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In today’s digital age, the art of naming has become an intricate dance between human creativity and the influence of artificial intelligence (AI). In a recent podcast, NameStormers delved into the multifaceted world of naming, shedding light on the intricacies and challenges faced in an AI-driven landscape. 

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Navigating the World of Naming: Balancing Creativity and AI

In today’s digital age, the art of naming has become an intricate dance between human creativity and the influence of artificial intelligence (AI). In a recent podcast, NameStormers delved into the multifaceted world of naming, shedding light on the intricacies and challenges faced in an AI-driven landscape. 

The Creative Process of Naming  

It’s so vital to emphasize the importance of a blank canvas for creativity. Here at NameStormers we advocate for starting the naming process with good old-fashioned human imagination rather than relying on AI name generators. Creativity is found in diverse environments, such as parks or retail stores, where inspiration can spark unique name ideas. We encourage individuals to give their creative process ample time, as some of the best ideas often arise after allowing concepts to simmer. 

Linguistic, Cultural, and Meaning Considerations The conversation delves into the significance of linguistic and cultural considerations. Effective naming involves ensuring names are not only suitable but also resonate across various global markets. The discussion also touches on the importance of understanding the meanings of names in different languages to avoid unintended cultural misunderstandings. 

Legal Safeguards: Trademarks and Copyrights The conversation extends to the legal aspects of naming, emphasizing the importance of trademark protection. Clear distinctions between trademarks and copyrights are drawn, clarifying the need to register names specifically for trademark protection. The discussion recommends using specialized tools and trademark attorneys to conduct comprehensive trademark searches and safeguard names effectively. 

Name Testing: Gauging Real-World Reactions Name testing is highlighted as a critical step in the naming process, ensuring names resonate with the target audience. To achieve this, names should be tested in a context resembling real-world exposure, such as packaging or advertisements. Quantitative research involving a significant number of participants provides statistically valid results. 

The Ever-Evolving Nature of Naming The discussion concludes with a focus on the dynamic nature of naming. It underscores the complexities of naming, which are continually influenced by shifting market trends and cultural nuances. While AI technology has its place, the podcast emphasizes that human expertise remains crucial, ensuring names adapt to the ever-changing landscape of consumer preferences. 


Megan Dzialo (00:03): 

Welcome back to Naming and an AI age with CEO and founder of NameStormers Mike Carr. I am Megan Dzialo, and today we’re going to be continuing in our conversation about naming and of course how AI is impacting naming and how it’s both helping it and hurting it. But today we’re going to start off with the question about how do creatives really start with coming up with names? Where do you start with that, Mike? 

Mike Carr (00:33): 

Yeah, and I think this is such an important question because it’s like do you want to bias your decisions right off the bat using a name generator that’s AI based or asking chat GPT or Bard or something else to help you? And we don’t, right? We really like our team to sort of start with that blank sheet of paper, if you will, just good old fashioned human creativity. Or you get out in the park and you’re walking around or you go to a retail outlook like the corporate whole food stores about a mile and a half from our office, all kinds of interesting names there. Often they don’t necessarily relate to what we’re naming, but it gets your creative juices flowing. You’ll see something that gets you sort of talking about a different direction than you maybe would’ve gone if you hadn’t seen that visual stimulus, if you hadn’t had the opportunity to walk through a different environment. So I think whatever works for you as a creative or your team, but not using the crutch of AI too early is hugely important and 


Allowing enough time. Some of the best ideas I think that we’ve come up with is after we’ve hit the creative pretty hard for a day or two and then you let it simmer over the weekend. And Megan, I don’t know if you’ve ever done this. 

Megan Dzialo (02:01): 


Mike Carr (02:01): 

I Know your sister Sarah has done this multiple times because she’s commented on it. She’ll wake up in the middle of the night and write down this brilliant idea on the pad next to the bed, and then next morning take a look at it. And sometimes it is brilliant and sometimes it’s really awful, but it’s that kind of subconscious, almost creative that I think sometimes generates the best name ideas. 

