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October 12, 2007 | Tate Linden
The Washington Business Journal has (had? It was a while ago...) a new column called "Problem? Solution" that helps business owners solve their troubles by hooking them up with area experts. Sadly, no one seems to be asking for naming help there, but I did get the chance to show my ignorance (and apparently my propensity for sentences awkwardly phrased) when it comes to designing affordable but cool office space.

You can check out the article here (from the Friday, May 11, 2007 edition.)
Problem: Tate Linden's Stokefire Consulting Group has been working out of the Business Incubation Center of the Community Business Partnership in Springfield. He is ready to leave the nest but wants some help designing and setting up a "professional, creative and stylish office environment" on the cheap. "In my business," Linden says of his branding company, "I can't afford to have all the 'coolness' limited to my marketing materials -- it has to convey via our environment too."

...
Sadly it didn't include a link to our little corner of the world. But what's worse is that in the words that I wrote I can almost see the "finger quotes" around "coolness." (...and I always forget that the way I talk and the way I write are different... Who says "convey via our environment" anyway? Not me.)

Many thanks to Lucy Webb and Barbara Wrigley for setting this up. Thanks as well to Dave Denny at Hickok Cole for his advice.

"Plastics!"

Amen, brother.
May 8, 2007 | Tate Linden
This is from page 75 of the May 2007 issue of Associations Now (Published by ASAE and The Center for Association Leadership.)

I suppose this means that I have to un-pause the association-building process soon...
Community now Building an association—and community—from scratch ASSOCIATIONS NOW, May 2007

By: Randi Hicks Rowe

About 30 namers—those individuals and companies whose specialty is to help companies develop the best name for their organization or new product—met informally in San Francisco in February. As far as anyone in the group knows, it was the first time that so many namers gathered in one place before. Their purpose: forming an association with a name they can call their own.

“We had a great time and took a positive step toward developing a group identity,” says Tate Linden, principal of the Stokefire Consulting Group. “Almost every other profession has an association except ours. Quite a few of us talked about creating our own vehicle for sharing best practices and to advocate for and support excellence in our industry.” About a dozen naming professionals and companies have indicated that they like the concept of the association and hope to move forward.

One of the ongoing discussions is how to define the membership. Linden says one way would be to make the association exclusively for namers—a group of perhaps a few hundred worldwide—who are not represented by any association. Another option would be to also open the group up to those people who create identities for organizations or products, which would be a larger group consisting of namers, branding experts, and graphic designers. However, some of these groups are represented in other associations. The tradeoff would be less control for the namer founders in the larger group but more power for the association as a whole, Linden says.

One thing not on the table yet, surprisingly, is what to call the association. “I figure with all the potential brainpower we’ll have available as we near our filing date [that] it is better to hold off. Imagine having all the best painters in the world create a painting together... I’m not sure it’d be pretty, but the story around that picture would be legend for centuries. Not sure that this concept will transfer well to the world of descriptive association names, but I can always dream,” says Linden. “No pressure, of course.”

Randi Hicks Rowe is CEO of Rowe Communications of Alexandria, Virginia.

March 6, 2007 | Tate Linden
About six months ago this blog was essentially an invisible blip in the universe. Today it is likely still invisible, though the blip has grown greatly in size. I believe that the growth is due in part to the participation and even advocacy of Nancy Friedman, Chief Word Worker for Wordworking (a company providing naming and copywriting services in the San Francisco area.)

I met Nancy in person last month at the Party for Thingnamers and enjoyed talking with her and the rest of the industry movers and shakers. It got me thinking that the rest of the world should get to hear from them too. To that end, I imposed upon Nancy to let me ask her a few questions.nancy_book_passage.jpg

Thingnamer (Tate Linden): Hello Nancy. Great to talk with you again. I’m hoping we can start out by having you tell us a little bit about your background. Nancy Friedman: I was born and reared in Los Angeles. (The real L.A. I graduated from Los Angeles High School, to which I walked—yes, walked—every single day.) I got a B.A. in comparative literature at UC Berkeley, then moved to Israel (my father’s native country) for a couple of years. I attended a graduate institute and later held various secretarial jobs, including one in which I wrote English-language correspendence for the surgeon general of the Israel Defense Forces. Returned to the U.S., attended graduate journalism school at UC Berkeley, went to work on the night copy desk at the S.F. Examiner, moved over to a regional magazine (New West, later renamed California), then did freelance magazine writing, mostly on women’s health topics, for several years. I also wrote a book, Everything You Must Know About Tampons.

Thingnamer: Okay… I don’t think I’ve come across that one in my pleasure reading. With a start like that I’d love to hear how you go from Tampons to professional naming. Nancy: I remember picking up my mother’s college dictionary when I was eight or nine and discovering an appendix that listed common English first names and their meanings. I think I committed it to memory. I was fascinated that people’s names had meanings (“Nancy: diminutive of Ann, meaning ‘grace’”) and that you could pull them apart to create more names. Margaret, for example, could become Meg, Maggie, Marge, Margitta, Greta, Gretchen, and so on. But I got my professional start in 1987. I was back in the 9-to-5 world, working at Banana Republic as editorial director, when a fellow writer told me about this peculiar opportunity to brainstorm product and company names—and get paid! Back then, professional naming was a very new profession. I had the good fortune to learn the ropes from a master, David Placek, founder of Lexicon Branding (which named the BlackBerry, the Pentium chip, and many other famous brands). We always named as a team of eight or ten people, and we always did structured exercises that forced us to produce lots and lots of names. David cited Linus Pauling, who said, “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.”

