Welcome, New York Times Readers!

I was lucky enough to be included in an article in The New York Times Magazine about professional namers. As a kid, I read William Safire’s “On Language” column every Sunday in The Times magazine section. For me, this is as humbling as it is huge.

For those of you new to Operative Words (which is the name of my naming agency and my blog), here is where I give away expertise. I do this because I want everyone to be a great namer or great judge of names. And I do that because I'd rather be surrounded by wonderful words and not ugly ones. I think most people feel that way.

These are some posts to get you started:

Instinct as enemy: How to sell-in the new and unfamiliar
An equal and opposite reaction: How to manage emotions and subjectivity in a naming program
Creative names the easy way
Where are the most creative names?
Describe different
Red Flags and Red Herrings: How to check brand names in foreign languages
Decisions, decisions: How to research brand names

Here, you’ll find case histories (I call them “name stories”), and creative naming tools. I embed how-to tips in my name stories, so expect some overlap.

My Twitter feed is updated far more regularly than this blog, so be sure to .

Please join my email list for updates. I’ve sent out, like, three updates in five years, so it might be a while before you hear from me. Be patient.

This is my contact for a project or pull quote.

I owe all of my clients so much gratitude. In particular, I want to thank the founders of Jaunt VR, Jens Christensen, Arthur van Hoff and Tom Annau for letting me talk with The Times about naming their company. I also want to profusely thank branding agency Character, particularly Ollie Ralph and Ben Pham, who invited me to collaborate on the Jaunt project. If you’re creating a breakthrough product, Character will serve you well for brand strategy and identity.

Thank you to fellow namer, Margaret Wolfson, founder of River+Wolf for recommending me to the author of The Times article. And I’d like to thank him, biographer Neal Gabler, for listening to me ramble on for four hours about my obsession with naming.

I’d also like to thank the Academy. 

– Anth

Fifty Futures

It’s my job to imagine different tomorrows.

As a professional namer, I strive to explore every perspective on my clients’ new brands. Each one is articulated as a name, representing a potential brand future. After spending weeks creating names and then filtering them through trademark screening, I present a shortlist to my client. Many possibilities, all potential, but which one will become reality?

Like Schrodinger’s cat, who, while boxed up is dead and alive at the same time, these names are futures coexisting under the cloaked secrecy of a client presentation. Once the curtain is lifted and the final, approved name is launched worldwide, those possible futures, the ones that might have been, evaporate (my clients get to own one name I have developed, and the rest go back into my quiver). All that remains of the runners-up is a memory, lingering among the select group in attendance at the original presentation, and they are all sworn to secrecy.

But this once, my client and I have agreed to share with you a few of the futures which a list of names represents. Although the final chosen name for this assignment is a particular favorite in my portfolio, the runners-up reveal a lot about how a namer thinks, and how the process of naming works.

The Project

In the spring of 2012, I was approached to name a start-up. My client was creating a line of ready-to-drink cocktails, made with select, natural ingredients, organic when possible. The drinks would be lightly carbonated, delicious and, being made simply, would be low in calories. These cocktails, starting with a margarita, would give competitors like Skinny Girl a run for their money.

My client didn’t have much capital to invest initially, so I agreed to be compensated, in part, with a thin sliver of their revenue for a few years. If they didn’t succeed, at least I could experience the sheer fun of naming a new line of cocktails.

The recipes were created by three women who called their stealth, startup venture Moms on the Rocks, a witty name befitting their bubbly personalities. With a placeholder that good, I knew this client would be a great partner in naming.

Names are a mirror. They reflect products and the people who create them. After all, it’s the founders who ultimately set the direction for naming, narrow the shortlist of potential candidates and anoint the finalist. You can learn a lot about the founders of a company just by looking at their placeholder name. 

Fun, confident, outgoing, opinionated, unvarnished. In my briefing with the founders, these emerged as the traits that best described them and the personality of their new brand. Each of these qualities was a starting point, and from there, I searched for related words, branching out in ever widening circles. Exploring outward in every direction from these core ideas traces a sphere in words. These words form a world, and every point on and inside that world is a possible future.

For this project, I explored several concepts, included fresh, natural, green, fruit, squeeze, mixing, farm, agriculture, organic, and pure. I also looked at idioms and phrasal verbs to see what might pop up. 

After two weeks of exploration, I cherry-picked the best names and screened them for trademark availability. How? That’s a topic for another post. 

So what are the futures, the names, that might have been for this line of cocktails? Here are a handful:

Happy Place –Where does a great drink take you? For some, it’s here. The name Happy Place would tell the clients’ story about their Marin County home, the orchards where fresh limes are picked, and the Mexican fields where the blue agave grows. If this were the name, the brand would be about places that make people happy. The client could sponsor a YouTube channel where people tell their stories about places that are dear to them and make them smile. 

True Nature – The cocktail’s natural ingredients were fertile territory for name exploration. This one would emphasize the cocktail’s use of real fruit juices. True Nature would be an honest brand, a straight shooter. But it’s not terribly fun, while my clients and their brand certainly are. It's a good name, but for a different product.

Green Party – Natural doesn’t have to be serious. With a name like Green Party, this brand could be about having a great time naturally. Sure, the name skews political, but what if it were paired with a picture of dancing limes? With the right imagery, this would move the name away from Ralph Nader and towards skinny dipping and icy glasses of margaritas. Party on!

Picnic – You can feel the sunshine in this name. It’s warm, fresh and innocent. There’s a light buoyancy. The name is all about being social, with friends and family. A margarita called Picnic would be full of fresh fruit. The label might sport red gingham. It would be simple and honest. It would be good and clean and fun. Picnic illustrates how a surprising name can also be a real and common English word and not some crazy coinage. 

Squoze – A playful way of suggesting fresh-squeezed. Squoze would be a brand about living life with a twist,  and sometimes being a bit twisted. Familiar objects and experiences would be featured, but they’d be a bit off, in a safe and playful way: 
We hug our limes until the juice comes out. That’s Squoze. 
Be the lime of the party. Bring Squoze. 
Something to that effect.

Laughing Glass – This is not a name that might have been. This is the name. Because it articulates the sheer delight the client sought for their brand foundation, Laughing Glass was adopted as the go-to-market moniker. When a name instantly has the whole room beaming, as this one did for the client, it stands a great chance of success in the meeting and the marketplace. The name inspired the brand philosophy, Laughing My Glass Off and reflects what the client really believes in: Joy.

Snappy packaging by Voicebox Creative

The founders, in high spirits in The San Francisco Chronicle 

Laughing Glass is the reality that we see today on shelves in Whole Foods and elsewhere throughout California. But it didn’t have to be that way. It could have been one of the other names I presented to the client that day. Each one would have emphasized different aspects of their identity, and raised different expectations in their audiences.

I’m very grateful to Laughing Glass for such an exciting collaboration, and for letting me share this peek behind the curtain.

Thanks to my go-to copywriter Daniel Meyerowitz for valuable edits and contributions.