The Art and Science of Naming Things

Not long ago, a colleague announced that he was changing his name.  He was replacing his fairly respectable moniker with something that sounded zippier and more memorable.  It’s not that he’d been tortured over his given name. He was simply, he informed me, changing his brand.

Even though his new tag would also fit a small chimp, the question is whether the new attention will be worth it.

After all, a name is just an introduction.  A brand depends more on what you do, for example, how consistently you produce a working slice of pizza or a chewy screenplay.

Nevertheless, there is a name so well known that it has also become a brand:  Kardashian. The Kardashian brand positioning, as most MBA’s will tell you, is that they’re the first generation of robots with working genitalia.  When they import a working vocabulary, everyone will want one.

I came by my “name brand” expertise honestly.  As someone who has simultaneously lived with a silly name and spent years naming products inside the advertising industry, I developed a rep as a product-naming guru.

My clients have included Mattel, the Jeffrey Dahmer of toy companies and several of its less notorious rivals.  (Names aside, I’m convinced the children who audition for toy commercials are Stepford children.)

For all that I’ve had my share of professional failures:                                                          

The “Bleeding Gums Cafe” restaurant chain.

Vidal Sassoon’s “Don’t Worry, It’ll Grow Back” salons.

Victoria Secret’s “Underpants Galore.”

Occasionally a product name actually contributes to or undermines its success.  I’ve written on projects for cool names like Nike and Porsche. I’ve also inhaled the heady aroma of the Urine Resistant Mattress–the account, not the actual product.

I swear by all the gods, it’s true.

The Urine Resistant Mattress Corporation would not consider an alternate for that god-awful name.  This was one advertising client who could not be moved off the proposition that a product name must also communicate a product benefit. The name wasn’t flashy but, in it’s way, it was memorable and, maybe even, unforgettable.

So we attended to actual advertising issues.   The client did not crack a smile at the idea that the Urine Resistant Mattress deserved a lively theme song.  I didn’t so much suggest it as hum a bouncy pirate jig.   But the idea of a television commercial truly appealed to him. We spent weeks, without success, looking for a worthy spokesman, some kind of celebrity bedwetter.  But no real names were willing to step forward and take this client’s money.

I took the cash without hesitation.  There’s a name for people like me.

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8 responses to “The Art and Science of Naming Things

  1. Great story. I think companies would be well-served to follow our blog’s theme and come up with a really silly-sounding name for themselves. It worked out well for Orville Redenbacher.

    • Thanks, Dave. I had a feeling this might connect with a name-o-phile like you. Your silly corporate names idea has a genuinely Python-esque quality and that’s always a good thing.

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