Naming a Brand? Talk to He-Man. Advice You Never Saw Coming for Naming a Product or Service.
Naming is not easy. Every word in the dictionary is already taken, and forget about trying to find a web address unless you make up a word that sounds like nonsense. Yet memorable names are being invented everyday. That's because there are reliable techniques that marketers can use for creating new names – and apparently the creators of He-Man knew all of them.
Before you write me off as a hack, let me explain. My grandparents sent my son a box full of old He-Man action figures they had saved from when I was a kid. While showing the figures to my son, I realized that despite the absurdity of the characters' names, the techniques used were the same ones being employed by top brands to name products and services. No joke, if you're trying to name something, everything you need to know can be found in my son's toy box.
So, the next time you have to come up with a compelling name for a new company, product or service, just hold aloft your magic sword, (or dry erase marker) and let the Power of Grey Skull show you the way.
TECHNIQUE 1: SWAP A LETTER
Change one or two letters to create a new name that conveys a strong association with the original word.
He-Man Example: Extendar
A cyborg with extending head and limbs. Get it? Extender becomes Extendar. Just like that, you've got a hit name that's perfect for a cybernetic warrior, an adjustable ladder or the latest E.D. treatment.
Real-Word Example: Triscuit
Is it a biscuit? Nope, it's a Triscuit. But it still conveys the idea of hardy baked goodness.
Tip: The Swap a Letter technique works best with vowels or the first/last letter of the word. That's because changing vowels and first/ last letters is the easiest way to make sure the word still sounds similar to the original. Also, when swapping vowels, keep in mind that different vowels carry different meanings. Front vowels, whose sounds come from the front of the mouth, like "I" and "E" tend to have a connotation of small or sharp. Back vowels, with sounds that come from the back of the throat, like "O", "U" and "A tend to communicate the idea of largeness or roundness. Hence why no one wants to buy a nice sharp Knofe.
TECHNIQUE 2: TELL IT LIKE IT IS
Not every name has to be clever. There's nothing wrong with a name that also serves as a clear description of the product or service. Sometimes it's easy to combine two or three descriptive words together to create a great title.
He-Man Example: Beastman
He's a beast, he's a man, yadda yadda yadda.
Real-World Example: CrowdFunder
Need some funding? Want to source it from the crowd? Well have we got a website for you!
Tip: Start by creating categories of descriptive words, such as: appearance, taste, functionality and color. Brainstorm as many words as you can in each category. Then combine words from different categories to come up with possible names. Also, consider how the two words sound when spoken out loud as a single word. "Beastman" and "CrowdFunder" both roll of the tongue. But "BeastCrowd" and "Manfunder"? Those just sound... wrong.
TECHNIQUE 3: FORGET HOW TO SPELL
Choose a word that describes a key attribute of your product or service and misspell the shit out of it.
He-Man Example: Optikk
He's got a bulbous eyeball for a noggin and his name is Optikk. Wow, there's really a lot a character development going on here. The name "Optikk" doesn't tell me anything. Is he a good guy or a bad guy? Does he even have any powers other than the ability to see? This is a great example of what not to do. Taking an obvious attribute of a brand and misspelling it doesn't convey any additional information. If you are going to misspell a name, first be sure to come up with a name that enriches the brand by conveying additional meaning. The real-product example below does a good job.
Real-World Example: Tastee Freez
They could have called it Iyce Kream. But all that tells me is that they serve ice cream and suck at spelling bees. The name Tastee Freez tells me that they serve treats that are cold and delicious. Misspelling words can be a great way to create an ownable name, but you need to choose words that convey value to your audience.
Tip: When using this technique it is best to change letters at the beginning and end of the word. That's because people don't typically look at every letter in a word when reading. To save time, our brains look at the overall shape of a word and focus on the first and last letter. If you rearrange letters in the middle of the word, some people won't notice. And the ones that do may read it as an unintentional typo instead of a clever misspelling.
TECHNIQUE 4: LOSE A LETTER
Removing a single letter from a word can be an easy way to create a unique, ownable and evocative brand name.
He-Man Example: Zodac
Zodac is a mystical character who lives in outer space. Zodiacs are magical figures written in the stars. It's a perfect analogy. Just drop the "I" and you have a unique name that still conveys the same meaning as the original word. Now if they could just redesign this guy's costume so he doesn't look like an S&M fireman.
Real-World Example: IZZE
This name actually drops the letter “F” in fizzy and changes the “Y” to an “E.” Just like that a name is born. Okay, not just like that. There were probably hours of meetings with copywriters sitting in a conference room throwing out names like "Nature Fizz." And then there was probably a presentation where the client said something like "I know, lets call it iPop!" But somehow it all worked out in the end.
Tip: When applying this technique, it's usually best to drop a vowel. Consonants tend to carry more of the identity of the word while vowels give language a sense of rhythm and shape. That's why you can spell a lot of wrds with no vowels and still get your meaning across. It's also why the Hebrew language can have no vowel letters. Okay, I know what you're going to say, "but Mark, what about Hawaiian, it's practically all vowels?" Well, there's an exception to every rule.
