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August 3, 2007 | Tate Linden
While researching our peers in the naming industry we came across an interesting situation. Every month we swing by all of the naming sites we can find to see where the competition and the industry as a whole is headed. You'd be amazed what you can anticipate by looking at the lists of recently named companies out there. (Evocative single-word names, anyone?) Or the stances that companies take on what sets them apart. (In this industry attitude is apparently just about everything. Well, that and your portfolio.)

Anyhow, we came across a site that listed a name that was very familiar to us. In fact, one of our friends in the naming industry had also claimed they had given a firm the same label. And when you clicked the links provided by each naming company they both brought you to the same site!

How can this be? Did the two companies work together on developing the name and not tell anyone?

The answer? No.

It appears the following occured:
  1. Company "Alpha" had a naming contract and developed a name that the client liked but for which the .COM address was camped.
  2. Company "Beta" (also a naming firm) was squatting on the website and was willing to sell it.
  3. Alpha brokered the sale of the website from Beta to their client.
  4. Alpha lists the company name and the story behind it on their website, along with quotes from the client, and provides a link to their client's website.
  5. Beta lists the company name in their portfolio, provides a link to Alpha's client, and provides no context about what services were provided. (Note that Beta does not say they developed only the ".COM" - they list the name without any URL suffixes.)
This, to me, is a sticky ethical issue.

Alpha obviously selected the name as right for this client, but Beta seems to have been the originator of the name concept and was savvy enough to reserve the website.

Which one counts? Legally it would seem that each has a claim to the name, though one has a claim to naming a ".COM" and the other a company.

A couple weeks back I found a corporate namer that listed numerous names that were obviously fictional. (Spunkwave, anyone?) This isn't quite the same. Korwitts hadn't even reserved the websites (which were often still available, mind you) so the names were purely theoretical. In her case she's just slammed some letters together and put them on the web. There's no registration and no ability - should she have actually come up with a strong name - to defend a name as her own.

So, putting aside the previous example, can someone claim credit for naming a firm if they weren't the ones to work with that firm? Does camping on a website name give you the right to claim that you named the company that buys it from you? If so, at what point does the claim of "inventing the name" not ring true? If I just write a word on my blog (e.g. "Alacabraxify") and someone comes along and uses it for their company name can I say that I named the firm?

If I hire a group of punters to help come up with ideas and one of 'em says the name that we eventually use (note that we don't typically hire punters) must I say that the hired hand came up with the name? Can the hired hand claim it (barring any signed documents preventing said claim?)

Where is the line? And what would you advise Alpha and Beta do to resolve this?

Update 1:38 EDT - Alpha and Beta came to an agreement after this post was written but before it was published. Beta has kept the name on their list of names they've created, but they've removed the client link.

Anyone out there have an opinion as to whether or not this is satisfactory?
May 21, 2007 | Tate Linden
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.
February 26, 2007 | Tate Linden
baseballcards.jpgCan nicknames serve a purpose other than to make you look foolish in retrospect? (Did I really let people call me by the name of a small fried nugget of processed potato bits? Yes... yes I did. But in my defense I was only three.) Apparently they can.

Ernest L. Abel, Ph.D. and Michael L. Kruger from Wayne State University found a connection between the use of nicknames and living longer.

Here's the abstract from their report:
We investigated the effect of having a nickname on the longevity of major league baseball players. Ages of death, birth year, and career lengths of major league baseball players who debuted prior to 1950 were obtained and we compared longevities of players with nicknames with those who did not have a nickname. After controlling for these factors in analysis of covariance, there was a statistically significant increase in longevity of 2.5 years associated with having a nickname. Players with nicknames (N=2,666; 38.1 %) lived an average of 68.6 (±15.1 S.D.) years compared to players without nicknames (N=4,329; 61.9%) who lived an average of 66.1 (t16.1) years. We attributed this nickname-related effect on longevity to enhanced self-esteem.
Reprints of the report can be requested via email to:

While I agree that a name can have major impact on the success of a product, person, or business, I'm not sure that this report is throwing strikes.

I have to wonder how self-esteem can be quantified when the only variables controlled are age at death, birth year, career length, and whether or not they had a nickname. I did not read the full report but would imagine that there are better ways to determine if self esteem is a factor. Consider the more tangible variables of:
  • Salary rank (versus contemptoraries)
  • Stat rank (versus contemporaries)
  • Inclusion in team or league hall-of-fame
  • Records held (and for how long)
  • Position played (since some positions may be more likely to have nicknames than others - and each position requires different physical skills and body-types)
My feeling on this report is that there is some confusion between a "nickname-related effect on longevity" and another cause (the real one) that the nickname is also caused by. It could be physical attributes, increased skill, or something else. The fact is that people who get nicknames typically have something different about them (as proven by the fact that there aren't many ball-players called Joe Average.) Maybe these differences are the cause rather than the label that we put on them...

How does this apply to the world of branding and naming? When looking for true causes for success or failure it helps to look deeper than just the surface. I've found that many of the best-named companies aren't just named well - they're responsible for great products and they're managed well too. The name is the crowning achievement rather than a mask to hide a weak product.

A great name can help a company with other differentiators stand out from the crowd. It can also help a company stand out in an a commoditized industry. But as I often say, giving a piece of poo a great name may get that piece of poo a lot of press, but at the end of the day it will still only be a very well named piece of poo.

(You'll note my use of three-letter words instead of four. With the baby on the way I'm having an irrational fear that the kiddo will read this stuff and blame me for a nasty swearing habit.)

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
February 7, 2007 | Tate Linden
Some call it "corn mushrooms" or "the fungus delicacy that attaches itself to corn." But those that don't have the gift of marketing-speak seem to talk a little more freely. Consider "Corn Smut," for instance.

