Naming Colors: My interview in The Boston Globe



Radiant Orchid.

That's the name of Pantone's color of the year. It's a beautiful name befitting the color. I spoke about naming colors with journalist Matthew Gilbert of the Boston Globe in this interview. Read the story behind the name, Radiant Orchid, the naughty etymology of the word orchid, and the reason why ambiguous color names pop.

Enjoy!

Funny Business: The Game for Namers

Namers of the world, rejoice! I bring tidings of great joy, for unto you a game is born. And the name of that game is Funny Business.


Funny Business, “The Hilarious Game of Mismatched Mergers”, challenges players to give names to companies that have merged. The funny part of Funny Business is that the mergers are of incongruous businesses. What name would you give to diner that merged with a hardware store? Or a fruit stand and a cruise line?


What It Is

Four to eight players compete to give the best name for two businesses that have come together. Two “business cards” are drawn for each round of play, each card features a type of business and a list of related words to inspire a name. For example, the business Comic Book Store includes action figure, edition, graphic, superhero, strip, villain, et al. The names each player comes up with can include those words but don’t have to.


Game Play and Voting

Each player anonymously writes down their one best name on a card and the cards are shuffled. A “Boss,” who rotates between plays, reads each name aloud and players secretly vote on their favorite one. The Boss may not vote on their own name, but other players may. After voting, the votes are tallied and points are awarded according to who gets the most votes (2 points), who voted for the winning name (1 point), and the Boss earns double of any points he or she earned in the round. The voting system is ingenious, ensuring that players are not incentivized to vote for their name, but to vote for the best name. Or, at least the name they believe will earn the most votes.

The Verdict

My greatest surprise with Funny Business is not that the game exists (though: hallelujah!), it’s seeing how amazing names are developed by every non-professional-namer I’ve ever played with. The last game I played was swept by my nine-year-old niece.

Funny Business is a fantastically fun game. It’s great for adults and kids – the box suggests age 12 and up, but, in my experience, younger precocious kids can hold their own. And, at less than $8 bucks discounted on Amazon, you really have no choice but to run to your local Amazon (it’s not far!) and grab a copy of Funny Business to play this holiday season.

Have fun!

Five Ways to Create Great, Free Domain Names

Every company needs an Internet presence. With over 111 million (and counting!) .coms already taken, finding a .com that exactly matches your name is not easy.

Sometimes that’s not a big deal. I believe that it’s more important to have a great name than a great domain. For many companies, you can safely modify the perfect name with a descriptor to secure a .com. But if your website is your product, you really do need a clean domain. GoogleSearch.com would not have cut it.

Here are some creative techniques and tools that have enabled me to present scads of great, available domains to my clients. Give them a try the next time you need a clean domain.

Combine Words

This technique relies on creatively combining words that may have never been combined before (if they had been, the .com would probably not be available). Creativity is, at its essence, combining novelly, so this technique is really about good creativity.

Here’s how to do it:

Create two columns of words relevant to the new brand. List functional and descriptive words in one column, and attributes in another. Or relevant nouns in one column and relevant verbs in a second.

Then use a tool like CombineWords.com to combine column A and B in a “brute force” method. This will compel you to consider two-word names that your brain might not put together. Try swapping the first and second columns to double your productive output. Sometimes, with some words, this reversed syntax works better.

Another combinatorial technique relies on mixing adjectives and nouns to create vivid, picturable names. Make a column of colors or sizes and another column of shapes or concrete nouns. Mix and match using Combine Words or another word permutation tool.

You’ll find that some words work better than others. Refine your lists and combine them with other ideas to create longer, better lists of name candidates. This recursive technique will easily net you hundreds of candidates.

Once you have a good list, run it through a batch domain search tool to see what’s free.

These are names I have created that had free and clear .com domains using this technique:

DwellAware.com
ArtistRising.com
HometownAdvantage.com
RunBrainRun.com
BigRedArrow.com
RichPageant.com
OperativeWords.com

This technique is suitable when your name really does need to match your .com, like for a search engine, video site, photo sharing site, etc.

