Category: Good

emPivot Opens its Doors…

…and another Stokefire name hits the market.


How do you develop a name for a green media firm without using the words “green,” “eco,” or any of the other current buzz-words used in the space? By focusing on how you’re different and what you’re trying to achieve rather than slapping a “me too” name on that blends in with the crowd.


emPivot opened for business this week and is already gaining attention as the place to go to find and share new perspectives on green issues.


Why emPivot? Because the founders (Chace Warmington and Thom Wallace) felt strongly that their purpose was not to spread the gospel of green to the choir, but instead to offer a place where real people can discuss every aspect of green – whether they’re passionate supporters, detractors, or on the fence. This is about empowering a change in perspectve – a change in opinions – or a change in lifestyle. The concept of being green doesn’t move all that much, but our understanding and perspective can change rapidly.


While “green” was off-limits for the name, it was still in play for the tagline – something we proposed using to contextualize a name that didn’t immidiately shout its purpose. (You’ll note that Google, Yahoo, Kodak, Exxon, Sears… and just about every other great brand in the world… doesn’t disclose their market in their name. They use advertising, taglines, and other tools to get the context across. We think we’re in good company here.)


Stokefire developed both the name and the tagline for the new company (a brand owned by Ecofusion.) The result:

emPivot: View Green From Every Angle

We also developed alternate taglines for future use – and we’ll trumpet those as emPivot grows their brand over the coming years.


We’ll post a full case study and press release later this month – and will have even more information available once our redesigned corporate website sees the light of day in September.


Great job thus far Thom and Chace… looking forward to more great things from your team!

Local Naming Story – Campbell and Associates

We talk to many marketing, branding, and graphic design firms in our area and frequently ask about where they got their name. Typically the answer is something like “It sounded cool” or perhaps “we kept searching until we found one where the website was available and made a bit of sense.”


Today I spoke with Bruce Gemmill, president of Campbell and Associates – a marketing firm located in Herndon Virginia. In addition to being an all-around good guy who is involved in the local chamber and other organizations, he had a nice story to tell about his firm.


I was curious how a guy with the last name of Gemmill might end up becoming president of a boutique marketing firm with the name Campbell. I was guessing he’d bought it from someone.


I was wrong.


As Bruce told me, he’d spent years leaving messages and talking with administrators for his clients – and invariably people would respond with “Thank you Mr. Campbell.” As noted above, that is not his last name. His last name, Gemmill, is a name not many people have heard of – and it sounds awfully close to Campbell when heard over the phone – or even in person.


Rather than spend the remainder of his career correcting people on his last name, Bruce went with the flow. He named his firm “Campbell and Associates” and in the process ended up with a name that is highly memorable even though it appears on the surface to be common.


Sometimes it isn’t the name itself that lends character to the company. Sometimes it’s the story. Okay, often it is the story. (In fact, we tend to prefer the story behind the name to be at least as powerful as the name itself. It lends strength to the brand.)


Bruce’s selfless act of removing his own last name from his firm showed a lot about the company’s core values. And it gives him a nice story that helps people remember who he is, what his firm’s name is, and even provides a peek at his own persona.


Kudos, Bruce. Thanks for taking the extra thirty seconds to tell me your story. Hope others enjoy it as much as I do.

RIP: “Do You Know What I Mean?”

Quite a few of our clients often call into question one of the most basic assumptions we tell them to make. The assumption? If a name can be shortened in any way – via acronyms, dropping syllables, or just using the first portion of the name – your customers will find and use it.


(The companion parable to this – that you should never try to create your own abbreviated name from your full length name unless your clients force the issue – is something I’ll address another time.)


Most recently a client protested that I was being overly pessimistic and that people aren’t that lazy. Here’s what they said in as close as I can get to an exact quote:

That’s an overreaction, Tate. You should have more faith in the human race, nyo? We’re not that lazy.

Perhaps you can guess which word I’m going to point out as proving my point.


