Our Brand Naming Process

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

Naming Agencies  

Beware The Happy Idiot

Naming Agencies  

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

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

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

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

Naming Agencies

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

The Happy Idiot

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Happy Idiot with a Passport

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

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

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

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

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

The Happy Idiot with a Wallflower

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

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

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






PSI Bridge


Preventing a H.I. Jacking

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

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

Want To Create A Viral Brand Name?

Naming Agencies

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

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

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

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

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

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





Virgin Air










Banana Republic



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

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








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