Thursday, March 11, 2010

How to choose a Name Or the Art of Naming stuff

A friend of mine, a very talented guy, let’s call him Jonathan (the real name is closely guarded secret :) told me about a web service he wants to unleash in to the FaceBook pool in the up coming weeks. We were seating over a cup of coffee and he was enthusiastically telling me all about it when he reached the paunch line of the story “we are going to call it office kit”

We sate for a very awkward 10-15 seconds. He grinning at me and I’m looking puzzled waiting for him to take it back, to say something along the lines of “I totally had you there for a moment; I wish you could have seen the look on your face”. What could I do? The guy is a good friend it’s not polite to crush one’s dream just for being incompatible with reality and on the other hand better me now than reality crushing the dream when he puts his product on the market and discovers that no one can find it, because office is one of the most overly used words ever.

I told him “Jonathan there are some ground rules you have to keep in mind while picking a name for your application, business, group or your MMO user name”. These rules are good for just about any name you choose except for naming your children.

I’ll try to summarise the list here to the best of my ability, please note that following the rules will not provide you with instant success but ignoring them will greatly increase your chance of failure.

An incomplete list of rules for naming stuff:
  • Name needs to be unique – apart from the legal aspect. People have to be able to notice that your things is not something else.
  • Name needs to relate to the subject at hand – this is really self explanatory. If you are opening a beauty salon you should not call it ‘fashion news’. Always keep in mind what are you naming, a name for a fortune 500 company is very different from a coffee house’s name. Think about the name, can you go back from it the type of thing it represents?
  • Name needs to convey information to be functional – very similar to the rule just above but not quite, the name you choose should at least hint on what is the service that you provide.
  • Name needs to be easy to remember – the name has to click and register with other people when they first hear it.
  • Name needs to be simple – if you needs to be a physics major to get the gist of the name it’s not working well (unless your target audience happens to be physics PhD’s)
  • Name should appeal to target audience – if you target Group X, the name does not necessary have to appeal to Group Y. But be very careful early on the road about narrowing your target audience with bad assumptions.
  • Name should be short – the longer the name is, there is greater chance that people will not read it, or that people will not remember it, the more likely it will be harder to say it. Besides think about the domain name you’ll need nobody ever types in something like “
  • Name should be easy to say and easy to hear – hopefully your product will be good and so people might want to tell other people about it. So, the name have to be easy to pronounce no teeth breaking consonant clusters, at best it should have a rhythm or a singsong quality. But for now let’s keep it simple; the name should be easy enough so you could tell it somebody over the phone (when he is in a public place :)
  • The name should raise curiosity – this is somewhat an art form, as curiosity has a rather illusive quality to it. Provoking curiosity is sort of the flip side of having a functional name than conveys information and relates to the subject but somewhere along the way it leaves a void. And when you leave a void people would want to fill it with knowledge. Warning this is an advanced method.
  • Name should be hard to misspell – many people will eventually use this name and they should be able to do it without embarrassing themselves. I would avoid the use of Internet shorting methods such as EZ for Easy.
  • Avoid incidental word fusion – you were meaning at something completely innocent but when it’s written in the URL line or spoken out loud it comes out completely different. The best example I can think of is a Microsoft’s computer protection product was named “one care”. I would advise you to say the name a couple of times repeatedly to catch the gist. It comes out and an age old expiration having to do with pleasuring one’s self.
  • The name should not compete with off topic terms – don’t call your new application “office…” or “friends” they are already taken. They are so much taken that even they’re misspells are taken. You don’t have to resources to fight with Microsoft for the key word “office”; event bill gates don’t have the resources for that.
  • Names should not contain numbers – my rule of thumb is that if you must have a number it should best be a double digit number and it needs to sound cool. Think “studio 54” or “downing 10”, now take 5 seconds and try to remember another name-number fusion. I thought so… don’t use numbers.
  • Name cannot be offensive – simple as it is. A name cannot offend any body. If there is even a hint of racism or what ever don’t use the name, there is a reason it is still available.
  • Avoid overly used words – free your mind from Mind, Millennium, Tech, Green and all other words you are hearing all they long everywhere
  • Shay away form complicated word games – in most cases if somebody does not immediately understands the word game he will be impatient to it and over all be negative toward it and subsequently towards you. Also it’s hard to remember a word game you don’t understand because the name now makes not sense.

Name creating strategies:

  • Putting together new combination of words can be a productive approach such as FaceBook
  • Misspelling a known word such as tweeter became - Twitter
  • Taking an already existing word which is not widely used and caries positive meaning such as oracle
  • Invent a new word such as yahoo or Google (please note that the word google was not invented by Google, but by a machination’s kid who was at the right age to say “Google” when daddy asked “how would you call a really big number?”)
  • You can get help from a word generator, my favourite is
  • And be sure to check the new name monthly search volume with the ad words system at Google.
  • Ask your friends and family if its a good name, ask them to share they’re associations of the name and to comment freely.
  • Picture how the name will function in various situations, on a billboard, in a conversation, shouted by an angry mob,

Good luck

and if you have any question or comments please feel free to comment

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