How Do You Come Up With A Great Name

As legend has it, ‘Apple’ just streamed into Steve Jobs’ noggin. And oh my, what a name it became, now constantly streaming into the minds of billions.

But that was nearly four decades ago. Fast forward to today’s globally connected world. There are now untold millions of companies worldwide, 46,000 of which are listed in stock exchanges – all with registered trademarked names by the way. Yet here’s the real kicker. There are more than 860 million registered web sites.

What does that mean? Every company or nefarious endeavor, no matter the size, competes to establish unique URLs which have become in a sense today’s de facto trademarks. One can only ponder the brain-bending number of global names (company, product, and otherwise) that are in use and claimed to various degrees, because even Google is stumped on this one. What I’m getting at is there would be zero chance Steve could trademark the name Apple today, as he did in 1976. He would need to try another name, like say Macintosh – but sorry, no go. Ok, maybe he’d then try Mac – taken again. In the end, he would have to come up with “who knows what” name to get it free-and-clear. Imagine holding your iPhone, only it’s named CarrotStalk (argh, that’s taken too!). So how do you come up with a name?

First, you need to know what not to do. DO NOT think up a name and then go to GoDaddy it to see if it’s available. It destroys any creative synopsis and chance of success. You might as well pound your head against the wall and hope in your concussive state you’ll have a vision.

Instead go old-school. You need to do what One Tribe calls “intelligent play.” Think brainstorming, but not the “throw it against the wall and see if it sticks” craze. We’re talking critical-thinking brainstorming, identifying and following the most promising threads of thought, meaning, symbolism, and sound as you go. Work to discover all manner of names, especially coined names, as they hold the most potential to be trademarked. Coined names come in many flavors: combined words (think MicroSoft), fused syllables (think Univenture), alternate spellings (think Xcite), and clipped word parts (think FedEx), are the most common.

After a few hours of intelligent or semi-intelligent play, let’s say you’ve come up with 30 to 40 words. There are probably three to four you’re already patting yourself on the back for, ten others that are solid, with the rest passing the mustard, meaning they meet criteria established by the project’s creative brief.

Ok, now start your Google engine and don’t forget to stop by the U.S. Trademark office database. Yup, check every name in your list. A note of caution: Before you do, steel yourself to be hit with a tsunami of rejection. You know those three or four top names, those absolutely perfect, kick-ass names that nobody on earth could possibly have thought of? Chances are they have. If even one of your top choices is free and clear, open the champagne.

After what feels like scratching a pile of lottery tickets, you’ll most likely have but five true candidates from the entire list. It’s time to present that hard-won line-up. Create rationales to support each one, present them in your best Hollywood trailer voice, and hope. What you hope for is that one of those names gives your client goose bumps. Really, just one name. If two trip the trigger, you’re really sitting pretty.

Or you think you are. A good name that is also “available” is like a golden nugget. The sparkle excites us to wonder if maybe, just maybe, digging deeper into the name’s origins will expose the mother of them all. So you go back to the brainstorming – following tunnel after tunnel, hoping to mine something better.

Soon, more names are presented. More choices fight for the top. Not to worry, it’s time to call in the focus group to save the day – you know, those people the name needs to woo in the first place. They’ll point out the winner in a heartbeat, right? Maybe, maybe not. Split decisions are common in this rough sport.

Nothing hard about that, right.

A few of the names One Tribe’s given birth to:

non-profit innovation incubator

zero-waste event management company

out-of-the ordinary home and gift retail store

biodiesel and alternative fuel manufacturer

Arts Incubator of the Rockies

non-profit developers of educational programs

composite/recycled structural lumber manufacturer

online network for caregivers

“freak of fashion” clothing accessories

solar energy conversion optimization company

Core facility of CSU Energy Institute

CSU Renewable Energy Supercluster

renewable energy solution company

customized software solutions

Peaks to People
non-profit Colorado water and conservation fund