Category Archives: Name Creation

Naming Tips: Number 6 in a Series

I’ve blogged and articled the danger of using initials for brand names for at least 12 years.

The idea that people will immediately built associations to a brand comprised of group of three initials just doesn’t jibe. Initials have no personality and are usually very hard to remember. Those who have succeeded with initials have spent a lot of money rising above the static.

But like most admonitions, there are exceptions.

If you can adopt a set of initials that already have meaning to your target markets they can be effective. Think MVP, PDQ, NCO. Those sets that have their own associations can work so long as those associations are positive and relevant.

Also, you can explore combining solo letters with words or word parts: A-One, Double-D, E-Zee, Factor-X come to mind. You might try combining a letter or two with a number or two: A-1, 4-F, 7-Up, HQ-101.

Another tip: look to geographic place names (recommended by the founder of Haverhill) that sound good and are short, pronounceable and have no negative connotations. This can extend to foreign places, ancient places, mythic places as well as locations gleaned from a comprehensive atlas. Unique American Indian names, French and Spanish names, and descriptive names abound in the U.S..

It’s best not to go for well-known places unless you want to associate your product-company with the region or a certain quality linked to the area: N’Orlins Gumbo, El Paso Mexican foods. Positive word combinations that describe a location’s main attribute abound, yours for just going to the place index in the back of your Rand-McNally. Names like Cold Creek, Green Leaf, Sweet Water are ready-made for some products. If they fit the brand platform, go for it.

I know of no better way to generate a long list of brand name candidates quickly than using your atlas.

Martin Jelsema

Power 150: ranked 118

Naming Tips: Number 5 in a Series

Here are three more naming tips I’ve used in the fascinating business of naming companies and then naming their products:

Tip 1: Add an appropriate but unexpected suffix to a descriptive root word: Ideatrics, Visioneering, Profitology, Travelocity are examples. But for this technique, known as “tacking” in some circles, to be effective, the first word part should be familiar and really stands on its own. The suffixes also must “fit”, i.e., add something meaningful about the named entity.

For instance, Ideatrics is a good name for the company that adopted it – they help surgeons design and produce specialized surgical instruments. Thus, the “atrics” suffix (meaning medical treatment) puts the company in the medical field. And coupled with “idea” defines the business in a unique way.

Tip 2: Consider incorporating the names of colors in your name. Often reciting the name of a color will produce an emotional response almost as strong as viewing the color itself. Thus, Red Bull, Greenway, Yellow Book convey energy, natural and bright respectively even in a radio commercial.

Remember, there are literally hundreds of names for colors – just stand in front of the swatch panels at Home Depot to get a flavor. As a matter of fact, I’ve been known to scan these walls for naming inspiration.

Tip 3: Though limited in application, you might explore numbers as part of the name. The number might rank (Five-star), or indicate sequence (1-2-3), or express an order of magnitude (Deca). Look to numeric prefixes (bi, tri, quad…), or degrees (360 or 32F), or Greek (alpha, beta, etc.), or roman numerals. Then there are mathematical symbols and terminology that can be adopted for product names (prime, pi, square, sine, vector, factor, etc.).

Perhaps these tips won’t apply universally, but for some companies and some products, you may want to consider these sources and other unusual repositories. 

Power 150: ranked 118

An aside: The small icon above indicates that Todd And’s Power 150 has determined The Branding Blog is in the top 150 marketing blogs. He determines this on a variety of factors, including his own assessment of content, frequency, etc. All I can say is, “Thank’s, Todd”. To see the others just click the icon.

Martin Jelsema

Naming Tips: Number 4 in a Series

Here are two more approaches to generating unique names.

The first is a method of creating coined names by combining word parts called truncating. Take parts of two words, preferably from words that describe the subject being named, and combine them into one. Webolution, Byerlympics, Champale are examples.
Second tip: Spell descriptive words phonically or alternatively:  In this technique, “Names” becomes “Knames”, Gnames”, “Naims”, “Naymes”, Naimz”.  Sigh becomes Psy, Psigh, Sy, Cy.  There is a caution in that some candidates are really homonyms that could become confusing. (Homonyms are words pronounced the same way but spelled differently. (feet, feat, fete).


Naming Tips: Number 3 in a Series

If you’re going to be naming lots of products and businesses over time, you’ll probably want a library of good reference books. They can be invaluable. I own some 75 dictionaries, thesauruses and other word-oriented reference books. Yes, I’m a little obsessive and compulsive. But I’ve purchased most of them from used book dealers and public library sales for a dollar or two each. The links associated with each reference are to specific pages in the Amazon database.

