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Think Up Names and Grow Rich: Business Naming Lessons from Napoleon Hill

by Marcia Yudkin

Many years ago, pioneering self-help author Napoleon Hill was struggling to name his forthcoming book. It was all set to go except that both he and the publisher were not satisfied with their working title, The Thirteen Steps to Riches. Hill had thought up more than 500 other titles, none of they liked any better. 

Finally the publisher, losing patience, called Hill and said, "If you can't think of anything better by tomorrow, I'm going to call it Use Your Noodle and Get the Boodle." Napoleon Hill hated that flippant title and went to bed determined to have a better title by the next day.

At two o'clock in the morning, he awakened knowing that he had it: Think and Grow Rich. He called the publisher, who agreed immediately that this was the million-dollar title they had both been aiming for. Since its first publication in 1937, Hillís masterwork has sold more than 60 million copies worldwide. We can only speculate how many copies Use Your Noodle and Get the Boodle might have sold!

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Brainstorm a Better Book Title
Brainstorm a Better Book Title

This story illustrates four important points about the process of naming.

1)Very often it takes loads of brainstorming before landing on the name that fully fits the bill. Inexperienced namers frequently stop too soon, before the best ideas come into view. When you are working on the creation of a name, jot down every idea and every fragment of an idea. Keep going, in several distinct sessions if necessary, until you have at least 100 possibilities in your notes.

2)Bringing other people into the naming process is productive, because everyone's mind works in different directions. Hill would never have thought up Use Your Noodle and Get the Boodle on his own. Some people I know have gotten terrific name ideas from small children, janitors, colleagues and friends in a completely different line of work.

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3)Horrible ideas may lead to great ones. Do you see the remarkable resemblance between the publisher's awful title and Hill's final, great one? Donít censor yourself as you are brainstorming. Write down even the ideas that are clearly totally unsuitable. If you get stuck, look over all the ideas generated so far and let them suggest additional possibilities. Consider whether the names that make everyone wince might have a kernel of creativity in them that you can tweak.

4)You need to know how to recognize the name that fits exactly what you are looking for. Hill wanted something elegantly simple, suggestive and dignified. His winner combined four common, one-syllable words in a phrase that continues to resonate and sell today. When my company generates names for clients, we spend a lot of effort to learn their goals and preferences so we can draw up a list of criteria for the naming project. So should you, so you can recognize your winner. Without a list of criteria, you are in the position of waiting for a thunderbolt from heaven that may never come. 

Use these guidelines to produce a boatload of possibilities and select the one that best gets the job done.

May you think up a one-in-a-million name Ė and see it make you a millionaire many times over!

Copyright 2011 Marcia Yudkin.  All rights reserved.

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Online Courses to Consider

Brainstorming a Better Book Title

Renaming Your Business

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