Naming can be one of the most challenging parts of finishing a creative project. Whether you’ve designed a new product or are creating a whole new brand, it’s so important to find a name that works, and one that hasn’t already been used.
Siegel+Gale – which describes itself as a global brand strategy, design and experience agency – invited us to a naming event with a view, right at the top of the Gherkin building in London (above). During the event, called #namethrowers, global director of naming Christian Turner shared some insight into the naming process, and offered some tips about how to go about naming something successfully.
Every brand or product needs to have a name, and that name is everywhere we go. A bank’s name is present in controlled visual environments such as a local branch, but also when its employees are in the pub telling someone for the first time where they work. It’s present in sales meetings when you’re shaking hands.
While a name is going to be tainted by a scandal no matter how great it is, Christian explained that it can do a lot to set expectations.
Consider the 'Desire Path'
We are continuously making up new language. Using the venue as an example, Christian highlighted: "We’re here at the Gherkin. You didn’t say you were going to 30 St Mary Axe [The Gherkin’s official address]. The interesting thing about the nickname, is that it was originally used for the first design of the building, which was not approved but looked much more like a Gherkin. But the name was so fun to use and easy to use that people continue to use it."
The Gherkin is one of many fun names for London’s buildings. It has created a pathway for other buildings such as the Cheese Grater and the Walkie Talkie to be named in the same way.
What this represents, Christian argued, is a desire path. Desire path is the term used to describe an alternative path that appears over time when people choose to walk there instead of on the path as it was designed. It’s usually a quicker, more straightforward route, and reminds us that people like simple and effective design.
Christian highlighted that, while we often think about desire paths when designing spaces or websites, we don’t often think about them in terms of language, and certainly not in terms of naming.
"There are two basic types of naming," he explained. "One is that we’re trying to attract an audience, to be creative and make an impact, and the other is systematic naming, where we are trying to make things easy and evoke clarity that engages the audience in a meaningful way. In both cases, we can take what somebody wants to do and how they’ll be interacting with us, and think of the desire path."
As an example, Christian highlighted that Siegel+Gale has worked with companies like Verizon, with names such as InterConnect and FastConnect. He explained that he once read an article that said: "Verizon SecureCloud InterConnect for Oracle FastConnect allows users to connect to applications securely and reliably."
It’s easy to argue that the word connection should never appear in any of Verizon’s names, as all the company really does is connection. "The question is, are these names really applying the desire paths of what the end consumer, and user, actually wants from them?"
Think outside the box
Above is an ad taken out in the Wall Street Journal by Inovalon, which was highlighted by Christian to demonstrate what can happen if we focus too much on a dictionary definition rather than on language. Each part of the name is boxed and annotated to explain how the name was made. Lots of the most innovative companies don’t sound like Inovalon, even though its name stems from the word innovative.
It’s easy to see how the name Inovalon came to fruition, but that process of creating a word that directly reflects the brief can be a restriction that creates a problem.
Instead, Christian encourages thinking outside the box. His team worked with an organisation that was originally named Brian’s Wish, which was set up by Gary Mendell after he lost his son to Opium addiction.
Gary called in several naming agencies to help come up with a new name for the organisation that would make more of an impact. They had originally settled on Face Addiction, but something still didn’t feel right about the new name.
In the end, a conference call involving around 20 people resulted in Gary asking Siegel+Gale for further advice, to which Christian resurrected a name that had been discarded earlier in the process: Shatterproof. The idea was that it would represent "Lives are shattered, communities are shatter, lives are shattered, but we are Shatterproof."
"It was hard to explain what the opportunity was in a name like that, but Gary sees it now all the time," said Christian. "And the part that I’m proud of, is how he’s using that now. If you read interviews with him, he says "lives are shattered, we’re shatterproof." The basic structure of the metaphor really works."
Christian likes to tell the story of Shatterproof to demonstrate that, if we’re starting with a message that we’re strategically trying to communicate, we spend too little time listening to the language and looking for where the desire path leads.
So, rather than naming using a thesaurus to find a new words that have the same message, it’s important to look beyond that. "You need to find an entirely different jumping off point," Christian advised.
He also highlighted that we use metaphors in the English language all the time. "Cutting edge", "on my plate", "at the foot of the bed" and "heading up the team" are just some examples of metaphors we see regularly. Christian recommend actively keeping an eye out for metaphors and keeping a list of them to refer back to for naming assignments.
Simple but surprising
Siegel+Gale is all about simplicity. A good name should be a simple idea that includes people, is completely accessible and that everyone will understand.
Add to that simple idea with some surprising language, and you’re onto a winner. "In a world filled with so much marketing language, we need to find a way to inject a little bit of surprise," Christian said.
He used the example of Elon Musk’s new company, named The Boring Company. The name is descriptive, because the company uses giant machines to make tunnels, therefore it specialises in boring. So it’s actually a very simple name, but it’s also surprising by being playful, and Christian says that people are receptive to that.
Consider the context
Throwing a curveball into the mix, Christian also explained that there are some situations in which there is no naming assignment at all. "If what you’re selling is a router, and it’s not an entirely new thing, call it a router. People need a router, and that’s what they’re looking to find."
"A lot of what we do is actually just working out whether you have a naming assignment at all. If we do have a naming assignment, is there an existing term? Is there already a term that everyone already knows? And if yes, why aren’t we using it?"
"If you looked up in a burning theatre and saw Egress or Outspot, you’d be wondering: 'Is that the exit?' So name the exit the exit."