There’s lots of advice out there for creating company and product names. (Some of that advice is available righthereon this blog.) It’s much harder to find out what to do after you’ve developed and vetted that list of names. How should you reveal your top name candidates to your co-founders, the executive team, or the board of directors? How best to persuade and guide your audience toward making or endorsing a decision? How to respond if someone says, “I dunno … I just don’t like it”?
In my experience, this can be the toughest stage of the naming challenge. Here are five tips for making your case.
The headline calls them “30 Most Overused Buzzwords in Digital Marketing,” but one of them, “P-commerce” (“participatory commerce” or “Pinterest commerce,” depending, I suppose, on context), is underused in my world: it was new to me. I’ve definitely seen a lot of “gamification,” though.
“I’m sorry to say that gamification (a verbing in -ify from the noun game) is not some twisted invention of Scott Adams’s,” linguist Arnold Zwicky wrote in a May 20 post on his blog. Zwicky devoted most of his post to a discussion of “garbage,” and concluded: “So the pointy-headed boss’s gamification rewards count as garbage, trash, and rubbish, maybe junk as well, and are on their way to becoming waste and refuse.”
One of the words on the “30 most overused” list, “showrooming,” was a Fritinancy word of the week in April 2012.
“The Art of the Brick,” Edward Sawaya’s new exhibit at Discovery Times Square, is “a Legoistic survey of art masterpieces,” according to a recent New York Times review that introduced me to the acronym AFOL: Adult Fan of Lego. AFOL and many other Lego terms – but not “Legoistic,” which is wonderful – are defined in the Lego Glossary. (“SNOT: Studs Not On Top. A building technique that places LEGO elements on their sides or even upside down to achieve the shape or structure the builder wants in their creation.”)
“Lego,” in case you didn’t know, is a contraction of Danish leg godt: “play well.” It’s never pluralized. Here’s the Lego Glossary entry for “Legos”:
Oh no you didn’t! Technically, the official plural form for more than one element of LEGO is “LEGO® brand building bricks”. That’s ridiculous, though, so most LEGO fans refer to one or more bricks as “LEGO”, following the grammatical convention of “fish” and “sheep.”
Insisting on all capitals, however, is just silly.
Linguist Arika Okrent, author of In the Land of Invented Languages, looks at 12 old words – kith, wend and eke among them -- that have survived by being fossilized in idioms.
After 60 years of sanctions, Coca-Cola is back in Myanmar (Burma). How to sell Coke to people who’ve never tasted it? “They had to keep it simple, and they had to find the right message. A message, it turns out, that was hidden more than a hundred years back in the Coca-Cola archives.”
BNJMN is “a paintbrush-wielding bot created by two students at the Basel Academy of Art and Design,” according to a story in Co.Design. The name is pronounced “Benjamin,” and I was surprised to learn it had no relation to the paint company Benjamin Moore (which does sell a product called ben—all lower case). I emailed the creators of BNJMN and asked them about the name; here’s Travis Purrington’s reply in full (the ellipses are his):
BNJMN’s name evolved with his construction and development...
During the beginning of the naming process we originally were brainstorming far and wide for clever acronyms (like everyone) or heavy tech names (THX 1138, etc).
But in the end BNJMN was a warm/inviting sounding name that seemed a nice contrast to his sleek hard-edged body
(plus it looked good on paper and was easy to pronounce without vowels)
It seemed like a good match to the personality of his programming once we got him up and running...so it stuck.
Purrington did not say how many Benjamins BNJMN will set you back.
Perfume is a distillation of essences, so I suppose it’s logical for a perfume name to eliminate a few letters. And HYLNDS (“Aromatic Epics”) does have a vocalized Y, so it isn’t a complete consonant brick.
Refinery29, a design/lifestyle site, reports that HYLNDS was inspired by “the rolling hills and dramatic history of ancient medieval cultures.” And yet the aromas of peat, goat, and sweat are strangely absent from the three HYLNDS fragrances, which go for $180 per 50ml bottle: they’re called Bitter Rose, Broken Spear (which smells of “smelted iron, bitter rose,” and “melancholy thistle”); Isle Ryder (“resinous Norway spruce and fir cones with narcotic jasmine, island wildflowers, honeyed mead and bulrush straw”); and Pale Grey Mountain, Small Black Lake, (“a chilling air of wood, water, stone, and shrubs”). Each fragrance has HYLNDS, MDLNDS, and LWLNDS notes. Do I need to tell you that the company behind HYLNDS is “an indie Brooklyn perfumer” and that the product can be found at “stockists,” that Britishism beloved of pretentious Yank hipsters? No, probably not.
Melancholy thistle, indeed.
How to pronounce frrry? “Fry” with a lavishly trilled r? “Furry”?
No and no, according to the New York-based accessories e-tailer Roztayger:
The Frrry collection (pronounced ferry) is all about construction. Designed and made in The Netherlands using vegetable tanned Italian leather, creator Ferry Cornelis Gerardus Meewisse founded the line in 2002 after passing exams for 3D design at the Arnhem Academy of Arts.
