As a professional namer, I create names for companies, products and services. Every project has its own unique challenges. But perhaps one of the most challenging naming projects I’ve ever faced was when I had to choose a name for my first dog. Luckily, I was able to rely on some of the very same processes I employ when naming a company.
Whether you're looking to name a pet or a company, these tips and tricks from the world of branding can help:
1. Explore a variety of themes
When we name a company, we ask our clients to think long and hard about what they want their new name to say. What do they stand for? Who do they want to be? What do they want their audiences to think and feel when they hear the new name? Then, we explore multiple concepts, themes and metaphors to attempt to communicate these ideas. We cast the net wide, look for words in unexpected places and force our brains to think completely out of context.
When you’re coming up with names for your pet, consider the theme or style of name that best suits you and your new addition. For inspiration, here are a few themes I considered while naming my dog:
Traditional dog names: Spot, Lucky, Buddy, Piper. While these aren’t the most adventurous names, they do convey a sense of tradition, warmth and friendliness. Similarly, sometimes companies want a name that’s friendly and familiar and that conveys a sense of trust and reliability.
Human names: Max, Charlie, Bella, Daisy. Perhaps this style of name is popular because of our fascination with anthropomorphism, or assigning human characteristics to pets. It feels very natural to say, “Max is so silly,” or “Daisy is so smart.” We often see this style of descriptor used for artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbot names.
Food names: Ginger, Cookie, Peanut, Pepper. These names rely on existing associations we have with certain foods to make a statement about our pet. You might expect a “Pepper” to be energetic, while a “Cookie” might be cute and squishy. Android used this same style for its OS names (Donut, Cupcake, Froyo, Honeycomb).
Highly differentiated names: Ophelia, Ocean, Neo, Cricket, Moon, Cheddar, Prairie, Bounce. As namers, we are often tasked with searching for words that feel fresh for a company or product -- words you know, but probably wouldn’t expect for a company name. Names that make you ask, “Where did that name come from?” If you want your pet to stand out, this category is for you.
2. Create a big list before narrowing it down
Often, when executives try to name their company or product, they consider too few names. When one doesn’t stick, they go back to the drawing board and repeat the process again and again. As professional namers, our experience has taught us that there’s a better way. No matter what you’re naming, start by making a long list of potential names. Go wide. Explore multiple themes and name styles, and keep adding to this list.
Only begin shortlisting when you have a healthy list of names. If you want your name to stand out, begin by checking each of the names on Google against lists of most popular dog or cat names. Then, search Google again for possible negative associations. You don’t want your new pet’s name to bring to mind any current or historically negative trends, people or cultural references.
Go through your long list and select your top eight names. Then, narrow your list to your top five. Finally, highlight your top three names. Stop there, for now.
3. Keep your top three names to yourself
This is important advice we offer every company naming client at this stage of the naming process. When you involve new parties outside of the project, you run the risk of blowing up the entire process. Here’s why: People are inherently critical when it comes to change.
This is especially true when introducing new language. One of two things is bound to happen if you show someone a few random names and solicit opinions. Either they will immediately tell you all of the reasons they aren’t good names and can’t work, or they’ll connect the names to very subjective and personal associations. But this type of free association from folks who haven’t been deeply involved with the naming process is rarely relevant or useful when choosing a powerful new name.
Instead, as you name a pet, do what our clients do and keep your top three names to yourself. Don’t tell anyone -- aside from, perhaps, your other pet parent who has been on this naming journey with you from the beginning.
4. Only choose a final name when you can match it to a personality
When naming a company, our clients aren’t naming in the abstract. They have something concrete to weigh their names against -- something the name needs to embody or reflect. When it comes time to choose a final name from their top three, they consider the names against many aspects of the brand, including the company’s personality, vision, culture, etc.
This is an important part of naming your new pet, too. Take time to determine what their personality is like. What’s their energy level? Do they like to cuddle, or are they more independent? Do they have any unique markings? Once your fluffy friend is in your arms and you’ve decided to adopt them, you can decide which of the final three names is the best fit.
There are many lessons from the world of branding that we can apply to naming a pet. I followed these very steps, and it led me to the perfect name for my mini Labradoodle: Pilot. I chose it because it’s slightly differentiating and represents a companion for all of life’s adventures.