When you are your own client

Originally published Jul 27, 2015

From a namer’s point of view, a name has to work in two ways. First, it has to be smartly conceived and well designed linguistically. If it is, it’s likely to achieve what it needs to and be liked by people. Second, it has to meet the client’s expectations and standards. Sometimes those are more idiosyncratic.

One thing The Name Inspector asks new clients to do is list some names they like. The names don’t even have to be related to their business.

This exercise can reveal expectations and standards the client might not even be aware of. For example, a client might, as The Name Inspector believes he has mentioned before, list a bunch of real-word names like Apple, Amazon, and Twitter as favorites, but then claim to be looking for a made-up name.

Armed with the information provided by a list of favorites, The Name Inspector is prepared to either roll up his sleeves and get to work, confident that he can come up with a name that works both of the ways it needs to, or to have a conversation with the client about how their preferences might not align with their stated goals or with what’s realistic.

Why is The Name Inspector telling you this? Because if you decide to name your own company or product, you have to be your own client and your own consultant. That is, you the client must decide what you want, but you the consultant must ensure that what you want is realistic and put it into action. Since the biases and preferences of the two yous will tend to be uncannily similar, it’s especially important to have a way to step back and evaluate.

So ask yourself to make a list of favorite names, and then analyze that list to find out what it reveals about your expectations and preferences. Then use that information to help you find a name. But…

…and this is a crucial but: Don’t pick one name from your favorites and copy it. Don’t pick the name Facebook and then make a name ending in book. Don’t pick Spotify and then create yet another name to add to the 300+ names that make “creative” use of the suffix –ify.

One reason copycat names don’t work, aside from the fact that they’re unoriginal, is because you might copy the wrong thing about a name. If you don’t really know what you like about something, you can’t reliably copy it to make something else you like.

When you have a list of favorites, you have a basis for generalization and it’s up to you to find a pattern. Maybe you really love blends, or one-syllable names, or compounds. Then, fine, go for one of those types of names. But make sure you come up with something original in its particulars, or at least not obviously derivative.

The make-a-list-of-favorites technique isn’t just for naming, of course. It’s for any type of  design. The purpose is not to copy, but to have your design principles and goals anchored in specific judgments rather than vague generalities.

It’s possible you won’t see a pattern in your list of favorites. But if you do, it will help you the consultant make you the client happy.

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