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Naming in an A.I. Age Episode #5

Names are invaluable to the success of a product launch or a new company. Therefore, clients are understandably concerned with making sure that there name is “perfect.” With abstract understandings of a perfect name, clients insist that they will “know it when they see it” while the bullseye on the target is constantly shifting from round to round. Listen to this week’s episode to hear about client perspective and preferences for seemingly self-explanatory names like Airbnb or GrabTaxi that belong to brands already rich in marketing-based storytelling.  

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Episode Five of “Naming in an AI Age” Podcast 

Adelaide Brown: 

Welcome back to “Naming in an AI Age” with NameStormers. I am here again this week with our CEO and founder, Mike Carr. Welcome, Mike.  

Mike Carr: 

Good morning.  

Adelaide Brown: 

We talked a little bit last week about how to pitch a name, our NameStormer technique for different companies, and this week we’re gonna talk about, um, the, “I’ll know it when I see it” concept, which has been popping up a lot with some of our more entrepreneurial clients, I think. Would you agree with that?  

Mike Carr: 

Well, it’s probably one of the most frustrating things that anyone faces when they go through a naming exercise, right? Is that your, your customer, your target, you know, whether it’s internal or external, expecting to see a name that just blows them outta the water. And it just doesn’t happen that way. 

And so, yes, it is a very frustrating part of, uh, a naming engagement for ourselves, many other agencies, and probably for anybody that’s doing an internal naming exercise.  

Adelaide Brown: 

So, what do you think is running through a client’s head when they are starting the process and maybe some different criteria that they think initially makes a good name before they engage with an outside agency. 

Mike Carr: 

The biggest problem is it’s usually on apples to oranges comparison. I think that’s probably when you think about all the different, um, projects that we’ve gone through, all the different agencies that we’ve talked to about this problem. Inevitably they’re taking an existing name with all the context and all the story and all the familiarity, and they’re comparing it to a brand-new name and, and no, no brand-new name that doesn’t have the advantages of all that history is gonna fare very well at all in that comparison. 

And, and so there, there are many, many examples of this. I mean, one of them is, you know, Airbnb, well, folks have told us we want a name like Airbnb. I say, well, okay, why? And they say, cause it says exactly what it is. And I would pause there and say, I don’t think it does at all. Right? When I first saw Airbnb, I thought it was an airline. 

I had no idea what it was. Now once you understand the story, it does make sense, but you have to see it in context, or you have to hear the story or the 30-second elevator pitch. And unfortunately, once folks get used to almost any name, they don’t make that conscious association, it’s subconscious. And so, they automatically have all these great associations, visuals, you know, advertisements, um, associated with an existing name, and they’re expecting this brand-new name that has none of that to sort of pop and resonate with them like that existing name and it flat just doesn’t happen. 

Adelaide Brown: 

Yeah. And there are some names that. Like you’re saying, Airbnb says exactly, some clients think it says exactly what it is. There are some names that lean more descriptive. So, can you talk about some of the different types of names that one can develop or begin to invest in, like the, the telegraphic versus coined? 

Can you elaborate a little bit more on those differences?  

Mike Carr: 

Yeah, and, and part of it is, is how broad your focus is. So, if you have a very narrow service offering or a very narrow product, then you might be able to come up with a more descriptive, short, real word name. That works great. And, and an example that we talked about, um, on a project recently was Grab Taxi. 

So, Grab is a great name, you know, for a taxi company, and I would argue that Lyft is also a great name. Uh, much better than Uber, right? Because “Lyft” and “grab” both speak to this idea that. Well, I need a Lyft, I want to grab a taxi. Right? So, it sort of is the, the verb or the action or the state that comes to mind that you, you need. The challenge with those types of names are getting ’em through trademark, securing, securing all the social media handles and everything else. 

And you have to ignore some of the issues. So, one of the issues that clients always ask us about is, well, does it have any off-putting meaning? Well, “grab” is a bit negative, especially for gals, right? I mean, they’re already a little bit concerned about this stranger that’s gonna pick them up and “grab” as in grab and, you know, haul me away, kidnap me, who knows what, right? 

