We Create Breakout Brand Names


We Create Breakout Brand Names


A Brand Name Has Work To Do. Create A Job Description:

Qualifications:

Depending on the positioning of the product or company the name will represent, screen name candidates for specifics, such as:

Responsibilities:



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


The Happy Idiot: an Exposé of Brand Naming Scams

Naming Agencies

If you've seen The Sting or an Ocean's movie you know every con game has a name. The Happy Idiot, as it's known in professional naming circles, is the reason ninety percent of agencies produce ineffective, forgettable names that are a money sucking drag on your branding, marketing and sales efforts.

It's called The Happy Idiot because a naming, branding or advertising agency deliberately delivers a name that's a liability to a smiling client who's happy with the result. The Happy Idiot was designed to be the fastest, smoothest route to client buy-in on a name, with the least amount of effort by the agency. It came about because someone on the client side will always object to some facet of the most powerful, memorable, effective, interesting, conversation-owning names an agency presents. Rather than pushback and take the time and effort to give the client the confidence that a particular name is the best choice, the agency defers and smooths down the edges until there is nothing interesting or effective left in the names they are presenting.

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

There are three variants: The Happy Idiot, The Happy Idiot with a Passport and The Happy Idiot with a Wallflower.

To illustrate each, we'll use actual names and case studies from a single anonymous 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 masters degree in linguistics from Berkeley or Stanford certify the meanings - in languages neither the client or 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 Acorn, Active, Arc, Atlas, Bird, Blossom, Blue, Bridge, Bright, Care, Clear, Complete, Core, Curve, Edge, Engage, Ever, Expert, Flex, Fly, Force, Front, Fusion, Future, Gain, Go, Green, Harbor, Hill, Hub, Key, Lead, Light, Line, On, Next, Now, Path, Plus, Point, Power, Pro, Pulse, River, Sense, Scape, Shift, Shine, Sky, Song, 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 wallflowers has gifted six different clients of this one agency with these six names:

Bridgescape

Bridgespan

Everbridge

Flybridge

Gainbridge

PSI Bridge

 

What's Lost in a Happy Idiot Process?

The names appeal only to the client and not to the client's customers. Happy Idiot names are incapable of doing anything a great brand name does. Specifically:

Define, dominate and own your category.

- Memorable, absolutely unforgettable.

- Support a unique brand positioning.

- Tells the world that you’re not a commodity.

- Go viral, propelling itself through the world on its own.

- Demonstrates that you're different.

- Create positive and lasting engagement with your audience.

- Provide a deep well of marketing and advertising images.

 

Takeaways

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 overused words, you’re being sold a Wallflower.

 

Preventing a H.I. Jacking

If you're looking for an advertising, 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 chock-full of Compound Wallflowers and mind-mangling Invented/Foreign Language names. Now that you can spot a Happy Idiot, identifying the purveyors is straightforward.



While you're window shopping, check out our competitors names:

List of Naming Agencies.

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

    List of Naming Agencies

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

     
    • A Hundred Monkeys Naming Agency

    • Better Naming Agency

    • Brighter Naming Agency

    • CannonCassidy 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

    • 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 v

    • Operative Words Naming Agency

    • Polywog Naming Agency<

    • PS212

    • 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

    • Zenmark Naming Agency

    • Zinzin Naming Agency



    • The Happy Idiot: an Exposé of Brand Naming Scams

      Naming Agencies

      If you've seen The Sting or an Ocean's movie you know every con game has a name. The Happy Idiot, as it's known in professional naming circles, is the reason ninety percent of agencies produce ineffective, forgettable names that are a money sucking drag on your branding, marketing and sales efforts.

      It's called The Happy Idiot because a naming, branding or advertising agency deliberately delivers a name that's a liability to a smiling client who's happy with the result. The Happy Idiot was designed to be the fastest, smoothest route to client buy-in on a name, with the least amount of effort by the agency. It came about because someone on the client side will always object to some facet of the most powerful, memorable, effective, interesting, conversation-owning names an agency presents. Rather than pushback and take the time and effort to give the client the confidence that a particular name is the best choice, the agency defers and smooths down the edges until there is nothing interesting or effective left in the names they are presenting.

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

      There are three variants: The Happy Idiot, The Happy Idiot with a Passport and The Happy Idiot with a Wallflower.

      To illustrate each, we'll use actual names and case studies from a single anonymous 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 masters degree in linguistics from Berkeley or Stanford certify the meanings - in languages neither the client or 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 Acorn, Active, Arc, Atlas, Bird, Blossom, Blue, Bridge, Bright, Care, Clear, Complete, Core, Curve, Edge, Engage, Ever, Expert, Flex, Fly, Force, Front, Fusion, Future, Gain, Go, Green, Harbor, Hill, Hub, Key, Lead, Light, Line, On, Next, Now, Path, Plus, Point, Power, Pro, Pulse, River, Sense, Scape, Shift, Shine, Sky, Song, 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 wallflowers has gifted six different clients of this one agency with these six names:

      Bridgescape

      Bridgespan

      Everbridge

      Flybridge

      Gainbridge

      PSI Bridge

       

      What's Lost in a Happy Idiot Process?

      The names appeal only to the client and not to the client's customers. Happy Idiot names are incapable of doing anything a great brand name does. Specifically:

      Define, dominate and own your category.

      - Memorable, absolutely unforgettable.

      - Support a unique brand positioning.

      - Tells the world that you’re not a commodity.

      - Go viral, propelling itself through the world on its own.

      - Demonstrates that you're different.

      - Create positive and lasting engagement with your audience.

      - Provide a deep well of marketing and advertising images.

       

      Takeaways

      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 overused words, you’re being sold a Wallflower.

       

      Preventing a H.I. Jacking

      If you're looking for an advertising, 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 chock-full of Compound Wallflowers and mind-mangling Invented/Foreign Language names. Now that you can spot a Happy Idiot, identifying the purveyors is straightforward.




      The Agency Names of Naming Agencies

      A foundational element of any naming project is to thoroughly analyze the names of the competition. We plot the results on a taxonomy chart, like the competitive name analysis of naming firms below.

      This helps everyone involved understand the competitive landscape, to see which words & ideas are overused, and to have a crystal-clear picture of where the opportunities are.