Don’t Use .com

Back in 2009, I predicted that .coms would be like 800-numbers. That is, companies would begin using non-.com domains and then .com would lose its exclusivity and cachet, much as people got used to seeing 866 and 877 toll-free numbers. That’s happened to some extent.

Top-level domains other than .com have gained some traction. For example, there are scads of names ending in .ly, like bit.ly and live.ly (Nancy Friedman has amassed an impressive collection on her Pinterest board). Some companies have used .net (slideshare.net) and .us (del.icio.us, before they bought delicious.com). ICANN has also blessed the issuance of new domains like .coach and .design. You could create one of your own, but it’ll set you back over $100,000.

My opinion is if the top-level domain name is a natural suffix, like –ly, or separate word, like it or me, you can get away with a non-.com name. For example, visual.ly, flip.it and about.me, but not letsfea.st (hat tip for examples from this article). It does not work so well if the non-.com domain is just hanging out there like a meatball, like secureserver.net. (Non-commercial domains, like .org and .edu, don’t suffer the same restriction because we expect non-profits and educational sites to end with .org and .edu.)

The challenge with creating great names using this non-.com technique is that there are only so many TLDs that exist, and precious few are also English suffixes or words, and fewer still are also available for all to use regardless of where your company is. Here’s my list of viable top-level domains that fit the bill:

.at
.ly
.be
.by
.do
.in
.is
.me
.to
.us

This link will take you to registrars for these TLDs, and from there you can search for domain candidates. The world could use a new bulk search engine that will let you search against the TLDs cited above. Geeky entrepreneurs, are you listening?

I have proposed alternatives to .coms to my clients when the .com is unavailable, but they have opted for an available .com based on a name+descriptor.

Light Coining

This technique is the most difficult to get right. Some online names (Flickr and Scribd and Tumblr) found their domain by ditching a vowel. Others by adding a letter (Pinterest). Others by adding a novel suffix (Spotify). Other have substituted one letter for another (Cingular, Embarq).

Here are come light coining techniques, each illustrated by a domain I’ve created:

Homestyler.com
Technique: add an –r or –er to a verb to create an agent, or try another suffix)

Lytro.com
Technique: create a portmanteau, throw in some letter substitution

Fanhattan.com
Technique: letter substitution

Zact.com
Technique: clipping (from exact to xact) and letter substitution (using z for x)

Poptism.com
Technique: clipping (from optimism to optism) and letter addition. Poptism.com forwards to Poptism.org since it’s a nonprofit.

Other coining techniques can be found here.
You can find a list of sites dedicated to neologisms here.
My other postings about coined names can be found here.

The following are two techniques you can use when it’s OK for your company name and domain to differ slightly:

Add a Descriptor

OK, let’s say you’ve found the perfect real word that’s available as a trademark for your client. Naturally, the name.com will be taken, since all real, single English words are. Just add a business descriptor, a technique that is suitable for most companies.

Domains I’ve created like this include:

RaptStudio.com
BracketGlobal.com
ScribeWinery.com
KeepsAmerica.com
PatternEnergy.com

The following names are creative leaps, but they still required appending a descriptor to get the .com:

WanderfulStorybooks.com
LaughingGlassCocktails.com

Make a Call to Action or Tagline

I have never created a domain name that is also a call to action, but it is a viable technique. My naming colleague, Alexandra Watkins, has touted the benefits of domains like EnjoyCoke.com.

For example:
ThisIsColossal.com
LetsFeast.com
PayWithIsis.com

I hope these techniques prove useful for your domain naming projects.

Good luck!

Omphalos: A Word Tasting on Sesquiotic

Some words are worth a thousand pictures. There are people who could stare at a beautiful word all day long and marvel as it reveals more and more imagery and meaning. Staring at words is my hobby.

