– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

It’s that time of year! Baseball Spring Training is here! In honor of this, I’m looking at the fun names in Minor League Baseball. Some of them demonstrate the key principles of name development!

Minor League Baseball team names can be dull and boring. For example, there are some that just reflect the name of the parent Major League Team (e.g., Oklahoma City Dodgers, Syracuse Mets, Springfield Cardinals or Iowa Cubs). Yawn.

Or maybe they use a traditional animal such as the Burlington Bees or the classic Durham Bulls. These are a little more interesting, but not especially engaging.

Some teams are “swinging for the fences” with their names. When you think about what is important in naming your minor league team, you should focus on 3 things. Team names should be fun, relevant to the local population, and quirky enough to be memorable.

Here are some examples of team names that are “hitting it out of the park.”

  1. The Madison, Alabama, Rocket City Trash Pandas – Yes, there is a large NASA facility nearby (that includes Space Camp) in Huntsville so the “Rocket City” moniker is no surprise. The Trash Pandas came from a consumer contest and won the public vote by a large margin. The previous team name was the uninspiring Mobile BayBears. For the record, the other finalists were space-animal combinations: Moon Possums, ThunderSharks, Space Chimps, and Comet Jockeys.

    Even though the Trash Pandas won’t start playing until 2020, they broke the three-month sales record for merchandise sold by a rebranded Minor League Baseball team with over $500,000 in merchandise moved in nearly 3,500 online orders.
  2. The El Paso Chihuahuas – When the former Tuscon Padres moved to El Paso in 2013 the team ran a naming contest and fans chose between these finalists: Aardvarks, Buckaroos, Chihuahuas, Desert Gators, and Sun Dogs. While Team Management was initially a little apprehensive about the name, their focus on fun drove sales of Chihuahuas merchandise to record setting levels.
  3. The New Orleans Baby Cakes – According to a team PR release, the Baby Cakes name is “A tribute to the Mardi Gras king cakes where small plastic babies are sought after.” In the 2017 rebranding, the former New Orleans Zephyrs held a name-the-team contest and the finalists were Baby Cakes, Crawfish, King Cakes, Night Owls, Po’boys, Red Eyes, and Tailgators.

    Although the Baby Cakes name was initially met with mixed reactions, the team reported increased merchandise sales after the announcement and the rebrand set a record for online merchandise orders. Of note, the team awarded a free lifetime pass to any baby born in the state of Louisiana during 2017 and was entered into a raffle to win a full four-year tuition to a state college in Louisiana upon their 18th birthday in 2035.
  4. In 2019 the Amarillo Sod Poodles begin play – Per the team, Sod Poodles is a “pioneer’s nickname for ‘Prairie Dogs.'” This name emerged victorious in a “Name the Team” contest, triumphing over other selections rooted in Amarillo’s Texas Panhandle location: Boot Scooters, Bronc Busters, Jerky and Long Haulers.
  5. The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp – Previous renditions of teams in Jacksonville included the Jacksonville Expos (referencing the parent Montreal Expos) and the Jacksonville Suns. You’ve got to admit that the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp is an upgrade, even if it is an oxymoron.

    And speaking of oxymoron, the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp was an answer on Jeopardy earlier this year!Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp✔@JaxShrimp

    Hey @thereal4smo – we loved your work on @Jeopardy tonight. Can we interest you in to coming to Jacksonville for a ballgame this season? Follow back and message us if you’re interested!

 

If you want to check out the bible of the weird team names of Minor League Baseball, check out this book: Root for the Home Team: Minor League Baseball’s Most Off-the-Wall Team Names and the Stories Behind Them.

Someday I’d like to work in the “Funnest” brand name category in America–Minor League Baseball Teams!

– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

In a recent article in The New York Times, John Williams discussed the evolution of our language through the “vowel dropping” trend.

He mentions the use of vowel dropping in naming tech companies, as tech companies like Tumblr and Flickr dropped vowels “…both for distinctiveness and because the altered names made it easier to trademark, claim domain names on the internet and conduct other practical business.”