Megan Dzialo (02:27): 

No, I’ve done the exact same thing as she has too. And at times, like you said, I’ll wake up and I’m like, I thought that was a great idea at 2:00 AM I don’t know if it’s a great idea now, but because I liked it so much at 2:00 AM I’m going to throw it in the mix because there might be something there. But I think you hit on something really key, which is not using the crutch of not just ai, but just the internet in general. It can be very easy to say, Ooh, I’m going to go Google ideas. I’m going to go in here. I’m going to see what the internet can give me. I would say trust your own intuition and your own creativity, even if you’re not naturally the creative type, there’s some things that you need to pay attention to, those gut feelings, those words that pop up, even if they’re not fully completed informed names, if they’re word parts or just words that are associated with or related to whatever you’re naming. 


I think just getting ’em down on paper and coming back to them, like you said later, not putting this timeframe around it or saying I have to have a name within a day or a week or an hour. But giving yourself a time to be able to come up with names is really important. And I’ve been in the middle of conversations with people where they’ve said a word completely unrelated to what we’re talking about, but that word all of a sudden took me to what I’m naming and I stopped them right there. I’m like, hold on, you just gave me an idea. I have to write this down. So it’s definitely not a streamlined process that’s the same every single time. It’s different every time, which makes, I think that’s what makes it so fun. And I think it’s what up to you doing it for 35 plus years. 

Mike Carr (03:57): 

Yeah. There are a couple of things that you said that I think are worth reemphasizing that the reason fundamentally that a name generation tool or a crowdsourcing environment or an employee naming contest usually doesn’t work is you don’t allow for that amount of time. Now, in an employee naming contest, if someone’s really motivated and the deadline isn’t tomorrow, but a week from now, they may go through what you’ve described, but often that’s not the case. And certainly the name Generation Tools, I mean, we wrote the first PC program we believe in the world back in 1986 for name generation. It had an AI module built into it. It wasn’t called AI back then. It wasn’t very good. It had other ways to create names too, but it is only as effective as the user. If someone would use it as sort of that stimulus and then go off and ponder things, they could come up with some really good ideas that they probably would never have come up with without the assistance of that tool. 


But they still needed to allow for the time. And there’s some basic things you always need to do as part of the creative process. And Megan, you mentioned this idea of word parts and maybe a little bit about meanings. Amfa Parks and Resorts came to us years ago, and they’re the folks that manage some of the largest national parks in the US like Yellowstone and several of the other big parks, the Grand Canyon Park. And they weren’t really highly regarded back then. They had fairly old cabins and there was trash, and it was just not the kind of environment and ambiance you wanted going to a park. You wanted to see that pristine beauty and get back to nature and really enjoy the splendor and the grander of a Grand Canyon or a Yellowstone. And so we started thinking about that. They came to us and said, look, we need a new image. 


And their CEO was very visionary. We want a very modern, innovative sounding name. And so we started thinking about the stories behind that, getting back to earth, getting back to Mother Nature, creating this almost idyllic experience, the sense of, oh, this is just amazing. I’m so glad that I came to Glacier National Park or whatever. And the name we came up with for them was Xara. And that’s a very different name obviously than Amac Parks and Resorts. It was inspired by Zou and Tara. So Tara’s the word or the root for the earth, the planet Zou is sort of that idyllic, incredible paradise almost. And the other thing that we thought about in that name was, does it work not just in the US with English speakers, but does it work with folks whose primary language is not English and how does it work in other countries? And so part of 


An exercise is not just using some basic naming techniques, whether it’s sound symbolism or root combinations or linguistic architecture, but also story and meaning in other languages. And sometimes AI can be very helpful there if you’re trying to get a sense for, well, how would this translate? Or how does this work culturally? If you’re a really good prompt engineer, you can sometimes ferret out some guidance and there’s some non-AI tools that can help you do that as well. But those are the kinds of things that I think need to be considered as part of this process. The story, what’s the meaning? Do the roots make sense in English and other languages? Are they universal? Do they work with your target if your target is international? All that kind of stuff. 

