I’ve been thinking about names a lot lately. We set so much importance in names. In the bible Adam was given dominion over the earth and the way in which this was enacted was in his naming of animals and plants. Expectant parents have the onerous task of coming up with a name for a new person, something which respects their values, doesn’t cause family members to wrinkle up their noses and will not result in the child being bullied in school or seeming infantilised as an adult. The safest and most popular ones are Jack and Emily, the rich and famous can afford to take greater risks – if your Dad is Jamie Oliver you can probably cope with being called Petal Blossom Rainbow, Daisy Boo Pamela, River Rocket, Buddy Bear or Poppy Honey Rosie. They can always follow the example of Zowie Bowie by changing their names to something a little more mundane, like Duncan Jones.
For businesses of all sizes, coming up with a name to represent your brand is as important as naming your child. After all, your business is your baby! As well as reflecting where your brand and company are now you want a name that will suit your future aspirations for your business. Trying to strike the right note between humour and seriousness may depend on what your company does and where you plan to trade. We’ve all heard the apocaphryl stories of companies who have mistranslated their names or slogans when moving into new marketplaces. On the other hand you don’t want a name that is so bland that it’s instantly forgettable.
Some things can’t be predicted of course. A few years ago Marks and Spencer’s had a popular perfume range called Isis. What seemed like a safe choice, naming a perfume range after an Egyptian goddess, turned out to have unfortunate consequences when the name began to have less positive associations. The range has since been rebranded as “Aqua”. Even poor old Isis the dog in Downton Abbey was written out of the series – a case of “give a dog a bad name” if ever there was one.
Aside from reputational damage, choosing the wrong name can end up in the courts. MMA fighter, Conor McGregor is in a legal battle at the moment because he wants to trademark “Mystic Mac”. Multinational make-up brand Mac and a jeans company Mac Jeans are opposing him. He doesn’t seem to be having much luck with his other trade mark applications either which have resulted in objections from companies as diverse as a Swiss retailer, Carlow Brewing Company, Dutch fashion company, US manufacturer of football cleats and Champion Sports.
Who could forget Boaty McBoatface? But you may have missed its Australian sequel, Ferry McFerryface, which resulted in a minor political scandal. Even roadgritters have names. I recently discovered that you can live-track Scottish roadgritters (thank you twitter). Each of them has an individual gritter name, mostly pun-based. Introducing Sir Salter Scott, Nitty Gritty, McGrittie. And Fred. Hats off to Fred for resisting the trend towards fun names, after all keeping the roads open in a cold spell is a serious business. Going against the mainstream is one way to stand out in a crowded, snow-covered, field.
So how do you come up with a name for your business? The Onym website has some great resources for generating names as well as a monthly newsletter on names and rebranding. The podcast Start Up, from Gimlet Media has an episode exploring how they came to be called Gimlet along with the names they rejected. Part of the reason I’ve been so preoccupied with names lately is because I’m helping client to come up with a name for her brand. I love naming things, I don’t have kids or pets* so helping companies come up with names might be the only chance I have to have dominion over the world. I wonder if she’d go for “Meadhbh Junior,” or “Meadhbhy McMeadhbhface”?
*I plan to get a dog some day and call her Countess Barkievicz