What's in a name?

I am currently working on three naming projects – one for a new academic institution, another for a fast-growing British software business, and a third for a new leading edge product for a Chinese manufacturer. Three very different types of types of names needed, and three very different cultures, but in each case three very similar points of discussion. Is the name important? What will our existing clients and staff think? How will people interpret it?

What's in a name?

Names are important. In a piece of research in the US participants were shown photographs of people and asked to rank how attractive they were. Two photographs were selected that both men and women ranked as equally attractive. Then, when participants were shown these photographs named Jennifer and Gertrude, six times more people ranked the photo labelled Jennifer more attractive than the one labelled Gertrude. Same photo, different names, different reaction from the viewer. Which probably also says to all you photographers, that giving an appropriate name to your compositions may have more effect than you realise.
The name of a business or product can significantly affect your expectations. You probably expect something different from ‘SpeedyCheapFotoService’ than from ‘TraditionalPhotographPrinting”. This would affect your propensity to choose one rather than the other, as well as your expectation of the price point.
However, if you are renaming an organisation, then – as long as you avoid a name with very negative connotations - what your existing clients and staff think is not particularly important. Their impressions of the qualities of the organisation are already set. The name is really only important in attracting and setting the expectations of those people who don’t yet know you. Yet almost every time the CEO and Board look at the possible name candidates and try to evaluate them on what they like (or on what their spouses like) rather than what will have the most positive impact in attracting new customers who have yet to discover them, new customers who will be essential to their future success.
And the interpretation of a brand name by people coming across it for the first time is very dependent on context. On the Internet it might come up first as a word in a search, but once you click on the site, or see an advert, then the look of the logo, the colours used, and the photographic style and imagery that surrounds it will have far more impact than the name itself. So it isn’t critical that a name is too dull, or too playful. Our design partners recently worked with an investment company that decided to call itself Frog Capital – but then by using simple, serious black and white tones and imagery they were able to completely avoid giving it a childish look, letting it use the distinctive name in a business-like context.
So would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Certainly – but your expectations of its sweetness will be determined by its name and context. If you could only try the scent of one rose, would it be VioletMusk, or FartySocks?

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