Help me learn to think of better names for things
January 27, 2010 12:11 PM   Subscribe

I have always had a hard time naming things. Is there a process you go through when choosing a name? Categories of ideas or questions that you run through?

I frequently wish to come up with good and interesting usernames, pet names, names for groups, and so on. I'd like to be able to consistently come up with original names that sound good, mean something, and are a bit clever.

If you consider yourself good at choosing names, what are the methods you use? Sources of inspiration? Considerations you put into the process?

Note: I'm thinking beyond basic ideas like...
* Write down a bunch of names and see what sounds good
* Use names of your favorite characters
* Consult a big list of old-timey names

I know there are people who do this professionally, brand consultants and whatnot. I'd like to learn to become my own brand consultant.
posted by agropyron to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I feel morally obligated to proselytize the works of Mitch:

I want to get a job as someone who names kitchen appliances. Toaster, refrigerator, blender....all you do is say what the shiit does, and add "er". I wanna work for the Kitchen Appliance Naming Institute. Hey, what does that do? It keeps shiit fresh. Well that's a fresher....I'm going on break.
Mitch Hedberg (RIP)

posted by eytanb at 12:50 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

A naming scheme helps. I name my cats after astronomical bodies (e.g., twins Phobos and Deimos), my pet chickens with dignified old ladynames, and my computers after colors. At my old job, the computers were all given names of elements (helium, technetium, etc.), and at the job before that the computers were all given names of birds (heron, egret, etc.).
posted by Ery at 12:52 PM on January 27, 2010

I usually start with the thing I am naming. For example, if I'm naming a pet or a group, I spend time reflecting on the qualities I perceive in the animal or the group, and which ones I want to reflect in the name. Then I start thinking about words, phrases, familiar quotations, fictional character names, until something seems right.

For example, when she was a kitten, I named my very curious, somewhat gawky, rather adorable black cat Gigi, after the character in the movie of that name. That made it obvious that we should name our other kitten, who was self possessed, very well groomed, and elegant looking, Maurice (after Maurice Chevalier.)

I really enjoy the free association and thought that comes with naming, and hope that you experience that too.
posted by bearwife at 1:04 PM on January 27, 2010

There was a very good post about names on the Blue recently, here it is:

Where unique identities are born every day (also on Mefi Projects)
posted by invisible ink at 1:12 PM on January 27, 2010

I like looking at word etymology (especially Greek and Latin roots) when picking names, because the connotations often carry over.

A few tools that I use:
Ologies and Isms: A Dictionary of Word Beginnings and Endings
Chambers Dictionary of Etymology
Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

To see how big companies decide on names, these pages may inspire:
List of company name etymologies
List of band name etymologies
posted by Paragon at 1:25 PM on January 27, 2010

People say I am good at this, and I get assigned to name things a lot.

I usually just talk about the thing a lot, like out loud to myself, and then at some point I notice that something jumps out at me because it sounds good. Like:

"Well it's an internet site but it's about other internet sites, it's sort of I dunno a super umbrella commentary thing that is about other sites like in a meta way, it's kind of a meta-website I guess... but not like Google it's not just a big pile of all the other crap it also sorts out the good part from the bad and sort of filters out and analyzes the good parts... hm maybe I should call it MetaFilter... no wait that sounds like I'm talking about filters... well it's catchy anyway so let me write that down and then keep rambling for awhile maybe I will find something better....."
posted by rokusan at 1:41 PM on January 27, 2010

You can use Spoonerisms to generate something pronounceable that isn't a dictionary word (and is therefore easy to search for).
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 1:43 PM on January 27, 2010

For human names (fictional characters etc), nothing works for me like a walk in a cemetery. So many strange and interesting surnames out there.
posted by philip-random at 1:47 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I like using Japanese words for things. My old Motorola RAZR's bluetooth name was kamisori (i.e., razor) and my new Sony phone is midori (i.e., green). Jim Breen's site is a good resource for Japanese words.

For my Macs, I've used semi-obscure varieties of apples (idared and epicure). If there's a general noun that applies abstractly to what you're naming, you can try using more specific versions of the concrete concept.

Another technique I like to use is anagramming. Just take a few words that describe whatever it is you're naming and plug them into the Internet Anagram Server.
posted by Cogito at 1:57 PM on January 27, 2010

A naming scheme helps

I agree completely; all the computers and other devices on my network are named after space ships in sci-fi, but I won't reuse a name, so it forces me to be clever after a while. This limitation really improves creativity and gets me to dig a bit to find the perfect moniker for something.

As for other things, like pets, I tend to look for something specific about it to aid in my naming choice (when we found a tiny polydactyal kitten with a giant head in the bushes years ago, we naturally named him "Darwin" for his efforts at attempting to evolve). My Siamese cat is named Oni (ghost/ demon) because she appears and disappears at will, by Australian cattle dog is named Ele (short for Electric Dingo) because she has an improbable amount of energy.

This is nice because it gives you an explanation when people ask, but it means that you have to live with the critter for a while before you decide what to call it.

Another direction we've taken is to go with a full, absurdly long title for a pet. Like "Super-Destructo-Atomotron-Nugget-Head of DOOM: Nuggetly Destroyer of Worlds and Demonic Swallower of Souls." which is the name of our rabbit. Bestowing an honorary doctorate or professorship on a pet is also a nice touch.

Particularly if you enjoy weird looks at the vet.

As to other things in life, I just go with whatever comes to mind. For instance, as of this moment, my filing cabinet is now named Jeff.
posted by quin at 2:31 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I like to name things after favourite characters in books, especially if there is some sort of dignified-sounding honourific - so I have 2 very silly birds called Dr. Buzzard and Dr. Benway
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:05 PM on January 27, 2010

Pet names... Your favorite candy bar. My cat, Reeses (and her son, Pieces) will attest to that.

Stay away from flash in the pan sit-com names. Moesha (the black Chow-Chow) has been shortened to Momo...I didn't name her, she is a rescue chow.
posted by bach at 9:25 AM on January 28, 2010

Lots of great answers. Keep 'em coming if you've got more!
posted by agropyron at 9:53 AM on January 28, 2010

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