Category Archives: Name Creation

Naming Tips: Number 24 in a Series

There’s a concept I believe S.I. Hayakawa, the modern father of linguistics, introduced back in the 1960’s. At least that’s when I first learned about it in a copy-writing seminar Marstellar Advertising conducted for its staff.

Ever hear of the abstraction ladder?

It’s easier to cite an example than to define it.

Picture a ladder and perched on the top rung is a person who declares, “I have assets”. When you ask him, “what do you mean by that”, he steps down a rung and states, “I have agricultural holdings”. You ask again for a more explicit description and he steps down another rung as he declares, “I raise livestock”. Once again you ask for clarification. He again descends another rung and says, “I’m in the cattle business.” You want more specifics and he goes to the next lower rung and pronounces that, “I’m partial to dairy cows”. You ask what kind of dairy cow and he steps on the next rung down to exclaim he “likes Guernsey cows”. Finally as he leaves the bottom rung and plants his feet squarely on the loam he confesses, “I own a cow named Bessie”.

That’s the abstraction ladder.

Each rung represents another level of abstraction, and the higher you go the more abstract becomes your phraseology.

Keep this in mind as you attempt to name a business. When you use the abstract words from the top rungs, your images and impact are limited. Thus, names like the following – all real names owned by members of the INC500 fastest growing companies list – will have less impact than will solid, low-rung names that people can actually visualize and identify with.

  • Associated Business Systems
    Advanced Technologies & Science
    Enterprise Development Services
    Advanced Technologies Group
    Innovative Technical Systems
    Advanced Solutions Engineering
    Universal Systems & Technology
    Integrated Science Solutions

Honest. Those are actual names of companies that grew fast during the last ten years – IN SPITE OF TERRIBLE NAMES. Might they have enjoyed even more and continued success if they had been introduced to the abstraction ladder?

Just to be on the safe side, I’d stay on the lower rungs where specific, action-based concrete words resonate with market members.


Just one more reminder: Monday, June 11, I’ll be blogging on a single branding case study with eleven other branding and marketing “pundits”. I think you’ll find my perspective, and the others you’ll find through to be well worth your attention.

Martin Jelsema

Naming Tips: Number 23 in a series

We’ve talked about brainstorming for brand names, but I’d like to suggest two different types and purposes for the naming process.

I won’t go into the brainstorming process itself. There are plenty of source documents on the web that explain that. But there are several ideas of particular importance to name braninstorming.

First, select creative people, yes. But you also want people with diverse backgrounds and interests. You want a mixture of male/female, even though the offering to be named might be purchased and used by only a single-gender. You want old and young, analytical and spontaneous, extrovert and introvert.

Once chosen, and they agree to participate, arm them with background documents. If you’ve created a brand platform and a naming brief, supply those. Just edit the sensitive info out of their copies if they aren’t covered by a non-disclosure or employment agreement.

You should also provide:

  • The specifications and benefits of the product/service/event. If a company is being named, then certainly the mission and vision statements, the strategic goals and a description of the business model should be provided.
  • Descriptions and images of competitors and/or competitive products, together with their features and benefits. Then, develop a table that compares the features and benefits and business practices of the major competitors and the newly named offering.
  • The marketing plan for the new offering.
  • A comprehensive list of keywords gleaned from an Internet keyword generator such as Overture, Google, WordTracker, WebMaster Toolkit or Keyword Elite. Normally used to provide searchable keywords for search engine optimization by Internet marketers, these lists provide alternative ways of stating the searches people make to find specific topics with search engines. These lists can help people get the creative juices started.
  • A list of questions that will generate concepts concerning the offering. For instance: If the product were an animal, what might it be? How would it be more powerful if it were twice its present size? If it had wheels, who would be the number one market for it? These questions are designed to evoke lateral thinking and discover unusual but relevant ideas associated with the offering.

Provide this information about a week before you plan to have your first brainstorming session.

In this session, you will not ask them to come up with names. Instead this session is to concentrate on ideas concerning the concept, personality and emotions associated with the offering. These ideas will come in response to the conceptual questions you provided earlier, as well as the “facts” from the plan and brief.