      It's a vital step that's usually overlooked, even when naming agencies name themselves:


  FUNCTIONAL INVENTED EXPERIENTIAL EVOCATIVE  
  FUNCTIONAL INVENTED EXPERIENTIAL EVOCATIVE  
5    
  • A Hundred Monkeys
  • Igor
5
4         4
3         3
2    
  • Idiom
  • Lexicon
  • Metaphor
  • WildOutWest (WOW)
2
1    
  • Catchword
  • Eat My Words
  • Word for Word
  • Operative Words
  • WhereWords
  • Good Characters
  • Tungsten
1
0
  • 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
0
-1
  • Namewell
  • Name Designer
  • Name Development
  • Name Evolution
  • Name Generator
  • NAME-IT
  • 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
-1
-2
  • 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
-2

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.)



  • ANA What's in a Name? August 2019

  • Forbes The Art Of The Impossible May 2019

  • Booking.com What’s the secret to a great hotel name? January 2019

  • Newsday Entrepreneurs Play Name Game for Brand Recognitions October 2018

  • Medium The Name Game July 2018

  • Bloomberg Why Startups Keep Choosing Human Names June 2018

  • AdAge Renaming Weinstein Company Won't Be Easy October 2017

  • Forbes From HA&W To Aprio February 2017

  • Canadian Business How to rename your company February 2016

  • CBC News Kraft Dinner's KD Name Change Bets Money on Nostalgia August 2015

  • NY1 News One Naming Firm Named Many of Today's Travel Brands July 2015

  • Yahoo! Finance Pun and done: The risks of a witty business name June 2015

  • Verisign Blog Meet Our Internet Official Naming Contest Judge February 2015

  • NPR When Terrorists Claim Your Company's Name September 2014

  • New York Times Iconic Names for Iconic Watches February 2014

  • MinnPost Identity crisis: Names in Twin Cities lack creativity January 2014

  • Entrepreneur Naming Your Business? Consider These 3 Points First January 2014

  • The Wall Street Journal Startup Firms Sporting Increasingly Quirky Names July 2013

  • Entrepreneur 10 Questions to Ask Before Naming Your Business May 2013

  • Twin Cities Business Crapola Granola: A Breakfast Of Editors February 2013

  • OPEN Forum How to Pick a Name for Your Business May 2013

  • Denver Post A Building by Any Other Name December 2011

  • The Globe and Mail Why Would a Company Change Its Name? October 2011

  • No Joe Schmo The Brand Naming Firm June 2011

  • The Globe and Mail - The Name Game: Play it right May 2011

  • Marketing News What's in a Name? March 2011

  • Wards Auto Cerberus Instinct Letter-Perfect February 2011

  • AmEx OPEN MIC podcast Rebranding Your Small Business January 2011

  • Businessweek The Twitter Effect October 2010

  • Wall Street Journal Making drug names easy to swallow June 2010

  • Hotel Interactive 'Resort'- The Newest Four Letter Word? February 2010

  • Sarajevo-x "Sarajevo je najpoznatiji bosanski brend" February 2010

  • AdvertisingAge Flip's Quest in First Major Ad Push November 2009

  • Toronto Star The challenge the NDP faces in making a new August 2009

  • Insurance Journal Chartis: Other Firms Share AIG's New Name.. July 2009

  • Entrepreneur The Secret to a Good Business Name May 2009

  • AdvertisingAge Cisco Makes a Play for Mainstream Market May 2009

  • SF Business Times Biotechs bring their A-game to their name April 2009

  • The Charlotte Observer Hand-spun and in a hurry June 2008

  • Business Week A Practical Guide to Branding June 2008

  • New York Times On the Internet It's All About 'My' April 2008

  • The Star-Ledger TD Bank puts its stamp on Commerce March 2008

  • Sacramento Bee What's in a name? December 2007

  • National Public Radio How TagTooga Got Its Name December 2007

  • The Chronicle of Higher Ed. Your (Lame) Slogan Here November 2007

  • The Seattle Times Local firms take risk in re-branding November 2007

  • Ecommerce Times Playing the Name Game September 2007

  • Indianapolis Star When naming a drug it's an inexact science September 2007

  • Los Angeles Times Ad slogan is a subtle shift for Wal-Mart September 2007

  • Wired Are Stupid Startup Names Hurting Silicon Valley? September 2007

  • Los Angeles Times Dot-com names get dottier August 2007

  • Business Week Does Success Hinge on a Domain Name? August 2007

  • Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly What's in a name? July 2007

