What’s the first thing you think about when you’re naming a company or a product? Securing a domain? Avoiding trademark conflict? Sounding different from your competitors?

All are important concerns. But I contend that the first thing you should think about is this:

A name is the title of your story.

Yes, you’re naming your company or your product. But what you’re really doing is putting a title on the story you’re telling investors, shareholders, customers, and employees.

If you’re smart and lucky, the name you choose will be the title of a great story. A best-seller. A legend. A tale told around the campfire for generations.

If you’re haphazard or confused or pretentious or timid, your name will end up on the equivalent of the remainders table at your local bookstore: piles of copies at 70 percent off.

You can have a great story that nobody wants to read because the title is pedestrian or perplexing or pompous.

Or you can create demand for your story by giving it a title that tells just enough without giving away the plot.

So before you do any internal namestorming or hire a name developer, spend some time thinking about the story your company or product needs to tell.

Thinking about “story” requires a shift away from what you focus on day to day. Your elevator pitch and your PowerPoint presentation may tell your investors and shareholders and customers about your product’s new features or your market niche or your global strategy. They are not your story. They are bits of information.

Here’s what Annette Simmons, author of The Story Factor, says about this:

"People don’t want more information. They are up to their eyeballs in information. They want faith—faith in you, your goals, your success, in the story you tell. … Once people make your story their story, you have tapped into the powerful force of faith."

And here’s what the great Russian writer Anton Chekhov said:

"Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass."

How do you find your story? By stripping away everything that isn’t story: your products, your process, your team of super-smart engineers. And by focusing instead on your master narrative.

Story is bigger than “who we are.” As the title of a story, Amazon doesn’t say “online seller of books, music, and everything else we can get our hands on.” On the top level of the story, it says “big, deep, and powerful.” On a less conscious level it says “amazing” (a close cognate), it says “on” (the final syllable), and it says “A to Z” (incorporated into the spelling). It even says “am” (first syllable), as in “I the customer am involved with this enterprise.”

Story is bigger that “what we do.” As the title of a story, Viagra doesn’t say “effective treatment for erectile disfunction.” It doesn’t say “sildenafil citranate.” It says “via—the way to get there”; it says “virile,” “vital,” “vitamin,” and “viva!”; it says “grow” (so close to “-gra”); it says “Niagara—ceaseless power”; it says “Agra—site of the Taj Mahal, that monument to love.” And it says “women will love it, too”—note the feminine “-a” ending.

Do you read all of those meanings into these names the first time you hear or read them—or even the twelfth? Of course you don’t. But because the meanings are so positive, their power accretes each time you hear the name or roll it around in your mouth. “Yes,” you think without quite knowing why. “I want some more of that.”

Can a strong name take the place of sound technology and a business plan and a smart management team and solid financing? Of course it can’t. But without a compelling story, you won’t engage your audience. And your name—the title of your story—is your first chance to do it.

Nancy Friedman, Chief Wordworker at Wordworking

  • James Mahoney

    Nicely said, Nancy. Well thought out and succinctly presented. And, IMO, true.

  • Nancy is “spot on” in her post!
    As a sidebar, I have a couple of friends who are published Romance Novel writers, and I’ve asked them how they came up with the titles of their books. I find it interesting that the authors develop titles for their books, but the editors and publishers usually overrule their proposed titles and replace them with titles that “will sell more books.”
    I guess we, as professional namers, should not be surprised when the good names that we develop often get shot down in the Boardrooms in favor of names that will “sell more product.”
    In any case, I wish all my clients followed Nancy’s suggestions…it would make my life a lot easier!

  • Awesome post Nancy!
    I love how you frame the role of titling any idea, product or service. This discussion of naming totally links up to an article I just wrote in Storytelling Magazine all about Brand Storytelling.
    Here is an excerpt:
    The very act of naming something transforms our relationship to it.
    A research study by Newcastle University offers a refreshing bovine perspective: √¢‚Ǩ≈ìIf a cow is given a name by her owner, she generates more milk than a cow that’s treated as an anonymous member of the herd,√¢‚ǨÔøΩ explains Rob Brezny.
    As storytellers, we know that names are powerful devices. Names speak to the legacy of where we come from, the shoulders we stand upon. Names also provide us with purpose and direction, often revealing within in a seed, the destiny we are expected to fulfill.
    Similarly the names that we give to stuff, imparts an energetic connection that shapes and influences our relationship to life. As you name your universe, you strengthen your connection with creation – all through the stories you tell.
    Brands operate in a similar domain. Although today, a brand is so much more than just a name (or a logo, a tagline, an image, or even marketing materials). A brand represents the emotional relationship between the storyteller and the audience (or in more traditional context, the emotional relationship between a consumer and a product).
    The full article is available for free download here –
    Michael Margolis
    Brand Storytelling