A Fast, Lightweight, Collaborative Process for Naming Your New Thing
Dale Carnegie has a famous quote about names: “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
In simpler terms, “A name is important, so treat it as such.”
A brand’s name is important, too. You’ve probably heard the old business legend of the ill-faded Chevy Nova, which didn’t get a lot of traction in Spanish-speaking markets because “Nova” translates to “no go.”
Names are so important that there are creative agencies who specialize entirely in Naming. They spend months developing a name for a brand—testing it, refining it, exploring different languages and the shadowy spaces of phonetics and linguistics.
Clique isn’t one of these agencies. We don’t have a Naming department. But, we are all about building things, and with a new brand being developed at Clique, we wondered…could we build a name in a sustainable way?
So, that’s what we tried to figure out: we set out on creating a process to name a new brand. After some naming research, we based a majority of our process on a presentation given at the Awwwards Digital Design Conference: “The Art and Science of Naming,” delivered by Sophie Tahran, a UX Writer at Condé Nast.
If your brand needs a new name, and you need a process that’s smart, decisive, and quick, we think this article can help you out.
It took us just under a month and a half, from kick-off to finalization, to name our brand “Clique Lab.” Here’s how we did it, and what we learned along the way.
Onboarding to Clique Lab and Naming Conventions
Clique Lab is a new place where we can share the regular work we do internally—through experimentation, play, and creative challenges—to look at what’s next in our industry and push our craft forward. Before building and launching it, we wanted to define it as a brand. In those efforts, this naming process was born.
Core Brand Strategy
Before this process began, we solidified the mission, vision, target audiences, and values of our brand. We’ll reference Clique Lab often as an example throughout this article, so here’s the gist:
- Mission: To create a safe space for experimentation, play, and collaboration.
- Vision: To challenge ourselves to constantly try and learn new things, and to challenge the status quo of what makes good digital work.
- Target Audiences: (1) People at Clique; (2) Fellow Industry Peers; (3) Current and Prospective Clients
- Values: (1) Be a Student and a Teacher: Growth, Collaboration, Learning; (2) Build Something: Experimentation, Community, Opportunity
With the brand strategy defined, we moved into the naming process, beginning by educating ourselves.
As with a lot of things in creative fields, naming is both an art and a science. There are specific conventions around what makes a name “good,” how you can think about naming a product, and different naming types to help you brainstorm the name for your brand.
What Makes a Name “Good?”
There are five themes to consider when naming a brand:
Memorability: Being easy to remember or worth remembering
- Will users be able to easily recall it?
- Is it easy to say out loud?
- Is it too similar to another name in the competition that will make it easy to mistake it?
- For the foreseeable future, will it be able to grow with the brand?
- Is there anything that it limits?
- Can the name be used for various future possibilities?
- Can it be used by all users, in a variety of instances?
- Is there any scenario that makes the name feel unnatural?
- Is it too specific?
- Does the name have a deeper meaning?
- Does the definition match the brand’s mission, values, or offerings?
- Is it different from other brands in the competitive market?
- Does it stand out?
Types of Names
There are two larger buckets of names: proprietary and common. Both are very important to get right. In this case study, we’ll be discussing proprietary names but both are very important to get right. They’ll become the language that people use to describe your brand or the things your brand interacts with. Here’s what each bucket means:
- Standalone products
- Capitalized and branded
- Created for marketing
- For ex. “Lyft” or “Clique Studios”
- Standard concepts
- Describing, not branding
- Created for support
- For ex. “Rideshare” or “Wireframes”
A brand name is a proprietary name. But, on top of common vs. proprietary, there are 7 different types of proprietary names that brands throughout history have used to create their name.
Eponymous: Embodying vision and beliefs of a person.
Adidas = Greek God of speed and strength
Disney = Walt Disney (founder)
Descriptive: Describes precisely what organization does.
American Airlines = an airline for America
Home Depot = a depot for all things “home”
Acronymic: Acronyms of descriptive names.
KFC = Kentucky Fried Chicken (and changed to acronymic when they wanted to disassociate from the unhealthy connotation of “fried”)
GE = General Electric (and changed when they extended their offering to a more robust portfolio of technology)
Suggestive: Real, composite, and invented words that suggest a quality.