Megan Dzialo (07:56): 

Yeah. So you just mentioned a few things that go beyond just the creative name, storming, as we call it, process. The easiest part of what we do, we say this all the time, it’s come up with a name. Names are the easiest, most fun part about what we do, but you can’t just take the best idea that you have and put it on a package. The complicated aspects of naming really lie in what you already mentioned, which is, does this name resonate globally or in the target markets outside of the US that we’re going to go towards? And so can you talk about all of the other more technical difficult aspects of getting a successful name such as the linguistic and cultural screenings? And then I also will ask you about trademark screenings and name testing. 

Mike Carr (08:42): 

Yeah, there are all kinds of tools that we have vetted over the years and ways to get at vulgarities and cultural nuances and linguistic problems. And some of them catch some obvious problems. Like Nova means no go in Spanish, so you don’t want to name a Chevrolet automobile. That that’s a story that many folks are familiar with, 


But they’re not as good as using in-country folks. So we actually are working on a project right now where we’ve got six team members located in some of the key countries that the name needs to work well in. And so it’s not just that we have some basic understanding of those languages and those cultures, and we can use AI to get maybe a little bit more into the nuances. But then we have folks in country that not only grew up there and their native language is the language we’re targeting, languages we’re targeting, but they’re also exposed to all the contemporary media so they know what’s being shown on TV or what shows up on the digital media platforms in their area. And so we get a really great vetting, real world, real time. And to me, that’s what you have to do. I know it can be complex and cumbersome, but having folks located in those markets that can think the way your targets think us has been just critical. 


Other thing, of course, is trademarks. And I’ll share with you some of the tools we use. I think these are of value to listeners that don’t know how to do this. I mean, you can go to the USPTO website and a lot of countries have the equivalent of that and do searches. They’re usually free. They don’t cost you money, just your time, and they don’t necessarily capture everything, but they’re not a bad first cut. And there’s a big difference between a trademark and a doing business as name. So if you’re a small startup 

Megan Dzialo (10:51): 

To talk about the difference between a copyright and a trademark, because some people don’t understand the difference between those or even do I have to trademark my name? Why trademark my name? Just some of those higher level questions. 

Mike Carr (11:03): 

So copyrights don’t, copyright isn’t what you want to be talking about when you’re talking about protecting your name. That’s a trademark. Copyrights apply to books, so you’ll copyright the content of a book or other longer forms of a bunch of words, but when it comes specifically to a name or maybe a very short phrase like a tagline, that’s where you’ll apply for a trademark. So the proper way to think about that is I need to register a name I’m using as a trademark. And the way you do that is filling out the paperwork online or using an attorney, which we recommend with the USPTO, if it’s in the US or with your state. If you just need a state trademark, which is not the same thing as going to the Secretary of State and registering your name just as your company name. 


So you can do that. You can go to your Secretary of state and each state’s different and register that name as the doing business, as the name you want to use in the state of Texas for instance. That doesn’t mean you have any trademark rights in the name. It just means that there’s not another exact name match in that particular state. And so you’re able to do that. And so a lot of folks think, well, I’ve done everything I need to do when I’ve registered with the Secretary of State. And no, unfortunately, that doesn’t give you the kind of legal rights that you really need when it comes to a trademark. And even going to the US P T O and doing those searches are not as thorough as what your trademark attorney is going to do. So the two tools that we use, one’s from Clarivate, that’s the company name and the tool’s called Sages, S A E G I S. 


And then the other tool we use is from a company called Core Search, and they actually have a variety of tools. Both of these companies have a variety of tools. The one we like is called Name Check, which is pretty easy, just name check. Those are the tools or tools from those firms are often the tools your trademark attorney will use. And it’s a much more thorough check than just going to the US P T O website. And you may not worry about that when you’re small, but boy, when you get to be a little bigger, you really need to vet these names ahead of time because it may take six months or a year from the time you file the paperwork before whether the patent and trademark office is actually going to grant you a trademark registration. So the last thing you want to do is file that, start using the name, and then a year later you find out, oops, I can’t get it because I’m infringing on someone else’s trademark. 