In my book The Science of BrandingI noted that the human brain has the ability to “fill in” the gaps caused by vowel dropping. For example, read this sentence and you’ll see how distortion of words does not impair communication:

“It deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr all the ltteers in a wrod are. You can stlil raed it wouthit a porbelm bcuseae the huamn mnid wroks by a porecss of ptatern rceigontion. It dtemrines maennig bfoere porecssnig dteails.”

Isn’t tihs amzanig? Your brain can make sense of even the most chaotic situation.

But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Dropping vowels is not always a good strategy for name development. While dropping vowels can make acquisition of .com domains easier, it does not guarantee that getting a trademark will be easier. One important reason for avoiding this strategy is it can distort consumer communication.

One of the most important considerations in evaluating a name is the ability of people to remember the name. Test your “day after recall” with some members of the target audience. Make sure they can pronounce and spell it correctly the day after hearing it. If they can’t repeat it and get it right, then they won’t be able to find your product or service on the web. If they can’t properly recall it then they won’t be able to tell a friend about the name in a way that the friend can find it. Net, net, if the name is too difficult to recall properly, then it won’t be a good name (unless of course you have a lot of money to invest in awareness-generating advertising).

– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

Last year I wrote a “Change Your Name Already” blog post about Overstock.com on DuetsBlog which described the painful way that Overstock.com was trying to communicate that their name did not fit what they were doing as a business…”we are so much more!” My response was to politely suggest that they call me to help them find a new name that did fit their business model.

Recently MailChimp launched an ad campaign that approached the “our name does not fit our business model” issue from a different angle. In this effort, they celebrate the fact that they have outgrown their name and tell prospective customers that they would like to help them do the same thing.

Brilliant…simply brilliant. Both Overstock.com and MailChimp have outgrown their names, but Overstock.com communicates it in a way that makes the potential customer feel stupid (“you thought we only sold overstock items but you are stupid…we actually do more!”). MailChimp admits they do more than what their name implies and desire to have the same impact on the prospective customer’s business, thereby leaving prospective customers feeling hopeful. Big difference.

So the CEO of Overstock.com should still call me to initiate a name development project…but the CEO of MailChimp can just take a bow!

– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

Summer is in full swing and that means baseball is top of mind for many of us. As a professional name developer, I continue to get a charge from the names of minor league baseball teams. Following up on my previous post on minor league baseball team names here are some controversial team names:

All of these names were controversial when they were introduced. Think about it…who wants to support the El Paso Chihuahuas? However, according to the brand name developer, Jason Klein of Brandiose, being controversial was the intent.

Today these franchises are successful examples of branding with great ticket sales and high merchandise sales.

Obviously, these are fun names and minor league baseball is all about fun. However, the genius in these names is not that they are just fun…the names leverage a bit of history and are familiar to the target audience.

Take the El Paso, TX Chihuahuas as an example. When the name was introduced there was an uproar in the local community about the derogatory nature of the name. Shortly thereafter, articles of support started appearing (such as this one) and the name became a rallying point.

The same thing was true with the Hartford, CT Yard Goats. Yard Goat is a relevant name in Hartford as “yard goat” is railyard slang for the switch engines or terminal tractors that shuttle train cars between different locomotives, and Hartford has a strong rail presence.

In the 19th century the leading industry in the Lehigh Valley was iron production, and therefore the IronPig name makes sense (“pig iron” is the term for the raw iron that gets melted down to make steel).

Using a “safe” name might seem like a good idea, but safe names are generally mainstream names that don’t stand out.

Finally, please recognize that I’m not advocating “alphabet soup” names that seem to be in vogue with startups. If a name has some relevance, but is different enough to be noticed, then it might be worth the risk in the long run!

-Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash Name Development

About 6 months ago I wrote a blog post about the future of name development and the use of Artificial Intelligence to name things. I also made a prediction that AI was going to get better and better as it practices name development.

Since that time, AI is getting better at developing names. Check out these potential names for tomato varieties from a recent post by Janelle Shane.

  • Floranta
  • Sweet Lightning
  • Speckled Boy
  • Flavelle
  • Pinkery Plum
  • Market Days
  • Fancy Bell
  • Mountain Gem
  • Garden Sunrise
  • Honey Basket
  • Cold Brandy
  • Sun Heart
  • Flaminga
  • Sunberry
  • Special Baby
  • Golden Pow

I’m pretty impressed by some of these!

