How to Design the Perfect Name for Your Great Project (Website, Product, Company, and More)— Hello My Name is Awesome by Alexandra Watkins
Detailed book notes
About Hello My Name is Awesome
This short and sweet book is a gem when it comes to names. Watkins is the founder of a national naming firm (yes, there is such a thing) eatmywords.com, and has years of experience helping companies (like Disney, Microsoft, Wrigley) choose and change their names to something that people find memorable, likeable, and effective.
Hello My Name is Awesome uses two clever and easy to remember mnemonics to teach you not only how to choose the right name, but how to avoid common naming mistakes. Before you name your website, company, or product, give this book a read, you won’t regret it 😃
Many companies make mistakes with their name, creating easy-to-bungle names like Xobni, Eukanuba, Iams, Saucony, etc.
The following practical tips will help you create a name that voice recognition can spell correctly, using the SMILE & SCRATCH tests:
SMILE for a sticky name:
- Suggestive — evokes something related to your brand
- Meaningful — resonates with people
- Imagery — visually evocative
- Legs — has a theme for “extended mileage”
- Emotional — moving
SCRATCH the deadly names
- Spelling-challenged — typo lookalike
- Copycat — similar to others
- Restrictive — limits growth
- Annoying — forced-sounding or frustrating
- Tame — uninspired
- Curse of knowledge — only insiders understand
- Hard to pronounce — not obvious, hard to approach
Chapter 1 Smile — The 5 Qualities of a Super-Sticky Name
Names that make us smile are infectious
Ex: Gringo Lingo (Spanish school in Colombia), or Neato (robotic vacuum), or Church of Cupcakes
Rule of thumb: a name should make you SMILE instead of SCRATCH your head.
Suggestive — Evokes Something About Your Brand
A name can’t say everything, but it can say something about your brand.
Ex: Amazon suggests “enormous” (Amazon river, rainforest, etc)
Portmanteaus also work when they are intuitive, easy to spell, cleverly marry two words together: Groupon, Pictionary, Cinnabon, Pinterest.
Or words that evoke a positive experience: Twizzlers, Zappos, Jamba Juice (high energy, fun)
Think about your brand’s personality by writing a creative brief (see Ch. 4)
- Rugged, adventurous: SUV names like Expedition, Range Rover, Yukon
- Creative ad agencies: The Glue Society, Victors & Spoils, Captains of Industry
To evoke trust/credibility: add a strong secondary word (Global, Industries, Groups), like Neato →Neato Robotics
- Ninja (blender)
- Leaf (electric car)
- Brawny (paper towels)
Meaningful — Resonates with Your Audience
The name has to mean something to potential customers, not just you. You can’t explain your name to everyone, and they don’t always read your About page.
Norcal Waste Systems is a bad-sounding name. So they changed it to Recology (recycle + ecology) and the name is a source of pride now.
A meaningful long name is better than a meaningless short name.
Don’t name the company after yourself. Your name evokes nothing about expertise or personality. Don’t miss this opportunity by letting your ego get in the way.
(Unless your name lends itself to wordplay. Like Dawn Gluskin, coach, whose company is Dawnsense, or Steven Lord, consultant: Lord Knows!)
But consider what will happen if you sell your company (Shari Fitzpatrick of Shari’s Berries lost her company and now cringes that her name is associated with an inferior product)
Ex: the author helped an interior designer come up with the name “Paprika” tagline “spice up your space.” Which evokes her flair for color, has potential for wordplay, great imagery, and is a great conversation starter.
- Kryptonite (bike locks)
- Breakthrough (mental health site)
- Mayday (tech support)
Imagery — Visually Evocative to Aid in Memory
If you want to embed your product/company name, conjure up images. Ex: Bloom (energy drink) or Timberland (rugged outdoor gear), Target, Irish Spring, Leap Frog, etc.
Legs — Lends Itself to a Theme for Extended Mileage
Strong themes can extend to other aspects of your brand, including:
- job titles
- newsletter/ network/ server names
- email signoffs, etc
Ex: Lynette Hoy PR →Firetalker PR allows her to do things like:
- Tagline: hot on the press
- Official title: Fire chief
- Working location: The Firehouse
- Packages named: Inferno, Controlled Burn, Matchbox
Rich themes with lots of wordplay: space, exploration, nature, music, travel, art, food.