No, it isn’t the apostrophe-“s” of “That’s”. It’s “nyo.”


If we can’t take the time to pronounce a two syllable thought (“You Know”) then how can we expect ourselves to say the long version of anything?


If you examine where this particular example of truncation and shortening comes from I think you’ll find that it traces back something like this:

  1. Do you know what I mean?
  2. Ya know what I mean?
  3. Know what I mean?
  4. You know?
  5. Y’know?
  6. Nyo?
  7. (and very recently) Ye-o?

Listen closely next time you’re having a conversation. The verbal shorthand we’re using for “You know?” has almost nothing to do with the letters contained in the words of the phrase. We’ve got a definite “y” sound and an “oh” sound – but everything else seems to have fallen away.


I’m sure there are linguists out there that would be upset about this for all sorts of reasons. And I’m certain there are others that show this as proof that our language is healthy and adapting. My only reason for bringing it up is to show that we’re always going to try to make things easier for ourselves.


It isn’t General Electric, it’s GE. It isn’t Kentucky Fried Chicken – it’s KFC.


And Stokefire? You’ll never see us call ourselves “SF” or any other shortening. It’s one of the reasons why we don’t use mid-Caps in our name. Midcaps promote the use of acronyms and abbreviations. We figure if we’re going to go to the expense of creating a name for ourselves and printing it on business cards we probably shouldn’t be using a name that begs to be abbreviated. After all – we try hard to get our name in front of our prospective partners and clients… why would we want to double our effort by putting two names out there? (The real one and the abbreviated one.)


We endeavor to have a name that doesn’t go the way of “Do You Know What I Mean” and instead begs to be sounded out. Maybe even emphasized. And we endeavor to create those for our clients. Sure, there’s power in GE, KFC, and IBM – but those names have millions of dollars of marketing to keep them in the minds of prospective clients. For companies that wish to be a bit more economical with their marketing dollars it makes sense to get a name that doesn’t break down into an acronym.


Seems to be working well for Google, doesn’t it?

We Can’t Draw. Or Code. Can you?

But we have a fun idea for taking over the world. And we’re looking for an intern who can both draw and build websites who wants to build what could be one of the coolest non-traditional marketing campaigns aimed at marketers… ever.


What we’re offering:

Okay… we’re not really offering anything. You may or may not work in the same office with us. You may or may not get free lunches. We might spring for gasoline, or we might not.


What we’re offering is a killer idea that you can execute on and add to your portfolio of projects. If it works we’ll be pointing to you as the guy/girl that got it done and we’ll happily send business your way. Maybe even some of our own. If it doesn’t work? Well, you can still put it on your CV – it just won’t be quite as cool to do so.


If you know about the old Enormicom.com site and you appreciated the humor – you’ll love this project. We’ll need a bit of e-commerce and page layout – actually a lot of it, so if you’ve got those skills let us know (and if you “don’t got” those skills you probably shouldn’t be writing to us…) And truthfully we have no idea what to ask for in terms of technology. We’re not techies, so hopefully you’ll bring that tech knowledge with you – or else we’ll be stuck trying to find interns for our interns. The more ridiculously high-tech we can make this thing the better off we’ll be.


Interested? Send us a note with links to your online work.


And be sure to tell us a bit about who you are. But NO RESUMES. Period.


Based on responses to previous notes like this we can’t guarantee that we’ll respond to everyone, but we’ll do our damnedest. Maybe we can find an intern to be sure we get everyone?


Thanks for reading this far. Please feel free to send this to anyone you think might be interested.

The All-Everything Name

Managing expectations is one of the hardest parts of developing powerful names. We work hard at the beginning of a project to ensure that expectations are set correctly. There’s a misconception that names can do absolutely everything for a company. For example, here’s a (slightly modified) list of things a client wanted from their name on a recent contract – before we helped them pare it down.

