Every year, 6 million companies and more than 100,000 products are launched. They all need an awesome name, but many (such as Xobni, Svbtle, and Doostang) look like the results of a drunken Scrabble game. In this entertaining and engaging book, ace naming consultant Alexandra Watkins explains how anyone—even noncreative types—can create memorable and buzz-worthy brand names. No degree in linguistics required. The heart of the book is Watkins’s proven SMILE and SCRATCH Test—two acronyms for what makes or breaks a name. She also provides up-to-date advice, like how to make sure that Siri spells your name correctly and how to nab an available domain name. And you’ll see dozens of examples—the good, the bad, and the “so bad she gave them an award.” Alexandra Watkins is not afraid to name names.
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About the Author
Alexandra Watkins is the founder of Eat My Words, a nationally recognized naming firm featured multiple times in the Wall Street Journal and Inc. Her clients include Disney, Microsoft, Wrigley, Turner networks, and Fujitsu.
Read an Excerpt
Hello, My Name Is Awesome
How to Create Brand Names That Stick
By Alexandra Watkins
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Watkins
All rights reserved.
HELLO MY NAME IS
The 5 Qualities of a Super-Sticky Name
How do you react when you see or hear a name you like? You smile. We enjoy names that surprise us, entertain us, and make us feel smart because we get them.
Names that make us smile are infectious. They are the ones we talk about, tweet, and repeat because we like other people to smile, too.
I love seeing the grin on someone's face when I say that I named a Spanish language school in Colombia Gringo Lingo. I get the same reaction when I mention the robotic vacuum I named Neato. And most people laugh out loud when they hear about the Church of Cupcakes.
Imagine if before people were even customers of yours, they loved your product or company simply because they loved the name. Maybe they'd even pay to buy a T-shirt with the name on it. That's the power of a name that makes people smile.
Remember the philosophy that the SMILE & SCRATCH name evaluation test is based on: A name should make you smile instead of scratch your head. SMILE is an acronym for the five qualities of a great name, which I cover here. (SCRATCH is the flipside, which we look at in the next chapter.)
SMILE: The 5 Qualities of a Super-Sticky Name
Ideally your name should have all of the above attributes.
Suggestive— Evokes Something about Your Brand
A name can't be expected to say everything, but it should suggest something about your brand. Not in a descriptive way, like Fast Signs, but in a creative or metaphorical way, such as Amazon.
The name Amazon suggests enormous. Founder Jeff Bezos chose the name because, to him, Amazon conjured up images of one of the world's largest rivers, and he envisioned his company being unfathomably large.
While Amazon.com famously started as an online bookseller in 1994, the company expanded rapidly into other areas. By 1999 the company was selling music, consumer electronics, video games, software, home-improvement items, toys and games, and much more. Of course, now it offers everything from lingerie to lawnmowers. And Amazon drones may one day be delivering our packages. No matter what they do or sell in the future, the name Amazon will always fit. Can you imagine if it had been named BookBarn.com?
Suggestive Coined Names
I have great respect for anyone who can invent a clever name that suggests something about the brand. Some of my favorite coined names are Dreamery, Groupon, Pictionary, Cinnabon, Chillow, Pinterest, Chuggernaut, and San Franpsycho. These names, also known as portmanteaus, work well because they cleverly marry two words together, are intuitive to spell, and easy to pronounce. Easier said than done. (More on that in the next chapter.) Other coined names that work well are those that suggest a positive brand experience. Jamba Juice, Twizzlers, and Zappos all live up to their fun, high-energy names.
A Suggestive Name Can Be Inspired by Your Brand's Personality
When you write your creative brief (Chapter 4), you'll jot down a few adjectives that describe the personality of your brand. You can use those words to spark name ideas. For instance, if you want to convey that your brand is adventurous and rugged, think of metaphors and phrases that fit those words. SUV names do this incredibly well. Explorer, Expedition, Range Rover, Yukon, and Denali all suggest rugged adventure.
Ad agencies are notorious for suggesting creative prowess through their wonderfully strange names. Some of the most imaginative are Victors & Spoils, Captains of Industry, The Glue Society, and Wexley School for Girls. These are certainly more interesting than traditional agency names like Foote, Cone & Belding.
How to suggest Trust or Credibility
While your business should certainly be trustworthy and credible, trying to cram any form of those words into your name can sound disingenuous. Luckily, there are many other ways you can convey that you have a quality company or product. Adding a strong secondary word in your name is an excellent solution. For instance, the company that makes the robotic vacuum Neato is named Neato Robotics. Other modifiers you can try are Global, Industries, or Group, which can instantly add heft to you name. Other ways to convey trust and credibility include customer testimonials on your website, a guarantee, professionally designed promotional materials, and an active social media presence. Actions speak louder than words.
