Naming & Identity – Part 1

To name something or someone has always been a sacred and potentially fraught thing to do. In the Old Testament, one of Adam’s first tasks was to name all of the animals, and in doing so he gave them an identity and a role to play in the scheme of things. In the Old World, often a child isn’t named by the parents, but by the grandparents, because of the enormous meaning placed on the name and the very ceremony around naming itself. My parents didn’t name my siblings and me; it was our paternal grandfather, the patriarch of the family, who mined his deep knowledge of classical Chinese philosophy and language to craft original names for the three of us. My parents then cleverly ‘romanized’ the names into English names that were (relatively) easy to spell. In philanthropy, the highest level of giving is often called a ‘naming opportunity’ – emblazoning your name on a building or hall or pavilion.

It’s no wonder then that companies will go through great pains to name a new product or brand. It’s a process that should contain the following key steps:

1)    There should be a well-developed brand strategy, inclusive of: positioning, brand promise, value proposition, key benefits, brand story and key messages. This is all prior to the naming process.

2)    Some soul-searching discussion should be had among senior management as to the personal preferences around a name. This new brand is like a child, and you’ll be wearing the name for a long time. You need to love it and want to use it all the time.

3)    A great naming brief should be written encapsulating all of the above.

4)    A creative process that invites lateral thinking and good research should be used.

5)    Thought should be given to both how the name sounds rolling off the tongue (and inside a conversation) and how it might look visually. Doing some initial graphic treatments of name options is a good idea, so you can begin to imagine how it might look. Using the name in a brand story or elevator pitch helps as well.

6)    Far less thought should be given to worrying about “what will people think of the name?” or “maybe they won’t like it.” Imagine if Starbucks had fretted over the likeability or logic of their unusual and now iconic name. They might have ended up calling it World Class Coffee. Blah!

As with naming a child, in the final analysis it takes courage to choose a good name. Choose a name that fires your imagination and “feels” right. Then stick to your guns and use it proudly. The marketplace will feel your certainty, and they’ll catch up with you sooner or later.