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Forget Those Free Company Name Generators! Here Are 10 Great Naming Techniques They Overlook

by Marcia Yudkin

Type "business name generator" into a search engine and you’ll discover a number of online tools that purport to help you come up with a catchy new company name. Use these automated tools, though, and you’ll find yourself lulled into a very limited set of naming options. 

They’re excellent at combining two words into one or suggesting a second word for your one, then checking with just a click to see which domains are available. However, they offer just a fraction of the name possibilities that a human being can make up. And the human-generated options can be far fresher and more fitting than the computer-generated ones.

As proof, here are ten naming techniques humans can use that computers cannot.

Ten Naming Techniques Overlooked by Automated Generating Tools 

1. Syllable Substitution. A clever naming method takes a known word and transforms it into a cute made-up word with a very different meaning by changing one syllable in it. For instance, we have the word "quintessence," which we can modify into a sparkling name for financial software, Quantessence. Similarly, if we’re naming a deli that serves Jewish specialties, we can take the Yiddish "nosh" (which means "to snack") and get Internoshional House. Such names are way beyond the reach of automated name generators.

2. Spelling Variants. Some years back, a search engine called Backrub was looking for a name implying multitudinous, nearly infinite search results. Name generation software contains only a minuscule percentage of the estimated half-million words recognized in the English language, and of those it "knows," it can’t meaningfully play around with the language. Thus it would never have come up with Google, a misspelling of the obscure word "googol," which means a 1 followed by 100 zeroes. Backrub renamed itself Google and hurtled into Internet history.

3. Fractured Sayings. Another highly recommended technique for generating interesting company or product names is listing popular sayings related to the subject matter and tweaking them. For naming financial software, we’d list the word "figures," which might prompt the saying, "It figures." Modifying that slightly, we’d get It All Figures for the name of the software. Ironically, software itself wouldn’t give us that solution.

4. Literary Allusions. Starbucks, the coffee chain, was named after the first mate of the Pequod in the novel Moby Dick. Likewise, anyone who’s ever read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby would smile hearing about an oceanside café called The Light at the End of the Dock. Yet never in a million years would either of these names come up in a computerized name generation session.

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5. Pop Culture Allusions. As long as they’re not trademarked, references to elements of popular culture like songs, games, sports, TV, clothing styles, and so on can serve as sources for names. Thus we have a brilliant name for a simplified cell phone that’s perfect for the over-60 set: Jitterbug. This name could never have been generated from giving keywords like "cell phone," "simple" and "seniors" to a software program. 

6. Historical Allusions. Consider John Hancock Insurance, Franklin Mortgage, Knickerbocker Trust Company and Alexander Hamilton Life, all in the general field of financial services. You need a knowledge of history to understand why those names inspire trust and, for instance, Benedict Arnold Bonds would be a disastrous choice.

7. Puns. Take a look at the creativity compressed into these names: The Lawnranger (garden services), Aquaholics (a dive shop), Melon Cauli (a greengrocer), The Vinyl Resting Place (a record shop), Sew ‘n Sews (tailor shop) and Fleurtations (florist), which all placed as winners or runners up in company name contests run by the Yell Group in the UK. If computers could generate such names, they wouldn’t be running such contests!

8. Nicknames. Automated name generators don’t ask you questions like, "What was your childhood nickname?" And that’s why they’d never come up with Kinko’s, which was company founder Paul Orfalea’s nickname, because of his kinky hair. Ditto for the FatBoy Cookie Company, whose owner was called FatBoy as a kid.

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9. Complete Fabrications. Random combinations of letters give us weird names that look and sound like computer-generated names. But I haven’t seen a name generator program that can spit out only unique names that can actually be pronounced by humans. Entrepreneur Rick Raddatz wanted a name for his business software conglomerate that had not yet showed up in Google, and he selected Xiosoft.

10. Slang. No Malarkey is the name of a web design company in Scotland that implies they give you the straight stuff. Dead Tree Publishing is even more tongue in cheek, implying an affectionate relationship with the medium of print. NinetoFivers Productions is a film company that implies business-related content. All of these use slang in ways that go beyond what computers can spit out in a search.

As you can tell, I’m a big fan of human creativity in naming. For a slam-dunk, out-of-the-park company name or product name, you should be, too.

Copyright 2010 Marcia Yudkin.  All rights reserved.

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