A 3-Step Process for Naming a Project/Product (And Some Resources)

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Naming a project is always an awful experience.

An earworm that won’t stop tapping your skull from the inside. A tenacious pop jingle with teeth and a paycheck.

As a freelance designer, I do a fair amount of this for clients. Generally, my process has been a garble of notes and trips to thesaurus.com, but lately I’ve noticed a fairly simple pattern emerging, a 3-step framework for cutting through the fog.

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3-Step Process
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Step 1.
Identify the feeling you want the brand to convey. A great brand communicates on an emotional wavelength, so make that feeling your bedrock.

One way to identify what feeling you’re pursuing is by figuring out what you’re not. A great brand is defined as much by what it is as by what it is not. So if you’re entering a certain market that is a certain way, identify that point of frustration and invert it. For instance, if your market is confusing, you could pursue ‘Relaxed', or ‘Lucid'.

Step 2.
Embody that feeling in a list of persons, places, things or phrases (etc) that communicate viscerally. For instance:
Relaxed = a picnic
Exclusive = Studio 54
Cool = Paul Newman

Step 3. Final
Identify a detail that represents the [embodiment] of [your feeling] in a non obvious but compelling way.
Relaxed = a picnic = Sunny Nap™
Exclusive = Studio 54 = Velvet™
Cool = Paul Newman = Ben Quick™ (a character he played)

Repeat.
New insights gained from the process should help you get a better handle on the unique feeling or value your brand has to offer.

Ideally,
the name should have a ‘special wrongness’* to it. An unforgettable newness. A new shape. 1+1=3. If your name lacks this, the product itself may have a hard time differentiating itself in whatever market you’re entering. Why are you different than your competitors? That difference should be reflected in the brain jam your name causes in its audience.

*"Special Wrongness” is a term I’ve stolen and adopted from Peter Mendelsund from this amazing interview: http://portersquarebooksblog.blogspot.com/2013/05/interview-with-peter-m...

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Credentials
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As for credentials, here are some of the things I’ve named:

Svpply (snobby social shopping)
Varsity Bookmarking (link-based interview magazine)
10,000 (TBA athletic apparel)
General Projects (design studio)
Work Of (maker community and store)
Mined (TBA digital marketplace)
Lookwork (visual RSS for professionals)
Lunch League (foodie clothing line)
Embrella Group (design consultancy)
The Egotist (city-based online creative communities)

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G.O.A.T
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Some of my favorite brand names of all time, the ones I aspire to matching, have the appearance of having emerged from this kind of process. Names like:

Saturdays
Girlfriend
Hunter Gatherer AKA HUGA
Mo’wax
Slack
Dress Code
Mother
The Quiet Life
Public School
Free People
Girl Skateboards

These names emerge from the fringe of their vibe. Familiar details that've been blown out larger than life.

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Pretty Good Tools & Resources
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http://www.Phrasefinder.co.uk — A robust database of slogans, phrases, idioms and such. Annual fee for this one.

http://Rhymezone.com — Rhymezone is great for finding rhymes, but even moreso, it’s great for a feature it calls “related search”. Like a drunk cousin reading the dictionary, it often yields connections you wouldn’t see elsewhere.

http://Thesaurus.com - Yep.

http://Niice.co — Visual search engine. Good for non-linear, non-verbal associations. and its “Surprise Me!” button is great for knocking you out of a loop.

http://iwantmyname.com - I use this for domain name searches because it has the most comprehensive list of TLD results that I’ve found.

http://domai.nr - Domainr will cut your name up into chunks and tell you if there’s any odd domain combos available. Think: de.licio.us or days.am

USPTO Trademark search - Once you’ve landed on a name, you’ll want to check for existing trademarks in your product’s space.
USA: http://tmsearch.uspto.gov/
UK: http://www.ipo.gov.uk/types/tm/t-os/t-find/tmtext.htm

USPTO class list - When doing a trademark search, you’ll want to know your product’s class so you can tell if you're rubbing elbows with a trademark holder.

Don’t Call it That!: A Naming Workbook - Folks I trust have recommended this book.

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That's all I've got.

I hope it's helpful.

If you do wind up with any success because of this, I'd love to hear about it. myfirst@lastname.com (Ben/Pieratt) or @pieratt

Comments

Great article! Thanks so much for the insights into your process!!

Awesome article. Very useful.

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