Good naming strategy is an art and a science. Simply throwing up names onto a wall and asking the leadership team to vote is not a method that usually ends with an acceptable name.
Good naming strategy is an art and a science. A large portion of our naming clients comes to us because they have tried to develop a name internally, but came up short on their own. Simply throwing up names onto a wall and asking the leadership team to vote is not a method that usually ends with an acceptable name. We always coach clients to include a more rigorous methodology into their process – start with a creative brief that outlines the strategy that will both guide the name generation process and also serve as the first filter through which potential names are passed. If the name doesn’t support or enhance the strategy, it shouldn’t be a contender, no matter how clever it might be.
Last year, we wrote a piece on surviving the business naming process that expands on some of these ideas.
We noted that a part of good naming practices is: trust the process. It’s difficult for clients to fully grasp the nuance between signing on to a process with a team of experts and signing up to get a name. In the end, the name is the deliverable—the process is the true offering we are selling. But, even with a strong process in place, it can be a trying journey – exciting and fun, but also challenging and uncomfortable at times. Your business is your baby – you want to make sure you are setting it up for success.
Now, what if you were naming an actual baby instead? That’s the situation I find myself in now, as I’m closing in on my seventh month of pregnancy. And I’ve taken a page from the branding handbook to build a process around name development, adding some objectivity and easing the subjectivity. Naming a child is an opportunity for my husband and I to express ourselves, but it is also imperative to set the child up well for future social interactions.
Having gone through this process once before with our older daughter, my husband and I entered with a much stronger sense of what our “naming strategy” would be. Yes: we discussed and agreed upon an actual strategy before we started discussing specific names. It has kept many of the name discussions from getting heated or personal. Adding names to the list is easier when the guidelines are already set up – and my feelings are much less likely to get hurt if I can defend a name with something more than “but I like it!”
When building a strategy, I actually thought about some of the guidelines we use with our clients in positioning their brands. A strong positioning is credible, relevant, believable, and distinct. When naming a child, you need to think not just about a name that will be cute when they are toddlers, but one that will translate well into adulthood – to lend credibility at the top of a resume. Relevance for us is about being culturally appropriate. Although my husband is half Italian, his last name is a common Jewish last name and quite a few of the beautiful Italian first names (many of which have Christian origins) just sound odd when paired with it. We are white Americans and our daughter will be too, and that factors into the names that make it into our short list. I’m not sure believable is a criterion that translates well into baby naming, but ultimately the whole process is about being distinct. We want our child’s name to set her apart, carve out a unique place in the world for her – but not be so far out there that it actually alienates her or makes her life more difficult. She will be an individual, but she will need to operate within a set environment – the name needs to work both emotionally and logistically.
Here is an overview of our baby naming strategy:
- The first name must be the full version of the name. Although we are happy to give the child a nickname, we want the birth certificate to list the full proper name. For example: Elizabeth instead of Liz. Jennifer instead of Jenny. (None of which are on our list). Some exceptions can be made for nicknames that have become names on their own, like Lucy instead of Lucille.
- The name must have some personal meaning, whether it's a family name, or a name of some place or thing that is sentimental to us. I don't want our child to be asked, “Where did your name come from?” and only be able to answer, “My parents just liked it.” This could apply to either the first or middle name. (Our first child has a family name for her first name and a name we simply liked for the second name)
- The name needs to be common but not popular. We don’t want to make up a name via a string of syllables or creative spellings. It needs to be pronounceable and understood by all of the future customer service reps she will encounter, not taking much pause to enunciate. Any name in the Top 500 baby names as listed by the Social Security Administration [link: http://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames] won’t do. But we also feel a strong pull to give our child a somewhat unique place in a world of repetitive monikers.
- We prefer old-fashioned names. Names that sounded odd to me as a child have come back into fashion, like Ella and Maeve. Choosing an old-fashioned name is a good way to meet the known-but-not-popular criteria. But in keeping with the point above, we don’t want it to be too esoteric and outdated.
- We’d like to choose a first and middle name. Because my husband (and thus my daughter) has a common last name, we’d like her stand out with the given names. It’s becoming more and more common to have no middle name or to have several. But we chose two – the most common in the US - because, again, it will make it easier for her when filling out forms and handling other name-related logistics. We also need to ensure the two names work well together. For our first child, this meant we had to come up with a long list of middle name options that were short and didn’t end in “a” – but we finally figured it out.
- It needs to be different from our friends’ kids’ names. In the age of Facebook it gets harder and harder to find a name that one of your extended network hasn’t chosen for their own, whether or not it ranks on the top baby names list. And I have found myself mildly disappointed when someone chooses a name that was on our list – but if we think our daughters might play together some day, we cross it off. Luckily, as we are only two or so months away, the chances of our top choices being taken at this point have decreased.
- It needs to not clash with her sister’s name. Not that they need to match or be similar, but they simply be able to be comfortably stated together. There will only be the two of them, so it needs to be a somewhat coordinated pair.
Now that I type it all out, it seems like a very intense set of rules! I can attest, though, it has actually made things go much more quickly.
Once the strategy was finalized, I downloaded a baby name app and spent my commutes selecting new names for my favorites list as well as generating a few options on my own. And now we’re at the part of the process where we can let a little bit more of the art/subjectivity come in. We have our list of combined top names and we pass the list back and forth, crossing off names based solely on what we like. I employ a technique that I use with corporate naming – practicing saying the name out loud over several days, in several possible scenarios. From trying to make up derogatory nicknames (the goal would be to have none), to using the full name to express my motherly disappointment, to simply imagining introducing her to others: putting the name into a “pilot program” to validate it helps with the confidence of selecting a final one.
It’s a lot of pressure to name a child! But hopefully we have the right process in place to ensure a name that will give her the foundation she needs to be most successful – or at least fly under the radar.
Have you ever developed and employed a personal naming strategy – for a child, a pet or even a house or boat? What were some of your guidelines? Is naming a child harder or easier than developing a product or corporate name?
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