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CopyWriterFilter 5000: How do copywriters come up with names for products and product lines?
October 17, 2009 10:49 AM   Subscribe

CopyWriterFilter 5000: How do copywriters come up with names for products and product lines?

I've been slowly transforming into a copywriter (so painful) and have been tasked with developing around 40 "unique, sonorous" product names for a well-known manufacturer.

I took a drive around town to brainstorm and noticed that housing subdivisions seem to have been named with use of a programmed, automated name builder ... such that "some British village name" + "a random selection of 'wood' 'creek' or 'view'" = American McMansionville. Are they using a system to whip those out?

That's a horrible example and not what I'm looking to do ... but are there systems for developing brand names that could quicken my pace? Are there some sites and/or books I can read about that?

"Well, as you can see ... it SUCKS as it CUTS!"
posted by metajc to Work & Money (9 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I am not your copywriter (or a copywriter). Still in my experience in advertising, people just brainstorm. Here's a random list of things they do:
- Make a list of terms that come to mind, group them and find more terms that fit into those group.
- Bounce ideas of with someone else.
- Go drink a few and do so more.
- Find similar brands / products and deduce.
- Find verbs, nouns and adjectives that fit into the context.
- Think of the brand as a person. Female, male? What else?
- Naturally check what's already TMed or registered as a domain, or whatever is important in your field.

Apart from that there's some theory of what sounds good and friendly to the human ear. If I remember correctly, open vowels are good. Letter-A endings are good. Three syllables are good.

Whatever you come up with, chance has a bigger influence on the final term than your preparation, so do not worry about it too much.
posted by oxit at 10:59 AM on October 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Heavy brainstorming -- I'll fill up pages with any words or concepts even tangentially related to the product. I'll draw on movies, books, songs -- anywhere my mind goes. Then, often, I'll start looking at the roots of the words I come up with and start patching them together to create neologisms. An example of this at work (though I certainly didn't name this product): Viagra. I am guessing the thought process was something like this....

"What is really powerful and potent?"
"What's manly? What's manliness mean?"

Hours & hours of head-wracking brainstorming follow, filling pages and pages with words, word fragments and concepts. Among those concepts:

Niagara (power; extra bonus because it subtly refers to abundant, powerfully flowing fluids)
Virility (Latin root: vir, man)

Put 'em together, and... "Viagra" was probably one of dozens of names submitted. After being vetted by the medical, legal, and regulatory departments at Pfizer, and subject to a copyright search, and market-researched in various cities/countries, it was submitted to FDA for a lengthy review process, and Bob's your uncle! A new product name.
posted by ROTFL at 11:08 AM on October 17, 2009

Oh, and don't forget your friend the thesaurus. I prefer the hard-copy traditional Roget's, because of the groupings of concepts in the back. But I find the thesaurus is just where I start; it's a jumping-off point to help get my mind into branching-out mode.
posted by ROTFL at 11:15 AM on October 17, 2009

Oxit covered a lot of the process above.
-Look into the etymology of words that describe the product you are trying to name.
-Think of Latin and Greek roots.
-Think of the sounds that letters make. Do you want strong sounds (letters G, K, T...) or soft sounds (letters A, S, L...)?
-Don't overlook common sense - i.e. Zappos (the Spanish word for shoes is zapatos / zap implies quick, rapid) makes a lot more sense for an online shoe store than PiperLime (huh?)

As a point of reference,
is a firm that has done a lot of this type of work - Dasani, Febreze, Swiffer.
posted by Andy's Gross Wart at 11:19 AM on October 17, 2009

You need the Igor Naming Guide.
posted by PatoPata at 11:25 AM on October 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Well, there is the random subdivision/housing development/rest home name generator
posted by sanka at 11:58 AM on October 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

Awesome help -- thank you, all, and please do not stop here.

"If I remember correctly, open vowels are good. Letter-A endings are good. Three syllables are good."

Funny -- this is exactly what my top competitor has done (with Latin roots and soft sounds).

It is a science.
posted by metajc at 12:29 PM on October 17, 2009

OK, former professional namer here (now client-side).

I hate, hate, hate brainstorming (it's a waste of my time, as naming is a numbers game and people are slower than me and Word). I hate having one rule for what makes a good name -- it's about what you're trying to accomplish.

It took my three years of work, serious mentorship and access to tools to get good at naming, so it's not going to fit in this little box, but here goes:

Put together a good brief. A seriously good brief. Business objectives, company history, what they like and don't like in names outside and inside the space.

Then put together a competitive analysis of the names out there. Are they fanciful, arbitrary, descriptive, coined, real words, etc. Look for opportunities to differentiate there.

Then put together a list of metaphors. If the USP is "fast" and sleek, a sports car. Etc.

Then sit down and generate as many names as possible and name every possible avenue. My old boss said if I handed him less than 350 names, why did I even bother?

Brewer's Phrase and Fable, the Reader's Encyclopedia,, the OED, books of slang from bygone eras, books of imaginary place names, magazines that speak to the target market, concordance engines -- the tools you use depend on the avenues and the strategy above.

When you're generating, don't filter. Just put stuff down. Constantly.

Name all your metaphors. Name the sports car, the stomach medicine, the magic raygun, etc.

Then filter on strategic criteria. Then run them through a preliminary screen with a trademark lawyer -- if they're not clear, they're not a possibility. Assuming you didn't scope that as an out of pocket cost on this, get really good at and get that list down.

Then bucket them into themes -- themes by idea, by category, by strategic opportunity.

It's not easy. There's a reason the world has millions of copywriters and only a few really good naming firms. It's the strategic rigor before, the creative directions to get to -- not the names themselves -- that make it difficult.

And don't discount what the client will buy. The magic of my favorite names wasn't the names themselves, but the work it took to convince them of a good name, which all now seem obvious because they've been in market.

But trust me, for every Adobe Lightroom and Samsung Instinct, there's a Purina Beneful and Xbox 360, so you have to enjoy the process more than the result.

In addition to Igor (mentioned above), firms like Eat My Words and Operative Words have information on their sites that may be inspirational.

But sorry, every book I've read on naming is a waste. Just set out what you're trying to accomplish, brain dump everything you can and then filter. There's no magic formula beyond that.
posted by Gucky at 1:44 PM on October 17, 2009 [4 favorites]

Monkeydust's method
posted by Iax at 1:22 AM on October 18, 2009

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