The right name creates a family. Think Apple with its iDevices. Or Trader Joes with its Trader Jose’s, Trader Giottos, Trader Joe-San, etc. Or Ben & Jerry has extended its family through personality (Chocolate Therapy, Karamel Sutra, Chunky Monkey)
You can also name product versions the way Android does: Cupcake, Donut, Froyo, Jelly Bean, etc. Or the way Ford does with the letter F: Festiva, Focus, Fusion, Fiesta. (If you want to do this thtough, choose an initial letter that has many words associated with it: SPCDMA, avoid KZX)
If you have a catchy name that makes people smile, you can put it on merchandise people will want because they love your name and want to show it off. (Ex: Church of Cupcakes has a shirt reading “Forgive me Father, for I have binged.”)
Emotional — Moves People
50% of every buying decision is driven by emotion (says Fast company).
Love at first sight names are hard to resist: 7 Deadly Zins (wine), Little Black Dress (fashion), Cat’s Pee on a Gooseberry Bush (wine).
Hotel Vitale in San Fran increased business when they changed their wedding service names to something fun, meaningful, and imagery-loaded:
- Rehearsal dinner →Meet the parents
- Co-ed bridal shower →Shower Together
- Post-Reception Bar Rental →Last Call for Alcohol, etc
Other emotional names:
- Obsession (fragrance)
- Snuggle (fabric softener)
- Pedigree (pet foods)
Chapter 2 Scratch — The 7 Deadly Sins
When you’re starting out, don’t give your name ANY disadvantages. If you need to help people spell, pronounce, or understand your name, you’re apologizing for it and devaluing your brand.
Unique is not always creative or good. Look at these examples: Atmosphir, Shwowp, Tweegee. Distinctive, but bad names.
When to scratch the name off your list:
Spelling Challenged — Not Spelled Like it Sounds
If Siri butchers your name, toss it. Non-intuitive spellings are not clever. Don’t just choose a mispelled word to get a domain name. It’s frustrating, embarrassing, and annoying.
Ex: Speesees was a baby clothes company that tried to spell “species” phonetically. Imagine having to repeat your email address over the phone multiple times a day. It also is a creepy name for a baby company, and rhymes with “feces.” Unsurprisingly, the company folded.
Don’t get cute with numbers because you’ll “4ever have 2 spell it out.” You want a name you can say “spell it like it sounds.”
Spelling challenged names: Svbtle, Twyxt, Houzz, Haagen-Dazs.
Copycat — Similar to a Competitor
Copycat names lack originality and ride on coattails, and open you up to trademark infringement. Ex: Pinkberry and its swirl design have been copycatted by Yoberry, Lemonberry, Yogiberry, Coolberry, etc.
Twitter has been copycatted by Yammer, Jabber, Chatter. They’re not original.
Other trends to avoid
- — monkey
- — rocket
- — daddy
- — .ly (looks sil.ly)
- i, e, or uAnything
- double o’s (Google and Yahoo have taken it over)
- fruit (Apple, Blackberry are too famous)
- Cloud (overused, superfluous)
- color + noun (color words sound dated)
Exception to the copycat rule: if you have unrelated brands (Dove chocolate and Dove soap are too disparate to bring each other up to customer’s minds.)
- Monster (energy drink, cable company)
- Ritz (crackers, hotels)
- Pandora (internet radio, jewelry)
Do avoid iconic names like Apple or Virgin.
Restrictive — Locks You In, Limits Growth
Canadian Tire doesn’t just sell tires, and what if it wants to move to the US? It would take millions of dollars in an ad campaign to educate people about what it really does.
Don’t use the same name for your product and company. Your company name should allow other product names. If you want to launch both simultaneously, launch the product first, so customers know what they’re buying.
- 99-cent only stores: outgrew the price
- 24-Hour fitness: aren’t always open 24 hours
- Burlington Coat Factory: don’t just sell coats
- 1–800-FLOWERS: doesn’t sell only flowers
Annoying — Forced, Frustrates Customers
Think about your name from a customer’s point of view. Avoid forced, random, grammatically incorrect names.
If you coin a new word, make sure it doesn’t sound unnatural, like Femfessionals, or like they’re full of chemicals like Activia, Enviga (exceptions: Nautica and Expedia sound pretty and are no-brainers for spelling).
Also be careful with trendy suffixes like Sprayology, Teaosophy, Perfumania, or anything with Nirvana — Teavana, Homevana, etc.
Be careful with these suffixes:
Also don’t pick a totally random, meaningless word like Qdoba, Magoosh, Zumper.
And beware bad grammar: Retail Me Not, Toys R Us, etc.