MORE EXAMPLES OF SUGGESTIVE NAMES
Leaf (electric car)
Brawny (paper towels)
FitBit (activity trackers)
Resonates with Your Audience
It's important to make sure your name is meaningful to potential customers, not just to you. Most of the time when people encounter your name, you won't be there to explain it to them. And they won't have the time or interest to read about it on your website or the back of the box.
No one needs to explain the meaning of the name Norcal Waste Systems. It's unfortunately descriptive and has awful visual imagery. Not exactly something you would want to have emblazoned on a T-shirt or water bottle.
When the company was formed in 1983, the name Norcal Waste Systems was fine for the commercial businesses they served. But twenty-five years later, with hundreds of thousands of residential garbage-collection customers, the name was far from appealing. Waste had an especially negative meaning to the environmentally conscious communities it served in northern California, Oregon, and Washington. What these customers cared about was recycling, composting, and reclaiming useful materials before they were buried in a landfill. Ironically, Norcal Waste Systems was an industry leader in all of these areas. But no one would ever guess that based on the name.
In April 2009, Norcal Waste Systems changed its name to Recology, fusing the words recycle and ecology. This progressive new name evokes the company's environmental shift, resonates with both residential and commercial customers, and is a source of pride (instead of embarrassment) for their 2,100 employees.
A Meaningful Long Name Is Better than a Short Meaningless Name
It's better to have a meaningful name that people can remember than a meaningless name they can type in five keystrokes. The name of the online home furnishings store Previously Owned by a Gay Man is loaded with meaning and is much more memorable than a shortened version (PreOw) or its abbreviation (POBAGM).
The longest name I know of belonged to one of the entertainment law firms that represented Michael Jackson: Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca, Fischer, Gilbert-Lurie, Stiffelman, Cook, Johnson, Lande & Wolf. I'm not sure how meaningful such a long name could be to their clients, but until recently, when they shortened it to Ziffren Brittenham LLP, the names of all ten partners composed the name of this twenty-three-person firm. I would love to have seen how they crammed that onto a business card.
Do Not Name Your Company after Yourself
While it may evoke warm thoughts to your friends and family, your personal name is meaningless to your future customers. They don't know you yet. Your name evokes absolutely nothing about your business, expertise, or brand personality. And if you're like many of us, your name is either hard to spell, hard to pronounce, or hard for people to remember. Why would you want to have a business name with the same difficulties? (I suspect you know this, which is why you are reading this book.)
Unfortunately, most consultants and service professionals (architects, attorneys, photographers, professional speakers, etc.) use their own name by default because "That's what everyone else does." Most don't know any better, lack creative inspiration, or simply let their ego get in the way. This is a huge missed opportunity. Fortunately you are reading this book and won't make the same mistake.
Tejal Topiwala is a talented home stager and interior designer in Toronto. For most people in North America, her name is intimidating to pronounce. She had the foresight to know that it might be a barrier for people to pick up the phone and call if they were unsure how to pronounce her name. And of course her name wouldn't distinguish her in any way from her competitors. We branded her company Paprika, with the tagline "Spice up your space." This new identity recognizes her flair for color, lends itself to wordplay, has beautiful imagery, and is a fantastic conversation starter. And most of all, it lets prospective clients know that she's creative.
If Your personal Name Lends Itself to wordplay, Get Clever
If your first or last name lends itself to wordplay, you may be able to create a clever brand name out of it. Dawn Gluskin is a multimillion-dollar entrepreneur and coach who shares advice through her company, Dawnsense. Steven Lord is a consultant who calls his business Lord Knows!
If you do go this route, consider what could happen if you sell your company and your name is still attached to it, as happened to Shari Fitzpatrick, the founder of the original chocolate-dipped strawberry company, Shari's Berries. For two decades, Shari cultivated tens of thousands of loyal customers and a reputation for creating beautifully hand-dipped creations. Shari's Berries became well known, thanks to O Magazine, QVC, and the SkyMall catalog, where her product was featured on the cover three times. But after making a bad business decision, Shari was pushed out of her own company. A large corporation now owns Shari's Berries and mass-produces a product that bears little resemblance to the original. It makes Shari cringe that anyone would ever associate her good name with an inferior product. There's nothing she can do about it. She is forbidden to use her own name for her new company. (She does have a cute new name, though—Berried In Chocolate—inspired by the title of her chocolate-covered book, which is quite delicious.)
