Our New Name: Will I Know It When I See It?

We get asked this question often.

The short answer is, “Yes.”

If you’re satisfied by that, great. If not, read on.

The almost-as-short answer is, “Yes, though I sometimes wish otherwise.” More on this in a bit.

The long answer begins with the fact that what you see in a potential name at the beginning of a naming effort, or in lieu of a formal naming effort altogether, is likely to be different—potentially, very different—from what you are likely to see once you’re actually engaged in the naming process. It’s almost axiomatic: The more you engage, the more you will see. Put another way, yes, you might know a name when you see it, but how are you looking?

If you want to get really deep, try this on: “You might know a name when you see it, but who are the ‘you’ who’s doing the seeing, anyway?”

The fallacy of big samples
If a simple “yes” were really the answer to the question, then the quickest way to Know It When You See It might simply be to pore over a long list of name candidates, the longer the better. Some organizations do, in fact, successfully go about naming this way. Algorithmically generated lists exist for this purpose. I suspect such organizations are in the minority, however. Our clients rarely find candidates of interest by spending time with the “comprehensive list” of options we include at the back of our presentation decks. They get more out of reviewing much smaller, more carefully curated and more artfully presented sample sets.

Beware of false positives
Many of the clients with whom we engage come to us out of frustration: They’ve tried to generate a name on their own to no avail. In some instances, these clients “knew it when they saw it,” only to discover, sometimes more than once, that what they saw turns out to be uncomfortably close to something others saw first. To succeed, our clients realize they will need to open themselves to a broader range of possibilities than what they allowed for at first.

Love at second glance
Naming is as much about psychology and strategy as it is about creativity. So let’s talk about psychology for a moment. Specifically, let’s talk about the Kid in a Candy Store Phenomenon. Imagine you’re presented with an initial round of names from which, say, two strongly appeal to you. Does the fact that you have two candidates you like (and, presumably, that satisfy your naming criteria) compel you to stop there? I can assure you: no. You will want to push on “to see what else is out there.” This almost-irresistible impulse is why we build multiple rounds into our naming process. Our brains are hard-wired to want more than one pop.

Are you a kid in a candy store when it comes to naming? Probably—just like the rest of us. Photo: Iwona Castello d’Antonio for Unsplash.

Does the second round of exploration invariably yield the top finalist? Most of the time, sure. But by no means always. Sometimes a preferred candidate from the previous round still stands. Sometimes a new first round candidate altogether attracts newfound attention based on the added perspective a subsequent round of exploration provides.

“Will I know it when I see it?”

Ultimately, yes. But maybe not at first glance.

Naming is framing
Some clients don’t ask, “Will I know it when I see it?” The alpha dogs state it plainly: “I’ll know it when I see it.” They presume that the merit of a given name candidate will be self-evident. Forget explanations; they barely have time for criteria.

Up to a point, we agree: Lengthy or obtuse explanations never sold a name for us. That said, a well-timed observation or comment can open even the most blinkered set of eyes to overlooked possibilities. Are such candidates self-evident? No—but they’re just one step removed from being so. Such names are often the cleverest and most compelling. They invite a knowing smile. They click and they stick.

“Will I know it when I see it?”

Yes, once you get it.

Who’s looking?
Often, we’re not the ones to point out the just-left-of-self-evident promise of a given candidate. Someone on the client’s naming team might provide the eye-opening insight that gives others permission to like a candidate they would otherwise discount. The point is that even the most aligned and cohesive teams are comprised of individuals who bring different critical filters, associations and experience to the naming process. Winning candidates are rarely the result of groupthink; they’re the fruit of consensus-building.

“Will I know it when I see it?”

The question is, will they?

Letting your candidates decant
An anecdote: When my daughter Simone was born, her mother and I hadn’t settled on a name for her. Not three years earlier, we fussed and fretted a great deal before settling on “Francesca” as the name for her older sister. A full day after Simone had been on this earth, still unnamed, her mother simply said, “Why don’t we call her Simone?”

Simone Signoret. Because, lovely.

In earlier conversations, this name hadn’t once cropped up. I admit I didn’t love it. That said, try as I might I couldn’t come up with any strong objections. I also felt a sense of mari oblige. “Okay, sure,” I shrugged.

For me, it took time for the name to “fit” the person it named. Of course, everyone else simply took it in stride. Today, the two are inseparable, both perfectly lovely.

So, yes, you will know the name when you see it— if that’s how you want to roll. But you don’t have to jump to conclusions. Strong options don’t always wow. After settling on a short list of preferred candidates, we ask our clients to hang out with the runners ups as well as the wowsers. Answer the phone with them. Tape them to a door. Drop them into the lead line of a press release. For those few with the iron discipline to try to be as rational as possible, we can even run a group exercise around point-by-point scoring against criteria. (Kudos to you, Origence team.)

What do you see then?

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