Here’s a list of the kind of concepts that might spring out of this initial session:

+  If our event was a type of music, I’d call it Dixieland
+  The product will be used by men but usually purchased by women
+  It reminds me of an old Humphrey Bogart detective movie
+  Only teenagers will understand how to use this technology
+  Competition isn’t paying attention like they should
+  This service would probably be performed by a lion tamer

The ideas generated through this process are recorded and distributed to the team. Once the team members have digested this report, they will be invited to another session. This time participants will be asked to brainstorm name candidates.

From sessions like these a great name may arise. Or more often a great many candidates may be generated that, in turn, will be expanded upon, They may be disassembled and reconstituted with substitutions, tacking/clipping, reversals, and many of the other techniques suggested in this series.

Remember, the more candidates get generated, the more options and directions you cam explore.



Naming Tips: Number 22 of a Series

If you add a single character to a word, you can create a unique brand name.

What makes this an attractive naming method depends upon the word to which you attach the single letter or number.

I’ve written previously about how prospects don’t like really novel names. They want names they can relate to even if they aren’t unique. (At least that’s their initial reaction to a new name. Once they’re exposed several times, their negative first impression diminishes as long as they can pronounce the new name.)

So here is an opportunity to take an existing word with good associations and tack on a single, perhaps descriptive, character and create a unique yet familiar brand name.

There are two approaches to this technique. The first, more traditional method is to separate the solo character and the familiar word with a hyphen or dash. Some examples: T-Mobile, A-One, 7-Up, Square-D.

A second approach is to eliminate the hyphen/dash and possibly make the solo letter lowercase even if it’s the first character. Immediately iPod comes to mind, In fact, the lowercase “I” and “e” have become “fads”. From the 2005 INC 500 Index of Fastest Growing Privately Owned Companies, five were named iXxxxxx and four were named eXxxxx. In the news this week, Microsoft has just acquired the company, AQuantive Inc..

As with most of the tips in this series, you will not always find a particular suggestion appropriate for your naming project, but my hope is that they will stimulate you to explore different directions.

Martin Jelsema

Naming Tips: Number 21 in a series.

I’ve blogged about the names of colors as a brand naming source. Because colors are emotional stimuli, using them as names can evoke those emotions.But the names of colors aren’t the only word types that can be associated with positive emotions or characteristics.Today I’ll describe several other types of emotion-evoking words that might help you develop your list of name candidates.

First, think about flavors.

Spices come easily to mind – cinnamon, thyme, sage, nutmeg, etc. You can go to for a most comprehensive list. Then there are the flavors of fruits and vegetables.

In the same arena as flavors are aromas.

In fact, many sources of flavors are also aroma sources – basil, clove, orange. But there are also odor-only associations like pine forests, ocean-sprays, after-rain ozone, camp fires. Though the list may be small, candidates from it may be powerful emotion-evokers.

Another area to explore is texture.

Think smooth, shiny, pebbled, leatherly, steely, grainy, gooey,

The idea is that any sense-related words that evoke the desired emotion can be a candidate for a relevant and memorable brand name.

Martin Jelsema

Naming tips: Number 19 in a Series

Once you’ve identified your direction, compile a list of prime words or phrases – those that represent the idea of the brand, and therefore make the name unique and memorable.

Concentrate on those prime ideas only. Don’t be concerned with modifier words. You can add and match modifiers – those words that allude to product category, level of competence, method of delivery or product/service type – once the primary ideas are on paper.

Here are a couple of examples.

In naming Signature Strategies, “signature” was a prime idea signifying both identification and uniqueness. “Strategies” was one of several modifiers that could have completed the name. Considered were “solutions”, “identities”, “creations”, etc. But when matched, “signature” and “strategies” worked.

A client providing drug testing services for fleet operators in accordance to DOT regulations wanted the idea of “compliance” in his name. Many ways to express “compliance” were generated, including, strangely enough,  “compliance”. Then we generated a list of modifiers and began matching them. Up jumped “Compliance Alliance”, the final and successful name.