And then you’ve wasted all that time and money. So that’s a little bit about the process. And those are two of the tools that we think if you’re going to be serious about this and go beyond just a USPTO search or a state trademark search, you’re going to your Secretary of State, you really ought to take a look at. And last comment, trademark attorneys can be expensive, but they’re worth their weight in gold because the cost of litigation, if you’re challenged and you’ve been using the name for a while is eye watering. Whereas if you just spend a few hundred dollars or a couple thousand dollars going through the due diligence upfront and making sure you can use the name or the likelihood of you using the name is very good and register it, you’re going to save yourself a lot of angst and stress down the road. At least that’s what we found. 

Megan Dzialo (14:38): 

So then one more question about trademark screening. I get this question a lot and I think there’s a lot of confusion around it. There’s Dove chocolate, I love Dove chocolate, love their dark chocolate, but then I have a Dove deodorant and a Dove body wash. How is it possible for two companies to both have the same name when you’re talking about trademark infringement? 

Mike Carr (14:58): 

That’s a great question because a lot of folks don’t understand this, and they’ll go out and they’ll Google a name that we’ve come up with and they might not find the exact match like Dove Chocolate, dove Body Wash, but they’ll find something that’s confusingly similar and they think that knocks the name off the table. And the way Trademark Law works is it’s all around likelihood of confusion. And I’m not a trademark attorney, so I can’t give anybody legal advice, but we’ve done enough of this to give you some non legal advice and answer this question. The idea is you can use exactly the same name for something totally different as long as there’s not much confusion between product A and product B. 

Megan Dzialo (15:40): 


Mike Carr (15:40): 

Is a consumer going to be confused that this name’s on a chocolate bar and it’s on a body wash? They’re pretty different. They’re in different aisles of the store, they’re different price points, they look different. The way you use them is different. Now from a marketing standpoint, it might be a bad idea if the Dove body wash is very well known to come out with the name for chocolate called Dove. I mean, I can understand why that from a brand new standpoint might create some difficulties. But from a trademark standpoint, as long as the likelihood of confusion is fairly low or non-existent. And there are multiple classes, and that’s something else that really gets into the weeds that people don’t often understand is you’ll register your name in a specific class of goods and services. So for instance, beverages and chocolates and foods often show up in classes 29 and 30 and 32 body washes and soaps show up in a totally different class, maybe class three. And so that’s one of the ways that you can reduce the likelihood of getting some pushback when you do make the filing is make sure you file it in the right class of goods and services. And if you do go to the USPTO gov site, they do have some information on what the classes are and what goes in each class. And certainly a trademark attorney could help you with that as well. 

Megan Dzialo (17:07): 

And tying this back to ai, unfortunately AI does not have the capability to be able to screen trademark risk level for you at this time. So that’s another area in which AI is not currently shining. We’ll see what happens in the future, but I will say I’ve been more impressed about the insight that I’ve gotten whenever I use chat GPT for linguistic and cultural, I won’t say screenings, but more context and an idea as to whether something would resonate or whether it would offend or whether it translates. Well, it’s better than a simple Google translate because it gives you more of an analysis and more of a context. So that was something that I was a little bit excited about when it came to AI and the linguistic and cultural aspect. But we also want to talk a little bit about name testing. 


We’ve discussed how NAMRS come up with names and just the creative freedom and the importance of time. We’ve talked about the more legal side of it, trademark screenings and even these linguistic and cultural screenings. We haven’t talked about domain screening, but I’m really interested in name testing. This is something that not many people do. Going back to last episode when we talked about making sure that you’re naming for your target market and that you understand who your target market is, it’s one thing to understand who your target market is. It’s another thing to actually tap into that market and get their ideas and their reactions to names. So can you tell me about how name Stormers and how you have done name testing? 