Of course, AI also generates names that might be considered to be bad choices, like these examples:

  • Birdabee
  • Sandwoot
  • Shampy
  • Bear Plum
  • The Bango
  • Grannywine
  • Sun Burger
  • Bungersine
  • First No.4
  • Smoll Pineapple
  • The Ball
  • Golden Cherry Striped Rock
  • Eggs
  • Old German Baby
  • Frankster Black
  • Bumbertime
  • Ranny Blue Ribber
  • Adoly Pepp Of The Wonder
  • Cherry, End Students
  • Small Of The Elf
  • Champ German Ponder
  • Pearly Pemper
  • Green Zebra Pleaser
  • Flute First

As predicted, AI is getting better at developing names. And this should increase the demand for professional branding services by experienced human beings! When AI was generating bad names it was easy to separate the stupid names from the barely acceptable names.

But now that AI is doing a better job, clients will have a harder time choosing a name because the list of 100 names contains 85 good ones! Clients will need the assistance of a branding expert to help make a branding decision, and perhaps a research expert to get consumer feedback on names.

-Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash Name Development

Janelle Shane is a research scientist who likes to play around with neural networks. Recently she’s been having fun investigating whether neural networks can replace traditional means of creative development. As a professional name developer, I’m watching her work closely because I’ve been told that my chosen career is about to be destroyed by the use of artificial intelligence to develop brand names.

Based on the results thus far, I’m not worried. While it is true that computers can develop names, I strongly believe that the judgment of a seasoned branding expert (like me!) will be necessary to identify names that will resonate with consumers. As evidence of my confidence, I provide some examples of names developed by artificial intelligence in the past year:

  • Paint Colors – Janelle’s experiments yielded names like Stoomy Brown, Stanky Bean, and Bank Butt. I’m pretty sure nobody would buy a paint called Stoomy Brown (which actually looks like a shade of green) or Stanky Bean.
  • Craft Beers – The AI developed names like Toe Deal, Sacky Rover, and Cherry Trout Stout. Given the proliferation of crazy craft beer names, some of the names developed by the neural network appear to be reasonable (e.g., Devil’s Chard, Whata Stout, and Black Morning), but you have to sift through a lot of “Toe Deals” before you get to a decent name.
  • Guinea Pig Names – While the AI names for guinea pigs are better (e.g., Funbees, Sporky, Furzy, and Farter) that is only because you generally don’t have to say the name in public. Can you imagine using “Farter” as a dog’s name? “Stay Farter!”
  • Superheroes – I really don’t think a superhero called Nana will be feared by an evil villain…although I’m heard of some pretty badass grandmas. And would Supperman’s superpower be the ability to put the fear of bankruptcy in the hearts of owners of buffet dinner establishments?

You get the point. Right now it is all fun and games and it is easy to separate the stupid names from the barely acceptable names.

But eventually the AI will get better, and that is when demand for my services will actually increase! When AI starts generating excellent names companies will be faced with having to pick a name from a list of 100 great names, and they will need the assistance of a branding expert to make that decision. Put me in coach…I’m ready to play, today!

– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

I’m often hired for name development by entrepreneurs who are starting a business. However, many founders take the “do-it-yourself” approach to name development. Sometimes that works for them, but all too often they make a horrible mistake that is easily preventable.

My basis for this conclusion?

Here are a few of the names chosen by startup companies last year (data from CrunchBase.com):

  • Zairge
  • Xwerks
  • Synthorx

I defy you to guess what the business is selling. Go ahead…try…I’ll wait. Can’t do it? I’m not surprised. You won’t get a clue from the name, and unless you already know about these companies you are taking a wild guess.

I’m not picking on these companies for their names because there are many others with similarly confusing names. For the record, Zairge (zairge.com) is a mobile property management system that simplifies and accelerates productivity for the owner, employee and guest. Xwerks (xwerks.com) offers elite nutrition for elite athletes. Synthorx (synthorx.com) is a biotechnology company using synthetic biology to synthesize solutions.