  • The Seattle Times iPhone: How Apple created a frenzy June 2007

  • Hartford Courant Signature Statement June 2007

  • Los Angeles Times Tagline must fit product buyers June 2007

  • The Conference Board Now What Shall We Call This Widget? May / June 2007

  • Inc. Magazine If I Had a Hammer… April 2007

  • San Francisco Chronicle This X-ray brought to you by... January 2007

  • Baltimore Sun The science of picking a company name December 2006

  • Milwaukee Journal Sentinel The name game December 2006

  • Wall Street Journal Microsoft Hopes 'Z' Gives Zune Some Zing November 2006

  • Chicago Tribune Peoples as 'Integrys' panned energetically October 2006

  • The Times of London The new naming game September 2006

  • USA Today They got a name for the winners in the world August 2006

  • Rocky Mountain News Nintendo gaming console Wii makes... April 2006

  • NPR The Infinite Mind What's in a name? February 2006

  • Kansas City Star Sprint unit picks name and logo February 2006

  • K.C. Business Journal Sprint spinoff selects a name but... January 2006

  • USA Today The whachacallit January 2006

  • The Standard The power of Niagara December 2005

  • The Daily Telegraph Zounds! There's a signo in my Xingux December 2005

  • SF Business Times Octopus: How name firms got arms... December 2005

  • San Francisco Chronicle SBC starting all over with the name game November 2005

  • PPB - Promotional Products Business What's In A Name? November 2005

  • San Francisco Chronicle Warm fuzzy corporate September 2005

  • Tri City Herald Valley residents want to lose the 'Lower' September 2005

  • Rochester Democrat & Chronicle Kodak reshapes its image August 2005

  • Los Angeles Daily News The Blasts from the past August 2005

  • Business Week The Serious Cachet of "Secret Brands" August 2005

  • Boston Patriot Ledger J. Jill gets help tailoring its image August 3 2005

  • Fast Company Brand Aids August 2005

  • Lansing State Journal In MSU country businesses expect August 2005

  • Slate Withdrawal Symptoms July 29 2005

  • South Florida Sun-Sentinel What about the obvious July 2005

  • Arrive magazine [Amtrak] Whatchamacallit? July/August 2005

  • Registered Rep. You're Calling It What!??? July 2005

  • Rochester Democrat & Chronicle No Shame in its Name June 2005

  • Stanford Medicine Magazine The Name Game June 2005

  • Boston Patriot Ledger Businesses Enter the Blogosphere May 2005

  • KALX North Gate Magazine The Business of Naming May 2005

  • Detroit Free Press Q is Nissan's cue to Sue March 2005

  • Detroit News What's in a name? For cars everything December 2003

  • Business 3.0 The New Science of Naming November 2003

  • Bakersfield Californian Not in Name Only October 2003

  • Baltimore Sun Cooking Up Your Company Name July 2003

  • Business Week By-the-Book Marketing July 2003

  • Seth Godin and Fast Company 3003 Bull Market Directory May 2003

  • The New York Sun What's In a Name? Plenty Lawmakers... April 2003

  • Regional Airline World Making the Brand the Business March 2003

  • Mercury Radio Research What's In a Name? February 2003

  • Fast Company The Brand Called... Who? January 2003

  • Business Week The Game of the Name January 2003

  • New York Times The Science of Naming Drugs December 2003

  • Business Week Firing Up a Hotter Brand November 2003

  • Bloomberg Time Warner Broadwing Change Names October 2003

  • Business Week A Label That Sticks September 2003

  • PR Intelligence McDonald's re-energizes brand September 2003

  • The Eagle-Tribune What's in a Name? September 2003

  • Business Week An Outfit That Rolls off the Tongue July 2003

  • Arizona Republic Light rail needs name with spark April 2003

  • All About Branding Naming Exposed April 2003

  • ReadMe What's in a Name? March 2003

  • Wired Apple: It's All About the Brand December 2003

  • Elsevier Food International What's in a Name? November 2003

  • BBC Radio 3 - Shop Talk What's in a Name? October 2003

  • Libération Ces entreprises qui se refont un nom July 2003

  • Time magazine Quote of the Week July 2003

  • Wall Street Journal ...In Search of the Perfect Name June 2003

  • Toronto Star Hiding the C-word February 2003

  • Fortune Identity December 2001

  • Forbes Even pros struggle with corporate re-naming game November 2001

  • New York Times Magazine How to Invent a Brand Name April 2001

  • Business 2.0 Branding Waikiki-Style September 2000

  • Salon The name game November 1999

  • Entrepreneur

    January 8, 2014

    Naming Your Business? Consider These 3 Points First

    By Jodi Helmer


    It's one of the first and most significant decisions a startup needs to make. Pick the wrong name--one that doesn't resonate with customers, is difficult to pronounce or spell or is too close to another business's name--and it could have major detrimental effects on your brand, SEO and bottom line.

    Steve Manning is founder and CEO of Igor, a Sausalito, Calif.-based naming and branding agency, and the creative force behind monikers like Aria Las Vegas, truTV, Boogie Board and Gogo inflight internet. He sat down with us to discuss the game of the name.

    Why is the right name so important?
    The right name differentiates a startup from its competitors, helps build the brand and sparks an emotional connection with customers.

    Even though the right name can help a startup stand out, 90 percent of businesses choose names that sound the same as their competitors. Look at airlines: Most choose names with a geographic reference--American, Southwest, Northwest, Alaska Airlines--and it's hard to distinguish one from another. It's hard to tell the world you're starting something new when your name gives the impression that you're just like everyone else.

    You can spend a lot of money on ads to tell people how your company is different, or you can paint "Virgin" on the side of a plane. That name sends the message that the airline is different; the name makes it stand out.

    What are some points to consider?
    Generic names aren't interesting or engaging or emotional. No one wants to spend an entire flight talking to someone from Strategic Name Development, but a seatmate with a business named Igor is memorable. A good name has layers of meaning and association, evokes emotion and is easy to pronounce. You could choose a made-up name like Oreo or Snapple that is memorable, and because it's fun to say, people repeat it, or an evocative name like Virgin or Apple that creates emotion and imagery to help position the product.

    What mistakes do startups make when choosing a name?
    It's a mistake to be quirky for the sake of it. When startups choose names like kwkly or qwerly, all they are thinking about is whether the name is unique, without regard for how it looks to the world. Your name has to be different for a good reason. And we need to be able to spell it. A name that is hard to spell will make it impossible for customers to find you. They'll be online thinking, How do you spell qwerly?

    There is also a misguided focus on tossing out good names because of their dictionary definitions. But no one cares about the official definition; a name should demonstrate what your business is all about. The Chrysler Crossfire is a great example. Despite the fact that it doesn't have a positive dictionary definition, it works because it sounds like a car that James Bond and Jason Bourne would drive. You're not naming a company; you're naming its positioning.

    The Brand Naming Process

    About Igor Naming Agencies

          Salon.com

    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."

    http://dir.salon.com/media/col/shal/1999/11/30/naming/index.html?sid=474305


    The better your name, the less you have to spend on marketing & advertising.


    We believe powerful names are built on powerful positioning strategies.

    The key is to find a fresh way into the hearts and minds of your customers, redefine and own the conversation in your space, and engage people on as many levels as possible. The best names represent the process of boiling these ideas down into a word or two.

       

    Throughout our process, we make sure everyone involved is given the insight and understanding necessary to embrace the most effective name for the job. Without an intimate knowledge of how and why names work, the best names are vulnerable to knee-jerk dismissal:

    • "Starbucks? Sounds like a TV game show where celebrities compete for cash."
    • "Starbucks? Are we selling gift certificates to the planetarium?
    • "Starbucks? That would be great if we were renaming the Chippendale dancers."

    It's easy to find reasons to say no to a name. The trick is knowing when to say yes.