Some dictionaries are very specialized (Biblical, biology, physics, cross-word, English-Spanish, etc.) and their use is limited.

But I have three references I use with almost every naming project. I’ll briefly describe them:

Random House Webster Word Menu by Stephen Glazier.

It purports to be…

“A merging of dictionary, thesaurus, treasury of glossaries, reverse dictionary and almanac – fully indexed.
“the ultimate one-volume resource for finding and using words.
“organizes language by subject matter.”

The book is essentially a compendium of word lists by category, together with a comprehensive index. Under “Transportation” for instance is a category called “Ships and Boats”. That category is further broken down into logical sections like “Types of Ships”, “Parts of Ships”, “Nautical Occupations” and “Seamanship & Port”. Each word found therein will be defined as well. Thus, you can establish a comprehensive list of relevant words pretty quickly. I almost always start a project with this unique and valuable tome.

Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus in Dictionary Form edited by Barbara Ann Kipfer.

Not only is this a modern, comprehensive thesaurus (20,000 words, 500,000 synonyms and over 1,000,000 word choices), it has a “Concept Index” that allows you to begin with a word and its synonyms and expand the scope of relevancy by looking at other words in the same conceptual category. For instance, looking up “army” in the main thesaurus section you’ll find 25 synonyms like “battalion” and “brigade” and a reference to a concept. Going to the concept section, we find there a category called “Military” and under that heading, “Organization”. Here we’ll find “navy”, “fleet” and other related words that can expand our thinking as well as our candidate list of name parts. This is my favorite thesaurus even though I also use The Synonym Finder by J.I.Rodale quite often.

Word Stems: A Dictionary by John Kennedy

This modest book lists some 5,500 common words and bold-faces the stems of each. Then you can look up the stems in the Stem List to find other words that use the same stem. Thus, looking up tend from pretend, you find the root means stretch or reach and shares the stem with contend, distend, extend, intend, etc. Also it’s related to tendon and tender (to offer). This exercise can expand the playing field. I can also find appropriate stems and connect them to various prefixes and suffixes (found in Word Menu) to create new word-names.

Other references I find helpful for certain arenas and applications include:

Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, edited by Ivor H. Evans

Dictionary of Art and Archaeology by J.W. Mollett

Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion by W. L. Reese

Merriam Webster’s Geographical Dictionary

The Complete Rhyming Dictionary by Clement Wood

Naming Tips: Number 2 in a Series

Here’s the second in the series of Naming Tips that will appear sporadically on this blog.
This may sound like an 11th-grade grammar lesson, but I’ll try to make it simple. (I had to look up the subject to make sure I was using the correct terminology. It’s been a good number of years since high school for me.)

Tip 1: Utilizing a participle (an adjective that is verb-like in form, usually ending in “ing”, “ed”, “en” or “t”) can generate vital, active name candidates. Verbs provide action, and participles do the same. So I like the sound and feel of them. Plus, this form is not used often for names. Here are two structures using participles to impart action names: participle-preposition-noun (examples include Hooked on Phonics and Cooking for Health), and the reversed structure of noun-participle (Skills Abounding and Promise Keepers are examples). Also, you might substitute a participle for a noun to impart more vigor. Turning Point Consulting is more action-oriented than Turning Point Consultants.

Tip 2: Possessive names (Victoria’s Secret, Bob’s Vital Signs) are more personal and somehow connote a more responsive organization. If your business deals in personal services, this is a fruitful field to plow. Another variation: just use a one-word possessive (Weldon’s, Olander’s) without tacking on a business category, i.e., Weldon’s Windows.

Look for a couple of more tips next week.

Martin Jelsema

Naming Tips: Number 1 of a Series

Anyone who’s had the experience of naming a business or a product, service or event, know it can be frustrating and time-consuming. Often we’ve had to settle for a second-best effort because our first choices just weren’t available.

I know that frustration. Our brand is on hold until the right name is developed. We are left to compromise, even abandon our brand name criteria upon occasion.

But I’ve devised (or borrowed) a bundle of tricks and techniques that help me find unique and appropriate “first choice” names. So over the next month or so I’ll intersperse some of this wisdom into my blog entries. Here are two of them:

Reverse the words in some of your favorite choices. So instead of naming a company Strategic Innovations, reverse the words. Call it Innovations Strategic. Medical Insights becomes Insights Medical. Proactive Solutions – Solutions Proactive. Legal Perspectives – Perspectives Legal. Not only is the idea retained, it’s presented in a unique way that makes it more memorable.


