Monday, October 03, 2011

Naming Ceremony: What's in a Name?

"A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet"
                                                              - William Shakespeare

"Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose"*
                              - Gertrude Stein

Last week, I got involved in helping someone find a name for his new venture. For reasons of confidentiality, I cannot talk about the venture nor the name that we closed out on, but the process was an interesting and intriguing one.

My last - and perhaps, my only other - really serious project at identifying a name was when my wife was carrying our baby. While my wife and I sifted through many names, the "framework" was simple and the decision-making straightforward. The framework/parameters were that we both wanted a name that was easy to pronounce and easy across cultures, had a meaning that we would be proud to have our child live up to and was not a “retro” name. The decision-making was simple: we had to both like it.

With the business venture, though I had not expected it to be all too easy, it was a trifle more challenging than I had imagined. Whatever the approach to coming up with a list of names, it had to have a corresponding or phonetically similar domain name available, should not already have been trademarked/copyrighted and had to be "culturally scalable".

While my friend went with right-brain gut, I resorted to left-brain structure to compensate for my handicap in creativity. I came up with a table that looked roughly like this:

·         Domain not available
·         Domain parked – may be available
·         Domain available
One word

Two words



Within the table, all names considered were listed and color-coded to indicate availability of the corresponding domain name. The X-axis helped profile the name based on its meaning – or lack of it – while the Y-axis helped identify names of different compositions.   

I originally started out with just "Descriptive" and "Non-descriptive" on the X-axis but the Wikipedia page on "Product Naming" helped me put more structure around it.

Eventually, we went with a name that my friend pulled out of his hat, but the table above did help me "brainstorm with myself" and generate a bunch of names.

Like I said, I found the process very interesting and am wondering how one would come up with a name if you didn't want to engage a pricey branding/marketing organization and if your creative juices weren’t flowing. Would be happy to get inputs from my readers.

Of course, once you build the brand even “fanciful" and "arbitrary" names will sound nice and even logical – Google, Twitter, Cisco, Apple are all excellent examples. These are neither descriptive nor associated with the founder’s name – e.g., Tata, Ferrari, Ford, Toyota, Mercedes, etc. – and yet, have built a powerful image and perception around the brand.

Last but not the least – and the real motivation for this post – is that I began reflecting upon a few Indian logos/brand names that we grew up with as children. I marvel at how these brands acquired mindshare without the benefit of extensive market research, without mass marketing and without social media. All of these brands are brands that were descriptive as well as suggestive as well as fanciful as well as rich in the meaning they conveyed. All but one – at least in my eyes – were also rich in the quality they delivered (and there will be no prizes for guessing which one I think, did not deliver that quality).

The next time I see or hear a name that makes me wonder what it means or why someone chose that name, I am sure I will spare a little empathy for the person who had to make the decision.

After all, even though I Google for something I want to find and tweet something I want to announce, and Like something I like and even though I grew up reading Amar Chitra Katha and drinking Rasna, left to me, I would never have come up with these names. Names that resonate in so many hearts and minds across the world.

Even though a rose would smell as sweet by any name called, a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose*.

*I have of course, twisted the interpretation of this slightly, for effect


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