         


     

    A brand name has a job to do. Create a job description for it.

     

    Finding the perfect name should be approached like you're hiring a Global Director of Branding, Marketing & Advertising. Because that's exactly what you're doing. So it's natural to put together a list of asks for your name that includes things like credibility, trust, reliability, honesty, transparency, quality, yada yada yada.

    But a name is a specialist, and these types of foundational brand positioning qualities are common to every business in existence. They need to be established by the other touch points of your brand. "Not my job", should be the response of any name candidate asked to perform these duties. In fact, using such qualities when grading name candidates will result in the best qualified names not even receiving an offer:

     

    Google

    Credibility, Trust, Reliability, Honesty, Transparency, Quality

     

    Slack

    Credibility, Trust, Reliability, Honesty, Transparency, Quality

     

    Impossible

    Credibility, Trust, Reliability, Honesty, Transparency, Quality

     

    Away

    Credibility, Trust, Reliability, Honesty, Transparency, Quality

     

    Goop

    Credibility, Trust, Reliability, Honesty, Transparency, Quality

       

    None of the over-performing names above can pass the Credibility, Trust, Reliability, Honesty, Transparency, Quality test. Which is great, because your audience doesn't look to your name for these sort of reassurances. But more importantly, it leaves the name free to have the kinds of qualities it needs to be exceptionally good at its job :

    Unexpected, Human, Engaging, Thought Provoking, Memorable, Disruptive, etc.

     

    Here's what a job description for a name should look like:

     

    Responsibilities:

     

    • Go viral, propelling itself through the world on its own, becoming a no-cost, self-sustaining PR vehicle.

    • Redefine and own your category.

    • Demonstrate to the world that you're different, creating clear & wide separation from your competitors.

    • Create a positive and lasting engagement with your audience.

    • Provide a deep well of marketing and advertising images.

    • Be the genesis of a brand that rises above the goods and services you provide, so that you're not selling a commodity and/or competing on price.

    • Be unforgettable.

    • Support the unique positioning of the product/company.


    Qualifications:

     

    Depending on the positioning of the product or company the name will represent, you'll further screen name candidates for specifics, such as:

    • Personality - Warm? Fun? Futuristic? Mysterious? Sexy? Scientific? Confident? Superhuman? Quiet?
    • Communication Skills - What part of the conversation in your industry should the name address, define, redefine, express, demonstrate or dominate?
    • Personal Appearance - The way a name looks and sounds can communicate volumes, independent of the meaning of the word. Computer processor name "Trillium" has as a sci-fi look and sound, though it's a type of flower. Artificial Intelligence company name "Megagon" has the attitude of one of Godzilla's rivals, though it's a mathematical term that describes vectors, harmony, and a million things coming together as one

    But what if you find the perfect candidate, except they have a criminal past? As long as they can carry out the Responsibilities and have the Qualifications, it'll be fine: Hotwire, Accomplice, Wheelman,and walking the talk, Igor.

    Bad breath and a ghoulish smile? Don't count them out: Bluetooth.

    A complete lack of experience? Sign them up: Virgin.



    Igor's Naming Process:

     

    • 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/Brand 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.

        

    More Unsolicited Brand Naming Advice:

     

    Want To Create A Powerful Brand Name? Beware The Literalist

    Igor Brand Naming Guide

    "Vanillacide": How Radical Concepts Are Destroyed By Too Much Consultation

    Performing a Competitive Name Analysis is Essential

    Outwitting Squirrels

         

    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.
    • Breathing Life Into the Names – At the point where you've selected three to five leading name contenders, we present each of them with a range of taglines and contextual positioning support. This is key to helping everyone involved understand the relative strengths and versatility of each name under consideration.

    The five deliverables outlined above provide a solid foundation, but on their own they don't deliver extraordinary results.

    Extraordinary names come from a process that's insightful and exceptionally executed.




    The Insightful, Exceptional Execution


    Want To Create A Powerful Brand Name? Beware The Literalist.

          Naming Agencies
       

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

    All the best names are provocations: Slack, Virgin, lululemon, Target, Yahoo, Caterpillar, Hotwire, Bluetooth, Google, Oracle. To qualify as a provocation, a name must contain what most people would call "negative messages" for the goods and services the name is to represent. Fortunately, consumers process these negative messages positively. As long as the name maps to one of the positioning points of the brand, consumers never take its meaning literally, and the negative aspects of the name just give it greater depth.

    A viral name must contain negative qualities.

    Nothing is more powerful than taking a word with a strong, specific connotation, grabbing a slice of it, mapping that slice to a portion of your positioning, and therefore redefining it. This naming strategy is without question the most powerful one of all.

    Potential names must 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?".

    Instead, on a naming committee, the literalist will negatively critique names based on dictionary definitions or a singular association, reliably in the form of an objection. Their claim will be that a word's negative meaning or association means that the value of the word as a name will also be negative. The evidence they cite in their efforts to kill a name is irrefutable fact, yet irrelevant and counterproductive.

    Here are the types of objections a literalist will use to kill great name, attacking the very essence of what makes these names powerful - the tension created by positive and negative forces:


    Slack

    • 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.

     

    lululemon

    • 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.

     

    Hotwire

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

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

     

    Yahoo!

    • Yahoo!! It's Mountain Dew!

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

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

     

    Oracle

    • Unscientific.

    • Unreliable.

    • Only foretold death and destruction.

    • Only fools put their faith in an Oracle.

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

     

    Caterpillar

    • 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

    • Target of an investigation

    • To have a Target on your back

    • A Target gets shot, killed, slaughtered.

    • The Target of a manhunt


    This is a family show, so you'll have to create your own misguided, literalist list of reasons that In-N-Out, Dick's, BJ's, Cornhole and LoveSac should fail as brand names.

    No sane person cares about any of these literal negatives, because people process these 'negative' connotations either positively or not at all. As long as the name maps to one of the positioning points of the brand, consumers 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 a target audience. They're what make a name engaging, differentiating & unforgettable. Consumers don't process names literally, they process them emotionally. Getting your committee to acknowledge this difference and to interact as the public does with names, rather than the way the dictionary does, is essential.