Yes, that dangling phrase made me wince a little—Mr. Meewisse isn’t made of vegetable-tanned leather, as far as we know—but my bigger point is: ferry? Why not just spell it that way? “Ferry” would be an excellent name for handbags that ferry your stuff around. (Gorgeously, I must add: this style is fabulous, and not too exorbitant, either.)
It only stands to reason that you can find frrry products at UNDSCVRD.
On Sunday I attended the CODEX International Book Fair, an annual exhibition and sale of artists’ books and fine-art editions. It’s a spectacular event—nearly 200 exhibitors from all over the United States and several other countries—in a magnificent setting: Richmond’s Craneway Pavilion, at the edge of the bay. Although Craneway is only about 15 miles north of my house, this was my first visit. It won’t be my last. The 525,000-square-foot sawtooth-roof structure, designed by the prolific German-American architect Albert Kahn, housed a Ford Motor Company assembly plant, the largest on the West Coast, from 1932 through 1955. It originally produced Model “A” cars; during World War II it was retooled to produce tanks and jeeps. Women—the inspiration for “Rosie the Riveter”—made up much of the plant’s wartime workforce. The Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park is adjacent to the pavilion, in the old Kaiser shipyard, which built Liberty ships.
The light-filled pavilion made an inspired and inspiring setting for the hundreds of art books on display. My artist friend Susan Bercu has written about the aesthetic highlights of the CODEX show; I’ll focus here on memorable names of presses and book designers. These are names that truly serve as the titles of stories—names that make you want to strike up a conversation.
Maximus is a Polish vodka brand acquired last year by Brown-Forman Corporation, which also owns the Jack Daniels and Southern Comfort brands. If you think “man throat” and “rise and conquer” are suggestive, you should see the old European TV spots, which really put the gluteus in the Maximus.
See more kitschy-cool Maximus print ads by 81-year-old Civil War painter Mort Künstler at Buzzfeed.
Olvera Street (Calle Olvera) is the oldest street in Los Angeles, dating back to the city’s founding in 1781. Situated opposite Union Station and named for Los Angeles County’s first judge, Agustín Olvera, the street has been a tourist-friendly “Mexican marketplace” since 1930. It’s artificial (the commercial strip was planned and executed by a wealthy Anglo, Christine Stirling) yet also authentic (several historic buildings still stand). In other words, it’s a living metaphor of Los Angeles.
On a recent trip to L.A. I visited Olvera Street for the first time in many years. I found much unchanged (a few establishments, like La Luz del Día restaurant, have been around since the 1950s), while other things have adapted to changing times.
There were lots of Día de los Muertos items for sale, including these same-sex wedding-cake toppers.
A “Who Would Jesus Deport?” T-shirt.
Painted-tile bathroom sign in Spanglish.
I’m not sure why it’s “Mr.” Churro and not “Señor,” but the name does fit the bilingual flavor of the rest of the sign. And of course I’m always happy to meet a Mr. business name in the wild.
This mug was one of many souvenirs bearing the “Latina – Proud, Educated and Powerful!” motto. It appeared to be a girls-only phenomenon.
If you haven’t found a parking sign with your child’s name, maybe you’ve been shopping in the wrong place.
Travel note: I recommend taking one of the Metro Line (rapid-transit) trains into Union Station and wandering around to admire the spectacular Spanish Colonial Revival architecture and décor. While you’re on Olvera Street, allow some time to view the long-hidden fresco by the great Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974). Originally unveiled in October 1932, the painting was whitewashed shortly afterward to obscure its “radical” subject matter. After more than 40 years of planning and preservation work, it reopened to public viewing earlier this month.
New York City gangs take their names very, very seriously, according to “Gang ‘Slang’ers,” in the New York Post. “It took us about a month to come up with our name,” said Piff Montana, a member of the Get Touched Boyz of Jamaica, Queens. … We wanted a name that would make an impact.” The full list of 300 or so gang names reveals a preoccupation with numbers and precinctspercentages: there are gangs called 5 Precinct Percent, 10 Precinct Percent, 40 Precinct Percent, and so on up to 122 Precinct Percent. (Hat tip: NameFlash. And thanks to Dave for correcting me on "precinct.")
Before she founded the online dictionary Wordnik, Erin McKean worked on the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus,a reference that isn’t just for writers but is also by writers—i.e., various writers were invited to contribute notes on words that interested them. One of the writers assigned to McKean was the late David Foster Wallace, who, she writes, approached the copyediting phase as if “someone invited him to an all-day grammar seminar (with celebrity photo signings and vendor's expo hall), combined with a debating society picnic, where the topic was ‘RESOLVED: This Comma Should Be Removed.’ (You're not surprised, are you?)” Read the whole delightful account at “It was wonderful, marvelous, magnificent, superb, glorious, sublime, lovely, delightful ...”