Real ex. Slack = “Relaxed work”
Composite ex. Facebook (face + book): “Encyclopedia of people”
Invented word ex. Kleenex = “Clean”
Associative: Reflecting imagery and meaning back to their brand.
Red Bull = strength and energy of a bull
Sirius XM = providing people with the “brightest stars”
Non-English: Using a word, phrase, or concept from another country.
Lego = Danish words LEG GODT, meaning “play well”|
Hulu = Two Mandarin words that mean “interactive recording”
Abstract: No intrinsic meaning, relies on power of phonetics.
This onboarding to naming conventions will come into play later, when we discuss educating your team and your decision makers. But now that we’ve established a baseline understanding, let’s get into the process.
Preliminary Research: Set the Foundation for Decision Making
Before beginning, we wanted to build a foundation for making decisions as we went through the process to set the project up for success.
Since this was a new sub-brand, we’d already done some brand strategy development and were familiar with the brand’s mission, vision, and values. But, we also needed to do some research around Naming strategy. We focused on four main concepts: 1) Context, 2) Scope, 3) Competition, and 4) Stakeholders.
With this information and the core brand strategy, we created a reference document for the project team. It also became handy later, when it came time to do refinement research.
Where will the name live?
- Digital: It will become its own website
- Social media: Projects from this brand could be shared via social media (either on Clique’s accounts or personal accounts
- Clique’s website: It would be featured here in some way
- “I made this for _______”
- “I’m working on a _______ project.”
- “Clique’s _______”
- “I saw this on Clique Studio’s _______”
Will it interact with any other names (brands)? Because it’s on Clique’s website, it would need to play well with the other Clique branded names:
- “Open Tabs” (Clique’s newsletter)
- “Clique University” (Clique’s blog)
What is the brand today?
- New space for sharing any non-client work (work-in-progress, experiments, team challenges, etc.)
- A place to help showcase the team at Clique, not the work we produce
How could it grow in the future?
- Archive the work, education, and team building we do that’s not usually shared
- Develop tools, products, or resources
- An eCommerce store to either support Clique or causes we care about
For similar brands, what names are other organizations using?
- Playground: Ueno’s space to showcase their internal projects they’re playing around with
- Magenta: Huge’s blog and space to share their own kickstart ideas and projects
Whose opinion should be considered? Who should be involved?
- Everyone at Clique: Developers, Designers, Strategists, Project Managers, etc.
- We had 2-3 individuals from each practice at Clique participate, rather than involve the entire company
Who are the key decision-makers? Who has the final say?
- Sue Janna Truscott: Chief Creative Officer
- Derek Nelson: Partner
Education: Inform and Empower Your Team and Decision Makers
At Clique, we think education is important (“Be a student and a teacher” is one of our 3 values). But, with a new practice, it was more important than ever.
Our project team needed to understand Naming as a practice. And the decision-makers—the people who would have the final say in the name—needed to understand basic Naming conventions, pitfalls, and best practices.
One of the biggest risks with Naming is personal preference. It’s easy for people to vote with their heart instead of their head. Yes, there’s a place for gut reactions with names, but it’s also important to make decisions rooted in strategy. Education is a great way to combat too much personal preference.
We developed two different Naming educational sessions: 1) Types of Names, and 2) What Makes a Name “Good?” (covered above).
And, we re-shared and reminded the decision-makers of the naming conventions and brand collateral every time we asked for a decision to be made.
1. Types of Names
- Purpose: Onboard the idea of Naming and give people enough background to feel comfortable brainstorming new names to consider
- Timing: Before or in-tandem with the Blue Skies Brainstorm Workshop (more on what this workshop entails later)
2. What Makes a Name “Good?”
- Purpose: Provide people with a framework to help them make strategic decisions about the name
- Timing: Before voting rounds and finalization
Brainstorm: Gather as Many Ideas as Possible
Quantity is your friend. The key to getting a quality name is generating a lot of names—good, bad, and ugly.
We hosted a one-hour workshop with the project team and a few stakeholders who were familiar with the brand. We called it the “Blue Skies Workshop,” and there were no rules. We encouraged people to draw inspiration from the brand’s mission, vision, and values. But, if they had a name, no matter how unsure they were about it, we wanted them to feel comfortable throwing it on the board.