Initials also don’t make great names: NACKit! (made from names of the founders Nancy Andreotta and Colleen Kachele)
Tame — Flat, Descriptive, Uninspired
descriptive names require little imagination and don’t mentally stimulate us. They’re also predictable, and thus probably taken already. Ex: Cloud Net, Cloud Bus, Cloud 2.0, etc
Use descriptive names if your customers need to find info quickly and you have multiple choices: FedEx Priority Overnight, FedEx Ground, etc.
Tame name examples: DocuSign, Kmart, Network Solutions
Curse of Knowledge — Only Insiders Get It
Remember you are communicating with potential customers who are unfamiliar with your world.
See Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick* where the term “curse of knowledge” came from:
Ex: Salonpas is a pain relief patch whose name comes from methyl salicylate.
Avoid alphanumeric brain-benders/alphabet soup like M202, VS63, etc.
And make sure your name isn’t a problem in another foreign language.
Ex: Colgate’s toothpaste Cue had the same name as a French porn magazine. But usually this is not a big problem:
The story that Chevy Nova sold badly in Spanish-speaking countries because Nova means “doesn’t go” is not true.
And make sure to look up your name in Urban Dictionary if you’re marketing to youth/young adults, to avoid accidentally using street slang.
Hard to Pronounce — Not Obvious, Unapproachable
Many European fashion brands suffer from this. Avoid made-up names that are not intuitive to pronounse (Ex: Chewes)
Avoid all-caps as well, because people don’t know how to pronounce OPI, SAP, THX. As well as acronyms. Give the product a name and let the acronym be used internally (World of Warcraft →WOW)
Funny corporation story: Ford Motor Company created a team to compile an acronym reference book. It was called the Ford Acronym Review Team, aka FART.
Be careful with words with more than one pronunciation, like “eco” which can be pronounced “eeko” or “echo.” Ex: Ecover — “ee-cover?” “eck-over?” “ee-ko-ver?”
Don’t rely on letters in different colors to show people how to pronounce it. Search engine results don’t color code names.
And don’t spell things backwards, either (Ex: Aneres, Xobni)
Chapter 3 Domains — Strategies, Secrets, and Silliness
.ly is the domain extension for Libya.
Use common sense, don’t blindly follow trends.
Many big companies started off with imperfect domain names before becoming really successful (getdropbox.com, squareup.com, box.net, slideshare.net) then had to spend massive amounts of money to buy the exact domain. Thefacebook.com paid $200K in 1995 for facebook.com. Flickr eventually had to buy flicker.com too.
Strategies to Get a Good Domain Name for $9.95
Here are 3 strategies you can use for your website:
Strategy #1: Add another descriptive word or two
Ex: Bliss-world.com, because bliss.com was taken. Fireworkscandles.com could work if fireworks.com is taken. Or try fireworksshop, fireworksstore, buyfireworks.
You can add a verb in front of your name or end with a word. Here are some possible words to use:
Buy, drink, drive, eat, enjoy, get, go, my, the, try, shop, WeAre, your, app, co, global, group, inc, online, store, tech
Strategy #2: Use a Creative Phrase
This can reinforce your brand, aid SEO, make people smile.
Ex: frozen yogurt store Rehab’s URL is GetMeToRehab.com. Or peanut Butter & Co’s URL ILovePeanutButter.com, where Peanutbutterandco.com redirects to it.
Strategy #3 Get a .net or .biz extension
.com is best for business, but the others are okay too, just like we transitioned from 800 numbers to 888 numbers. People don’t care.
5 Domain Name Secrets
- Not all names are taken
- Make a lowball offer if your dream name is parked or listed for sale
- Buy the misspellings and have them redirect to your correct url
- URLs don’t need keywords. Google no longer favors keyword rich urls.
- Longer names are OK, if they’re descriptive, easily comprehended and more memorable
5 Silly Ideas to Steer Clear of
- Creative spellings (Ex: Takkle, Flickr, Speesees)
- Don’t use obscure domain extensions like .ly, .us
- Don’t use a .org for a for-profit business, it’s not ethical
- Don’t mistake a domain name for a trademark. If you plan to trademark, investigate if it’s available first.
- Make sure the words mashed together don’t produce a SLURL (slur + URL) like PlentyOfFish →PlentyOffish or MoleStationNursery →MolestationNursery
Chapter 4 Creative Brief — Your Brand Name Road Map
Before you start brainstorming names, you need a creative brief to define what your brand is and what you want your name to communicate, including:
- Company/product history
- target audience
- consumer insights
- brand positioning
- competitor names
- words to avoid or explore, etc
What to put in your creative brief:
- Goal: what do you want to accomplish? Eg: Create snacks that are better for you and the earth.
