Words on Words on Words: Naming

Words on Words on Words: Naming

On Captain Vancouver’s voyage up the Inside Passage, he mapped the area as he travelled. Which means he had a lot of naming to do. He named the first big island after himself. He sprinkled in some benefactors, a few significant naval names, and quickly runs out of steam. Every eddy, whirlpool, inlet, and straight are a role call of the people onboard the ship and, seemingly, everyone he has ever known.

How we generate names is important. Most people don’t do it very often. They have a family name they like, something from a book, an important memory. But if, like Captain Vancouver, they have to name lots of things, they would be in trouble.

That is our – Bullhorn’s – task. We name companies, products, services.


First, we listen. What are your aspirations for your organization? How will our project help? We emerge with a set of Goals and Brand Tones. This guides decisions that follow in our naming process.


We surround ourselves with language. And I don’t mean crossword puzzles. We try to find who is using language in interesting ways. We also look at what the organization’s customer interacts with. We look at the language of the industry we are working in. Quickly, we build a list of clichés to avoid. We also build a list of metaphors that illuminate what our client is trying to accomplish.


Next, we assemble a spreadsheet. We divide options by type. We concentrate on certain categories depending on the Goals we’ve established. For example, an affixed name (like Spotify and Napster) probably will not work for an established business.

Let Loose

This is probably the stage most people imagine when thinking of this process. We write down lots of words. Lists based on topics. Lists of free associations. We try unusual combinations. We look for synonyms, antonyms. We look for uncommon words. We push metaphors to breaking. We reacquaint ourselves with Latin. This is the Beautiful Mind moment.

Get Real

From the Goals and Brand Tones, we establish a criteria matrix. There are some basic ones like availability of name in sector, availability of reasonable URL. Most clients need the name to be easily readable and confidently pronounceable. Though, many companies ignore this. We consider what other associations a name might have. We throw all the names on the table, and ask everyone at Bullhorn to yell out what immediately comes to mind with each. It gets pretty wild.

The result is a group of names that are targeted for you. How we present them depends on the client, but we preface them all with our journey. How we got there, where they come from. By the time we’re done, we want the client to be as in love with the name as we are. To know the name as well as we do. Because we spend so much time with them, we feel real affection for them. And the process can break hearts. Those cut from the pack are mourned. But the final contender is championed, a source of real pride.