Note in these examples that two lists are compiled, the list of ideas and the list of possible modifiers. They are compiled at different times and with different objectives in mind. Quite often, words will be found in both lists. Then, begin matching entries from the two lists to find appealing and memorable name candidates.

Ideally, you’ll find a one-word name that needs no modifier or amplifier. But if you do need a second word, using the method above will keep you on track and provide viable candidates.

Naming Tips – Number 18 in a series

Damn, I made a mistake. I skipped numbers 18 and 19 in this series. So I’d better catch up. Or more appropriately, retreat and take care of the wounded.

So here goes with Number 18 in the series.

Incorporate candidates from the world of numbers.

Numbers and their symbols have built-in familiarity for most people. There are several approaches to numbers in names. You can make numbers part of the name (3D, A-1, 4-star). Then you can look at number-related words/symbols such as prime, pi, square, cube. The number might be a ranking (1st, First). You might incorporate prefixes (Bi, Tri, Quad), or roman numerals, or Greek characters (alpha – omega). There are also certain associations with some numbers that might be relevant (360 or 32F). Think, too of “counts”: The Tree Amegos, Five Fountains,etc.

Meaningful acronyms might be worth exploring.

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 they are positive and relevant associations. This is one of the “swap file” lists you may want to accumulate if you’re going to continually name offerings.

Martin Jelsema

Naming Tips – Number 20 in a series

Accumulate a naming “swipe” file.

This may be practical only for those who have three or four naming projects a year: i.e., “professional” namers because it needs time and patience to collect examples from many different sources.

But just like direct response copywriters collect compelling sales letters, it’s a good idea to collect good names and sources of name candidates. Not that you want to copy them, but they can lead to inspiration and connections.

First, you might want to keep a running list of those unique “aha” names you occasionally come across, names like Travelocity, Buzzoodle, Rare Bear, Fitzwell. Over time, that list can become an invaluable “idea sparker”.

Then, you might collect the unusual “last names” businesses could use instead of  the ordinary “Zone” or “Express”. (The newest “fan” name to stay away from: “Authority”. Here are fresh several examples: Cache, Grove, Prime, Yard. I’ve collected over 600 “last names”, and I refer to that list with almost every naming project. Though mostly applicable for naming a business, I’ve found perusing the list can help me intuit product names as well.

  1. Other swipe file contents might include lists of:Prefixes and suffixes
    Meaningful initials (MVP, PDQ)
    Positive idioms and phrases (fast forward, breathe easy, rest assured)
    Family names (Goodman, Weldon, Merrywell)
    Place names
    Active vowels

The best thing about this suggestion is that it’s open-ended. Any list you think might be helpful can be started just by beginning a new page in your “name idea” document. It’s fairly easy to accumulate candidates with a word processing program that allows you to periodically sort them in alphabetical order. At least that helps me feel like I’m organized.

Use your files for ideas and directions. The bigger they get, the more valuable those files become.

Naming Tips: Number 17 in a series

Here are two proven sources of brand names. And even if names don’t sprout directly from the techniques described, often they will at least open your mind and expand the domain in which you normally live and think.

Number One: Create a list of metaphors that might represent your brand. Think about how your product is like: a famous person (who from history would be a passionate spokesperson?), an animal (think of the characteristics of natural prototypes), a sport (and all its terminology, equipment and techniques), an activity (what type of dance is most appropriate for your product?), an event (where would I use the product except at home?). You can expand this list by reviewing the attributes and characteristics of appropriate metaphors.

Additional categories might include mythology, geography, literature, movies, tools, astrology, fictional characters, colors, shapes, science and music.

Number two: You can name your brand by creating and naming a character. By naming that character, you’ve also named the brand, and given it a personality as well. Precedents include Marie Callender, Sara Lee, Uncle Ben, Orville Reddenbacher and The Pep Boys. My own contribution to the gender: Weldon Wright.

Although the examples above may not relate directly to a brand benefit or attribute, through use and story-telling they begin to become associated with the desired position and niche envisioned by their creators. If the name and representation of the character are appropriate, there’s no better way to convey a brand promise than through a character who not only speaks for, but actually is the brand.

Martin Jelsema