So, there are some negative associations with that name. I’m not saying it’s not a great name, but in a naming exercise clients often wanna discuss, well, what could it possibly be associated with? Right? What’s possibly off-putting? And so, the name never even makes it outta the shoot. Had that happened with Amazon, it would never have made it outta the shoot. 

Had that discussion occurred with Apple, it would never have made it outta the shoot. I don’t think there’s any brand name out there today that if you don’t consider the potential, it has and discount some of the “possible,” and I put possible in quotes cause it often never happens. You know, some of those “possible,” other associations, um, you know, it makes for a much more difficult naming exercise. 

So, a narrow focus like a card service or a taxi service. Those shorter, more descriptive names are much easier to get through legal. And I think a name like Grab Taxi is brilliant, even though it does have some off-putting meanings. I wouldn’t say that would be the reason to nix that kind of a name. 

Adelaide Brown: 

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So, what do you think personally makes a good name from all of your years of experience or what have your, or what are a couple of names out there today that are some of your favorites?  

Mike Carr: 

Well, a name that is a bit controversial I think is something you should, you should try to get as opposed to a safe name and that, that’s unfortunately, um, a challenge for our larger clients because they have all kinds of internal branding guidelines and naming guidelines that they have to adhere to in a name that’s too edgy or raises a few eyebrows, often doesn’t get through their, their committees. But those are the types of names that engage consumers in today’s digital, you know, AI driven world that’s so noisy. 

There’s just so much clutter. It’s hard to get anyone’s attention. And when you think about AI in particular, and, and there are, there are dozens if not hundreds of AI name generation tools out there today. And, and they seem to be multiplying like rabbits every time we go out and look, you know, there’s a, a bunch more. 

Um, the names they generate are very similar to a lot of the names that are out there already. And so, to continue to cut through the clutter and you think about, well, let’s talk about naming in the future to really come through with something that’s gonna grab that attention. So, one of the challenges that, or one of the, one of the paths maybe, is to come up with something that’s a little bit more controversial or a little bit edgy, but not so much so that it offends a great portion of your target. 

And there are many examples. One example is Boom cosmetics. So, boom, cosmetics is a cool Gen Z or millennial kind of name. Boom, as in “wow,” your face really pops. You know, you put on your makeup and everybody’s gonna go, boy, do you look good? Right? Okay, well boom. As in a bomb, right? So, a lot of our clients would say, oh, we can’t really call this thing “boom cosmetics” cause that has some negative associations. But as a branding person or as a namer, you’re gonna say, oh my gosh, that’s not a big deal. As a matter of fact, that’s an advantage. The fact that it has some of those other meanings, makes it worthy of conversation. And so, it might spread like wildfire on Twitter or on TikTok, or on Facebook or on Instagram, whatever. 

And some people won’t like it, but a lot of people will find it interesting. And before you know it, everybody’s heard of it because the name’s a little bit edgy. Those types of names in general are not the kinds of names that AI is going to come up with also. They’ll tend to come up with the safer names cause you know, they’ll, they’ll do the survey of all the existing names out there. There are these natural language models, so they’ll look a lot of, you know, meanings that are similar to other names, and they won’t necessarily come back with things that are a little bit edgy or a little bit different, a little bit out of the box. 

So that’s another reason we like that strategy.  

Adelaide Brown: 

You sent us a list, I remember the other week, of these AI name generators that are coming up and about, and it seems like a lot of them were fairly repetitive in what they were offering or didn’t do very thorough trademark screenings, so making sure the name is available. 

So, there are a lot of different caveats or, um, issues that come up in the NameStorming process, um, that I think those AI platforms kind of take for granted, instead of really engaging a consulting firm.  

Mike Carr: 

Yeah. The biggest thing you mentioned, Adelaide, which I think most people understand, but they don’t understand how hard it is today versus even a couple of years ago, is legal availability, right? We don’t give any client a name that we’ve not pretty thoroughly screened. For trademark issues, the federal level, the state level for global clients and different countries around the world. Uh, web hits, all that kind of stuff because so much is taken and that is a huge problem. 