MORE EXAMPLES OF MEANINGFUL NAMES
Kryptonite (bike locks)
Breakthrough (mental health website)
Repel (insect repellent)
Mayday (tech support button)
Yelp (customer reviews)
Imagery— Visually Evocative to Aid in Memory
Think of people you've met throughout your life who have unusual first names. For me, that would be Daisy, Forest, and Chopper. I met all of them more than ten years ago during a six-week backpacking trip through New Zealand. (Chopper was a helicopter pilot.) I met dozens of people on my trip, but those three are the ones I remember instantly because the names have such strong associations with things that I can picture in my mind. That's the power of a visually evocative name.
Wouldn't you love to have a product or company name that would be so embedded in people's memories that they could recall it ten years later? You can, if you name your product or company something that conjures up images. When people can visualize your name with a picture, it's much easier for them to remember than an unfamiliar word or acronym that doesn't give their mind anything to latch on to. Think of an energy drink named Bloom. Now think of one named Enviga. Which name paints a picture? How's that for flower power?
One brand name loaded with visual imagery is Timberland, makers of rugged gear for the great outdoors. Whenever I hear that name, I imagine myself hiking in a mossy evergreen forest along a babbling brook, listening to lilting songbirds and crickets.
Even Dog Food Names Can Have Imagery
No matter what your product or company is, there is no excuse not to have a name with imagery. Pet food company Merrick recognizes the power of visually evocative names. Its canned dog food flavors conjure up some pretty tasty images: Thanksgiving Day Dinner, Grammy's Pot Pie, Cowboy Cookout, Smothered Comfort, Honolulu Luau. Merrick's names live up to their tagline, "It's food worthy of a fork." (For the record, I have not eaten any of these.)
Make Sure Your Name Has Imagery, Not Just Your Brand
Last week, someone wrote to me, "I've always liked the name Wells Fargo, because it connotes reliability and speed, and it has wonderful imagery of the Wild West. The stagecoach delivered the mail, come rain, snow, or ambush." Sure, after 162 years of building a successful brand and investing millions of dollars in advertising, the name Wells Fargo does evoke all of those things. But what if founders Henry Wells and William G. Fargo were starting a bank today and the name Wells Fargo popped up on your caller ID? What do those words alone conjure up without all of the years of visual branding? Certainly not pictures of the Wild West. Make sure your name has imagery from the beginning.
MORE EXAMPLES OF NAMES WITH IMAGERY
Range Rover (SUVs)
Target (mass merchandiser)
Hard Candy (nail polish)
Irish Spring (soap)
Leap Frog (educational toys)
Lends Itself to a Theme for Extended Mileage
To get the most out of your name, give it one that has legs. Strive for a theme with mileage you can build your brand around. Names with legs provide endless wordplay and verbal branding opportunities.
A strong theme can be extended to many elements of a brand, including these:
online promo codes
company award names
Public relations pro, Lynette Hoy, is a fiery woman who isn't afraid to pick up the phone to pitch a great story about her clients to the press. When I met her, she was using her personal name as her business name: Lynette Hoy PR. Unfortunately, it didn't evoke anything about her high-energy personality or tenacity. So we branded her with a name and tagline that said it all: Firetalker PR. Hot on the press.
Lynette took it from there and ran with it, creating a firestorm of branding ideas. Her official title is Fire Chief. She works in The Firehouse. And her packages are called Inferno, Controlled Burn, and Matchbox. She lightly peppers her marketing materials with her theme, keeping it fresh and fun, but not cutesy, corny, or over the top. And the ringtone on her phone is the classic R&B funk song "Fire" by the Ohio Players, which she also cranks up during her speaking engagements to fire up the audience.
Find a Theme That Can Be Stretched like Carnival Taffy
Some especially rich themes with endless wordplay include space exploration,nature, music, travel, and art. The theme of food is also highly extendable, as we've discovered at Eat My Words:
* Blog name: The Kitchen Sink
* info@email: email@example.com
* Service packages: Snack, the Whole Enchilada, and Just the Meat
* Client parking sign: "Eat My Words' client parking only. Violators will be eaten."
* Business card: pink retro refrigerator (a replica of the one in our office, which we use as a bookcase)
* Wireless network name: Candyland
* Meeting materials: toast coasters, pens that look like licorice sticks, "Food for Thought" notepads
* Corporate workshops: Spilling the Beans
The Right Name Creates a Family
When you launch a product, you can't look into your crystal ball and know what the future holds. But developing a naming theme early on will help you tremendously down the road. Apple has done this well with the iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, and iTouch. And even though the word cloud has become terribly overused, the name iCloud is instantly identifiable as being from Apple, which makes it stand out from the rest of the cloud crowd. It works for them. (But it doesn't work for you or your products. Don't even go there.)
