What’s in a name?

posted in: about words | 0

Shakespeare tells us ‘that which we call a rose| By any other name would smell as sweet’, but while many know the snippet of the speech, its wider context shows that Shakespeare (speaking through Juliet in this instance) knew that what you call something has a bearing on how you react to it, with the inference that you’d not react the same way to a rose if it was called a snigglewhumper.

Juliet is bemoaning the fact that Romeo is called Romeo Montague, because she knows that, as a Capulet, she will never be allowed to associate with him.

Romeo tries to tell her ‘My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself,| because it is an enemy to thee’, and offers to get rid of it.  However his name, her name, and the associations of both, create the problems that beset the star-crossed lovers for the remainder of the play.


I’ve had personal experience of this, recently.  Did you see in the news about Storm Hannah a few weeks back?  Me too! I’ve never had a storm associated with my name before, and initially I sent a message to my husband to say ‘I have a storm!’

He immediately went onto Facebook to make some comments about wind over the weekend, which our friends found terribly amusing – and the jokes continued for several days.  What a nice bunch!


So, how do you choose a name for something?

There is a science behind this, and a huge amount of thought goes into naming products for big corporations. There are focus groups, and consultants, and the still get it wrong sometimes.  Just in the world of cars, the Fiat Uno (‘uno’ meaning ‘one’ in Italian) seems innocuous, but ‘uno’ in Finnish means ‘fool’! And the Ford Kuga, where ‘kuga’ means the Black Death in Slovenian and Serbo Croatian – hmm, not the right connotations there!

There is a string of less polite mistakes, where the name of a vehicle, when exported into another language, means something rude, or distasteful, or which could be seen as an unpleasant commentary on the state of the car itself.  If you’re curious, I found an interesting article on a car website.


So, without the resources (or probably the international reach) of a car manufacturer, what should you do if you have a product to name?



Come up with a variety of possible names for your product.  Make it a long list. Get friends to help you, be creative, think about it from different perspectives, and from the standpoint of different demographic groups who might purchase it.



Google them all.  With mis-spellings.

You need to make sure that no-one already has something like that in your marketplace.  If you’re launching a thing called a widger, then the person who has been successfully selling widgets for many years could have a problem with you.

You also need to check that your name has no connotations that will be a death-knell to the product before it even leaves your premises. It would never occur to you to call something after, for example, Auschwitz, but if there’s a disaster or tragedy or serial killer or disease or something else horrible that sounds like your product, it won’t get very far.


Also, think about the feel of the word or words.  You don’t want something that sounds ‘old fashioned’ if you’re appealing to a hip young crowd, but ‘retro’ might work in a different marketplace.

Ditch any that don’t make the grade.



If what you’re naming is the business itself, or is going to be your primary product, have a look at how it translates into a URL. Run the words together and makes sure you’ve not got combinations that say something entirely different.

Choose Spain, a company that promotes Spanish products, has the URL choosespain.net, which could be misinterpreted to be ‘chooses pain’.

Cross off those on your list that fail this test.


Say it and write it

Say the different names, several times over.  Say them with your brand name, before and after to make sure that they flow together well, and don’t sound like something they shouldn’t.

Sam and Ella’s Pizza – just a shade too close to Salmonella for most people, I suspect!

Abbreviate, mispronounce, try different regional accents.


Share it

Show the remaining options to friends who’ve not seen previous versions, and get them to say them out loud.  Or say the names and get them to guess how you’ve spelled them.  An easy-to-say and easy-to-spell name will work better than one you’re everlastingly having to correct.  Ask them which they prefer. Set up a poll on Facebook perhaps…


Don’t try to be too clever

There has been a trend recently for putting numbers into words – Activ8, for example, and using deliberate mis-spellings – Xtra or Biznis. Be careful – what seems clever now could seem horribly outdated in a few years, or just look like you can’t spell.

And puns, like this one, are going to be memorable, for sure, but if they make your audience cringe, or open you up to infringement of copyright like this one might below, then maybe steer clear.


I appreciate that my own business name has a low-level pun in, but with my initials being HD, and that signifying High Definition, I really couldn’t pass up the opportunity to portray my skills as setting words into hi-def for your business, now could I?

HD Words logo, white on navy

And finally…

You might have a couple of suggestions left by this point – in which case, sleep on them.  If you haven’t any ideas left, still go to sleep.  Wait for inspiration to strike, and keep a notebook by the bed.


If your brain has just about turned into mashed potato by this point, and you have no ideas AT ALL, talk to a professional.  Find someone who works with words, either a copywriter, or someone in marketing, or if what you’re naming is a business, then a business consultant, and see what they can do for you.

Good luck!

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