Thingnamer: Is there anything in particular you like about producing all these names and trying to pick the right one? Nancy: The puzzle-solving aspect of it. First, there’s the puzzle of the client’s needs: what are the real objectives here? Then there’s the wordplay puzzle, matching letters and sounds to the brand objectives. And of course I love it when I can make my client happy by finding a really good solution.

Thingnamer: Anything about the naming process that rubs you the wrong way? Nancy: When clients check their email and take phone calls during a presentation. Hang up and pay attention!

Thingnamer: I note that Wordworking provides more than just naming services. Tell us a bit about the other stuff that fills your days. Nancy: I’m also a copywriter, but a choosy one. I write certain kinds of web content (the brand story sections), ads, annual reports, and video scripts. I still have one catalog client, a remnant from my early career when I specialized in catalog work. I enjoy writing speeches and would love to do more of that work. Lately I’ve been ghostwriting books for corporate clients, which is as different from naming as possible—except for when I create the book title—yet equally satisfying.

Thingnamer: Is there anything about the naming process – be it for books or for, um, feminine products… that might surprise people? Nancy: Everyone’s surprised by how long it takes. To create the naming brief, manage a team of namers, do the creative work, check domains and trademarks, and craft a convincing presentation takes a minimum of three weeks. And there’s usually a follow-up round after the trademark lawyers have their say. Another thing that surprises people is that domain (.com) availability isn’t as big a deal as they think.

Thingnamer: Are you willing to give us a peek at what goes on behind the curtains of your naming process? Nancy: I start by gathering a ton of information about the company or product and the people associated with it. I try to get a sense of the personality involved—is this a serious, science-driven enterprise or a more playful or eclectic business? What story are they trying to tell? What names are they drawn to—real words, coined words, foreign words, descriptive words? I put all this knowledge into a detailed creative brief and use it as a springboard for my creative work. I generate at least 250 names per assignment, and expect any namers I contract with to do the same. Then I cull the master list to find the best matches with the objectives in the naming brief. Then the grunt work: checking domains and trademarks. And finally the storytelling: selecting twelve or fifteen names to present, along with a strong story for each. If necessary, rinse and repeat.

Thingnamer: Interesting. How do you guide your clients toward the best name possible? Nancy: I tell my clients that finding a good name is more like an arranged marriage than a love match. You’re looking for a name with a good meaning, a solid story, a satisfying sound, and a clear trademark and domain. It’s like finding a marriage partner from a good family, with strong prospects and decent habits. Love comes later.

Thingnamer: Is there a name you’ve created that has moved into the ‘love’ stage for you? Nancy: Only one? Well, I’m very happy with Mobius Venture Capital, which used to be called Softbank. The client team was exceptionally intelligent, responsive, and realistic. They didn’t insist on a “pure” dot-com domain, which was completely out of the question anyway given our aggressive schedule and limited budget. They were quite satisfied with mobiusvc.com. And I was delighted that when they announced the name change they used the name story I’d provided for them.

Thingnamer: Given your answers it seems that you don’t believe that every product or company has only one ‘right’ name. Is that correct? Nancy: Correct. Different names are “right” for different reasons. I always encourage my clients to select at least four “right names” to submit to comprehensive trademark review. That lessens the pressure to choose just one, and it reduces the likelihood of disappointment.

Thingnamer: I notice that you haven’t mentioned naming contests or focus groups in your discussion of naming processes. What do you think about them? Nancy: Not much.

Thingnamer: Very succinct. I like it. Okay – what do you think about the naming industry in general – or is there a naming industry at all? Nancy: There are definitely a lot of namers in the Bay Area—from graphic design firms that do a little naming as part of their identity work to global branding firms with verbal-branding divisions. But no organized industry that I’m aware of.

Thingnamer: And yet here we are. I guess this is a start! But if you weren’t naming, what would you do with your time? Nancy: Blogging, reading, swimming in the San Francisco Bay, baking, and trying to re-learn everything I’ve forgotten about playing the piano. Maybe I’d even write a book.

Thingnamer: Sounds like a great life. Hope you find a way to do those and name stuff in the years to come. That brings us to the end of the very first Get To Know A Thingnamer interview. It’s great to get some insight from another namer! It reminds me of that poster on Mulder’s wall in the X-Files – “We Are Not Alone.” Somehow I feel comforted. Nancy: It was a rare and enjoyable opportunity to talk about my favorite subjects. Thanks for the opportunity, Tate.

Thingnamer: My pleasure! Thanks for taking the time out of your busy day to speak with me and the Thingnamer readers.

Nancy can be reached via email at (nancyf @ wordworking.com) and she has a very interesting blog that addresses many naming issues here. Examples of some great posts include this one on why Viagra is a great name (though it wasn't invented by her) and this one on how to become a namer of things.

And she ratted out a bunch of promising future interviewees (at my behest) such as David Placek, George Frasier, Rick Bragdon, Alexandra Watkins, Mark Gunnion, Steve Manning, and Brent Scarcliff. All of you (and more) should consider yourselves on notice.

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925