that they miss the bigger picture," he says. "They forget that there's got to be a story connected to it. Other people get the story, but the word is so clunky that nobody cares about the story. They'll be like, 'In Latin, this word means the god of business.' Well, yeah, but it's got 16 syllables and five x's and three z's."

For those without the capital to employ a professional, the Internet is now littered with free business-name generators. Not all are legitimate; some are actually mocking you. In 2003 a London advertising agency called The Design Conspiracy launched a website called whatbrandareyou.com in which visitors could type in their "core values" (like "dynamic" or "passionate") and company goals (like "global leadership" or "client focus") and the site would concoct a personalized brand name. "We were poking fun at a number of ridiculous rebrands at the time, like Accenture and Consignia," says Ben Terrett, a former Design Conspiracy member. He says all 150 of the site's "generated" names were carefully devised to be as insipid as possible. Still, the trick was so convincing that 20 of their fake names—including Bivium, Libero, and Winnovate—were registered as trademarks by real companies.

The business of creating marketable names won't be getting less competitive or confusing anytime soon. As London-based linguist Susan Purcell points out, "There are around 600,000 entries in the Oxford English Dictionary, many fewer words than there are businesses." So the next time you need a new corporate name, don't expect to find it in the OED. And don't expect to throw a few vowels and consonants in a blender and come up with a winner. The best approach, in fact, may be to trust serendipity. Or hairy lemon.


Enter the Lexicon

Susan Purcell, a London-based linguist, and Jay Jurisich, of San Francisco branding agency Igor, explain what makes these big names work


What makes BlackBerry such a catchy name? Purcell says it's all in the letters. "The B sounds relaxed," she says. The Y is friendly, she notes, reminiscent of names Buddy and Betty. In between are a series of short vowels, which, Purcell claims, are "crisp like the clicking of buttons."


The snack Nabisco once bragged was "America's Favorite Cookie" has a name that's become part of the culture. The real brilliance of the word Oreo, says Jurisich, is its symmetry. "The bookending O's nicely mirror the physical shape and structure of the cookie itself," he explains.


The strength of this product name, says Purcell, is in the first two letters. Vigor, vitality, virile, and victory are all things that Viagra indirectly promises to deliver. She also points out that Viagra "rhymes with Niagara," which is especially useful if waterfalls turn you on.


The product is pronounced "we," which, Purcell attests, is a clear expression of group participation. "The ii's could be two players or two remotes," she says. In other words, Nintendo is subliminally telling its customers that playing video games isn't just for social outcasts anymore.


The original name for this popular search engine company was supposed to be "Googol" (a scientific term for 1 followed by one hundred zeros), but the founders made a typo while trying to register it as a domain name. The error, says Jurisich, is pure poetry. "It's warm and human," he says.