storytelling naming

Great names are more than arbitrary creations. They tell a story, are easy to remember and most of all, have strategic impact. At MetaDesign, I help create names for all sorts of companies, products and services. Over the years, we’ve honed our naming strategy and are happy to share a few tips we’ve gathered along the way.

Before you begin…
When helping clients develop a new name, we typically start by asking them three important questions:

  • What feeling do you want to evoke in your audience when they hear your name?
  • What one objective do you want the name to communicate?
  • What idea are you selling?

If you’re looking to name your startup, begin by answering the above questions, and then move on to the tips below.

#1 Create naming clusters
If you’re creating a new name and have no clue where to start, developing boundaries will provide focus. Create up to five broad category clusters in which you will brainstorm words. Cluster examples could include: heritage, industry terms, company description, outcomes, benefits, etc). They may also contain information you learned by answering the three questions above (i.e., if you want to communicate speed, that would be a great cluster category topic).

Write the headings on a piece of paper and tack them to a wall or whiteboard (we use huge slabs of cork board at Meta). The name of your cluster categories will completely depend on your brand, product or service. For example, if you were naming a jewelry store specializing in rings, your naming clusters might include categories like heritage (information about the founders and location, the materials used, etc); luxury (words around how luxury makes you feel, things that are luxurious, ideas that come to mind when thinking of luxury), outcomes (happy, romantic, emotional, etc). You get the idea.

Allot 10naming clusters minutes of brainstorming per cluster. Write each word, phrase or idea on a Post-it and place it under the specific category cluster. At the end, look at each grouping. Cluster similar ideas into groups under each topic.

Post-It’s help for many reasons: you can create new word formations later on, you can move them wherever you like, and the size forces you to condense ideas.

Different word forms might look odd when spelled out or said aloud. The word ‘soar’ is a great example. Years ago when I was naming a credit union, we all liked the idea of the word (which means to fly at great heights) – but when spoken, it communicates a negative meaning (my legs are sore).

A quick audit of jewelry stores revealed many names are inspired by heritage. Keeping with the jewelry theme, legendary jeweler Tiffany was actually named for its founder Charles Lewis Tiffany. Shane Co, one of the largest privately owned jewelers in the United States, was also named after its owner Tom Shane. Note: It’s important to do a name audit of your top 20 competitors to see what they are doing in an effort to reveal how you can stand out.

#2 Tell a story
Once you see hundreds of words before your eyes, chances are you’ll notice patterns and find a path you want to pursue. Join words together and make up entirely new word formations and coinages. Right now, the trend is to use functional words (i.e., Coin, Pebble, Riide) that give a very literal description of the offer. Functional names can be great but are harder to trademark. Whatever direction you pursue, make sure your name tells some sort of story to draw people in and evoke connection.

For example, WD40 is named for Water Displacement, 40th formula – 40 being the number of tries it took to get the formula to work. The name Warby Parker was inspired by two of Jack Kerouac’s earliest characters, Zagg Parker and Warby Pepper. Apple was named (supposedly) because Steve Jobs was on a fruit diet and had just got back from visiting his neighbor’s apple orchard – and was inspired by his apple kick.

Your name doesn’t have to relate to the product literally. Think outside the box – or in this case, ring.

#3 Use domainr to help score creative urls and names
Domai.nr is an awesome tool to help you craft new urls and provide different ideas to new naming solutions. The tool is pretty self-explanatory – simply type in a string of letters you want to use and domainr will provide a host of creative options. NOTE: If you like a url but the .com is inactive, contact the owner or hire a domain broker. We have had several clients whose persistence lead to the purchase of a .com for a relatively low price.

When you’ve come up with a great name, don’t forget to check out USPTO.gov (or WIPO, for those living abroad) to see if your name is registered. If it is, all is not lost. Look at creative and alternate spellings. 

Good luck! What tools do you use when brainstorming names?

Molly Davis is a Communication Strategist at MetaDesign. 

About Molly Davis Lind

Just be.

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