Mike Carr (18:38): 

You bet. And we’ve had episodes a few weeks ago with Jian Huang of Mapprio and his whole system one system two approach, which we really bought into. But I think just for the basics chat, GPT is never going to be able to mimic how people react to names. And it’s been said, and I actually agree with this, that naming is not rocket science. It’s much harder. And when you hear that, you just think, what do you mean rocket science is really hard, right? You’ve got to be an engineer and a scientist and you got to figure out all these ratios and formulas and you got to build your rocket just right or it blows up. And Elon Musk had a few problems in the early days of SpaceX as capable and competent as he and his team was with that exact problem, right? So why would you say that naming is harder than rocket science? And the reason is there are the laws of physics that don’t change and rocket science, and a lot of things are sort of constructed around the laws of physics, the formulas that relate to energy and power and how certain materials perform under certain stresses, whether it’s heat or whatever, that doesn’t change over time. You can build something and you can run through the simulators and it’s going to probably perform the laws of physics, laws of physics. 


Problem with naming is it’s constantly changing the whims of the marketplace, the cultural reactions, how the gen Zers react to names. Today’s may be different than how they’d react to names six months ago. So tapped into the digital world, and if there’s some new trend that all of a sudden is in vogue and it is affecting how people react to certain words or roots or themes, then that affects how they react. Everything including branding, marketing, and it’s a constantly moving target. So the rules of naming aren’t fixed, like the laws of physics, they’re constantly changing. And because all these AI tools aren’t based upon the immediate today kind of data, even if they are, they’re always biased by a week ago, a month ago, a year ago, they’re behind the times. And so it’s very difficult to test names with a synthetic respondent that’s created by an AI engine. 


You really need to test names with the people you’re targeting as close to the launch date as possible in a context that mirrors how they’re actually going to see it. So the worst thing to do is go into a focus group, not even tell the participants what you’re talking about. You just put a two foot by three foot white board up in front of them with a name, and you ask ’em, what do you think of this name? And then you show ’em another name, same font, same color, what do you think of this name? And you go through six 10, however main names you want to show ’em, and then you draw some conclusions from that. It’s just totally meaningless. You should show them the name on package if possible or in an ad. So they have some ideas to when you actually launch the name, this is how they’re going to first see it or be exposed to it. 


And you don’t ask questions. What do you think of the name? You watch their reactions. Is everybody reacting? Do their eyes open up? Do they start smiling? Do they start showing that engagement in that body language? If it’s a focus group or if it’s a quant study, are they reacting to names by touch and clicks quickly and you see some enthusiasm and some of the verbatim responses? That’s really what we think name testing is so important. And it goes back to what we started the conversation with last week, is that you’re often not the target. And if you’re not the target, and even if you are, you’re one data point, right? So we like quant research where you’re targeting a few hundred people so you have a statistically valid result. And we also like creating an environment that’s as close to the real world environment as possible. 


So when you are testing these names, you’re getting valid results, not something that’s biased either because you’re just not providing the right context in the window dressing or in the case of the focus group, if it’s not well moderated, you’ve got a couple people in there that say, oh, I love this name and most of the rest of the folks don’t love it. But since they got that voice out first, then they sort of bias the rest of the discussion. So that’s a little bit about name testing. We’ll continue to talk about this and many other topics in the future. We wanted to share with you both today and last week, a little bit of our perceptions on the basics aren’t going to change. And as much as you may be enamored and want to get involved in AI, and we certainly are trying to use it every day in different ways, I think it’s important to continue to do that. 


The basics are still the basics, and so whether it’s target, you’re going after asking the right questions upfront, the creative brief, trying to go through the right type of process when it comes to vetting names, whether it’s linguistically, culturally, legally, and then of course with your market. Those are all key steps that we still think require those good old fashioned human beings to do. As much as you might want to say, we want the computer to do it, or we want the AI robot to do it, or whomever. Anyway, thanks so much guys for joining us again today for another session on naming in the AI world. 


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