With even the generative AI models, the quote generative AI models, who knows if they really are or not, because they’re still coming back to you with things that are constructed from, that are built off of stuff that’s already out there. And so, it’s just, you know, full of, of trademark infringement issues, right? 

And so, using tools like that without doing a very thorough vetting before you have the presentation and get the team all excited about something, only then to find out a week or two later that your legal’s gonna nix it. It’s just, you know, wasted effort and everybody’s frustrated and a lot of money spent that didn’t need to be spent. 

So, I think that’s a huge point. And it’s only becoming more and more challenging as these AI name generators get better and better at generating quote good names that are very similar to other existing names that are registered trademarks by somebody.  

Adelaide Brown: 

And in a future episode, I know we’ll be getting into the issues that come with global trademark screening as opposed to domestic and where you can run into all sorts of issues there. 

But can you walk through maybe a couple of specifically, maybe, listener-beloved brands, um, and how you think that these brands have accommodated their name or best invested in their names to become the companies or names that we know and love, like Apple and Google. Um, I know IBM you’ve used as an example, as kind of controversial, but, um, never really asked about in those couple, those three letters there’s a little confusion hiding in those last two, but can you walk through a couple of those modern-day examples?  

Mike Carr: 

Yeah. There was a study done years ago about the top five brands, most recognized brands in the world, and Coca-Cola was one of them, of course. And then you think about it from a, well, let’s be critical, right? 

Let’s, let’s approach it from why might Coca-Cola not work? I think the obvious association is chocolate, right? Coca equals chocolate. And so, you would expect a chocolate flavor and you try Coca-Cola, and there’s no, in my opinion, there’s no hint of chocolate at all. So that name’s a bit of a misnomer, right? 

And so one of the, one of the rules, as a matter of fact, one of the regulatory requirements now in many countries around the world is if you are implying a particular ingredient in, in a name, It better contain that ingredient or you can’t use the name and, and so you might even run into regulatory issues if you try to call a new beverage Coca-Cola today and the FDA or somebody will come after you and say, where’s the coca? 

Right? Where’s the chocolate? Now maybe it has Coca in it. I don’t know. But that would be an example. The name that, and nobody ever thinks about that way again because it’s been out there. Um, another name is McDonald’s, right? Obviously, McDonald’s is a well-known brand. You know, probably the premier fast-food chain. 

But if you thought about that as a brand-new name, you might have associations with the children’s nursery rhyme. Old McDonald had a farm, e-i-e-i-o. Well, why would you name a hamburger joint or even a really cool fast-food chain after a children’s nursery rhyme, right? What does it have? It doesn’t have anything to do with it. 

And, and so it’s some of those paths that if you go down, if you ask the question, what’s wrong with the name? You open up a can of worms, you just don’t wanna open up. At least at the beginning of the process. I’m not saying at some point during, uh, a name development journey that you don’t want to consider that; I think it’s a valid question. But what’s so important is when you ask that question, and you certainly don’t ask that at the beginning, or names like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s or Apple, or Google or IBM. Those, all of the top five that were mentioned, they all have pretty glaring errors that, you know, if you’ve gone down that other path, you would’ve quickly identified and probably thrown the name off the table. 

Adelaide Brown: 

Wow. Yeah. You would never really think. And that brings us back to a conversation we had a couple weeks ago with, um, the negative, no negative comments at first. You have to talk about your favorite names and then you can kind of build into well, concerns you may have. Um, but I think that’s just a wonderful rule that, um, a lot of leaders from these major companies, Apple, Google, McDonald’s, would support and, um, wouldn’t think much about at first. 

Uh, well thank you so much for getting into this topic. The, “I’ll know it when I see it” dynamic with a lot of our clients when they first come to us. Um, next week join us as we talk a little bit about the personal, the personable nature of, um, our business, thinking about relationship building and how it isn’t necessarily a tactic. 

Um, but you won’t wanna miss this one. Thanks, Mike.  

Mike Carr: 

See ya. Bye-Bye. 

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