I've been hard at work puzzling over the name-to-be of TOP's photo book publishing company, so names and naming have been much on my mind.
A good name needs to be distinctive, easy to remember (at least after you've "got it"—that is, after it's set in your mind), and—crucially these days—readily searchable. I've complained in the past about not being able to search for the last Zeiss/Cosina rangefinder, the Zeiss Ikon (see the discussion of "the first flaw" in this post—that problem has gotten better with the passage of time, however), and I'm having similar problems with Canon's IS primes...the "IS" bit is not sufficiently distinctive to keep noise out of the search results. I actually quite approve of "Touit," on the other hand. If you search "Touit lens" you'll see why—very clean search results. "Touit" might sound dumb the first time you hear it, but it's actually a name, and it works the way a name should—to readily distinguish what it's attached to from other similar things.
Two bland words doth not a name make
I came across a not-so-good name a few days ago: "Reality Construction." Difficult to remember, as "reality" is not a word anyone naturally or necessarily associates with construction; somewhat nonsensical, in that it's hardly necessary to make a distinction from unreal construction; and it's a plain English word, so the second part of the descriptor (or a near cousin) is absolutely necessary in order to Google it. So that business is depending on people to memorize not one but two words, one of which is not very memorable.
Probably the biggest problem for me is blandness. There's a company that deals in vinyl records that calls itself "Acoustic Sounds." That's not a name—it's two bland words that make up a bland description. Sure enough, I cannot remember it, even when I try...I've probably had to look up that company 100 times over the years. I now buy my records from "Music Direct," which for some reason I can remember the name of.
The names that annoy me the most are business that simply appropriate another name for themselves, and, in the process, often drag an honorable word thereby through the mud of their venal selfish affairs: a local appliance store, for example, is called "American." You can't legislate against that, but I hate it anyway. I'm not going to call my company Washington Publishing or Lincoln Books.
Most good names are not descriptive, either—which, I'm learning, is most peoples' first impulse when you ask them for suggestions. Think of all the photo-industry names that use some word from photo-technique, from Aperture magazine to Pixel Press. Good names become associated with whatever they're associated with—they earn the association, you might say. There is nothing descriptive or even distinctive about "Will Smith," but most people can't say those two words together without thinking of the actor and probably a few of his roles. The initials "BMW" contain nothing descriptive, but the associations are rich.
Descriptive names often involve claims, such as "Best Plumbing" or "Foremost Farms." Those always make me think, "says you." Claims can backfire: the tagline of Photo Techniques magazine is "The magazine for serious photographers," and at photo shows I probably heard the line "If I don't subscribe, does that mean I'm not serious?" a hundred times a day. Each time from someone who thought they were being very original, no doubt.
(One descriptive name I saw the other day on TV made me chuckle, though: it was an exterminator company, and it was called "Critter Gitters." A Google search shows it's not very original, though.)
The strategy that works best
I think the easiest way to make a name is to combine two familiar and easily-pronounced simple words in a way that no one usually combines them. A great many distinctive names are made up of such constituent parts. Watergate, for example, and...
...And I can't think of another one. My brain is just not good with names. I don't remember them, and I'm definintely not good at inventing them. In my attempts to write fiction, I often can't come up with fictional names without some effort, and the results are often pretty woeful. (Dickens was greatly inspired by the names of his characters, and reportedly couldn't begin a book until he felt he had the names right.)
Long story short, unless it's already too late for that: I'm 92% sure I've got the name for our book venture. Who knows if it's good or if people will like it; probably I won't even know until we publish our tenth book (knock on wood) and people begin to really associate the name with our products. It's been an arduous decision process. And unfortunately the buck stops with me. Everybody I ask has conflicting opinions. But I'm the one who has to decide, in the end.
I'll announce the new company and its name soon, after I've filed for the trademark.
"Open Mike" is the editorial page of TOP, in which Yr. Hmbl. Ed. maunders on about something even more vague than usual. It appears on Sundays.
Original contents copyright 2013 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
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Featured Comments from:
Phil Maus (partial comment): "I've given a lot of thought to the very dilemma you're facing now. Here's just one thought, by no means original, but something that's occurred to me in the internet age of naming businesses: Go to GoDaddy, 1&1, or any other of the multitude of domain name registrars that feature a 'Find your new domain name' search box and begin brainstorming with your keyboard."
Mike replies: Yes, absolutely necessary, and I am doing that.
Steve: "I've always liked names from local places: your suburb, a nearby river or hill, there's nothing like location to add richness to a name."
Mike replies: A good idea and a nice idea, but many placenames locally have unpronounceable native-American-derived names (they are often not authentic, just knockoffs or close cousins of actual Indian words). I considered Fox River Books—the Fox River runs through the middle of our town, and it's an elegant name—but Fox River is already used as a tradename by a large financial services company I wouldn't want to get into a tussle with, and "Fox River" results in 134 million hits in a Google search.
You can see how hard this is.
"Waukesha"—the name of my town—is a superb name from a search standpoint, as it's the only town in the world with that name (compare with "Springfield" for contrast). But I know for a fact, from talking to many operators and customer services reps from all over the world on the phone, that not very many people can pronounce it—there's even disagreement among the residents of the town as to how to pronounce it! So you can see the limitations there.
Roger: "I'm thinking you should follow the lead of all of the small companies that strove to be first in the Yellow Pages for their particular industry. So...AAAardvark Books it is."
Steve Jacob: "TOP Photo Books?"
Mike replies: Just Google it, and you'll see why it's a bad idea. More than two billion hits.