Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What's in a name?

Rose Red Devil バラ レッドデビル

Juliet: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

(from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare)

If you create a service, product or company that is first rate you can pretty much give it any name you like; take Spotify, for example, when I first heard the name I thought it was a contagious disease, but the service is exemplary and we soon got use to the slightly odd name.

A good name, however, can certainly help grease the wheels of success. But what exactly is a good name? Zipipop undertakes strategic branding work and therefore naming is something we have to think about deeply. So here is a process for creating a great name, or at least one that's good enough to get you some attention before the product will have to speak for itself.


If it doesn't stick in people's minds it doesn't matter how clever or meaningful it is.

But to get to both a meaningful and memorable name you can try processing potential names through some of these filters:

ABSRACT: Often names that are abstract or detached from the actual business work best since they have little baggage (or unwanted connotations) and allow for flexibility over time. Think: Apple, Amazon, FourSquare, etc.

ASSOCIATIVE: Often names that have a connection to the line of business or product, but have an abstract quality by being detached from everyday language. Think: Oracle (someone who can convey information from a God) or Nike (the Winged Goddess of Victory).

ASSOCIATIVE NEOLOGISMS: Or you can invent names that suggest a feeling of the business nature. Think: Accenture (accent is to go up), Google (a misspelling of Googol - super large number), Flickr (to flick through pictures).

PRACTICAL COMBINATIONS: Combining existing words to create a does-what-it-says name (think Microsoft, Plancast, SlideShare, YouTube, etc.)

ACRONYMS: Think IBM (International Business Machines, SAP (Systeme, Anwendungen und Produkte, etc) that have the benefits of a no-nonsense, does-what-it-says beginning, but after time they acquire the benefits of an abstract name, i.e. IBM is now more of service consulting company that it is a product manufacturer.

However, in all cases the name needs to capture something of the brand essence which first needs to be clearly defined, e.g. business area, values and philosophies. Also to work best on search engines it should have a unique This makes the task harder but can force you to be more original.

What do you want the name to convey, for example, Zipipop was very deliberate. Pop was for something bubbly with pop (popular) culture connotations (i.e. pop music); and the Zipi was the result of resorting to a Swahili dictionary (I was born in Kenya) to find a free domain name. It meant "which" – as in Which bag? – due to the personal opinion polls idea we started with. But it also gives the feeling of being fast, as in zip to the shops.

It took Helene and I a lot of thought, plus a weekend of brainstorming, to come up with a name that we thought could work and had a free web domain. However, we like to think the effort was worth it. If you want to try crowdsourcing the effort then we suggest you open a collaborative online document (say a Google Doc) and get the core team to brainstorm dozens of names, then pick five that you can present to your community in the form of an online poll (say a Google Form).

Good luck finding a great name and may your ventures all come up smelling of roses!

(Note: This blog entry is part of a series of entries I'm going to bring across from Zipipop's previous blog before it was turned into the Finnish only blog)