Or my favorite... (Boy I wish I could make this more suspenseful...)

"Sleepy excrement"

The product? Huitlacoche. (or Cuitlacoche)

Hunghuitlacoche2.jpgry yet? Just wait!

From recipes to go:
...common in central Mexico; during the rainy season, a fungus develops between the husks andhuitlacoche.jpg the ripe kernels where the kernels will blacken, contort and swell to form this musty fungus; valued for centuries in Mexico; has an earthy and distinct taste finally similar to mushrooms or truffles; lends a black hue and resonant aroma to stuffings for empanadas, tamales and quesadillas; makes distinctive sauces; usually sold cut from the cob and frozen; needs cooking to release flavor and aroma; often sautéed with roasted garlic and onions, and either fresh marjoram, oregano or epazote, then simmered with a little water or stock; harvested during the rainy season, usually late spring to early fall.
This lovely delicacy has been the target of USDA eradication efforts (they view it as a blight) - which may be one of the reasons why it is so darn hard to find in the States.

cuit4.jpgIn the late 1980s the James Beard House attempted to popularize the food by calling it "Mexican truffle," and some unknown marketer calls it"corn caviar."

This post was inspired by an old blog post at wherein the author eats an entire can of the stuff. You gotta go read it - mainly to see pictures of what they put in the can. (Imagine corn on steroids. Now imagine corn on steroids getting covered in mold. Oh. And filled with puss, too.)

Why am I writing about this on a naming blog? Because I think this is an excellent example of a product that ain't gonna benefit from a name change - no matter how great that name change is. Call it Ambrosia, call it Cocaine, or call it McDonalds... the name won't help it. It still looks like doo-doo (those Aztecs were smart.)

Remember the "You're soaking in it" tagline? Or secretly replacing the house coffee? That's just about the only approach that I could see working here. Hide the food inside stuff that people can't see and then surprise the audience with the fact that they just ate some really good tasting... mold. cuit3.jpg

On second thought, perhaps that won't work. I smell lawsuits.

Fellow namers - what do you think? Could you name (and brand) this well enough to make it a popular delicacy in the US? (No fair paying Oprah and Michael Jordan to endorse it. The Corn Smut lobby couldn't afford it.)

This one is beyond my pay grade.

Tate Linden Principal Consultant Stokefire Consulting Group 703-778-9925
February 1, 2007 | Tate Linden
Can you find success by copying a name or category prefix from a big Web 2.0 site or company? I wanted to find out.

Here's what I did. (Warning: This may get a little boring/technical/nonsensical. Go to "Findings" below the table if you're not interested in my process.)
  1. I found a list of the top (approximately) 1000 Web 2.0 sites and companies compiled by Seth Godin. The list is ranked by Alexa - as good a source as any for my gauge of success.
  2. I scanned the list for prefixes, words, numbers, and letters that were at the start of the website name. (This didn't have to be an actual word - it could be a single letter that is meant to be sounded alone like in ebusiness, or numbers, like "321contact.)" This was not a scientific process. I used a spreadsheet and sorted by alpha to locate groupings.
  3. For each common prefix I counted up the number of "hits" there were in the top 1000 and the top 100 (the latter number being a somewhat arbitrary measure of success.)
  4. I measured the ratio of companies with each prefix in the top 10% to the companies in the top 1000.
  5. I then subtracted out the "initial mover" that brought about the trend in usage (if one existed in the top 100) - assuming that if there is at least one in the top 100 that they are the attracting factor for the term. (I know it isn't really true in all cases, but I gotta start somewhere.)
  6. I measured the ratio of copycat prefix users to see how effective the names have been at drawing traffic.
  7. I completely ignored everything about the companies, websites, users, and any external factors that might be influencing one website to draw more traffic than the others with the same name prefix.
Here's the resulting table:


  1. About 19.5% of the top 1000 Web 2.0 sites fell into a recognizable prefix/first-word usage group.
  2. 20% of the top 100 websites were a part of the prefix groupings
  3. The corresponding success rate (for being in the top 10%) for all companies in the prefix groupings was a approximately 10.26%, meaning that those companies not in the prefix groupings had a success rate of just below 10%.
  4. But when the First Movers are subtracted and we analyze only the copycats the success rate is reduced to 4.1%, implying that non copycat names have an approximately 11.4% chance to succeed. This is an increase of over 180% achieved just by not following the prefix groupings of other top 1000 sites.
  5. The best success rates for pattern matching names are for beginning with the word "news", any grouping of numbers, or a variant of the word "You" (as in you or your). And even these success rates aren't exactly awe inspiring.
  6. Personalization is well represented in the top 100 (just factoring in the prefixes - there's probably more that hide the personalization elsewhere in the name) There are multiple examples of each (I, My, You) prefix in the top 100. And yes, not every "I" refers to personalization - but I'm going to stick by my story.
  7. Success rates for companies that have first mover status for names and have attracted copycats in the top 1000 is 40.00%. (This is mitigated by the fact that we assume the top-ranked name is always the first mover - something that is not always true.)
  • Generally speaking, copycat naming does not work.
  • The impressive success rate for first movers with copycats likely isn't a causal relationship (e.g., naming with a new prefix won't get you a 40% chance of being in the top 100) but it certainly makes the case that starting trends is more likely to get you attention than following them.
  • More research in this area would be absolutely fascinating for me - I'll be looking to write a deeper study for publication in the near term.
What do you think? Are the outcomes as you thought they would be? Is my logic horribly flawed?

Will you read my amazingly dry research report when I have the time to publish?

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