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Dream Job: Naming Things

by - 06 June

“Namer.” Yes, this is a real job. This is what Anthony Shore is doing for a living for the last 25 years. Shore had named everything from companies to products to websites to ingredients to colors. He was responsible for more than 160 distinct names. 
According to NYT  today roughly 500,000 businesses open each month in the United States, and every one needs a name. And the big firms pay $50,000 to $100,00 per name.

I talked to Anthony to find what's like to be a good "namer".

Anthony, in your Twitter account you have defined your job as: “I name things”. What kind of job is that? 
It’s simple really: I give products and companies names. There are projects that require something more than just a name, such as brand strategy or a tagline. My firm, Operative Words, does those things, too.

Why do we need namers like you? Aren’t the CEOs who name their companies and their products? 

CEOs and other company founders indeed name their companies - Amazon, Apple, Yahoo, for example. And those are great names. But naming is a special expertise that benefits from a background in marketing, linguistics, design, business, creativity, trademark law and communications. So a company could name itself or its products, but the odds of success are greater working with someone who has specialized in that for over 20 years.

Do you invent names only for companies and products?
That’s where the greatest needs are, but they are not the only needs. Recently, I was engaged to help with political-related naming. I haven't yet been invited to name a planet or species, but would welcome the opportunity.

What are the most known brand’s or product’s names you have invented?
A new company called Jaunt has been getting a lot of attention for their “cinematic virtual reality” lately. My naming work for them was featured recently in The New York Time Magazine. I named a breakthrough camera called the Lytro that has established the category of “light field cameras.” While at branding agency, Landor Associates, years ago, I named the company that owns Pizza Hut and KFC called Yum Brands many years ago.

Which one do you consider as your biggest success?
There is no one biggest success. Every project where the client enjoys marketplace success following my naming I consider a success.

How much does it cost to invent a name for a company?
Pricing scales based on the size of the client, their industry, the difficulty of the assignment, the specific project scope and the value of the name to the client. For example, a company name is more valuable to a company than naming a feature within one of their products.

How much time does it take to invent a new name?
Typically, about 5 to 6 weeks.

What was the most difficult name you invented? The funniest?
I’d say the most challenging assignment I have worked on was helping rename Andersen Consulting to Accenture. I did not create the name Accenture — one of their consultants did — though I did select it from a list of thousands of name candidates as strong option. What made the assignment challenging was (1) very tight timing for a name that had to be available in many trademark categories across the world and (2) it was a very public name change in that a judge decreed the existing name, Andersen Consulting, had to change as part of an agreement with their parent company, Andersen Worldwide. The entire world was watching and waiting for the name change to be announced. Lots of pressure!
My funniest name is Run Brain Run, a company that organizes team-building meetings for companies and conducts “urban hunts,” which are games that teams of people play in cities (such as Portland, Oregon) which require solving clues to find hidden objects. The name suggests someone actively urging their own or a teammate’s brain to think and solve faster in order to compete and win. Other funny names I have developed are Laughing Glass Cocktails, Flying Spoon restaurant, and Suddenly…Concierge (a service that provides mobile concierge services in select cities).

How do you convince customers that the name you invented is the best one for them?
I help clients see the potential in the name; what the name can do for them; how it can support and inspire their strategy, identity, messaging and communications. The ability to help tell the story of the name and help clients see what their future will look like with a specific name is vital to elevating the name from a word on a page to a potential brand.

What does it take to be a good namer? Is it a question of rich imagination and fantasy?
The ability to create names takes imagination and creativity, but also the ability to see one company or product from many different perspectives. It’s helpful to have “sprachegefuhl,” a feeling for language. I have personally found my background in generative linguistics to be very useful at creating many names with different styles of expression.

What’s the feeling to invent new words that don’t exist?
The ability to invent new words is a skill that benefits from linguistic knowledge. Any monkey can mash on a keyboard and come up with a string of letters. But the challenge is to create new words that feel like they are existing words because they are “linguistically natural.”
Some names I have developed that are new words are Wanderful Storybooks, Lytro, Aviat Networks, Zact Mobile, Poptism, and Avaya.

Where does your love for words come from?
My love for words extends as far back as I can remember. The dictionary was my favorite book as a child. My parents encouraged me greatly and both had a love for wit. My mother, in particular, was a writer and editor.

What’s the meaning of a good name?
A good name:
- Evokes images and memories
 - Sounds pleasing and reinforces the desired attributes and connotations of the brand
- Is available for a company’s use legally
- Inspires a company’s identity, messaging and communications
 - Provides a springboard for the brand strategy

If you could change the names of some words what would they be?
I am crazy about the word “webinar.” It makes my skin crawl.

Do you know the meaning of your name and its origin?
I was named by my parents after Antony, of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. But the name Anthony itself likely comes from the Etruscan language. St. Anthony was the patron saint of swineherds and the word Anthony means “smallest pig of the litter.” Humbling and hilarious!

In your blog you said names are a mirror. Are people’s names also a mirror and how do you think they affect our life?
All names, indeed all words, are like a mirror in that they come to reflect the thing they signify. Our feelings about names change based on our own experiences with a person. If we have good experiences with a person, we will like their name better. People names and brand names will become tarnished if our experiences are negative. People also may suffer a bias based on associations with a type of name. For example, it has been researched that, in America, people whose names are associated with certain ethnicity may suffer prejudice just by virtue of their name. This may make it difficult for some people to get a job because, no matter their experience, the name on their resume may bias a recruiter against them. It is a sad, but powerful, reminder of how names can influence perception.

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