I’m working with a client who wants to change his startup’s name, in part because the company’s focus has shifted. But he cited another, equally important reason for a name change: the current name isn’t inspiring. It lacks an emotional charge.
My mission: to develop a set of names that meet this “more emotion” objective while also being appropriate, authentic, memorable, and legally available. Here’s how I’m approaching the challenge. Feel free to borrow these suggestions for your own naming project.
First, define the emotion you want to evoke. Chances are it will be a positive emotion like joy, wonder, admiration, or love. But not always: a pest-control or home-security company may want to evoke fear or worry.
Next, define your brand personality. (You should have done this already, when you wrote your naming brief.) If your desired emotion is joy and your brand personality is youthful and antic, you’ll be searching a different vocabulary than if you’re pairing joy with sophisticated and elegant.
Now start creating word lists. Here are some categories of words that are elicit an emotional response:
Old words. In English, that means words with Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman, or Norse (as opposed to Greek or Latin) roots. Consider, for example, the different responses evoked by home (Old English) and residence or domicile (Latin): home makes us feel warm and welcomed; its Latin-derived synonyms sound chilly and bureaucratic. Many successful brand names draw on this old-word resonance to soften a new idea: think of Kindle (an English word for eight centuries) for an e-reader (a brand-new technology at the time) or Slack (an English word since the early 1300s) for a new messaging tool intended to replace email. More old-word brand names here; consult the Online Etymology Dictionary to learn a word’s age and origin.
Sense words. Sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste are direct routes to an emotional response, and many successful names capitalize on this connection. Lemonade, a new insurance company, “turns a lemon into lemonade” – and makes your tongue tingle in anticipation of something refreshing. Bevel, a brand of shaving supplies, evokes the look and feel of an angled blade. Peach, the name of a popular new messaging app, appeals to the senses of touch (fuzzy skin), smell (fruity and fragrant), and taste (sweet and juicy). (Peach is also the name of an airline.)
Art words. The language of painting, sculpture, dance, music, and theater can remind us of pleasurable, even transcendent experiences. Think of Rembrandt tooth whitener, Aria hotel, and Allegra allergy medicine (one letter removed from the musical term allegro).
Adventure words. If your goal is to suggest thrills and excitement, get yourself a stack of travel magazines, classic adventure tales, and maps. You’re looking for names with the energy and exoticism of Mandalay Bay (resort), Privateer (private equity for the legal cannabis industry), or Mast (a mobile-telecom company … and one of my own names).
Personal names. When the desired sensation is friendliness and reassurance, think of the company or product as a character in a story and give it a suitable name. ALICE, an app for the hospitality industry, is a classic girl’s name (and also an acronym for “A Life-Improving Customer Experience). Lynda, the computer- and business-education company, was named for founder Lynda Weinman. Oscar, a new type of health-insurance company, was named for the founder’s great-grandfather – a case of an old-fashioned name softening the newness of the business. (The domain, HiOscar.com, reinforces the name’s personal nature.)
I’ve given you examples of words with positive inflections, but in some circumstances you’ll want to look at negative-emotion words – if, say, you want to signal an outlaw stance or a love of risk. An edgy, high-end fashion boutique in San Francisco calls itself Acrimony, which it defines as “hatred of the conventional.” Tombstone pizza (named for a bar called Tombstone Tap) may once been have been a shocking name, but it’s always been distinctive in a sea of faux-Italian brands. And speaking of death and distinctiveness, does the name Death’s Door give you a little frisson of danger? That’s the point.
Not all brands lend themselves equally well to the “emotional” criterion: some are more suited to rational, left-brain names – names that incorporate numbers or Latin roots, or are completely invented. It’s important to know at the outset which appeal you’re going for, and create names that fit your objectives.