    If you encounter a literalist, keep your distance, maintain eye contact, and take the threat seriously. Do not run in any direction. Don't bend over, crouch down or go fetal. Wave your arms in an alpha manner. Throw any toxic item you can find - Keurig pods, inspirational posters, focus group data, etc. If attacked, fight back. If this doesn't work, your last chance for survival is to enlighten the literalist:

     

    Slack

    • Positioning: DISRUPTIVE, naming the problem we solve!

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

     

    Hotwire

    • -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.

     

    Virgin

    • 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.

     

    Oracle

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

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

     

    The common wisdom that naming in large groups will discourage a literalist attack is nothing more than urban legend. In fact, the larger the committee, the more likely an attack will be.

     

    The Globe and Mail

    The Name Game: Play it right

    What’s in a company name? Just about everything.

    Just ask Brian Shepard, chief executive officer of of Tenzing Managed IT Services.

    Mr. Shepard first launched his Kelowna, B.C.–based information company in 1998 with the moniker Canada Web Hosting Inc. But as the company gained traction in the marketplace, and the firm’s service offerings evolved, Mr. Shepard recognized that the name carried some significant limitations.

    “First, having Canada in the name was too restrictive and suggested that we were focused on Canada, which wasn’t accurate at all,” Mr. Shepard says.

    Even more of a disadvantage was the fact that Web hosting no longer accurately reflected what the company did.

    “Our business had evolved, and there was so much more to it. We had shifted our focus from shared hosting services to managed hosting services and we felt that it was time to think about a name change,” he says.

    Management spent time brainstorming internally and, while they came close a couple of times, ultimately they couldn’t come up with a name that adequately fit the company’s vision. Plus, the potential names they did come up with did not have the accompanying URLs available.

    So in 2009, the company sought the help of a naming consultancy. “They came up with the Tenzing name, and we fell in love with it,” Mr. Shepard says.

    The name is a nod to Sardar Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa guide who accompanied Sir Edmund Hillary to the summit of Mount Everest in 1953.

    “He worked largely in the background providing guidance and doing all the heavy lifting, which is a reflection of what we do,” Mr. Shepard says.

    Not all entrepreneurs think so long and hard about naming their business, but they should.

    After all, your firm's name can boost brand equity, create valuable public relations and marketing momentum and ultimately drive sales. The potential return on investment from choosing an appropriate name should compel any entrepreneur to devote time and effort to getting it right, experts say.

    “Your name is the first and most visible representation of your brand. While getting it wrong won’t necessarily be the downfall of your business, it will make your marketing efforts that much harder,” says Jay Jurisich, founder and creative director of Igor International, a corporate naming specialist with offices in Toronto and San Francisco.

    “Your name is a marketing weapon,” agrees Naseem Javed, chief executive officer of ABC Namebank International, a corporate image and naming consultancy with offices in Toronto and New York that takes credit for coming up with such names such as Telus, Celestica and Vincor.

    Indeed, many entrepreneurs fail to recognize that choosing a business name isn’t about themselves, it’s about the end user. If it doesn’t click with your customers, then it’s a wasted opportunity, he says.

    All to often entrepreneurs have preconceived notions about what a name should be, based on what’s already used in their industry, Mr. Jurisich says. Or they think the product is so good, it will sell itself. “Well, no. You have to remove those filters and think ways outside of those boundaries,” he says.

    Contrary to popular opinion, says Mr. Javed, naming your firm is not a creative exercise. “It’s a serious, tedious, non-emotional process.”

    Where to start? First you need to determine your brand positioning. Ask yourself what makes you unique in the marketplace and what message you want to convey, Mr. Jurisich suggests.

    “If you tell me you’re cutting-edge and your products are revolutionary and you have a name like Acme XYZ, your visible face is contradicting your message.”

    Keep your name short and simple and easy to spell, Mr. Javed advises. You want your clients and customers to not only remember your moniker, but be able to easily look it up, online for example, and refer you to others.

    While descriptive terms can be useful, you also don’t want to pigeonhole your business. Mr. Shepard recalls that all too often when client’s referred Canada Web Hosting to other firms, the response would be, “but we’re not looking for Web hosting.”

    Another typical faux pas for entrepreneurs is naming the firm after themselves, a practice both Mr. Jurisich and Mr. Javed abhor – unless it supports your brand position; think fashion designers.

    Your family name won’t distinguish you from a sea of others or inform customers of what it is you do. In the long run, in fact, it may align you too closely with the business, which could become a limitation should you ever want to sell, Mr. Javed says.

    An available domain name should be a key consideration when choosing a business name, Mr. Javed adds.

    Mr. Shepard says that adopting the Tenzing moniker was almost thwarted when he learned the domain name was already taken. In a stroke of good luck, Mr. Shepard contacted the owner and learned that the domain name was no longer being used and he was able to buy it.

    Keep in mind that the name or names you’re considering may already be taken and protected under the Trade-mark Act, so it’s a good idea to run your choices through the Canadian Trade-marks Database.

    And once you’ve settled on a name, consider trademarking it to protect yourself, Mr. Javed suggests. Many entrepreneurs fail to realize that simply registering a business name provincially doesn’t prevent others from using the name (or something very similar), too.

    Trademark applications are processed federally by the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. You can trademark a word, or words, a design or a combination of the two, for 15 years.

    You can file a trademark application yourself, but Mr. Jurisich recommends enlisting the help of a trademark lawyer, who can help navigate the steps smoothly and efficiently.

    Finding the ideal name isn’t easy, and with more companies launching into the marketplace, it’s becoming harder to get that one name that will help you stand out from the crowd, Mr. Jurisich says.

    “So, when you find a name don’t dally, lock it in. If you wait a week, the name might already be gone.”

    Special to The Globe and Mail

    Yahoo!Finance

    June 12, 2015

    Pun and done: The risks of a witty business name

    By Emma Peters


    Some people see a wine store named Planet of the Grapes or a restaurant called A Salt and Battery and roll their eyes, or groan, or wince. Others, though, might appreciate the creativity that goes into naming your Vietnamese noodle shop Pho Sure or your bar Tequila Mockingbird.

    But even the wittiest business owners have to be careful that their name doesn’t become a pun-hit wonder.