In brand naming, many clients panic if a name is more than five letters long. According to Baby Name Wizard, there’s a contrary trend in baby-boy naming, at least in the US: fear of short names. Finn becomes Finnegan, Quinn becomes Quinlan, and—most boggling of all—Levi becomes Leviathan (“the twisted serpent to be killed at the end of time”) or Leviticus (the third book of the Old Testament, notable mostly for its litany of laws about skin diseases, sacrifices, and genital discharges).
Fellow name developer Chris Johnson (aka The Name Inspector) has created my new favorite Pinterest board: the Wall of Namifying, “logos of companies whose names end with -ify (or, in one case, -efy).” As you probably know, I share his obsession. (And speaking of Pinterest, I’m trying my hand at a similar project: cataloguing the many, many -ly names and logos.)
Speaking of jaundiced, there’s nothing like a Condescending Corporate Brand Page to say “We're a big corporate brand using Facebook. So look out for us asking you to like and share our stuff in a faintly embarrassing and awkward way.” Read more about the CCBP in Fast Company. (Note: the CCBP is British in origin—its URL contains “corporate bollocks”—but the themes are, alas, universal.)
I attended the Brand New Conference last year, when it was held in San Francisco, but couldn’t make it to New York for this year’s conference. Thankfully, organizer Armin Vit has compiled the best quotes and tweets from the event. Here’s a provocative opinion from UK designer Miles Newlin: “Stories have an end, and unless you want to think of your brand as having an end, then forget the storytelling idea, and forget people who talk about brand storytelling.”
I spotted these beautiful, slightly surreal posters at Oakland’s MacArthur BART platform last week amid the ads for Wingstop, Ben & Jerry’s, and the new Spider-Man movie:
The Call of the Wild (Jack London).
The Maltese Falcon (Dashiell Hammett). John’s Grill, in the background, was a setting in the book; it’s been in business since 1908.
The artist is Owen Smith, who is nationally known for his New Yorker cover illustrations in pulp-fiction style. Smith, who lives in Alameda, said in an interview with BART’s Melissa Jordan that he remembered taking BART from his childhood home in Fremont to “adventures exploring the big city of San Francisco.”
The posters are part of BART’s “Literary Journeys” series, which places art in unused advertising spaces along the train platforms. All three of the authors in Smith’s paintings have (or had) Bay Area connections. The third poster, displayed at other stations, depicts scenes from Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club.
Together the posters are evocative, mysterious, eye-catching. Smith liked the idea that they conveyed a key benefit of public transportation – that a person can use time in transit to travel throughout space and time through the world of literature.
“You can spend your time reading on BART, whether it’s a book or on your Kindle or iPad,” Smith says.
You’ll note, however, that the readers in the illustrations are immersed in traditional books, which unlike their electronic counterparts have book jackets. If it weren’t for those jackets we wouldn’t see the titles of the books.
As a transit user, I’m happy to see my taxes and fare money being used to support artists and inspire readers. Looking at Smith’s posters, I couldn’t help thinking of all the beautiful and enduring WPA projects here in the Bay Area—from the elementary school down the street to the Coit Tower muralsand Maritime Museum in San Francisco—and wishing our current leaders had the courage and will to launch a new WPA. Maybe the BART posters are the first step in that direction.
P.S. Attention out-of-towners: It’s “BART,” not “the BART.”
Cigar-store Indians—those once-ubiquitous carved statues that advertised tobacco shops—began disappearing from U.S. sidewalks more than 50 years ago. But on my ramblings around San Francisco I’ve taken note of their 21st-century folk-art equivalent: cigar men. Not men with cigars: cigar-shaped men. They’re slightly surreal and completely wonderful.
Here’s a studious-looking specimen in front of International House of Wine (no website), in the theater district at 395 Geary Street:
There’s a Turkish-stereotype (or Shriner-stereotype) cigar man in front of Dean’s Fine Cigars at 715 Market Street.
And on the other side of the door there’s an endangered cigar-store Indian gazing skyward.
I think he’s saying, “Oy vey—it’s come to this?” On behalf of all European-American usurpers, I apologize.
I couldn’t help noticing that the skinny yet muscular arms of the fez-wearing cigar bear a strong resemblance to those of International House of Wine’s cigar man. The same artist, perhaps?
There’s a clue on the base of the Dean’s sign:
It turns out that Back to the Drawing Board has done a lot of inventive advertising art in San Francisco and Grass Valley. Until I checked out his (her? their?) website, I hadn’t realized that the non-cigar sidewalk sign in front of Creative Marketing Concepts, at 572 Market Street, came from Back to the Drawing Board.
Sometimes a cigar is not just a cigar. It’s a fountain pen!
The cigar men seem to have replaced a more realistic genre of street advertising, as seen in this photo I took in 2009 on Third Street near SFMOMA.
Here’s his weird yet worthy replacement, in front of Zain’s Liquor:
Well, helloooo, Mr. Disco Collar with the soulful eyes!
Are these artifacts unique to San Francisco, or do other cities have them, too?
For other examples of folk-art advertising signs, see my post about muffler men.