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December 06, 2016

Secrets for Strategic Naming

A name is one of the most recognizable elements of a brand and in all but rare instances, is the primary building block for the rest of the brand’s identity. Whether we are building a new brand or refreshing an existing brand, we always start with the name as the foundation.

In our office we love the process of naming. Naming is creative. Naming is fun. Naming is imaginative. Naming can also be stressful and challenging.

Why challenging? Because names are subjective. A name that evokes a specific feeling for one person could conjure the opposite emotion for someone else. A name, at the end of the day, is personal. In our line of work most often what we name are places, and the significance of place is deeply personal and widely varied.

Even our own Portland wasn’t exempt from a difference in opinion. The lore famously states that Portland’s designation was decided by a coin toss between founders Francis Pettygrove and Asa Lovejoy who each wanted to name the city after their hometown, but “home” was specific to the individual. If Pettygrove, a native of Maine, hadn’t bested Lovejoy, we’d be living in Boston, Oregon.

A good name reflects the best aspects of its name sake, but there is another, somewhat trickier, consideration: names don’t exist in an isolated vacuum. Simply put, the name doesn’t come infused with meaning. Rather, the meaning is created by a multitude of factors and will develop as a place is built and used and activated. Over time, the experience of a place saturates the name with meaning, but in a somewhat classic “chicken & egg” causality, the name has to attract and invite experience.

So how do we arrive at names?

We approach naming the same way we approach our design process—it’s iterative. Meaning, we’ll keep working on it until we’ve arrived at the best solution and explored (and exhausted) all other possibilities. Names come from all sorts of places but all must pass our internal criteria:

  1. What does the name need to carry? What are the defining principles of this project?
  2. Is it ownable? Is anyone else using it? What are similar names being used?
  3. Does it pass the litmus test? Can people say it? Will they?
  4. Is it search-friendly? What does Google turn up?
  5. Is there a sexy “WOW” factor? Does it invite use? 

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It’s amazing how many names, even ones that resonate initially, are eliminated when put through this rigor. The name can be amazing, but when the Google search yields pages of unsavory results, often times, it’s gotta go…. and then we are back to combing our inspirations, which strategically, are many. As they say, sometimes you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince.

A tour names coined or influenced by Think Joule