    “It’s very hard to remember a pun,” says Steve Manning, CEO and founder of the naming agency Igor International. “They’re amusing at the moment – but then they’re like vapor – they’re gone.”

    Some businesses get in trouble when the puns start to sound alike. Think of all the punny names for a hair salon that businesses could (and do have): Hair Today Gone Tomorrow, Million Hairs, Hair Me Out, Hair Force One, Hair Majesty, Hairs Johnny, Mane Attraction, Maneframe, you get the point. Pretty soon, all the punning on the same word starts to blend together.

    “You’re using basically the same keywords all mixed up,” says Manning.

    Creative-minded business owners might think their names are memorable for being quirky, but if a whole bunch of businesses pun with the same material, consumers won’t be able to distinguish or even remember them in the long term.

    Naming a business is a big deal – the wrong name can doom a company even before it gets up and running. That’s why companies like Manning’s charge over $30,000 for their services. And, Manning adds, businesses can and do fail because of lackluster names.

    There’s no formula to naming a company, but the general consensus is that a good name is well researched and strikes a balance between being specific and holding wide appeal.

    Manning suggests considering certain questions during the naming process: Can this name accomplish anything for your company? Is it able to communicate a message to your target audience? Punny business names, he said, generally neglect these questions rather than answer them.
    Manning says the only situation where a pun might work well is for a local business with no competition. If Cycloanalysts is the only bike shop in town, they don’t have to worry about having a name that’s easily confused or forgotten.

    Tequila Mockingbird, Mexican restaurant and bar in New Canaan, CT. (Image: Tequila Mockingbird)

    That might explain why punny business names are more prevalent on the local level (see hair salons mentioned above). There are only a handful of pun-named national companies - Petsmart, Men’s Wearhouse, Bare Escentuals and Staples chief among them.

    Some luxury brands are not averse to taking on a little puniness in their names. One Fine Stay, a more upscale version of Airbnb that launched in 2009, operates in London, Los Angeles, New York and Paris. The company, which admittedly ranks quite low on the pun cringe-worthy scale, has gotten some favorable write-ups in Vogue and the New York Times. There’s also Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, a Chicago-based company that owns over 100 restaurants throughout the country, including the Eiffel Tower restaurant in Las Vegas.  

    So what’s a business owner yearning for some humor in their company’s name to do?

    “What you’re really looking for is something that works on multiple levels instead of one,” Manning says. “You can’t do it in a sophomoric, juvenile, linear way. You can’t spell it all out for people. You have to let them get it.”

    Such as? Well, Smart Mouth, for instance, a dental practice with offices in Texas and Oklahoma, is a good example, says Manning, whose company (of course) helped name it. Award Wieners, Disneyland restaurant in California. (Image: Disney)

    Salon.com

    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."

    http://dir.salon.com/media/col/shal/1999/11/30/naming/index.html?sid=474305

    Elsevier Food International

    November, 2002

    What's in a Name?

    "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet!" When it comes to the global search for corporate identity, Shakespeare definitely asked the right question. He just had the wrong answer.

    Summary: A company can decide to change its name for various reasons. It generally signals a company's strategic move and a change in the company's direction. The company name change game is a process that can take anything from days to four months and is fraught with pitfalls and inconsistencies.

    Around the world, companies are playing the name and re-name game at a cost of millions of dollars in an effort to bolster their image, stand out in an increasingly crowded marketplace, or are dictated by mergers and acquisitions. Independent "identity consultants" have sprung up like weeds, and advertising agencies that once came up with new names as a sideline to their main business have spun off entire companies devoted to this practice.

    Each one has its own naming modules and theories with high-sounding techniques like speechstream visibility, phonetic transparency, and multilingual functionality. In the end, naming seems to be combination of pseudo-science and gut feeling, and the process can take anything from days to four months, including international trademark and URL searches.

    Idiosyncrasies

    The game is fraught with pitfalls and inconsistencies. Several years ago, Reebok introduced a line of women's sneakers called Incubus, a word referring to a demon that attacks women in their sleep. The product was immediately pulled off the shelves and the company went through a rebranding exercise.

    Eurobranding, or other globalization efforts add another dimension to the name game. In Europe, Lever sells fabric softener under various names such as Soupline in France and Cocolino in Italy. However, some linguistic idiosyncrasies do not make it from country to country. Japanese soft drink firms realized that names like Sweat and Calpis would not fly in the U.S. They changed the latter to Calpico and perception problems were avoided.

    "We always do in-country name/speaker checks to make sure there are no problems," says Anthony Shore, senior director, Landor Associates, the San Francisco-based brand strategy and design firm. Landor, the architect of Altria, Philip Morris' new corporate identity, is part of London-based WPP, one of the world's largest media conglomerates.

    "On rare occasions, names can mean something quite inappropriate. There's a soda in the U.S. called Sierra Mist, a nice evocative name. However, we have to be careful since mist is the German word for manure," says Shore.

    As trade increases between China and English speaking countries, names that had been acceptable in their native tongues also suffer in translation. Such was the case with Chinese companies whose brands for the U.S. translated into "White Elephant Auto Parts", "Junk Chemicals", "Pansy Men's Clothing" and "Fang Fang Lipstick". Not to pick on Asian translations, a car lock de-icer from Finland called Super Piss, while descriptive, is inappropriate in English.

    At times, name changes simply do not help. Hydrox Cookies, which debuted in the U.S. in 1908 managed to survive despite a vaguely chemical sounding name and stiff competition from Oreo. In 1997, management decided it was time for a change and created Droxies. This ill-fated move made the cookie sound less like a chemical but more like a disease, according to observers.

    New name ... new image

    Meanwhile, everyone is awaiting news from bankrupt and disgraced Enron, which is relaunching with a new name yet to be determined. As Jay Jurisich, creative director of Igor, a California naming company, put it: "It will be hard to sweep history under the rug."

    "Sometimes, we discourage clients from changing the name of the company if it's the wrong business decision. There are tradeoffs and you have to make an informed decision. Products and companies that have been in the market for a long time have value and equity. The decision to walk away from that for the promise of starting anew is not an easy decision," Shore notes.

