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In this second episode of NameChangers, naming expert, Mike Carr, explains the benefit of choosing a name that some people… hate. Learn how choosing a controversial name can work for your company and how choosing confusing or misleading names can work against your company. Lastly, what good is an incredible name if it’s not available? Discover how the power of preliminary trademark and domain screening can help you avoid falling in love with a name you can’t have.

Episode #2 Transcription:

James: Welcome back! This is part two of our conversation with naming guru, Mike Carr. If you haven’t heard part one, stop and head back. I promise you it’s worth a listen. So let’s review:

  1. In order to conceive a great name you have to ask yourself an important question, “Who is the name for?” And, most of the time, it’s not you. Once you figure out who it’s for, is there someone in that group you trust you can ask for help?
    2. Remember to always go in with an open mind and a positive attitude. Don’t be afraid of out of the box names and remember to always allow yourself to go outside your comfort zone.

Mike: We’ll tell them you’re not gonna like most of these names, you’ll hate some, and if you don’t hate some we really haven’t done our job because we’re really trying to push your comfort zone right up to the edge, and actually a little bit beyond in all kinds of different directions.

James: Let’s move on, but first, I’m James Doherty and this is Name Changers.

Mike: But the idea is focus, focus, focus and then come up with a name that just nails it. Right? If you want to go down that path and that’s just one of the styles and paths of naming but if you’re small and you’re just starting out you know you want a name that’s clearly conveys something that’s hopefully relevant to what sets you apart from your competitors. It’s relevant to your customer, it’s interesting to them and it’s sustainable over time and if you try to put too much in a name, then it ends up doing nothing very well and it gets lost in all the noise that’s out there.

James: The more complicated a name, the harder it is to make it work for you. This is why most company names are one or two words. So you don’t want it to be too complicated, but you don’t want it to be too specific either in case you don’t know what your company will be doing in the future.

James: Say there was a company that was making chairs and they wanted to move on to making more things like couches and more pieces of furniture but their name ended up being ChairMaster or something. Do you think a name that’s too specific that can hurt a company or do you think that adds to the intrigue?

Mike: We’ve had both situations over the years We’ve had clients come to us where their name was just flat misleading. It just didn’t make sense and there was really no way to create a story around their existing name because their new services and products were so different in which case you just can’t salvage it.

But we’ve seen lots of examples where there was a very clever transition that kept the name relevant and a great one that I can think of is Southwest Airlines. When Southwest Airlines got started, and I was in Dallas so I’m familiar with this because I grew up when Southwest Airlines was growing up, you know, it was an airline that basically flew between Dallas and Houston and San Antonio and Austin and then it grew to the adjacent states but it was clearly about the southwestern part of the US, right, pretty much Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, that kind of stuff. Well now Southwest Airlines flies all over the country. It carries more passengers than any other airline which I had no idea about, I read that the other day. I think it was either passengers or passenger miles I don’t know what the metric was but in some metric Southwest Airlines was the largest in the country which just blew me away. So what did they do because Southwest you would think wouldn’t work for someone that’s flying between New York and Boston, right, or LA to San Francisco. Well they converted the meaning from Southwest being the geography to Southwest being the personality. That there’s an element of fun and playfulness and whimsicalness to flying a Southwest flight that you don’t really get on most of the other big carriers. They’ll make up the announcements or they’ll make some catchy sing-song to get you to pay attention when they are going through the seatbelt thing and they do some other things that are bit unique to that southwest personality and spirit of fun and we want you guys to enjoy the flight. And so that was very successful and I think even today Southwest is known as being a more fun enjoyable way to fly then a lot of the other carriers that are out there.

So you have in some situations that opportunity if you’re clever and you can make it real and authentic but I think there are other cases when yes you know if you are called ChairMaster or whatever and all of a sudden you’re making something radically different that names gonna probably get in the way. You know people won’t even consider buying a bed from you or a nightstand or who knows what because all they associate with you is the fact you build chairs and nothing else.

James: Let’s see a real world example for Mike.