TECHNIQUE 5: BRING THE ACTION
Pick a two-word phrase that communicates a sense of action or purpose to create a name that is also a call to act.
He-Man Example: Buzz-Off
It's a cheap pun, but it's also an action-packed name that says something about the character. I instantly understand that this is an anthropomorphic bee that doesn't take shit off of anyone. You're not going to find this guy sprinkling honey on cereal. No way, he's too busy kicking the crap out of Skeletor and his evil lackeys.
Real-World Example: LinkedIn
When you join this social network, you're not just sticking your face in some book. You're connecting to a community of movers, shakers and job makers. There's important stuff happening here and now you're part of it. Wow! That one guy from accounting who got let go because they found porn on his computer just gave you a positive recommendation. Now you're career is in overdrive.
Tip: Make a list of verbs that describe actions that could relate to your product. Then combine those verbs with prepositions to convey a strong sense of action. In addition to prepositions, try thinking of directional nouns like North and South.
TECHNIQUE 6: NAME IT AFTER A DISTINCTIVE PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTIC
Pick a unique attribute of the product to create a memorable moniker.
He-Man Example: Trap Jaw
This guy's lower jaw is made of metal and shaped like a bear trap. Trap Jaw sounds like a good name to me.
Real-World Example: Razor
For those of you who are six years old, the Razor was the must-have phone before the iPhone. Back then it wasn't about apps, it was all about small phones and the Razor was so thin and sleek you could easily forget it was in your pocket. If you miss the Razor, don't worry. It won't be long before the hipster crowd starts using them ironically.
Tip: When naming a product after a distinctive physical characteristic, opt for a metaphor instead of an overt description. The Razor phone could have just as easily been called the "Thin." But that just doesn't have the same sizzle and pop. Why is "Razor" a better name than "Thin?" the answer lies in the concept of metaphor. The name "Thin" just flops the conclusion right out there for everyone to see. But Razor doesn't spell out the benefit in such blatant terms. All the ingredients to come to the conclusion that the phone is thin are there. But the final step of actually coming to the conclusion is left to the audience. Razor is a metaphor for thin. The name leads people to conclude that the phone is thin instead of telling them that the phone is thin. Something that you tell yourself is way more persuasive than something you are told by marketers.
TECHNIQUE 7: NAME IT AFTER THE PEOPLE WHO USE IT
As a potential customer I will be flattered that you named your product after me, or at least after my vocation.
He-Man Example: Man-At-Arms
Okay, he is a royal guard of the Eternian palace and he needs a name. I'll just grab the thesaurus, look up the first synonym for "guard" and we can hit the bar in time for happy hour. Mission accomplished.
Real-World Example: Salesforce
Who's this product for again? That's right.
Tip: Start out by defining the main target market for your product or service. Then think of some words that describe them. If the names you come up with don't sound quite right, use a tool like www.visualthesaurus.com to find some clever synonyms.
TECHNIQUE 8: DICK JOKES
Okay, I know we already covered this in the "Extendar" example, but it's worth revisiting.
He-Man Example: Mantenna
This monster is probably male, but I don't see an antenna. This is clearly a dick joke. But you know what? Of all the names in this article, I bet this is the one you remember. That's because sex sells. But for this technique to work, it's got to be the right product and the right audience. Otherwise it will backfire and make your company look like a frat boy. By the way, dick jokes are probably a great idea when developing a product that targets frat boys.
Real-World Example: Kum & Go
Dicken's Cider was just too easy. But Kum & Go is pretty low hanging fruit too. It's the perfect name if you want to tell truckers that your gas station is crawling with lot lizards.
Tip: Sorry, the tip got cut off of this one.
TECHNIQUE 9: IF ALL ELSE FAILS, JUST TACK "R" ONTO THE END AND CALL IT GOOD
He-Man Example: Skeletor
He's not a Skeleton. He's the Skeletor. For some reason changing that last letter to an "R" does a nice job of making the name sound important and very much like a title instead of a generic description.
Real-World Example: TriCor, Lipitor, Crestor
I think the pharmaceutical industry has a lock on this technique. The only thing more overdone is adding a lowercase "i" to the front of a word.
Tip: It seems like you can slap just about any letter on the front or back of a word to come up with a new name: Xname or NameX. Just try and pick a letter that’s not already overused.
There you have it. Lots of great ways to create an outstanding brand name. I guess He-Man can now be reclassified as educational programming.
Photo credits: thanks to the following photographers for posting their excellent work on Flicker under Creative Commons.
Beastman and Trap Jaw, Photographed by CG76
Buzz-Off and Mantenna, Photographed by Slim Ficky, www.fotosum.blogspot.com
Extendar, Photographed by Patobot
He-Man, Skeletor and Zodac, Photographed by Christian Hernàndez
Man-At-Arms, Photographed by Grego
Optikk, Photographed by Ricardo Saramago