  • The name should not use any of the current buzz words or industry descriptors
  • The name should double as the new industry terminology of choice
  • The name should publicize both the existing industry and our own company
  • The name should be easy to say and spell
  • The name should not feel out of place amongst the existing company names in the space, but should still be unique.
  • The name should be intuitive
  • The name should make people feel good about being associated with us
  • The name should attract upper-echelon clients
  • The name shouldn’t alienate or existing lower caste clients
  • The name should help to keep clients engaged with us for multiple purchases
  • The name should be progressive and contemporary but should not need to be renamed again due to it going out of style.

The list went on from there. And it got even more conflicted as we got into it.


Let me be very clear: Names are the starting block, not the finish line. A good name can help set you apart from your competitors – and can perhaps help with a couple other goals as well… but it cannot get you repeat customers in most situations.


You cannot, I’m afraid, have a name that does absolutely everything for your company. You also cannot have a name that doesn’t have at least a few drawbacks. All the best names in the business have flaws – Google sounds like baby-speak, Caterpillars are squishy and eat crops… But the names set them apart – allowing them to get noticed and position themselves versus the competition. From there the companies can take over.


Memorability, evocativeness, pronunciation, strategic fit… these are things we can work on with a name. (We have twenty-six other variables we throw in there too… but you can’t have a name with all thirty variables pegged at “10.”)


For anyone out there struggling to find the perfect name… just stop. Perfection is not attainable. When you break a name into its constituent variables some will be strong and others won’t. Just ensure that the portions that you’re leveraging the most for your business are associated with the strong aspects of your name and you’ll be set.


Forget the All-Everything name. Just try to get one that is good at something while avoiding any major pitfalls. You’ll be so far ahead of most other companies that you’ll forget you ever wanted anything more.

The Naming of a Child

May 26th, 2007 at 8.30 pm
Theodore Joseph Linden was born.
Weighing in at 6 lbs 10 oz.
Congratulations Sarah & Tate!


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Bookshelf Update? A Look at the How-To (and a couple how-they-did-it) Books.

I’ve had a few emails this month from readers who were interested in hearing what was on my bookshelf. It’s probably been about a year since I wrote anything about our reference materials, so I figure it’s about time to update.


But first, I must say that I’m not going to tell you what’s on my bookshelf. There are about 200 books there – most of them only read once or twice and now only very occasionally thumbed through. The stuff I use more regularly has a place on my desk. Forty-two books have that place of honor in my office – running along the back edge of my desk within easy reach. Thirteen of these books have a major “How-To” aspect to them – shedding light on how to develop, categorize, or evaluate names.


Here’s a list of the current “How-To” type books on my desk that are dedicated almost entirely to naming. The snippets of information aren’t really reviews. They’re just a bit of context to help you understand how the book is used:

  1. Blake, George. Crafting the Perfect Name: The Art and Science of Naming a Company or Product. USA: Probus, 1991
    1. An excellent, if dated, reference for people looking to name their own company. As with most of the books here, it does a great job educating you on the basics of naming, and even provides lists of source material in the appendix so you can start naming immediately. Unfortunately the lists are far short of what would be needed to perform a comprehensive naming project for a mid-size (or larger) firm. The age really shows when it addresses the legal aspects of naming – including the hoops one must go through to check if a name is registered. I refer mostly to Chapter Six when I crack the cover – the chapter on Names to Avoid.
  2. Barrett, Fred. Names that Sell: How to Create Great Names for Your Company, Product, or Service. Portland: Alder Press, 1995 (Amazon Rank = #993,472 in Books)
    1. A book aimed at people who have a basline of experience in naming. Barrett runs through all sorts of criteria for how to name companies, but in his effort to cover everything (he does come close) he drops any sense of order. He provides Twenty-Five different techniques for developing names – and these appear in a jumble of methods we’ve been unable to untangle. There’s gold here – it’s just a little hard to find. Barrett also provides another list of source words at the back of the book – and again the list is a bit lacking. A bit of a peek inside a namer’s head – all sorts of information but not in a structure that aids in learning. We’ve opened it a few times in the past year – mainly to remind ourselves how another namer might approach a particular problem.
  3. Cader, Michael. The Name Book: A Unique Reference Listing of Everything Imaginable That Has a Name (Except Babies!) New York: Random House, 1998 (Amazon Rank = #505,676)
    1. A book of lists that goes quite well with the how-to books. It offers very little how-to and a whole lot of reference. What’s great here is that the lists are intuitively sorted into groups. Interested in a powerful name? Perhaps you want to examine lists of Spanish monarchs, or Roman emperors, or military ranks… An amazing number of ideas to get the mind moving. Feels a touch dated, but when referencing historical stuff this might be a benefit.
  4. Charmasson, Henri. The Name Is the Game: How to Name a Company or Product. Homewood: Dow Jones-Irwin, 1988
    1. Charmason may be smart, but he suffers from the same affliction that Barrett does. There are some interesting methods listed here, but the book is dense and cluttered. Again suffers from age as major passages of the Trademark section are no longer applicable. Charmasson has some interesting takes on naming, though after the first couple reads I must admit I haven’t gone back to this one. It’s just not that useful and has been overcome by better and more readable books. (We’re putting it back on the shelf today.)
  5. Frankel, Alex. Wordcraft: The Art of Turning Little Words into Big Business. New York: Random House, 2004
    1. Prior to meeting other namers at Alexandra Watkins’ party I had little idea how the other namers worked. This book brought new insight into both the process of naming within major branding firms and the presentation of fully developed names. It is rarely cracked other than to illustrate a point to a client who wants to know how others do something. Incidentally, this is likely the best book ever written about the naming industry (in my quite humble opinion.)
  6. Javed, Naseem. Naming for Power: Creating Successful Names for the Business World. Toronto and New York: Linkwood, 1993
    1. You may be sensing a pattern here. The How-To books just seem jumbled. Javed is a famed speaker and columnist and this book appears to be a compilation of his speeches and writings. Again no real order here, and no overarching messages or lessons. Add in the fact that I can’t personally follow what he is saying much of the time – and that time has proven quite a few of his examples false – and this has little value. Why is it on my desk? Because I can use it to show how our views, practices, and opinions differ from the mainstream. Some of the names he really likes fall into traps we try to avoid – and having an expert advocate for names a client likes (and then have that expert proven wrong) adds power to our words.
  7. McGrath, Kate, Trademark: How to Name your Business & Product. 1994
    1. We use this only as a primer for the basics of trademark law. It is not up to date at all, but the terminology it uses and the classes of names referenced haven’t changed much. If you want to understand what sorts of names can be trademarked and why then this baby is a good bet.
  8. Morris, Evan. From Altoids to Zima: The Surprising Stories Behind 125 Famous Brand Names. New York: Fireside (Simon & Schuster,) 2004
    1. Not a how-to, really, but a “how they did it.” Fun to read and a good reference to trot out when a name covered within the pages is in the same industry as one of our clients. It usually helps expand the thinking at the brainstorming meetings. (We have a long list of books that cover the etymology of corporate names – we’ll get to that another day.)
  9. Nussel, Frank. The Study of Names. A Guide to the Principles and Topics. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1992
    1. Really only on our desk as a reference, this book helps us remember the science of naming – especially some of the more obscure terms and their full definitions. Can’t remember what Morphosyntactics are? This is the book for you. I personally open the cover about once a month to a random page. It’s helpful in getting my mind onto a different path when naming. The whole book explains terminology in naming and lists examples of just about every type of name known to man. AND it is highly organized! Oh – and the reference materials cited contain some of the hardest to find and most useful older research documents on Onomastics.
  10. Rivkin, Steve. The Making of a Name: The Inside Story of the Brands We Buy. New York: Oxford, 2004
    1. Perhaps our second-most-favorite book on naming. Somewhere between a how-to and an industry overview. Fun to read. Can’t say I read it that much, except for the appendix containing the reference materials. We actually found many of our materials here. If you want to create a library of easily accessible naming books this isn’t a bad place to look for titles.
  11. Room, Adrian. Trade Name Origins. Chicago: NTC, 1982 (Amazon Rank = #1,006,067)
    1. Similar to the Morris book, this one does the same thing, but for more companies in less detail – and twenty (plus) years earlier. Great for finding patterns in naming that you want to latch on to or avoid.
  12. Wegryn, Jim. Funny Thing About Names. An Entertaining Look at Naming in America. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2005
    1. This is a new addition. It’s on my desk mainly because it’s new – and because Wegryn appears to be just as much of a statistics geek as I am. Nice list of more recent research papers at the back, and a strong index that helps me to find relevant examples to share with clients and partners. A little more humor here than I’d like to see – but the title does warn us. I’d be more interested in reading the pure research behind this – because it looks like he did a lot of it (including an interesting bit on the history of street names that have impacted the English language.)
  13. Williams, Phillip. Naming Your Business and Its Products and Services: How to Create Effective Trade Names, Trademarks, and Service Marks to Attract Customers, Protect Your Goodwill and Reputation, and Stay out of Court! (City Unknown): P. Gaines, 1991
    1. Horribly out of date book that attempts to cover everything under the sun about names and trademarks in 90 large-print pages with lots of clip art. Covers some interesting territory with its random list of things you can name your product after (symbols, mythology, history, bible, geography, literature, and puns… yep, that’s it!) This is my “there is no one book that can show you how to name” book. From what I have seen so far there isn’t even a good list of name classifications in print yet. There is an interesting appendix at the back that shows all the pages of an old trademark application, but it bears little relevance to naming today.