- In a nusthell: sum up your business in 140 characters or less. Eg: Cartwheel Kitchens creates healthy snacks that appeal to parents and kids.
- Brand positioning: how do you want the brand to be positioned in the marketplace? Eg: Cartwheel Kitchens is for moms seeking healthy snacks for young kids.
- Consumer insights: people’s behaviors (not preferences). Eg: If you’re a tea company, don’t just think about what people like about tea, but what circumstances make them enjoy their tea. With Cartwheel Kitchens, consider that kids don’t like things that sound healthy.
- Competition: list your competitors so you know what you’re up against and to steer clear of similar names.
- Desired brand experience: You want the brand to evoke positive feelings like “I’ll feel better,” “this is fun” etc. “Customers will think___”
- Brand personality: come up with 5–12 adjectives: Think of your brand as a person and pick words. Ex: likable, lighthearted, kid-friendly, modern, playful, smart, approachable, healthy, fresh
- Words to explore: what words might you like to have in your name?
- Ideas to avoid: animals, acronyms, etc
- Domain name modifiers that you could add to secure a domain name that is not too expensive or unavailable.
- Name style likes and dislikes: list 5 brand names you like the style of (or not) and why.
- Acid test for using the name: NAME HERE does … Ex: Cartwheel Kitchens makes wholesome healthy snacks kids love because they are tasty and have fun shapes and flavors.
Chapter 5 Brainstorming — How to Be an Idea Machine
The optimal brainstorming situation: 1 person, in front of your computer witih the internet. You never know where a good idea can come from.
Open your mind and let it look up words, phrases, images.
Write down all your name ideas, even the ones that don’t feel right.
Keep your creative brief ready.
Warm up with 12 word sparks. Write down words related to the brand or brand experience (you get this from your creative brief) Ex. For a froyo brand: cold, eat, sweet, skinny, cool, yummy, treat, yo, etc. Now take each of these words and put it through these tests:
- Use a thesaurus website: Cold →Wintry, chill, arctic, polar, shivery
- Do image searches by typing in target words into images.google.com or on a stock photo website
- Look up glossaries of lingo. Eg: snowboarding lingo: chatter, shreddin the gnar, etc.
- Look up idioms, phrases, etc in dictionaries
- Sometimes cliches are good: Ex Stone Cold Sober is funny.
- Keep exploring your key words on Google.
Ex: For “cold” try “coldest places on earth” and you may get words like Antarctica and Siberia. Look up movie titles or book titles with the keyword “eg: cold movies” “cold books” Book titlese can’t be trademarked.
Try your keyword in music, iTunes, for instance. (Coldplay? etc)
- Pop culture references are good too. Ex: Eat My Dust janitorial company.
You can also check out online brainstorming tools:
Chapter 6 Name Review — 12 Rules for Building Consensus
- Have people review names independently, not in a group
- Don’t ask “do I like it?” but “is it right?” (more objective, less personal bias)
- Avoid negative comments
- A name can’t say EVERYTHING, just hint at something or highlight an experience
- It’s easier to review names in print than online
- Don’t share your list with outsiders and ask them to vote, it shows a lack of confidence. You are the expert on your brand, not them.
- Remember your name will appear in a logo or in your sales materials. Imagine the name on your name badge, site, business card, products.
- Don’t be afraid to be different.
- Avoid looking up domain names early in the process. Don’t eliminate pure domain .com names because you could add a modifier word
- Choose 10 names from the list
- Expect 30–50% of your names to have conflicts. The hipper the industry, the harder to trademark a cool name.
- Have fun! Find a concensus on the top 5 names, check trademarks, and go.
Don’t use focus groups. They water down name choices to what’s safe instead of what’s strong. Focus groups would have killed names like Skinny Cow, Banana Republic, Spoon Me, etc.
Chapter 7 Name Changes — Pros and Cons
It’s never too late to change your name, especially in today’s world with the internet.
Pros of changing: You can refresh your brand and have a great reason to get in touch with past and current customers to tell them about your new name
Cons: it may be hard to reprint material, or you may be emotionally attached to your name.
Be careful not to let your brand get mixed up with other brands. You don’t want people to get the wrong idea when they Google search you.
Designing a professional logo can add life and credibility to your name. you get what you pay for. Consider colors, typography, etc. for your website and app, social media, packaging, business cards, etc.
Strong visual branding builds buzz.