What's in a name? Tips for discovering the perfect moniker

3 November 2016

As a copywriter, I spend my day thinking about words. One of the most challenging tasks that I regularly undertake is helping new businesses answering a fundamental question: what the bloody hell are we going to call it?

Doing that isn’t easy. Naming anything (company, product, event, thing) feels massive and important. And utterly without shape. Unlike its svelte media-darling sibling, logo design, naming is a bit of a dark art: awkward back and forth between boys who know a bit of Latin (The Apprentice), or super cutesy one-man crusade (Silicon Valley).

As a copywriter, as a namer, as a proud namer, I want to clear up these filthy allegations. And set the record straight. This is my story: my story of a name with the key characters and plot twists needed for success.

Set the scene

No company, no matter how gamechangingly, consumercentrically different, exists in a vacuum. There are precedents. Things a lot like it, and things a bit like it. The most probing piece of research you can do is to find them. And make a list.  

Look for motifs

Names make patterns. There are types: abstract and descriptive. And tics: internal rhymes that echo through whole categories. The many –rs of dating apps. The sweet one-word colloquialism of chatty young companies. The growing trend in actual human names. Spot these, and you find uniforms: what to wear to fit in. And where there’s space to stand apart.

Thicken the plot

Most briefs are nice. Too nice. You’ll spend three days smiling your way through the thesaurus, look for nice-sounding other ways to say things that are already nice, like versatile, and collaborative, and easy. Nice is rarely the aim. Twist the brief to focus on what makes you different: who you are. Who you aren’t.  

Cast a minger

Or at least be prepared to. There is no one type of name. The good ones don’t all have the obvious look (short, nice-sounding, easy to pronounce). Many of the best ones, at first, would’ve seemed a bit too long (Technology Will Save Us), a bit bizarre to look at (EE), or brutish and ugly (webuyanycar). Invite anything to audition.

Big heroic action scene(s)

Ka-boom! Ka-pow! Ka-post-its! Names. How this bit happens is up to you. Some like the free-love format of the brainstorm. Others, a more stoical affair. Whatever you choose, space it over a few rounds. Be odd. Be silly. Be serious. And use each set of names to prod and re-prod the brief.  

We need a tough guy

A natural born culler: someone cold and unfeeling. With the ability to whittle down a long list of names into the few that are strong enough, and sufficiently different. Editing matters as much as creating: too many names and the best get swamped.

Enter: villains

Trademark lawyers. Everyday office baddies who will eat your favourite names. Sadly, they’re very necessary characters. Get them in once you have a shortlist. And store a few alternate endings in case your best ones fall prey.

Happily ever after

Confident. Honest. Full of meaning. Roll credits.

Tom Tytherleigh is copywriter at Reed Words in London.

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Tom Tytherleigh

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