Mike: A lot of are millennials think this is just an incredibly cool name that we got to name was Angry Orchard for Boston Beer I mean ‘cause at the time it was a very different name, I mean, first of all why would Boston Beer, you know, they make Sam Adams, why would a beer company come out with a cider? And it’s a hard cider and the name doesn’t even sound like a hard cider, you know, Angry Orchard. I guess you could say the orchard maybe takes you to cider, but why angry?

But they were very smart in how they marketed and the graphics they wrapped around it, so we can’t take any of the credit really for how they launched that, but the name at least gave them the positioning or the potential to really catch the attention of their target who was a female, you know, 20 something 30 something year old who wanted to drink with the guys but didn’t enjoy drinking beer because either it didn’t taste good, had too many carbs, too many calories, who knows what.

So, hard cider tends to be sweeter, it tends to be lighter, it may not have as much alcohol, it’s a more drinkable beverage, and it’s still very appropriate to ask for an Angry Orchard at the bar or the restaurant or whatever it is. So that name to me, I think, was a fun name to work on. They weren’t enamored with that name right off the bat, right, so like so many other clients it takes some getting used to when there’s nothing like that name out there in the category and you throw that out on the table and there’s that pregnant pause and you don’t really know whether they just absolutely hate it whether they love it or they’ll at least consider it and usually the best you can hope for on a name that’s that far out is they’re gonna consider it.

James: Mike’s firm always includes some out-of-the-box name in their proposals. You shouldn’t be afraid of crazy names because at the very least they could start a conversation.

Mike: You don’t want to go with a safe name you want to go with a name that some people hate. I’m not talking about dislike, I’m talking about there’s this reaction that deep in your gut that that is the worst name in the world. And you don’t want too many, 1, 2, 3%, but because of that it’s interesting because of that it generates conversation because of that everybody else wants to know why do some people hate this or why is his controversial. Controversiality when it comes to naming is a big plus it’s not a negative unless you know a third or half of the people out there hate the name you know then you got a problem and got to go for a different but a little bit is a great thing.

James: And finally, the most difficult part of naming, and oddly it’s not about making it fun or catchy, it’s something else.

Mike: A lot of it’s just the hard work of getting it through legal. That by far is the toughest thing these days and not that’s often greatly undervalued by our clients. I mean we’ll present names in the decks 150 slides and that’s typical. I’m not kidding, each time we present names that’s at least a hundred slides almost always a hundred slides, sometimes 200, 300 slides. Well how do you take clients through 200 slides in a name presentation? Well you don’t, you take them through six slides or eight sides, but all the other sides is all the back up legal research that we’ve done. All the trademark research, the state checks, that the federal check, the web research, the foreign checks. The color code names, you know, yellow, green, pink. Green being the cleanest, the least risky, yellow being probably kind of okay, but there’s still a risk, and pink being pretty risky you might be able to use, you might not.

Well clients never hardly ever care about all those pages, initially, but before they’re done, their lawyers look at that stuff or do their own searches, it’s just hugely important but you can’t lead with it. Especially if folks haven’t gone through the process before because they don’t understand how challenging the legal can be. Now the people who understand it, they love the fact we do that. I mean, we win business from our competitors because we do the trademark searches before they even see the names.

We will not present a name to a client that we think is off the table so we end up throwing away most of the great names we come up with because someone else has already got ‘em. And that’s ok, I mean it’s frustrating, and it takes more time and costs more money. But, in the end, it saves the client a lot of frustrations, a lot of headache, and a lot of money, because at least they know they’re being presented with names that have a much higher likelihood of making it through their legal’s finally scrutiny and that’s tough. And it’s tough to explain to people who have never gone through this process before how important that is and so usually we don’t oversell it up front but before we’re done they recognize how much value that provided.

James: Ahh, trademark law that’s the topic we’ll be covering next week on Name Changers.

Name Changers  is made in association with NameStormers, a naming agency in Austin, TX. You can find out more about them at Some music used in this episode include “Sincerely” by Kevin MacLeod. Special thanks this week to Catherine Law. I’m James, we’ll see you next week.

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