Blue Skies Workshop Agenda
- 15min: Education (Types of Names)
- 10min: Individual brainstorming of names on sticky notes
- 30min: Share and grouping the names
When people shared their ideas, we discouraged any comments from the group (no, not even compliments). The workshop was not the time to evaluate or eliminate any names: time for that would come with voting (step 4).
As people shared, we asked them to try to form connections with other names on the board. Grouping the names that were thematically similar helped when it came time to voting: it’s easier to consider names that are somewhat similar, than to be mentally dragged from one theme to another and back again. It gives the voters a better way to focus.
A few names that came from this were “Offline,” “Beaker,” “Matter,” and “Recess,” and when it was all over, we had brainstormed 100+ names (!!!!!!). Not all were winners, but only one can be.
Voting: Narrow Down Your Options
Now that we had 100+ names, we needed to narrow them down to a more manageable amount. Voting is a great way to do that: it gets all of the stakeholders involved, it’s democratic, and it’s quick and easy.
Involve the Stakeholders
Before we sent the voting spreadsheet (the document we used to collect votes), we reminded participants of the brand’s mission, vision, and values, as well as the “What Makes a Name ‘Good’” educational session (we told you we were annoying about it).
In the spreadsheet, we had everyone choose an emoji and then place their vote next to the names they thought represented the brand well.
Why a Voting Spreadsheet?
- It gives stakeholders more time to contemplate their options and the ability to change their minds and edit their votes.
- It visualizes the process in a transparent way so people can quickly see which names are gaining traction.
- There’s no arguing or swaying people's vote because it’s a purely individual process.
- Emojis are fun.
Rounds of Voting
We did two rounds of voting. For each round, we set a three-day deadline to vote. We found this to be the right amount of time to keep the project moving forward, but also allow the stakeholders to find time to consider their vote.
For the first round, votes were unlimited, and at the end, we still had 21 options that received a lot of votes. That was too many to vet with refinement research (it’s recommended to vet 5-7 names). So, we refined the list and asked them to vote again.
For the second round, people were limited to 5 votes. It forced them to make some tough decisions, and helped us narrow the list to 9 (still more than recommended, but much more manageable for our project team).
At the end of the voting rounds we had our list of 100+ refined to 9 contenders:
- Orange Juice
- Clique Play
- Lab (short for Laboratory)
Refinement Research: Poke Holes, Find Oversights, and Evaluate Options
You don’t want a user or customer to be the one to find an issue with your name. Small naming oversights can make a huge impact on a brand’s success (again, ask Chevy’s Nova).
The goal of refinement research is to be as critical as possible. You want to find any potential misuse before your name is out in the world, on marketing collateral, in decks, etc.
The Rating Scale
Each name received a score from “Positive” to “Damaging” for each category.
- Positive (Green): The criteria matches the brand and enhances its mission, vision, and value
- Neutral (Yellow): The criteria matches the brand
- Poor (Orange): The criteria might misrepresent the brand
- Damaging (Red): The criteria misrepresents the brand and damages its mission, vision, and value
The preliminary research (completed in step 1) informed the criteria for this sub-brand: 1) Usage, 2) Definition, 3) Connotations, 4) Scope, and 5) Context. As a note, for larger brands, more criteria might be important to consider like available URLs, copyrights, and direct competitors.
Usage looks at how people will speak, read, and write the name. We used the same sentences from the preliminary research:
- I made this for ______
- I made this for ______
- I’m working on a ______ project
- Clique’s ______
- Clique Studios’ ______
As an example, Offline scored “Poor” on this criteria. When spoken in the sentence, “Clique’s Offline,” it could easily be misconstrued that Clique is offline, disconnected, not working, etc. As a digital company, that’s not a good look for us.
Because all of our names were actual words, we looked at the dictionary definition of each name. Did it match or misrepresent the brand’s purpose?
As an example, “Experiments” is defined as:
(n): a test, trial, or tentative procedure; an act or operation for the purpose of discovering something unknown or of testing a principle, supposition, etc.
While in comparison, “Lab” is defined as:
(n): a place equipped to conduct scientific experiments, tests, investigations, etc., or to manufacture chemicals, medicines, or the like.
While both are anchored in discovery, Lab is about building something out of that discovery, while experiments don’t hold that weight. Because of that small deviation, “Lab” received a score of “Positive” and “Experiments” received a “Neutral.”
