When I began doing name-development work more than 20 years ago, the field was still relatively new and I had to do a lot of explaining to friends and clients about what exactly I did.
And now? Pretty much the same.
A few of the questions I regularly hear:
"You're a name developer? So ... you do PR?" (No.)
"Can you design my logo?" (No.)
"Do you register trademarks?" (No.)
So—what does a name developer do? More to the point, what can a name developer do for you and your business?
In the broadest sense, name developers are verbal branding specialists. We know a lot about how language works in the service of commerce, and we're especially skilled at creating and evaluating distinctive, effective names for companies and products. Some of us have linguistics degrees; others (like me) have experience in fields such as journalism, advertising, and marketing. I was fortunate enough to learn rigorous namestorming techniques—brainstorming for names—from the founder of the first naming agency I worked with (Lexicon). I keep my skills sharp by constantly reading about names, words, and branding.
As for what I can do for you, here's a menu:
1. Review the names your internal team has already generated and tell you which have potential.
2. Interview your management team to learn what your naming objectives are.
3. Interview your customers and vendors to learn how they perceive you.
4. Write a naming brief—a blueprint for name development— with a detailed description of your market position, competition, brand personality characteristics, and naming objectives and criteria. (I can't overemphasize the importance of the naming brief, which is too often misunderstood or overlooked. I'll be publishing a post about naming briefs very soon.) (UPDATE: Here it is.)
5. Recruit and manage a small team of experienced professional namers who will develop a master list of names that meet the objectives and criteria in the creative brief. If your budget won't cover a small team, or if your project scope is very focused, I may work alone to create a more limited master list.
6. Use lateral, associative brainstorming techniques to develop compelling names in a variety of styles: coined, real-word, metaphorical, non-English, etc.
7. Cull the master list for the most promising names.
8. Do a preliminary review of the most promising names for domain and trademark availability. (Only a qualified trademark lawyer can provide comprehensive trademark-review services; an experienced name developer will know how to do the preliminary research and can refer you to a trademark lawyer.)
9. Develop a strong written story for each name on the short list.
10. Work with a graphic designer to show you how the recommended names would appear in real life: on stationery, on a T-shirt, in an ad, etc.
11. Guide your team's discussion of the names, answering questions and helping overcome qualms.
12. Help you choose four or five strong name candidates for comprehensive legal trademark review, to be performed by a trademark lawyer.
13. Develop a list of taglines to support the name. Present the taglines and guide the discussion and decision as in #11.
14. Develop a brand vocabulary that supports and extends the name for use in advertising, web content, print materials, speeches, and other channels.
Other naming work I can do (and enjoy doing):
1. Developing book titles.
2. Developing name "families": for example, I've worked with nonprofit organizations to create distinctive and appropriate donor-category names.
3. Delivering presentations to management teams, staff writers, and other groups on namestorming, title development, and the properties of a good name.
Still confused? Have more questions? Ask away in Comments; the naming doctor is in.