Brand naming beyond the brainstorm
How strange ways can lead to great names.
Has the number of brands become exponentially bigger in our modern age, or has the world just become smaller? Trick question: it’s a bit of both. The ease of starting a business—or at least intending to start a business—means that names can be snatched up wholesale and on a lark. Plus, the domain game is a global one, which means coming up with a unique name means competing with the entire world.
Bottom line: finding a distinctive brand or product name is no easy task. And when you layer on brand-specific criteria, the uphill climb can feel even more steep.
But it’s hardly insurmountable. We’ve named lots of things at Traina—financial services, scientific instruments, app-based businesses. And throughout our experience in naming, I’ve struck upon some unorthodox means of creating worthy contenders, if not the perfect name that captures a business completely. Here are a few lesser-known tricks of our trade:
Traditional, text-based search is a standard technique in seeking inspiration for brand names, but I’ve come to equally appreciate visual search results. Imagery is easy to scan and gives fertile ground for names that are less literal. For example, say we need a brand name that somehow says “extremely fast”. Traditional search results might provide links to definitions, synonym lists, and websites promising extremely fast weight loss. All are potentially helpful, but upon clicking over to images, a nuanced world of speed is revealed: cheetahs, rockets, race cars… wait! That driver gripping the steering wheel at 10 and 2… hmmm… “white knuckle.” That’s interesting, and would have been difficult to uncover by simply surfing through a list of synonyms.
The mental gymnastics of improving upon a name usually conjure up unrelated, but appealing alternatives.”
AI Name Generators
So the robots are coming for our jobs, but while we still have them, why not use AI to our advantage? Some may consider this cheating, but if you ever use these online name generators, you’ll find they are comically bad. They suggest clunky, unrecognizable and trite name solutions at volume.
So if they suck, why go here? Because they still construct words in ways my mind might not, and they will no doubt offer bad suggestions that I will instinctively try to improve. The mental gymnastics of improving upon a name usually conjure up unrelated, but appealing alternatives. For example, when AI once suggested optancereg, that inspired Optios. In other words, it’s natural intelligence making lemonade out of AI lemons.
There’s nothing more traditional than hitting up an online thesaurus—except maybe pulling that thick, dusty volume off a physical shelf. But there are some sites that I consider distant cousins to a thesaurus that can do the trick. Again, they typically don’t provide great literal names, but they serve up new ways to think about naming. My two go-to’s include reversedictionary.org, which serves up words related to the spirit of a phrase, and crossword-solver.io, which provides relevant responses to clue-like inquiries. These sites take the notion of a thesaurus further, providing new angles of approaching word associations that just might spark an idea.
Online product reviews or industry forums where customers interact and post about their experience can be a true goldmine. Borrowing honest language from a customer’s point of view can, at minimum, help you draft a compelling rationale for your name candidates, if not directly contribute to your working list of name ideas. In a real-life example, consumer comments on DNA testing blogs frequently mentioned getting a picture of one’s health—which inspired our naming of Picture Genetics.
The newest avenue for inspiration, AI chatbots (like Chat-GPT) are showing potential as a valuable resource for name ideation. Chatbots have been stealing attention away from all the other online resources I mentioned above. They are perfect substitutes for the thesaurus, and extremely effective at getting a preliminary snapshot of any trademarking conflicts for potential names. Perplexity.ai and Poe.com are free and my go-to AI apps.
Scanning for unique words in publications sounds inefficient, but here’s where I’ve found success: niche trade publications (and the deeper the niche, the better—think: Thoracic Pathology Monthly) and magazines that are devoted to very specific, distinct experiences (say, Scuba Diving or Birds&Blooms). Journals or magazines like these can present words you won’t typically find in broad online searches.
The occasional mass media can also provide some esoteric vocab. For example: I find the “Goings On About Town” column in The New Yorker ripe with uniquely descriptive words. How does one describe concerts and plays in a non-pedestrian, mostly pretentious way? You can’t say it was simply “nice”. It was “crackling”, “celestial”, maybe even “audacious.” Exposure to words of such abstruse nuance is not only a boon to an otherwise mantic naming process, but they may even surreptitiously enter your wonted vocabulary.
Admittedly, this method is a bit of a rabbit hole, which is exactly why it can work. I often arrive at a place that an open notebook and cup of coffee couldn’t possibly lead to on their own.”
Speaking of vocabulary, the method above might challenge yours like it certainly does mine, so you may find yourself reaching for that other dusty volume on your shelf. The dictionary technique can be hit or miss for naming, so I limit time spent here, but just like fishing on a lake with no nibbles, out of the blue you may just land the big one.
Here’s the unscientific method: open the dictionary to any page and you’ll soon hit on words and definitions as enticing as they are novel. Using the same criteria of “extremely fast”, my eye falls on the word “paradiddle”—not the most attractive of brand names, but I learn it’s “a quick succession of drum beats slower than a roll.” Thumbing over to “roll”, in that description I find the word “trill”, a rapid vibration. “Trill” seems promising; it has the trappings of a peppy brand name.
Admittedly, this method is a bit of a rabbit hole, which is exactly why it can work. I often arrive at a place that an open notebook and cup of coffee couldn’t possibly lead to on their own. And I realize how little of the English language I actually use.
As creatives, strategists and naming pros, we can sometimes fall victim to overcomplicating things. That’s why asking kids for suggestions is beneficial in two ways: First, it forces you to explain what you’re trying to name in a much simpler way than you’ve been thinking about it. And second, kids tend to give you some highly odd gems that they will explain to you with often inspiring, arbitrary or outlandish logic. Naming a new offering from a pizza franchise? “Call it ‘Wednesdays’,” I’m told, “because mom says we can only have pizza on Wednesdays.”
Just as inspiration can come from any direction, let this list serve as a compass that points to our unique perspectives on naming. Of course, naming a brand is far more than just finding a good word. There’s teasing out the rationale behind it, understanding its bearing on the brand—what it dictates and denies—and how it will work within the fuller context of an identity system. Our work with the biotech company Velsera is a prime example of how naming is just one part of a brand ecosystem, and how important it is to develop it all together.
Learn more about how naming can be part of our creative partnership.