There’s lots of advice out there for creating company and product names. (Some of that advice is available right here on 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.
1. Build suspense. I usually present between 10 and 15 names (screened for legal and domain availability, when necessary). But I don’t reveal the names immediately or all at once. Instead, I create a little drumroll with words or images that set the scene and evoke some relevant concepts.
Suppose, for example, you’re naming a photo-sharing app that displays images along a line. One name in your presentation emphasizes the amount of control the user has over the interface. Before you show that name, pique interest with an introductory slide that drops suggestive hints:
Let that sink in for a few seconds. Then show an image:
And finally … the name itself:
2. Tell the story. Each name is the title of a story. After you’ve revealed a name, support it with story points that match the naming objectives in your creative brief. For HANDLEBAR, those points might be:
- A steering mechanism for a bicycle
- Provides a secure, safe feeling
- Evokes childhood fun and freedom
- “Hand” suggests handmade, personal
- “Bar” suggests the linear photo display
3. Add color. In the real world, names don’t exist in vacuums: they’re fleshed out by logos, taglines, and supporting language. Help your audience envision the name by providing some of this brand shading. Can you create a simple mockup of the name on a T-shirt or shopping bag? Can you write a placeholder tagline or slogan? You might even draft a Twitter bio or short “About Us” page that tells the name story: “We make photo sharing as easy as riding a bike.” “Come along for the ride!”
4. Accentuate the positive. Every single name has something negative about it. (Virgin Airlines? Really?) Your job as presenter is to be an honest advocate for each name. I recommend implementing a rule that all first responses to names must be positive. When negative responses arise, find out whether the reaction is personal (“I broke my arm in a bike accident when I was 10!”), arbitrary (“Three-syllable names are too long”), or legitimate (“Our customers may find the bicycle metaphor too athletic”). Keep referring back to the name objectives and criteria: how well does the name match up?
5. Relieve the pressure. Getting to yes on a single name is a tough challenge. It’s more realistic to ask your audience to choose three or four candidates that can be delivered to a trademark lawyer for comprehensive screening. That way, if a name turns out to be unavailable, you have at least one backup candidate.
Here’s one more way to think about it.
Last week, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll (disclosure: he’s a friend) wrote a column about presentation. Actually, the column was about friendship, but the part that clicked with me was this:
I have a friend named Brian Wall. He makes very large pieces out of stainless steel, and I see them when I go to his studio to pick him up for lunch. The pieces are all crammed together in his warehouse; I can’t really make any sense of them. So I was afraid that they might be — what’s the word for it? Bad.
He had an opening at the de Saisset Museum at Santa Clara University last week. Such a fabulous place — and his work looked fabulous, too, sitting outside surrounded by grass and bushes, or sumptuously lit inside.
Crammed together in a virtual warehouse, names don’t look very promising, either. It’s hard to make sense of them. But put them in the setting they deserve—with space to breathe and surroundings that flatter—and voilà! Objects of meaning and delight.
Related: Names in context.