While I have no information about how the names for these companies were developed, I strongly suspect they may have fallen into the “.com conundrum.” Many startup companies I work with insist on having a one word name with one or two syllables that has a .com website available. That virtually guarantees the use of nonsensical clusters of letters that result in a name without relevance. Letting the availability of a .com domain drive your name selection is a huge branding mistake.

Consider these names of these other startup companies from CrunchBase.com:

  • Beep
  • Shout
  • Swish

These three have nice, short, memorable names. They are common words that are easy to pronounce, read and spell. Beep is a startup that sells a device that facilitates synchronized music in every room. Shout builds marketplaces for passionate people. Swish offers mobile payment solutions. In each of these cases, the company has chosen a relevant name that builds a brand around the benefits that their product offers. But because they chose a common word they don’t have the “exact word” .com address.

So which is better: Having a simple, easy-to-pronounce name that has meaning, or having a name that gets you a one word .com address? My 25+ years of branding experience tells me that a name that has meaning is infinitely more important than a name chosen because you can get a single word .com address.

You can ALWAYS get a .com address that makes sense. The websites for Beep, Shout and Swish are: are www.thisisbeep.com, http://useshout.com, and http://swishme.com. The companies have found a clever way to get a meaningful name AND a relevant website.

You can do the same. Add “my” or “the” to the front of your name or add “online” or “world” to the end of it. If you need other ideas give me a shout and I’ll help.

But please don’t pick a name that looks like a random selection from alphabet soup just because you can get a .com domain. You will only create confusion and that is never a good thing.

– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

No, I’m not talking about Dallas. Nor am I referring to the hip hop rap MC of the same name. I’m talking about Differentiation. If you understand this Big D, then you will have a real key to building your business.

Full disclosure: I consider myself a disciple of Al Ries and Jack Trout. They are true “Marketing Gods” for their work in Positioning and Brand Development. I first read “Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind” in the early 80’s and have referred to it regularly since then.

I recently had two very different name development jobs that presented a wide spectrum of name potential. The names have been changed to protect the guilty, but the situations were real.

One client wanted a descriptive name for a product that would exist in a category of descriptive brand names. To exaggerate, the client wanted a “Fast Pain Relief” name in a category with brands like “Ultra Fast Pain Relief,” “Super Fast Pain Relief,” “Faster Than Everyone Else Relief,” etc.

Another client wanted a made up name that had no reference to the product or category. I’m talking about names like “Blue Elephant” for a pain relief product. Sometimes this naming strategy makes sense, but not in his product category. He had a real opportunity to become the market-defining product by choosing a name that helped consumers understand the benefits of using the product.

I always present a wide range of options for names because I want the client to see the possibilities. However, I always recommend an approach based on a strategic examination of the market in which the product competes, and that is where the Big D comes into play.

To help you in this task, consider using tools that can identify ways to differentiate. I recently discovered this highly visual approach…check it out and see if this could work for you.

Sadly, my story about Differentiation in names has an unhappy ending. Neither of my clients chose to differentiate their products with names that would enable them to stand out in the crowd. “Mr. Descriptive Name” chose a descriptive name for his product, and “Mr. Wild Card” chose a wild card name. As a result, each of their products now has an uphill battle in marketing because the names they chose are not differentiated versus the competition. So choose wisely and think “Differentiation” when branding!

– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

Back in the mid-2000s, A.G. Lafley (during his first tour of duty as CEO of P&G) championed the “First Moment of Truth” which represented the time when people are looking at the store shelf and trying to decide whether to buy the product.

Later, P&G emphasized the “Second Moment of Truth,” which is when people try the product at home, to rationalize why they spend oodles of money on Research & Development.

Google VP-U.S. Sales and Service Jim Lecinski jumped back in time to coin “ZMOT,” for the “Zero Moment of Truth,” which is the time when people research a purchase online before shopping for the product. By the way, if you have not read Jim’s book you must do so. It is a free download.

As a professional name developer I believe there is an even more important moment of truth. I call it the Minus One Moment of Truth™ and I believe it can help guide the choice of a name for your company, product or service.

What is the Minus One Moment of Truth? It is the very first time your prospective target customer hears of your company, product or service. If you are choosing a name for your company, product or service, please do the necessary research to understand the Minus One Moment of Truth for your key target customers, because understanding it will yield a lot of clues for your name choice (and your marketing).

