The other day I came across a fascinating story about archaeologists digging up what was believed to be the world’s oldest bra. It was 600 years old and was apparently called ‘breastbags’ at the time.
This excellent discovery got me thinking. As a copywriter, I’m often given the task of naming things – products, companies, services, etc. – and it’s one of my favourite things to do. Names not only communicate what something does, but they also give us feelings based on the combination of sounds and connotations relating to combinations of letters. But what is the science behind it? When did it become more about communicating a story than describing something in the literal sense?
Naming in Art and Science
Further research revealed other fascinating information surrounding the art and science of naming things. One article described the difference between naming things in the field of science compared to naming things in the arts. The author, Chad Orzel, described a talk by Alan Lightman, a theoretical physicist and novelist from MIT, who claimed:
“…science is deeply concerned with naming things because naming a thing in some sense defines it – the word ‘electron’ carries with it a whole host of properties that are shared by all electrons in the universe. In the arts, on the other hand, names don’t have the same power, because the same word can mean different things in different contexts, and for different people. For that reason, artists are not as keen to name things as scientists.”
Naming in Software Development
I also found information on the process of naming things in the field of software development. One author claims that programming itself is the art of naming because it helps the developer understand the meaning of program elements without having to think too much about the how. A good name gives enough information to understand the purpose of what is being named, and a bad name just creates unnecessary work when trying to remember its arbitrary connotations.
The Wild West of Naming Start-Ups
Many start-ups don’t seem to follow any particular formula when picking their names. For example, Mashable published a post about how some of the top start-ups got their names, including:
• Google came from a misspelling of the word ‘googol’
• Twitter was pulled out of a hat
• Zynga was named after the CEO’s dog
Getting Paid Handsomely to Name Things (aka My Goal in Life)
A fascinating piece in the New Yorker describes an agency called Lexicon that specializes in naming brands. The agency is credited with coming up with some pretty big names like Dasani, BlackBerry and Swiffer.
Lexicon Founder David Placek believes the best brand names are like poetry, or the result of compressing an array of meanings and associations into a single word. He uses unexpected stimuli during naming sessions, and believes they spark creativity. Lexicon also uses worldwide focus groups, free-associated mind mapping, and the knowledge of over 77 linguists around the world to come up with winning brand names.
Placek might use a few out-of-the-ordinary tactics, but he believes that a good name does not just happen. Here are some of his tips for finding a good name:
• Keep names short
• Consonant-vowel-consonant patterns often work well
• Try to use pleasant sounds or alliteration
• Determine the story you want to tell, and the word that evokes that
• You don’t have to be predictable or even logical
What’s in Your Name?
How did you come up with a name for your business? Share your story in the comments!