There is a blog called Sesquiotic, and on this blog James Harbeck publishes “word tastings”. A word tasting is an essay about a word. I’m pretty sure James likes to stare at words as much as I do. Thankfully, he also writes about them:
Words are delicious and intoxicating. They do much more than just denote; they have appearance, sound, a feel in the mouth, and words they sound like and travel with. All of these participate in the aesthetic experience of the word and can affect communication. So why not taste them like a fine wine?
James was nice enough to invite me to contribute to Sesquiotic. This is my word tasting of omphalos and omphaloskepsis, two words I have long stared at: 
Contemplate the navel: The locus of life, button of our underbellies. The place from which every placental mammal was nourished in utero. Students of meditation, enrollees of the navel academy, look within themselves and contemplate their navels to gain an introspective perspective.
Taking shape as innies and outies, the omphalos – ὀμφαλός to the Hellenically-incined – and umbilicus to the medically-inclined – is our most visible (and sexy!) scar: the belly button. Ambient squealing peals are the soundtrack as our umbilical cord is cut, leaving us with a resounding, adorable mark. And despite being a marker of life itself, 90% of navels are depressed. The other 10% are happy outies. 
Is it any wonder navels are centers of attention? They lie at the very center of our bodies – and, some say, the center of the world. The Vitruvian Man pinpoints the center of human geometry at the tummy button, equidistant from the periphery of the great circle formed by da Vinci’s sepia-toned, spread eagle snow angel 
Considering the body further, the Latin word for a place of observation was templum, and so when we contemplate our navels, our bedimpled bodies are a temple, etymologically speaking. 
Among the erudites, navel-gazing is called omphaloskepsis, a mouthful of chewy consonant clusters cooked up by classical Greek phonology.  
Inspecting skeptics might wonder, how is it that this is even a word, this omphaloskepsis? The first syllable is a chomp and an exclamation: oomph! They do not belong together, these zounds, but somehow, like a flounder genetically entwined with a tomato, it kinda works. Other Greek-derived words that begin with this kind of “mph” include amphetamine, amphitheater and emphatic. As far as Greek goes, MPH must stand for More Phonetic Hutzpah.  
The latter and more familiar half of omphaloskepsis, looks like skeptic, one who inquires or doubts. The philosophical school of skeptics was founded by Pyrrho of Ellis who himself was schooled by the gymnosophists, those naked lovers of wisdom native to India. Early followers pursued a special brand of skepticism called Pyrrhonism, though bearing resemblance to Pyrrhus (known for qualified victory), actually shares no common etymon. Only Greek, which has taken so many hubristic liberties with phonology – sphere, pterodactyl, mnemonic, acne, iatric, phthisis, pyknic – binds Pyrrho and Pyrrhic by origin.  
Omphaloskepsis takes us on a long, strange trip through sonority. We set out with our mouths agape, saying “aaah,” as if to afford an attentive physician a better view of our tonsils. Next comes the nasal-fricative [mf] like a one-two punch. It is guttural and visceral and entirely satisfying. We flow into a liquid [l], smooth and fluid, but then are greeted with a skidding, stoccatic fricative-stop-stop-fricative-fricative washboarded stretch of heavy, beclustered syllables. 
Omphalos and omphaloskepsis offer what any great vacation should offer: Something exotic, adventurous, and an opportunity, in looking outside of ourselves, to learn more about what lies within.
If you’ve read this far, it’s clear you, too, like to stare at words. I recommend signing up for the Sesquiotic word tasting email list, where you will be served up a fresh, tasty morsel about a word on an almost-daily basis. Mangia!

Secrets of a Brand Namer: An Interview

Lewis PR interviewed me for their e-magazine, Kupambana. They asked me about how to arrive at a great name (hint: not group brainstorming), stories behind names like Accenture, Lytro and Pattern Energy, and naming myths and misperceptions.

The e-magazine was originally published as free, iPad app which offers a great way to flip through the articles. I've pasted it below if you’re ready to read my interview right now. Click the bottom half of the first page for best results.

Enjoy!