Welcome Stephanie Perri!

Hello loyal (and disloyal?) blog readers. Just wanted to put a quick post out there that we’ve brought on an office administrator to handle all those little things like, well… paying bills, filing, answering phones, and basically keeping the Stokefire team in line. Okay… mostly just keeping me in line. My team tends to do quite well on its own.


Stephanie has run two of her own startup firms, and has a couple decades of experience helping to run and grow offices for other small firms. For some reason she didn’t run screaming from the office when she saw my filing system (AKA “6 inches of stuff on my desk.”) For that I’m thankful. It’s only an hour into her first day and she’s already started working and sent me back to my own desk to make us all some dough. I may have to find ways to make the job more challenging – if only to keep her interested in staying on board. Suggestions are welcome.


(Yep, we’re pretty darn excited about getting someone of Stephanie’s caliber to come aboard.)


We’ll have an email account set up for her this week (if only we had an administrator to take care of that in advance!) but until that time you can reach her via or main phone or through the blog.


Those of you in the Springfield area can swing by any time to say hello and visit our newly augmented team – and the newly doubled office space. (We’ll be at Mike’s American Grill today for lunch if anyone wants to say howdy.)


Tate Linden
Principal – Stokefire
703-778-9925

No, you don’t need a big-time naming consultant…

…but sometimes it can help.


VIMO – a search and comparison engine for finding doctors announced a new name in 2006. They used to be “Healthia.”


I personally have no problem with the name VIMO – it evokes the concept of Wine for me – as in “Vino”. This led immediately to a connection with the toast “To Your Health!” And that seemed to make at least a little bit of sense to me.


This, however was not what the company leaders apparently intended. Here is a quote from a VC blogger who wrote about it last year:

So the folks at Healthia were happy to announce yesterday that they have selected a long term moniker for their company (and without retaining a “naming consultant”). The new name Vimo evokes:


(i) vim, as in health, vigor, and vitality;


(ii) the Gujarati word vimo, meaning insurance;


(iii) the Swahili vimo, meaning measurements and also stature;


and, most importantly


(iv) the urban slang vimo meaning sexy, cool and impeccable.

I was unable to figure out where the blogger got the connotations from (The press release doesn’t mention them) but I hope that the justifications he provides aren’t the ones they used.


