In this post I will share some of my favorite techniques to help you explore, associate and discover new words and generate great new brand names. By now you should now have a warmed up group: ready to create some killer brand names. You may wish to (re-) read these posts here and here before you continue reading.
Association and mind mapping
The words you’ve collected in your association matrix or from another tool (like a brand circle) are a good creative starter points to start associating freely. I like mind mapping for this purpose. All you need is a big sheet op paper and a pen. Just pick a word you find most inspiring and start writing associations around it: these could be variations of the word, homonyms, synonyms. Basically anything that springs to mind. Connect related words using lines and arrows. Soon your sheet of paper will look a bit like this:
There’s one basic rule: you derive quality from quantity. Don’t hesitate – just keep writing. Somewhere along the line you will start forming combinations and variations that aren’t just words but the beginnings of proper names. At times take a minute to pause and reflect. Circle one or two words (or names) you find most interesting: concentrate on those and repeat the process.
Sharing and selecting
Mind mapping is best done individually – it’s hard to share a sheet of paper with a group – although it can be done in pairs. If you’re creating names in a larger group – you need to assign individual people with different creative starting points on separate sheets. I sometimes like to swap the mind maps halfway through between different participants and have them work with the mind maps others made. After an hour or so you will end with hundreds of words and (half baked) names: most of which will suck. A few will be good names – one or two might even be excellent. Have the group pick the ones they feel are the most interesting to work with.
Playing with words
The next step is to start playing with the suggestions (the words and names) you have selected from the brain writing pool. To help you play with these words here is a list of actions you can do to them: add, subtract, combine, translate, modify, adapt, exaggerate, reverse, look for rhyme and rhythm.
- Add – Take a word and add something to it. Add the letter e for electronic to common words like book and paper and you’ve just invested a new product-category. Add the word company or international to your own (or a fictitious) name and you’ve just become a serious business.
- Subtract – Take a word. Pegasus for example (the winged horse from Greek mythology) Now remove something: letters of syllables. Pega, Pegsus, Egasus, et cetera. Bingo: you’ve now re-invented the name of one of the world’s biggest electronics brands: ASUS.
- Combine – Can you combine two (parts of words) to create a new word. Federal + Express becomes Fedex. What if you combined the Danish words for play (leg) and well / good (godt)? Remarkable the word Lego means ‘I put together’ in Latin; something the inventors of Lego claim is a mere coincidence.
- Translate – Foreign languages are treasure troves for wordsmiths. A particular kind of fast running African antelope is called a Reebok in Afrikaans. It is now also a sports brand. Dutch retail chain De Bijenkorf (which means beehive in Dutch) has used the word Alveare (which means beehive in Italian) for it’s own brand of clothing.
The usual suspects are of course Latin and Greek and to some extend French, German and Italian, but more exotic languages may yield interesting results too: Indonesian, Hindi, Japanese and Russian are rich tapestries full of new sounds and word combinations. It pays off to invest in a few dictionaries.
- Modify (spelling) – A googol is a one with one hundred zeros. Googol is the original name of what is currently the number one brand in the world: Google. The name was born out of a happy accident, a spelling mistake by Larry Page. Of course you can deliberately search for alternate spellings of words: hence, Coca Kola was transformed into Coca Cola and the word connects becomes Connex or even K’nex.
- Adapt – Adaptation is about borrowing other languages or brand categories. A Japanese electronics giant adapted the ending ‘y’ from English to Americanize the Latin word for sound: sonus. A very popular trick (so don’t use it) to convey that you’ve transformed an industry or have singlehandedly shifted a paradigm is to add 2.0 (or 3.0 if you’re feeling particularly courageous) to an existing product or word. This is an adaptation of an old software developers’ habit.
- Exaggerate – What if you take part of the intended meaning of a name and exaggerated it beyond proportion? A company that doesn’t make big lego-like building block all of a sudden makes Megablocks. They are not that huge aren’t they? A person selling green vegetables suddenly becomes a Green Giant and non-regular soda becomes Pepsi Max et cetera.
- Reverse – Take a word and phrase and reverse its meaning. The opposite of an honest and thoughtful skincare treatment for example would be botox. What if we use this word and modify it a little: anti-botox, nobotox, notox etc. I think there could be a tongue in cheek name in there somewhere.
- Look for Rhyme & Rhythm – From poetry we can learn two things: rhythm (or metrum) and rhyme. Mellow Yellow is a good example. And of course youtube (don’t just read, say it out loud). Rhyme is a bit like glue: it strengthens the coherence between words and syllables. If you can find two words (or syllables within a word) that alliterate (which is a bit like rhyming). Power punch just sounds a whole lot punchier than super punch doesn’t it? (if in doubt: just say the two words out loud). FijuFilm and Coca Cola are great examples too; also notice how these words seem to flow of the tongue: they have a little bit of rhythm to them that makes them easy to like and remember.
Depending on your preferences you can have people go through each of these exercises one-by-one for their chosen names or use them more playfully. First timers seem to benefit a bit from a more methodical approach.
If you put your mind to it you and your team can come up with dozens of great names. Now comes the hardest task: selecting your candidates for your shortlist. But that will have to wait until the next post in the series.