For example, let’s say you are developing a new name for a plumbing service. You have done the research and discovered that the vast majority of new customers hear of your company through recommendations of other satisfied customers. In this case, your Minus One Moment of Truth is the instant that George tells Sam that his plumbing is leaking and Sam tells George that he should call “XYZ Plumbers” because they will do the work fast and won’t charge you an arm and a leg (or whatever your unique points of difference are). The conclusion from this example is your name had better be easy to remember because you are relying on Sam to convey the information to George and for George to remember it until he can contact the plumber.

How can things go wrong in this example? Well, what if George does not remember the exact name but remembers that the plumber was supposed to be inexpensive? He uses Google to search for inexpensive plumbers in his area and finds Affordable Plumbers, Discount Plumbers, Cheapskate Plumbers, and SaveMore Plumbers. Here is where failure in the Minus One Moment of Truth leads to a disaster in the Zero Moment of Truth. If George can’t remember the name from his first encounter with Sam, then XYZ Plumbers loses because Google will provide many alternatives. Clearly XYZ Plumbers needs a name that conveys its unique point of difference in a way that will make the Minus One Moment of Truth a memorable event.

Here is another example. Jenny is an artist who wants to rename her art business. She spends a lot of weekends at art fairs around the country and she also has an Etsy e-commerce store. What is her Minus One Moment of Truth? In looking at her business, she believes the Minus One Moment of Truth happens on her Etsy storefront as the Etsy store is her biggest sales volume generator. So she thinks that she needs a name that will search well and therefore she wants to include keywords that relate to her inventory. I’m not going to argue against that approach, but I will point out that she needs to understand the Minus One Moment of Truth for her business. Do the people who buy her product come from searches on Google or Etsy, or do they come from people who have met her in person at the art fairs? If the former, then yes by all means consider inclusion of relevant keywords. If the latter, keywords may not be that important because the Etsy sales are generated by people who met her in person. These people are likely to get her business card and be driven to her web presence by that connection, so perhaps the new business name can be something memorable about her as an artist.

I’m not suggesting that you should violate the fundamentals of developing a good name (and my “Top 5” fundamentals of name selection are shown below). But I am suggesting that you understand your target market and how they first hear of you and then apply these fundamentals:

Fundamentals of a Good Name:

1.  Is simple and concise (easy to pronounce, read and spell).

2.  Is legally available from a trademark standpoint and has domain name options.

3.  Is differentiated versus competition in the category.

4.  Is easy to remember.

5.  Delivers the idea or concept behind the product or conveys something real and specific about the product.

So don’t name your business, product or service without considering where your target customer first hears the name…the Minus One Moment of Truth!

– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

One of my local stores has a huge selection of “As Seen on TV” products.  In reviewing their offerings, it occurred to me that the brand names are almost all descriptive & highly functional names that make it very clear what the product does. I’m talking about names like the “Furniture Fix™” chair and cushion support, the “Perfect Pancake™” cooking system, the “Perfect Fries™” French fry cutter and the “Wax Vac™” ear cleaner.

It’s possible that a simple, descriptive name may be all that is needed for a product that is usually accompanied by a long-format infomercial.  After all, you are going to demonstrate the product and show its benefits, enabling you to elaborate on the product’s premise over and over again, so why try to deliver a name that has deep and rich meaning?  All you really want to do is get people to pull out that credit card and pick up the phone!

Actually, the “branding” in “As Seen on TV” products is part of a trend in name development.  Many clients want highly functional names because they claim not to have the money to establish a name that is not obvious to the consumer.  That is one of the few pros of a descriptive name.

However, there are many more cons to using a descriptive name.  In general, the more functional the name, the more likely it genericizes the product and destroys the potential competitive advantages of the product.  How many variants of “fast” are there in the cleaning aisle?  How do you decide which one to buy?  It also makes trademark clearance a more difficult task.  Just try to get anything with “fast” registered for a cleaning product! And if you manage to get a descriptive name registered as a trademark, it will be a weak mark at best.

Not all “As Seen on TV” brands are taking the easy way out, though.  Consider “Poo~Pourri™,” the “Before You Go Bathroom Spray.” It’s not exactly a functional name, but I’m not buying it!