Here’s why –

  1. VIMO doesn’t connect strongly to “vim.” Why? Because Vimo appears to naturally be pronounced “Vee-Moe.” While I don’t condone it, if you wanted to make the connection with vim noticeable you’d have to play with capitalization – like “VIMo” or “VimO” – or you could force the correct pronunciation by using “Vimmo.”
  2. Given that the service is sold in the United States and that their target customer likely speaks neither Gujarati nor Swahili, the fact that the name has meaning in those languages means absolutely nothing to the consumer. Since the service being sold is a portal and not an end-use (e.g., they are going to find someone who will solve a problem – and that someone will require a discussion or visit off the website) there is no incentive to stay with the site long enough to have these definitions sink in.
  3. The urban slang dictionary is notorious for having bogus definitions. Most of the terms in it appear to be from people trying to make up new trendy-speak so that they can say they started it all.

Still, this isn’t a bad name – and I’d even go so far as to say it is a good one. Nice length, nice sound, fun to say…


The place where the name falls down (and where a naming consultancy can help) is in telling the story. Rather than telling people what the name evokes:

“Our new name, Vimo, communicates vim, vigor, energy and enthusiasm — collectively characterizing our commitment to empowering consumers in their quest for reliable healthcare information,”…

… the leadership could make a stronger connection. Sure, the first three letters spell “vim” but where is the rest of that communication coming from? The letters themselves? The implication that wine is involved? And then there’s the question of how “vim, vigor, energy and enthusiasm” characterize a commitment to empowering consumers to do anything. It just sounds like marketing-speak to me.


I can’t stand marketing speak. As soon as I start hearing words like “paragon” or having a search engine described as enabling a “quest” I just tune out. Does anyone out there listen to this stuff? I certainly hope that the stories Stokefire builds actually sound like something people might say in real life.


Vimo is a fine name. Just give the bogus stuff a rest and speak with your own voice. Leverage the more obvious meanings not the hidden ones… and tell it like it is.


I wish you all a pleasant start to your day, and may you have the best of occurences coincidentally befall you as you progress towards the darkening hour.


Tate Linden
Principal – Stokefire
703-778-9925

A Quick Peek at a Small Part of the Process

Over at Ubernamer there was an interesting post on the 21st of the month about using the name Qwertypie for a blog. While we haven’t developed a process for naming blogs, we noticed there was a little bit of a parsing problem with the name – visually the term wasn’t easy to break into constituent parts. (I personally read the name as pronounced “Qwer – Type – Ee” the first time through.)

We suggested some sort of visual indicator was needed to tell the reader where the lexical partscutiepie.jpg went – like changing the font type or color to show where Qwerty ends and “pie” begins.

We did not, however, think of what the Ubernamer did – and when we saw it we not only knew he got it right, but we felt pretty darn dumb for not thinking of it ourselves.


The fix? “QWERTYpie


Not only does the use of caps for the first wordlet present the letters in the fashion they’re typically presented on the keyboard, the change from CAPS to lowercase strongly forces the visual parse into the right place. It also gives the name the intuitive verbal emphasis that matches how we say “cutie-pie” which I believe is the connection they were aiming for. “qwertyPIE” would bring about an emphasis on food (think “apple pie” – where unless you’re answering the question “what kind of pie is it?” you’ll place the verbal focus on “pie” – or pronounce them with equal weight – rather than emphasizing “apple.”)


I can’t speak to the other important facets of the name here as I don’t know the subject of the blog, the personality of the author or dozens of other factors that determine appropriate strategic fit. I can say that for a whimsical presentation of a word without resorting to graphic designer the solution he came up with is pretty darn good.


As for why I didn’t just outright suggest the eventual solution instead of just leading him to the solution? All of us have our off days… I suppose.


Good job, Ubernamer. Nice workin’ with ya.


Tate Linden
Principal – Stokefire
703-778-9925



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