“What’s in a name?” 8 Points to Help You Succeed in Product Naming




One of my favorite naming stories starts with a physicist’s discovery of a “gravitationally completely collapsed object” and, frankly, no one cared.  It doesn’t sound interesting, it doesn’t sound fun, actually it sounds like something only the scientists in his field are going to geek out about.  However, months later he change the name to “black hole” and public interest exploded and the term has made it’s way into mainstream vocabulary.  Naming is important.  A product’s name should generate excitement, deliver a message and seduce the consumer into buying. 

Unfortunately, naming is not easy.  There are far too many pitfalls and obstacles in the naming process waiting to take down a good product.  Yet, there are some key components that will assist you in picking a good name once you’ve generated lots of ideas to choose from.

 1. The name should sound fun.  (duh!)  Presumably, you are trying to sell a fun toy or game – and if you aren’t well, even a great name won’t save you.  Some good examples are: Hide and EeekElefun, and Stomple.

 2. The name should be easy to say.  Some of my favorite fun-to-say game names include: Chicken Cha Cha ChaSumo Ham Slam, Duck Duck Bruce, Rat-a-Tat Cat, and Gnip Gnop.  Every one of these rolls off the tongue easily and produces a smile as it exits. 

When a name is difficult to say instead of rolling off the tongue smoothly, it clumsily trips off, like Husker Du? or Carcassonne – even Rummikub (which I’ve heard pronounced “roomy-cube,” “rummy–cub,” “rummy-cube”).  When people aren’t comfortable saying name they aren’t comfortable with the product.  If they can’t say it to ask for it, they won’t and if they can’t pronounce it with confidence, they won’t recommend it to their friends. 

One of the biggest missteps is actually pretty easy to avoid: don’t choose a foreign-sounding name.  It’s hard for consumers to pronounce, remember and relate to a name they don’t understand.  BiliboMille BornesLigretto, even the pooping dog internet sensation Kackel-Dackel, which I think sounds hilarious, changed it’s name to Doggie Doo for sales here in the United States. 

 3. The name should NOT be visually confusing.  Adding extra letters, changing Cs to Qs or Ss to Zs is one way to create a unique name, but sometimes there are unintended consequences.  First, inventing super-weird spelling names that take a little while to sound out is bad.  It’s annoying to be a literate adult and have to stop and sound out a product’s name.  Second, sometimes newly created words remind us of other standard vocabulary words or phrases.  For example, I have a game in my collection called “Woker” it’s a word-poker game, unfortunately every time someone looks at it they see the word “Worker” which does NOT sound fun and this somewhat clever name has backfired. 

 4. The name should make sense.
 I came across a product recently that was called “Squap.”  Despite sounding interesting, I had no idea what the name had to do with the product (shown here at right).  It’s extremely helpful if a name does some explaining.  For example, the game Stomple is a game about stomping marbles, Banagrams is an anagram game that comes in a banana, Sturdy Bird is a bird-themed game about balancing.  Giving context clues in the name helps the consumer quickly understand the product.

5. The name should be easy to remember.  Another seemingly obvious point, yet one that is hard to accomplish.  People walk into stores all the time saying “I need the game about _____” or “the game with the _____” because they can’t recall the exact name.  Why is that?  Going back to previously discussed points, it’s hard to remember a name that is totally arbitrary or hard to pronounce.  It’s also difficult to remember names that are too generic like the games What? and Great States.

6. The name shouldn’t get confused with another product.  Have you heard of the products Q-Bitz, Kubit2Me and Qubits?  Similar sounding names can cause a great deal of product confusion, especially when you have people saying, “my niece wanted that Qube game.”  While this isn’t always something you can control, before you settle on a name check and see what else is already out there that sounds similar.  And then once your product is out there keep an eye out for new products that may cause confusion.

7. The name should be protectable.  Now we’re moving into stuff your lawyer is concerned with.  Protecting your name is important.  Hopefully, it will stop anyone from creating a game that causes the confusion mentioned in point 6.  And if you have any doubts about how important protecting a name is, check out the legal battle regarding  “Zobmondo!!: Would You Rather?” and “Justin & Dave’s Would You Rather?”

 8. The name should be easily marketable.
Can you get the URL?  And if you can’t – or don’t want it, what’s at that URL if one of your consumers is going to go looking?  You also have to think about search engine results.  If you choose a generic name, it may make it extremely difficult (or expensive) for your product to land on the first page of Google results. A great example is the game Husker Du, which is also a rock band.  If I Google "Husker Du" the majority of the results I get are about the band and not the game. 

So there it is.  You could have the best idea for a name ever but if it fails to meet any of the 8 points above, you may have an uphill battle ahead of you.  Creating a great name isn’t an easy or quick task, but it’s one of the most important — and these eight points are really just scratching the surface on why a great name is so important.   




2 thoughts

  1. Inc Magazine just published an article on naming “9 Naming Success Stories.” I can’t add a link here for some reason, but I’m sure you can google to see it.
    Also, for folks who are trying to name a new game or toy, an excellent (free) naming guide we used to help guide us in picking a good one for our game is from Igor International, a naming and branding agency in California. It’s a free (no-strings) PDF file you can download right off their site, and it is flat out awesome. Just google “Igor Naming Guide.” It will take you right to it.
    Doing your competitive intelligence homework on names and getting that trademark filed quickly when you find one that is free and clear is key to prevent brand confusion.
    Another example that comes to mind are three new products: FlipOut, Flippin’Out (games) and the new collectible toy “FlipOutz.” While distinctly different products, they do share the retail space.
    Imagine the look on the kid’s face who wants those FlipOutz to wear and Grandma unwittingly picks up a card game instead – or vice versa.
    Another example I saw a while back was Zoobies and ZhuZhus – both animals – and yet “completely different animals.” If you were a customer walking into the store and all you remember is the kid wanted some animal thing with a name that sounds like “Zoo,” it would be an awfully disappointing mistake.
    Naming – it is one of the most challenging parts of developing a new product.

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