Wanderful: The Story Behind the Name

“Mickey Mantle needs a new name.”

That’s how I first heard about the assignment, when a colleague told me about his client named Mickey Mantle and his yet-unnamed interactive children’s book company.

To name a publisher, imprint an imprint, title a maker of titles; this would be a dream assignment.

The resurrection of an old brand would be the inception of this new one. Living Books, the products that created the category of highly interactive children’s books, was dormant for years. Broderbund was the original publisher and in a series of acquisition/mergers/spin-outs and ownership changes, Living Books ended up as the property of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Despite a decade of great success, new stories in the Living Books series were not released, and the software languished without updates to newer operating systems for PC and Macs.

Mickey Mantle, once Broderbund’s VP of Engineering/CTO and now an entrepreneur, struck a deal with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to re-publish the Living Books series, which includes about 20 individual stories each by a variety of noted authors, including Mercer Mayer (Little Monster), Marc Brown (Arthur), Jan and Stan Berenstain (Berenstain Bears), Dr. Seuss and others. For today’s kids, the assets from the original CD-ROM titles, like  graphics, animations, sound and music, would be used directly by a new technology platform developed by Mickey’s team running on iPads and iPhones, Android mobile devices, and current Mac and PC computers.

Once again, Living Books would live, but it would have to do so under a different name. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt allowed the Living Books content to be re-published so long as the Living Books name remained theirs. That required the new publisher to use a new moniker but could include an attribution that the stories were “originally published as a Living Book by Broderbund Software” and the display of a small Living Books logo accompanying the attribution. The new name would have to coexist and contrast with the former one.
The original Living Books logo
I interviewed the founders of the company: Mickey Mantle; his wife, Natasha Krol, a PR and marketing veteran; and Mark Schlichting, an expert in child education and language development, a children’s book author and illustrator, the creator of the hysterical, award-winning Noodle Words app, and the original creator of Living Books.

I learned from them that Living Books and its reincarnation were richer, deeper and far more interactive than other e-books. Every page of every title features a multitude of tappable elements. With a dozen or more things to do on each page, children linger longer. Their attention, knowledge and imagination are strengthened as a result.

The new brand had two key facets: education and play. Because education is sometimes framed as work – homework, schoolwork, et al. – I first believed these ideas stood in opposition. Indeed, the pedagogical foundation of Living Books 1.0 was rigorous enough that thousands of schools incorporated them and accompanying teaching aids into their curricula. Even today, some schools keep legacy Macs or PC systems around just to retain access to Broderbund’s wunderkind series.

In our discussion, Mark explained to me that play actually enhances learning. If kids have fun while learning, they will engage more deeply and eagerly with the materials. The new brand and its name would have to convey that these interactive books are both educational and fun in order to appeal to kids, parents and educators.

The new name would also have to stand out in the absurdly crowded iTunes and Android marketplaces (500,000 apps and counting). Presented with a list of hundreds of interactive book choices, the brand name needed to leap off the screen to catch the attention of a busy parent or impatient child.   

I wrote name objectives that assimilated and synthesized the interviews and background research into one page. With the criteria for name development and selection established, creative development could commence.

Quoting Maurice Sendak, who passed while this naming project was in development: Let the wild rumpus start!
The Internet was my creative playground. I discovered inspiration researching children’s words, vocabulary acquisition and development, “Dolch” words, fairy tales, games, verbs, exclamations, and children’s word play. Foundational words like fun, happy, laughter, tickle and learning were fed into corpora engines, word lists and other online naming powertools like Wordnik, Sketch Engine, and OneLook. Specialized children’s sites like Lanternfish supplemented my longstanding resources, as did primary research with my nieces and nephews. Watching the kids, who age from 4-7, play with a beta version of Living Books on my iPad demonstrated its power; they threw themselves into the stories and played with rapt attention.
Here’s a list of some of the creative searches I did online. Please consider this list a handy resource for your naming projects:
action verbs
animal sound verbs
baby talk
cvc words
double letter words
first verbs
first words
fun words
funny laughter words
happy-happy joy-joy
i am talking
idioms for kids
idioms in education
language acquisition
language development
the first words that children learn
learning words
list of verbs
meanings pictures sentence list
movers and shakers
my dogs words
my little ponies
of imitative origin
phrasal verbs list
place names of distinction
punkin words
rhyming words
that’s funny
time to be cute
wander rhyme
wonder rhyme
wordplay is child’s play for punsters
words my 19 month old daughter says
words used by or to young children
I also used Sketch Engine quite a bit. Here are some of the terms searched for this project. Bear in mind that Sketch Engine requires a paid subscription (well worth it!) and thus links will work only after you've logged in:

These lists illustrate how different resources can be used to delve into one idea, and the surprising sources of inspiration that can come up when you’re freely exploring (my little ponies!). These offer glimpses into a naming mind.
The stories in Living Books are playful and multidimensional, and I strived to create names that were, too. Making frequent use of a specific creative technique – letter substitution – generated scads of such names. It’s the same method I used to name Fanhattan and BrainForest.

The words wonder and wander, being one letter apart, were already mingling. I researched all English words that contain wonder, and respelled those results with an a. Thus, wonderful became wanderful.

Wanderful is packed with paradoxes. It brings together many ideas, yet is perfectly simple. It is a new word that feels familiar. It is as surprising as it is comforting. Wanderful describes the books, full of joy and the invitation to explore. It describes the free-form play afforded by Living Books’ expansive and non-linear interactivity. It describes whimsy and curiosity, delight and enrichment.

After preliminary screening, Wanderful was presented along with 30 other candidates. The client team deliberated and chose Wanderful plus a few backup names for full legal vetting. Upon clearing, Wanderful was adopted as the final name.
The wonderful Wanderful identity designed by Wild Out West
The Wanderful icon, now available at an iOS app store near you!
It might be coincidence, or maybe zeitgeist, that the day before Wanderful was announced in June, the New York Times Sunday Review featured this passage in an article about presence and happiness:
“In a modern world, when can we come closest to our original, thought-free happiness? Well, the Harvard psychologists noted that, after sex, the two activities during which we are most fully in the present, are conversation and exercise. Rousseau saw this as well; but forget the treadmill: he lost himself in mountains and valleys and, while walking, conversed with himself. Indeed, ‘Reveries of the Solitary Walker’ is a manifesto on the benefits of wondering while wandering.
The Wanderful brand launched ahead of the books themselves. Starting today, Wanderful Storybooks will be sold in the iOS app store for $4.99 each. Android and Kindle versions will soon follow

It’s a Wanderful launch party: Mark, Anthony, Mickey

Congratulations Mickey, Natasha and Mark: What a Wanderful world this will be!

Look for Wanderful on the iOS app store, Facebook, Twitter and on their home page.