    Conversely, it does not have to be an all or nothing scenario. "Kentucky Fried Chicken had a lot of equity. But they broadened their product offering and there were certain negative perceptions about the word fried. They adopted KFC which can be used successfully for all kinds of things," he says.

    It was a similar situation for Federal Express. They were unique but over time, other companies using the word "express" entered the market and the term lost differentiation. Additionally, there were negative perceptions attached to the word "federal" as they moved overseas. When the name was shortened to FedEx, the company's visual identity increased.

    Although Shore declines to discuss Landor's clients, consultants say the jury is still out on Philip Morris' attempt to distance itself from the "big tobacco" image by changing its name to Altria. However, some industry insiders believe the move is so transparent as to create negative feelings among consumers. And while the name has no particular meaning, Latin scholars seem to delight in citing potential derivations, including the Latin altus, meaning high, and altrix, meaning wet nurse.

    "The thinking behind Altria is to hide the Philip Morris name and find one that will throw people off. But now, you're going to see the CEO doing a song and dance to explain it. He'll be invoking things like Latin or ancient Greek. But it's the naked emperor scenario," Jurisich says.

    Renaming for growth

    Susan Fournier is associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a noted author and an acknowledged expert on branding. "It's not a decision that's made lightly. The name is a very symbolic and important piece of articulating the brand. Consequently, there's considerable fixation on whether it captures what you want to be," she notes.

    As noted, companies change names to signal some broader strategic shift such as a merger and acquisition or changes in company direction. Yet, also for ease of communication when they learn their current name is restrictive, according to Fournier.

    Such was the case with Security Capital Pacific Trust. "It was very descriptive for acquiring real estate investment trusts. But the company realized it was missing a branding opportunity to promote the residential properties it owned around the world. Then, the name was changed to Archstone," says Fournier.

    Moreover, studies have also indicated that name changes sometimes correlate with stock market activity. "One study said a name change increases a company's stock an average of 18 per cent. It's taken as a signal of a bigger strategic endeavour because the stock market just assumes that if you change your name, you have bigger fish to fry," she says.

    Additionally, a study by global consultants McKinsey & Co. indicates a connection between brand strength and corporate performance. Among 130 consumer product companies, strong brands generated an average return to shareholders that was 1.9 per cent above the industry average. At the same time, weaker brands lagged behind the average by 3.1 per cent.

    The renaming operation

    One might think that name changes would be more common considering the corporate community's need to impress Wall Street. "I haven't seen any studies that suggest an increase in this trend," says Fournier. "But I have seen how increasingly difficult it is to come up with a new name. We've overused words in the dictionary by a factor of five and people are being forced into bridged, blended and made-up names."

    However, this is not necessarily a recipe for disaster. The bridged/blended category consists of the merger of two names or words, which are easily identifiable by consumers. It also enables the product or company to convey more than one idea or value. Among the most notable, according to Fournier, are PowerBook, Snackwells, Travelocity and Nutrasweet.

    Invented words are so-called "nonsense" words with no roots or existing words in mind and crating meaning for them is an expensive proposition. Nonetheless, it seems to have worked out for the likes of Kodak, Exxon, Oreo and a raft of acronyms including AOL.

    "The expense involved in generation and testing of names and focus groups alone can run anywhere from $10,000 to $500,000," according to Fournier. However, others say it can run into millions due to endless trademark searches and the need to cover more domains including stock ticker symbols, websites and other legal searches.

    Opinions are mixed on the value of focus groups and market research for naming. Susan Fournier of Harvard believes that consumers can validate the intended meanings of names and serve as disaster checks for final name decisions. Some companies such as Kellogg have even used online voting to enable consumers to take part in naming, a method which also enhances their public relations.

    However, Steve Manning, managing director of Igor has a different view. "If you're trusting the future of your brand to a bunch of people who are willing to give up their time for $45 and a stale sandwich, you're in trouble."

    Jurisich adds that people in focus groups are only shown a name without any surrounding context. "Frankly, a focus group would have shot down the name Virgin Airways because [some in the group would have thought] it's too flaky."

    [Igor tries to discourage] big committees from being involved in naming, according to Jurisich. "We start the process by asking questions of all people in an organisation–things like where the company is positioned in their industry, what the competition is doing and even what they dream about for the company. The questions are always different and a lot of it is like group therapy. But we try to keep the number of people involved in the name change to a minimum. It's [too easy for people] to shoot down a name when they're not involved in the process at every step."

    Landor's methods are similar, if a bit more regimented. The first step is securing buy-in from the senior executives, beginning with a mandate from the CEO. "This way, everyone knows the move has strategic importance," says Shore.

    However, getting consensus from other senior executives can be extremely difficult. "Naming or renaming is usually accompanied by a lot of emotion. People get very passionate about what they like and don't like. That's why it's critical to focus on strategic business issues and return on investment," says Shore.

    Internationalisation of new brand names may also create problems among locals. For example, if a company is introducing a common brand across Europe, marketing directors in Germany, Italy and the UK might oppose the move because it threatens to make them obsolete.

    "We interview everyone from management to line employees. When we worked with FedEx, we talked to people on the planes." As a side benefit, Landor discovered the heavy purple pigment used to paint planes made them very hot. They recommended going to a white background colour and ended up saving the company a small fortune on cooling costs as well as in fuel because the purple paint was very heavy. "Actually, this change more than paid for the rebranding programme," Shore quipped.

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    Choosing a new brand name ? Do an A.S.S. count.


    Naming Agencies

    ASSOCIATIONS + SLOGANS SCORE

    Let's say you've got two metaphorical names under consideration for your new computer company, Apple and Strawberry. Both names meet your brand positioning criteria:

    Simple, warm, human, approachable, organic, disruptive.

    Half your team champions Apple and the other half love the name Strawberry. It's pointed out that the names couldn't be more similar, they are both red fruits, so why not flip a coin and move on?  The Chief Obfuscation Officer calls for a month of testing, reliably in the unreliable form of crowdsourcing or focus groups.

    At which point you become the hero by jumping in and shouting, "I demand an A.S.S. test!"

    A test that takes minutes to complete.

    When leading name contenders are locked in a battle, tallying up the number of associations each have in our collective consciousness - in stories, legends, idioms, etc, tells you how emotionally connected people are to them. And reveals what each brings to the table for marketing, branding and advertising campaigns.

