When to play the name game

Naming things is fun. It’s a science and an art all at once. And we love helping our clients name all sorts of things: products, processes, services, you name it (or rather, we name it). It’s rare that naming is a one-off – typically, organizations are building their own naming ecosystems that customers recognize as clearly as they do the brand’s tone of voice or visual marketing schemes (iPod, iPhone, iMac, iGetItNow).

But clients struggle to come up with names that fit within their brand’s naming conventions – especially if they’ve got a lot of other named products out in the wild. They also struggle with the urge to give something a name when it simply doesn’t need one. And that’s time, energy, and money you can save for other things. So here’s our list of questions to cover before you send in that name request.

These (three) are the questions

Knowing when not to name might sound like a philosophical endeavour. But it’s the kind of thing that keeps your webpages and social media from looking like a jumble of randomized capitalization. And we’ve got three quick q’s to keep you on track.

When you’re thinking of naming something, first ask:

  1. Is it something that we might invest in promoting? – Because if it is, you’ll likely want to trademark it, give it an official roll-out, and invest in it as an advertising team. And that’s a sign that you’re naming something in an area that your organization doesn’t already have a stake in.

If yes, you’ll then want to consider:

  1. Is it something that people will be able to interact with? – That might mean a service to sign up for, something to purchase, or otherwise opt-in to. If not, it’s probably small enough not to need a whole new name.

And finally:

  1. Is it a standalone offering, not just a feature or something else? ­– If it’s attached to another existing service or product, that’s another indicator that it isn’t big enough to merit its own name. You might just give it a modified name based on whatever larger service it’s attached to.

A naming system for your naming systems

Those three questions aren’t the end-all-be-all of deciding how and when to name. There will always be exceptions to the rule – but having a rule to begin with is key.

So here’s some ideas of what your organization might do internally to create a standardized way to answer the question: to name or not to name?

  • Nail down naming guidelines. If you haven’t got these already, make sure you put together guidelines for how, when, and why things are named. Getting these down onto paper will help make sure the whole team is on the same page.
  • Create a decision tree. Just like a flow chart, put together a decision tree populated with questions to help your teams decide. Start questions at the macro level, and flow down with Yes/No answers to the very end.
  • Training teams on guidelines and the decision tree. Because having them is one thing, but making sure everyone understands them and uses them is something very different – and just as important.

At the end of the day, knowing when to name and when not to is as big of a job as picking the right name.

The good news? We’re here to help with it all – from naming guidelines to training and, of course, the naming itself. Next time you’re noodling on names, give us a shout. Let’s break some OED rules together.