“A name pronounced is the recognition of the individual to whom it belongs. He who can pronounce my name aright, he can call me, and is entitled to my love and service.”

— Henry David Thoreau.

I am ok with names. I use all the tricks, repeat them as often I can, try and associate something strange and memorable with them . All that stuff.

I am not perfect though. Far from it. Weirdly, I can forget names of people I know really well and I have no idea why and I get names mixed up. There is one person, the wife of a mate, whose name always eludes me. I am fearful when I meet her that I will have to say her name before someone else has done so within earshot; ‘Oh hello Julie, nice to meet you’, that’s is not her name by the way, just in case she is reading. I have known her 20 years.

I can’t relax until I know the name of the person I am speaking to, especially if I am delving deep in the recesses of my mind, trying to dig it up. They may be telling me something deeply personal; ‘Oh Gary, I have to tell you, I finished that book I have been writing for 20 years, but my wife ran off with the gardener who I based the book on, and she took all my money, what am I to do?’ And all the while I am trying to remember his name; Alex, Alan or Alf? It’s so obvious when you forget.

I may be particularly sensitive to getting names wrong but, let’s face it, a person’s name is the greatest connection to their own identity and individuality. Remembering is obviously a sign of recognition, probably that you like them and that they are significant and important to you. Getting it wrong isn’t so clever; you feel slightly slighted, unimportant, bland. I have been called all sorts of names in the past by people who know me. My favourite was one fella who decided that my name was Barry. No matter how many times I corrected him, I was Barry to him. Funny, I have forgotten his name.

Many argue that our name is the most important word in the world to an individual. Research has proven that ‘our brains become ecstatic when we hear our name drawing our attention immediately to the sound. ’

“A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

– Dale Carnegie. How to Win Friends and Influence People

Naturally, brands want to harness this power. We all know that personalisation is desired by many consumers. There are loads of facts about this, the one I read recently in The Times stated that 70% of people expect a personalised service when they walk in the door. Also, the sense of belonging that using a first name can evoke is also something that many brands aspire to. Getting it right, and using the technique has obvious commercial benefits which are common the world over.

Starbucks do it on the grand scale and they sometimes get it wrong. Joyfully, I have been Harry and Larry and once, wonderfully, Mary, but it still feels great when your name is shouted out. By the way, I am not surprised they write it down wrongly. It’s normally very noisy in a coffee shop, especially in London and ‘Gary’ is such an unmemorable, wishy-washy sort of a name. I have often wondered if having loads of nicknames; Gaz, Gazza, Gazmondo, Moff, Mossy, Sterling and the current favourite; ‘Moose’ has something to do with having such a cr*ap first name. Anyway, back to the examples.

Back home in the West Country for a short break in Lyme Regis, my happy place, I went to my favourite café every day. It’s right on the beach, so near the sea that you can skim pebbles from the serving hatch. It’s called ‘The Kiosk’. You order your coffee; they ask your name and then you sit on a deck chair looking out to sea while they make it. What could be better? You can keep your Seychelles, nothing beats this. It takes ages to make the coffee but when its ready they call your name and they bring it to you. I don’t care about the wait and, even though I am only there for a few days, it makes me feel good and as though I belong. Quite a feat.

‘People will forget what you said, they will forget what did. But they will never

forget how you made them feel’

– Maya Angelou

Interestingly, some brands have been jumping on the appeal of first names and calling themselves Tom, Dick or Harry. Just a quick think reveals some of these; Dave, Harry’s, TED and, one of our own, the launch coaster ride ‘RITA’ at Alton Towers. Naming brands this way gives them a bit more warmth, makes them more authentic and people can assign human identities more easily. This helps companies think of themselves not so much as a business, the word ‘business’ is cold and calculating, but more as people.

This brings us to the other part of the name game; the naming of actual products, brands and companies. This is where the most time and money is spent and for good reason; it is absolutely crucial.

Many companies think that naming brands and products is purely a creative exercise. Someone stands at the front of the room, marker pen in hand, and just asks for ideas. This is crazy and an amateur and inefficient way of doing it.

The right way is a classic mix of science and art.

We have been involved in the naming of many attractions such as The London Eye, rides at theme parks such as Oblivion and The Smiler and a number of B2B brands and have a tried and tested process:

We set clear objectives right from the ’off’; What is your brand positioning?, your name must be aligned. What reaction is your name trying to provoke? Excitement, intrigue, clarity, reassurance, simplicity, controversy? Remember the truth is in the product though, so make sure the objective you are trying to achieve is credible for the product.

Secondly, we outline the competitive context; what other names are competitor’s using? What are they portraying? How similar/different is that to you? How will you stand out whilst still achieving your objective?

Key is the provision of loads of stimulus to ensure you move outside your normal rivers of thinking, but within a well structured naming session. We have developed a series of creative exercises which provide the science and a formula to go with the creativity that is no doubt necessary.

Then, add a heavy dose of fun, many changes of pace and a massive amount of energy. This helps to access your sub-conscious where all the great ideas are lurking.

All this generates a good number of relevant ideas which are assessed against agreed criteria and then researched. Make sure you research in ALL markets the name will be used in. In hindsight, Coolpis may not have been the best name for a Korean fruit drink when introduces to the English Speaking Countries!

Naming in business is an important game to win; whether it’s brands trying to stand out, develop a compelling positioning or a sense of recognition and belonging amongst customers, or an individual attempting to establish a relationship with another person. Whatever your name game, it’s a must win game; the effects are subtle and powerful and long lasting, get it wrong and your name will be mud, get it right and it will be up in lights.

If you want to know more about our naming workshops, or other innovation projects, then please get in touch.