What’s In A Name?


Saturday, 7.39am

Sheffield, U.K.

Pen names are masks that allow us to unmask ourselves. – Terri Guillemets

Doing stuff is easy.

If you’re like most people the work comes naturally.

You can draw or write or file paperwork with the best of them.

So, let’s say you’re looking for a new job, starting a business or creating a new product line – what’s the first thing you should do?

Some people start with the function – the features of what they have to offer.

With you, that might be your qualifications, experience and achievements.

With a product, it might be what it does, the technology it uses and the team behind it.

I normally stumble around in that sort of space for a while trying to work out what it is that I’m trying to say.

Until I worked with a professor who took a very different approach.

She listened to my pitch for a while then leaned forward and said “Okay, so what do we call this?”

I wasn’t sure yet.

So, we sat and talked about possible names, things that this product could be and as we did that, the concept became more real and concrete and tangible.

Names have the power to do that.

In a sense, naming something makes it real.

It’s no longer a hazy idea but a fully formed concept held in words.

Which then leads you to thinking about how to choose a name that works.

Much advice is generic and obvious.

Choose names that people can say, words that are easy to read, unique, memorable, with feeling, energy and the right kind of sound.

Some advice is extensive and almost overwhelming.

In this blog post Nick Kolenda, the author of Methods of Persuasion details how to construct names for whatever you want to do.

It’s going to take a few reads before it sinks in.

Many founders start with ideas for names and the first thing they do is see if the domain names are available.

Both Dropbox and Uber started without owning the dot com domains for their names.

During their funding rounds they bought the names for what seems like a lot – around $300,000 and $1m or so each.

The equivalent value now would be hundreds of millions of dollars.

I suppose to start with there are a few things to work through.

Is your business very specific – like Kate’s Carpet Cleaners or an industry group like General Motors?

Does your brand evoke a promise like McKinsey or make you feel like you own something exceptional like Apple?

The thing that Nick’s article makes clear is that names have shape and sound and colour and feeling and size and gender and more.

Selecting a name may be less about inspiration and more about discarding ones that don’t work.

But there’s one more thing about names that may be helpful to us.

By naming something we give it an identity that starts to separate it from us.

It’s like having kids.

At first, they’re attached to you – a part of you, without a name.

Choosing that name for them is so important when they come out because we’re worried about how they will be treated.

Will their name help them or will they be teased for it?

Also, when we name them we recognise that they are separate from us, independent human beings.

And I suppose that’s what a name does with our creations as well.

Whether its a business, a product or simply a new process, naming it creates a separation from us and we can look at it more objectively.

Many founders can’t get over that feeling of personal attachment to their product and so can’t listen to advice that suggests their baby is not perfectly formed.

Maybe naming the thing we have made is the way we need to let go and let it become the best it can be.


Karthik Suresh

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