Every word comes with baggage, just ask “moist.” For this criteria we surfaced any societal references, competitors, or connotations that were attached to each name.
As an example, “Clique Play” received a “Damaging” score. The word “Play,” brings images of children running yards, make-believe stories, and fun.
Because some of the projects within this brand will be more serious—like fundraisers for organizations or addressing social issues—we didn’t want a lackadaisical aura following the name. It needed to be more serious.
A name should be able to grow and change as the brand grows and changes itself. We couldn’t predict the future (sad) but we could use the projected current and future state ideas from our preliminary research (step 1) to help us future-proof the brand.
It needed to balance the current state (a new place to share non-client work and introduce the passions of the Clique team) with the future state (an archive, a tool development platform, an eCommerce store).
Looking at each brand, we asked, “does this name capture the current and future ideas for the brand?”
As an example, “Orange Juice” received a “Neutral” score. We thought it fit really well with the current state concepts, as juice is something that fuels people and orange is Clique’s brand color, and it’s a composite (this brand is made up of the ideas from our team).
But, for the future state, it might imply something incorrect: that “juice” fuels Clique’s monetary security. Sure, an eCommerce function could help support Clique or causes we care about, but we didn’t want that to be somehow misconstrued by people unfamiliar with our client work.
In comparison, “Greenhouse” received a “Positive” score. Because money is green and that has no implications, that’s just a fact.
A name interacts with other brands already established. It’s important that it doesn’t undermine other names established. And, if possible, it’s strategic to create cohesion between names to enforce the larger brand concept.
At Clique, the names to consider in context with this new brand were:
- “Clique Studios”
- “Clique University” (Clique’s blog)
- “Open Tabs” (Clique’s newsletter)
- Our Values: (1) Build Something; (2) Be a Student and a Teacher; (3) Make Somebody’s Job Easier
As an example, “Lab” received a “Positive” score. In its definition, “to manufacture,” and “to conduct scientific experiments,” echo Clique’s first two values. And, because a “Lab” is a term used in school and university, it pairs well with the blog’s name.
Finalization: Bring It to Life and Gain Alignment
After this research, we presented three finalists to the stakeholders and decision-makers:
- Orange Juice
All three were great name options for the brand. But now it was time for the stakeholders to make their final decision.
Revisit The Foundation
We re-introduced the concepts of Naming, re-onboarded the stakeholders to the brand strategy (mission, vision, and values), and shared our findings from the refinement research.
Make It Visual with Moodboards
No identity element lives on its own when it comes to branding. Finalizing a name can impact the overall look and feel.
We wanted to make this process feel like us: building something more tangible than relying on imagination to help make decisions. Rather than create a Naming manifesto for every name, writing up how, in theory, the verbal identity could impact the visual identity, we took an executional approach and curated a moodboard for each name.
For each name, a group of designers pulled colors, images, and graphics to represent how the name could be executed in further design development. It helped our stakeholders make a more informed decision, and would recommend some sort of visualization element to help bring the names to life.
One Last Round of Voting
We asked our team and stakeholders to vote one last time, and reminded them of the naming conventions and created moodboards to anchor their final decision a bit more in reality.
Why voting? We found it best to invite all stakeholders because the brand was supposed to be a collective representation of our team at Clique. Strategically, one brand didn’t blow the others away, so we wanted to give everyone a chance to weigh in.
For an external project, we might approach this differently to ensure that the client is making the best strategic decision. We’d make one firm recommendation so they have a direction, but also showing the pros/cons of all the options so they are empowered to make their own decision.
But, for us internally, this felt right.
We used a simple Google form to collect responses instead of a spreadsheet. A Google form can be anonymous, and we didn’t want patterns in voting to affect a person’s individual choice.
The winner? “Lab.”
It’s simple, short, and clear. It speaks to the idea of learning, trekking through new territory, and creating something to show for it. It fits in our greater brand architecture, like our blog “Clique University.” And it sounds great when paired with Clique: “Clique Lab.”
A brand’s name matters, but not everyone can afford to dedicate months to finding the perfect name for a brand. We couldn’t. So, like our other work, we decided to build something, and took an executional approach to Naming.
We found this process close to perfect for us—it was manageable and strategic (but not overly so)—and hope that sharing is helpful to any organization looking to name their own emerging brand.