Use alliteration (Signature Strategies, Peak Paths) or rhyming (Compliance Alliance, Rare Care). Both techniques help make a names more memorable, and the “lilting” cadence of speaking them is actually pleasurable. Thus, if your business relies on referrals, you have a particularly compelling reason to alliterate or rhyme your company name.

Hope you’ll find this series helpful.

Martin Jelsema

Elway retains his good name

As reported earlier, AutoNation and John Elway are parting company in the Denver market.

In that blog I speculated that Mr. Elway probably wanted more than AutoNation was prepared to pay to license the 17 dealerships they own that carry the marque name of Elway.

Seems the real story is a little different: Elway wanted to again be a dealership owner in his own right, and of course, he wanted to use his own name. So now that his original contract with AutoNation expired, he grabbed the opportunity.

Perhaps AutoNation would have renamed the Denver dealerships “GO” as they are in the process of doing nationwide. (I would have opted for keeping the Elway name if it was at all possible.)

But this brings up another issue for all branders who enter license agreements – whether for a name, the use of a song, the voice or image of a celebrity spokesperson: what happens when the contract expires?

That’s something a brand owner should consider when making the original offer. But just considering it is not enough. Utilizing a current fad celeb, and there are four or five on every TV screen in that category, may be problematic in four areas:

First, their popularity may be fleeting and you’ll end up with a dated brand in a year or two.

Second, they may pull some stunt – either drunk, high or just emotionally charged – that could tarnish the image.

Third, the celebrity may not renew, or ask more than the brander is willing to pay at the time of renegotiation, and thus the need to establish a new communication program which can cause a “disconnect” from the previous communications.

Fourth, the celebrity can “overpower” the brand, making the communications more of about him or her than the product and its attributes.

My thought that a brand should be differentiated in a relevant way through customer benefits, a company’s social responsibility, their service policies and distribution channels, the use of images and memes that convey a real promise.

Sacking John Elway: the brand not the man

Here in Denver, Colorado, we have a sports hero/legend who’s still revered by Bronco fans: John Elway. During his playing career, he purchased several auto dealerships and appended a new brand to each: John Elway Toyota, John Elway Chevrolet, etc..John Elway logo

In 1997, Republic Industries purchased the Elway franchise, and in 1999 as AutoNation, purchased another 16 dealerships in the market and co-branded them John Elway/AutoNation. Not long after that, the AutoNation logo took a secondary role to the Elway name.

Friday, AutoNation announced it will not renew its contract with Mr. John Elway, and what’s more, will re-brand its nation-wide dealership network with a new name: GO

My head swirls with ideas and opinions about this move. I’m sure AutoNation management, their branding consultants, consumer researchers and legal councel had many heated conferences before the decision(s) was made. Without being privy to sales trends, customer satisfaction research or financial considerations, my opinions can only reflect my experience in dissimilar situations, I’ve never had an auto dealer account. That said…

Assuming customer satisfaction scores were at least average for this market and that Elway did not price himself out of the market while negotiating a new contract with AutoNation, I suggest the John Elway name has a lot of equity in this market and shouldn’t be replaced. I wouldn’t care what goes on in other markets, in Colorado and environs, there’s still plenty of respect, bordering on awe, for this Hall-of-Fame QB.
I suspect on a national level, the real reason for rebranding AutoNation has to do with poor customer satisfaction and lower sales in relation to other dealerships in the markets they serve. Unless there are other mitigating circumstances, AutoNation is a pretty good name. Based on most accepted criteria a fine name, in fact. I know it was a name I resonated with the first time I heard it. I remember the name, I like the name.AutoNation logo

Here’s my take: It will be a very costly process to re-brand 272 dealerships over the next two years. There must be a lot of mistrust and bad buzz for this company to make such an investment. AutoNation has also stated they are going for a different experience on the sales floor – providing a single sheet with their best price, their trade-in allowance and their financing proposal so the traditional shopping experience will be more pleasant. But do you need to rebrand while introducing a “Saturn-like” sales experience? Let’s just say, on the strength of there public statement, I’d say no. A resounding no in fact.

Now for the last issue: the new name for AutoNation: GO. Yes, it’s short, memorable and even “catchy”. But I don’t seeing it in any way representing the company’s new effort to make buying a car less intimidating. I don’t see the name becoming a rallying flag for the “new AutoNation”. It’s a name that could fit just about any company, but few companies with relevance or credibility.

So that’s my take. I’d sure like to hear from you if you have an opinion one way or another on this move or about re-branding as a subject.

Martin Jelsema