How to Pick a Name: Tips, Taxonomy and Brainstorming Process for Naming

by Crystal Paradis

A name brainstorming session is one of my favorite types of collaborative meetings to participate in. In my previous role at a marketing agency, clients would often ask to us to name their new brand, company or website — and sometimes an established brand would need to name a new campaign, blog or product.

I was happy to get an exciting nomenclature refresher and expanded name brainstorming toolkit at the last #DigitalPorts. The secret sauce my process had missing? Taxonomy.

For the uninitiated, #DigitalPorts, or Digital Portsmouth, is a quarterly event that is part of the Innovation & Leadership series at The Music Hall Loft, co-curated by The Music Hall’s Monte Bohanan and Alpha Loft‘s Joshua Cyr. Its topics cover various digital disciplines, including tips and advice for marketing, startup, business professionals and overall geeks, as well as a lively networking hour.

January 2016’s theme was “The Art of Copywriting.” I was one of three speakers at this event (you can find a recap of my portion of the event here), and we all shared on topics related to copywriting.

Anna Goldsmith of The Hired Pens, was the first speaker of the evening, and she was talking all about naming as she presented “The Art of Nomenclature.” She started strong by showing some humorous examples of naming gone wrong, just to remind us of how important a name can be:

Categories of Names: a Taxonomy Lesson

My biggest takeaway from Anna was how she broke down these four main categories of names: Functional, Experiential, Invented and Evocative.


Edited to fix for blocked edge of screen

As you can see in her slide pictured (cut off just slightly by my angle from the speakers table, sorry!), the examples for each category are:

  • Functional: Martha Stewart Living, InfoSeek
  • Experiential: Explorer, Palm Pilot
  • Invented: Oreo, Kleenex
  • Evocative: Apple, Virgin

I’ve done a lot of name brainstorming, and often have used various “buckets” or categories to help that process, especially once types emerge. But this four-category taxonomy was superior to the one I’d been using previously. I was excited to add this tip to my brainstorming process.

Competitor Analysis and Taxonomy Mapping

These four categories are also used by a naming company named Igor. On their website, they have a really helpful chart of competitor research using this taxonomy. Their example uses competitive analysis of juice brands.

name brainstorming - competitor research

They even have a blank name taxonomy that you can print and fill out for your industry. Pretty handy.

Name Brainstorming Bonus Tip: Embrace the Pun — Even If You Don’t Use It

A great name might be straightforward or clever — but a working knowledge of puns always helps, even if you’re not going for the overly-clever name. Puns are all about word associations.

These are fun projects for anyone involved, and since I’m a HUGE fan of puns, a name brainstorming exercise with puns is right up my alley.

Personal Pre-Name Brainstorming Process

My personal name brainstorming process has evolved over time, and I’ve found it really helpful to go this exercise before a bigger name brainstorming meeting. I’ve noted in dark red text where this new #DigitalPorts expertise from Anna has really upped my name brainstorming game.

  • Free-write
  • Review meeting notes for phrases/direction from client to guide process/keep in mind
  • Brainstorm potential examples to fit the categories: Functional, Invented, Experiential, Evocative
  • Google relevant terms/phrases and relevant industry blogs to see what current trends are/what they’re talking about.
  • Competitor research through Google
  • Competitor research from list provided by client
  • Competitor analysis — where do they fit into these four categories?
  • Use thesaurus/RhymeZone/WordHippo on favorite words/phrases to shake loose additional ideas
  • Review, categorize, flesh out categories that are lacking
  • Send for input/review (rinse & repeat based on feedback)

This process really sets me up for success when I walk into a name brainstorming meeting. Coming with a bunch of viable options to throw around and discuss is key.

Group Name Brainstorming Meeting

The group name brainstorm is usually where the real magic happens. It’s key to get a few people from very different specialties or backgrounds to attend. Get the creative thinkers, the punsters and the ones who love embracing new challenges. At my previous agency, we often had up to 10 people in the room at once, and everyone left their internal filters at the door.

If you’re the one facilitating the event, willingness to be the one to voice “bad” ideas, or ideas that you know will sound silly, is a really important role.This is something that I learned from my former boss: make the decision to be “that person” up front and you’ll make the whole room feel better about letting their filter go. Be sure to remind everyone that sometimes it’s the bad ideas that spark the great ones.

Have name brainstorming tips to share? Leave them in the comments. And thank you to Anna at The Hired Pens for your expertise, and to Igor for the handy taxonomy matrix.

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