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What’s in a name?


What’s in a name?


“A good name is rather to be chosen than riches”. King Solomon

For those of you that have children, what was the hardest thing about naming your child? If you were like me, it was hoping that the name you finally agreed on (after many, many lists), would be the perfect fit when the little person finally arrived. Would it suit their personality? Would it feel right when you had a face to the name? Or would the child just grow into their name.

The same questions and anxieties are faced by any organisation when developing a new name. So, what can you learn from naming a child that you can apply next time you need to name a product, service or organisation?

1. Set the tone

When you’re lucky enough to find out you’re having a baby, one of the first things you think of is naming the child – and how you’re going to agree. You first get together with your partner and work out what the important characteristics are that you both want the name to convey. Obviously this may change depending on whether you find out what the gender of the baby is, but let’s assume you want to keep it a surprise. There’s decisions like choosing between traditional or modern. Will you go for a name that’s totally out there because it fits your personality, or are you more conservative? Do you go for a popular name or try to find one that none of your friends or family have used? Maybe there’s cultural backgrounds you need to take into consideration.

For my wife and myself, being able to shorten the name was important. We decided on Sophie and Lily because we liked how it sounded when shortened to Soph and Lil. And they are both easy to say and spell.

When looking at naming a brand or product, setting key territories and criteria at the start is a great way to help focus your efforts in generating ideas. For example, you may look at a series of names that are based around a concept, such as ‘community’. And within that you might break it into names that are ‘functional’, in that they describe what a community means – like ‘local’ or ‘together’. Or you may want to explore ‘abstract’ names linked to the idea of a community – could be a post code 3053, metaphor or latin translation.

Whatever territories you choose, it’s important that they link back to the personality and values of the brand so that the final name has relevance and meaning to the organisation.

2. Make up lots of lists

Now that you’ve agreed on the basic parameters for naming the child, it’s time to get started on creating lists. That means trawling through baby name books, searching the internet for clues and inspiration, researching the history of names in the family, and so on. It’s pretty simple. The more names you can generate, the closer you will get to the right one.

It’s the same for developing lists of brand names. Research the history of the firm if it’s appropriate. Get out the thesaurus for inspiration. Explore latin or other translations. Start getting down as many name associations as possible. Don’t throw any out at this stage, as some names may lead to others.

3. Fine-tuning the list

So, you’ve got all of these names for the child. How do you decide which is the right one? You first need to cull them down to a select few from which you can make the final decision. Some will be easier than others. The first step is to check ones that meet the territories and criteria you established first of all. Yes, it’s a bit out there – tick. Yes, none of our friends or family have the same name – tick. Yes, we can easily shorten it – tick.

It’s the same process we go through in taking the master list of brand names down to a shortlist. A good way to judge the names is to rank them against your criteria: easy to say and spell, has an ‘x’ factor and reflects the values of the organisation. Whatever is relevant for the brand. You’ll quickly uncover the ones that are the standout.

Before arriving at your shortlist for the client, make sure you’ve done some initial testing against trademark, google search and domains. There are a number of quick and easy searches you can do over the internet which could save you a lot of embarrassment and time. Especially if you find that the name you’re suggesting is trademarked already, or a website search brings up some results your client may not want linked to their brand.

4. Bringing the name to life

Finally the day has arrived, and hopefully all those lists, discussions and late-night thinking have been worth it and the name is the perfect match for the child. It usually is because so much thought and passion has gone into crafting that one name. It’s amazing when you see the face for the first time, the name instantly comes alive.

Obviously, that’s the same result you want for the new brand name. But it can be hard for a client to see that if they’re looking at a naked name without any visual identity to give it context. The onus is then on you to sell in the meaning and relevance of the name so they understand how you got there – and are excited to go along for the journey.

If you’ve been thorough in your thinking, marrying the visual identity to the name should then be a formality – giving birth to the perfect result.


Richard Foster

Richard Foster is the head of writing at Melbourne branding agency TANK. Richard’s focus is helping organisations find clarity and meaning in their written and spoken communications. For more information visit tankbranding.com.au

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