Excerpted from Hello, My Name Is Awesome by Alexandra Watkins. Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Watkins. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. SMILE-The 5 Qualities of a Super-Sticky Name
2. SCRATCH-The 7 Deadly Sins
3. Domains-Strategies, Secrets, and Silliness
4. Creative Brief-Your Brand Name Road Map
5. Brainstorm-How to Be an Idea Machine
6. Name Review-12 Rules for Building Consensus
7. Name Changes-Pros and Cons
The How Awesome Is My Name Self-Assessment Tool
Logos & Identity Design
About Eat My Words
About the Author
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
“Awesome” is not a word to be used lightly, especially as part of a book title … Fortunately, in this case, it fits quite nicely, as does “Interesting”, “Honest”, “Focused” and “Helpful”. INTERESTING: If you are a marketing wonk, you will love this book. If you are a branding “guru”, you may feel a little uncomfortable, because Alexandra pulls no punches as she skewers some very popular current naming practices. Even if you have absolutely no interest in any business applications, you will still find the information in this book interesting, because it speak to communication … and we all communicate every single day, even when we do not say a word. HONEST: Early in the book, Alexandra warns us she is “not afraid to name names.” (p. 2) She goes on to prove this point time and again, by using numerous examples of current names for companies and products, fearlessly highlighting the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. I found myself tremendously entertained by her banter, except for the times she skewered some products I use. (i.e. Grammerly) Fortunately, she also lauds some companies I enjoy patronizing (i.e. Amazon) FOCUSED: This book is about one thing: What we name our business. Alexandra has an immense amount of practical experience doing that for organizations and products and she obviously loves what she does. Focus always requires passion and such is well in evidence here. HELPFUL: The Resources section at the end is a veritable bonanza of advice and websites connected to the topic. Like the content in each of the sections mentioned above, every page of this book seems to have some relevant, clear, and useful information. This is not your everyday business marketing book... and I like it. Alexandra Watkins is all about naming things, but “Hello, My Name is Awesome” is not a long or heavy book. It’s deceptively short, light, and about an airplane flight’s worth of reading … the first time. You might grab this book, thinking “Great … something quick and easy to kill some time” … but you would be so wrong. We have become somewhat insulated as we are repeatedly confronted with names that are not helpful in understanding what a company or product is about, or even how to spell or pronounce the name. She is laying bare one of the larger mysteries of our current business environment: Why we put up with naming protocols that do not make sense. The book itself has several well-organized main sections, each of which brings distinct value to our table. First, Alexandra lays out her “Do’s and Do Not’s” in three well-written and enjoyable sections, even as she hits uncomfortably close to home for many of us: SMILE: Five qualities of a “Super-sticky” name SCRATCH: Seven deadly sins of naming things. DOMAINS: Should be required reading for anyone who has a business identity or may ever have one. Watkins starts with full energy and candor and does not slow down. Her words are forceful, intentional, and loaded with practical wisdom about business today. She then proceeds to tell us exactly how to follow her system for creating memorable and useful names in three more well-crafted and engaging chapters: CREATIVE BRIEF: The single most useful part of this very useful book. I like strategic thinking and you have to engage in that when you complete one of these very valuable forms. Designed to help you think it out before you act it out, this section is worth doing, even if you love your current company name and do not ever plan on changing it. Just stick it in your briefcase or keep it handy to remind you of what you want to be about. The thinking and discernment that is required to complete the creative brief will force you to think more clearly and deeply about who you are, your customers, and what you are about. Alexandra calls this an “ingredients list” and if you follow the directions, you will be cooking up a real treat for yourself. BRAINSTORMING: Again using the creative brief outline, Alexandra gives us some useful tools to spark our creativity in very original and engaging ways. She makes brainstorming sound like fun again. NAME REVIEW: Twelve rules for tackling the real-world issues around getting everyone to agree on a name. Again, she is honest and pulls no punches. One quick example: “Do not use focus groups.” – naming your company or product is something you should own, because you know what you are trying to do better than your customers. NAME CHANGES – PROS AND CONS: Finally, a candid discussion around some necessary considerations before we launch into creative renaming. If you care about your business, your products and services, and want to thoughtfully and strategically plan into a better future, you will find much of value in this book. I am willing to bet you will refer to “Awesome” often, both for the business advice and because Alexandra is so darn entertaining as she teaches you how to think clearly and usefully about who your are and what words you use. Loving this “Awesome” book and looking forward to a long shelf-life with it in the Heartland …. John DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book for review prior to publication. No apologies … one of the best gifts ever in terms of business usefulness and enjoyable writing.