     

    Apple

    • Garden of Eden (apple w/ bite logo)

    • Isaac Newton (product name)

    • William Tell

    • Snow White

    • The Tree of Life

    • McIntosh (product names McIntosh, eMac, iMac, Power Mac, MacBook, Mac Mini)

    • One smart apple

    • A bad apple

    • Easy as apple pie

    • An apple a day

    • Apple of my eye

    • Apple polisher

    • Big Apple

    • Apples and oranges

    • How 'bout them apples?

    • Apple doesn't fall far from the tree

    • Upset the applecart

     

    Strawberry

    • Strawberry Fields

    • Strawberry shortcake

    • Strawberry blonde

     

    Sometimes the positioning of the name your looking for is simply a single big idea - an iconic, definitive name that captures the imagination.

    This was the case for a B2B software startup we named, so the first and winning tactic was to find a name that had the most cultural connections that were really big ideas. The clear winner was Seven:

     
    • Seven wonders of the world.

    • Seven musical notes.

    • Seven seas.

    • Seven days a week.

    • Seven continents.

    • Seven deadly sins.

    • Seven virtues.

    • Seven colors of the rainbow.

    • Seven chakras.

    • Seven years of bad luck.

    • Seven visible planets.

    • Seven heavens.

    • Seven dwarfs.

    • Seven samurai.

    • On the seventh day god rested.

    • Lucky number seven.

     

    Of course there are many more, but you get the idea. Before we presented Seven to our client, we needed to determine if Seven could possibly be trademarked around the world, given the 700,000+ trademarked software names globally. We came up with a strategy, and Seven is trademarked worldwide. The ability to legally finesse a name like Seven is critical, because naming is not simply about finding the best name for the job, it's about finding the best name for the job that you can legally use.

    Apple vs. Strawberry isn't a fair fight. But it's not always so lopsided. If the A.S. portion of the test doesn't produce a winner, move on to Slogans. Put two names side by side and see which inspires the most taglines that play off the name.

    None of the taglines anyone can remember actually play off the company name, they're too expected and make the name one dimensional. Imagine, "Virgin, A Brand New Experience" or "Apple, Easy as Pie". Deadly.

    But the exercise does reveal the power, connectivity and relevance of an unexpected name.

    Let's say you're naming a creative agency and a leading name contender is:

     

    Igor

    • Igor. Bringing Your Vision To Life.

    • Igor. Get Over The Hump.

    • Igor. A Few Spare Parts and a Good Storm.

    • Igor. Throw The Switch.

    • Igor. A Moveable Beast.

    • Igor. Own Your Shadow.

    • Igor. No Job Too Horrifying.

    • Igor. The Other White Meat.

    • Igor. Never Say Die.

    • Igor. A Good Brain Is Hard To Find.

    • Igor. Alive!

    • Igor. Better Living Through Science.

    • Igor. Building The Perfect Beast.

     

    BOTTOM LINE: The number of ASSOCIATIONS or SLOGANS that potential metaphorical brand names generate tells you how emotionally connective each name is and how much branding, marketing & advertising ammunition they contain.

      __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    A brand name has a job to do. Create a job description for it.

        Naming Agencies    

    Finding the perfect name should be approached like you're hiring a Global Director of Branding & Advertising. Because that's exactly what you're doing. So it's natural to put together a list of asks for your name that includes things like credibility, trust, reliability, honesty, transparency, quality, yada yada yada.

    But a name is a specialist, and these types of foundational brand positioning qualities are common to every business in existence. They need to be established by the other touch points of your brand. "Not my job", should be the response of any name candidate asked to perform these duties. In fact, using such qualities when grading name candidates will result in the best qualified names not even receiving an offer:

     

    Google

    Credibility, Trust, Reliability, Honesty, Transparency, Quality

     

    Slack

    Credibility, Trust, Reliability, Honesty, Transparency, Quality

     

    Impossible

    Credibility, Trust, Reliability, Honesty, Transparency, Quality

     

    Away

    Credibility, Trust, Reliability, Honesty, Transparency, Quality

     

    Goop

    Credibility, Trust, Reliability, Honesty, Transparency, Quality

       

    None of the over-performing names above can pass the Credibility, Trust, Reliability, Honesty, Transparency, Quality test. Which is great, because your audience doesn't look to your name for these sorts of reassurances. More importantly, it leaves the name free to have the kinds of qualities it needs to be exceptionally good at its job :

    Unexpected, Human, Engaging, Thought Provoking, Memorable, Disruptive, etc.

     

    Here's what a job description for a name should look like:

     

    Responsibilities:

     

    • Go viral, propelling itself through the world on its own, becoming a no-cost, self-sustaining PR vehicle.

    • Redefine and own your category.

    • Demonstrate to the world that you're different, creating clear & wide separation from your competitors.

    • Create a positive and lasting engagement with your audience.

    • Provide a deep well of marketing and advertising images.

    • Be the genesis of a brand that rises above the goods and services you provide, so that you're not selling a commodity and/or competing on price.

    • Be unforgettable.

    • Support the unique positioning of the product/company.


    Qualifications:

     

    Depending on the positioning of the product or company the name will represent, you'll further screen name candidates for specifics, such as:

    • Personality - Warm? Fun? Futuristic? Mysterious? Sexy? Scientific? Confident? Superhuman? Quiet?
    • Communication Skills - What part of the conversation in your industry should the name address, define, redefine, express, demonstrate or dominate?
    • Personal Appearance - The way a name looks and sounds can communicate volumes, independent of the meaning of the word. Computer processor name "Trillium" has as a sci-fi look and sound, though it's a type of flower. Artificial Intelligence company name "Megagon" has the attitude of one of Godzilla's rivals, though it's a mathematical term that vectors, harmony, and describes a million things coming together as one.
     

    But what if you find the perfect candidate, except they have a criminal past? As long as they can carry out the Responsibilities and have the Qualifications, it'll be fine: Hotwire, Accomplice, Wheelman, and walking the talk, Igor.

    Bad breath and a ghoulish smile? Don't count them out: Bluetooth.

    A complete lack of experience? Sign them up: Virgin.