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Of course Shakespeare got there first with “what’s in a name?”

And as it turns out — despite Juliet’s lament — a LOT!

As a designer, I deal with company, product, and service names every day, and must say that I do not envy those who are facing this challenge as the second quarter of the 21st century approaches.

Has anyone else noticed all the crazy convoluted jaw-cracking words we’re seeing lately for the names of prescription drugs? The fact is that these names are constructed according to specific agreed-upon rules and parameters, so that’s their solution. To complicate matters further, each drug has a chemical, a generic, and a brand name. Do a search on the phrase “how do prescription medications get their names” if you’re curious.

It’s different with naming a business, product, or service. It’s harder by the day to find names that are not already taken, let alone already registered as corresponding domain names. There are hundreds of businesses out there who specialize in naming and branding. Google (now there’s a name!) the words “naming consultants.”

If you want to DIY a name, there is massive advice and assistance out there. Search on the phrase “how to name a business,” or “naming your company,” or “how to name a product” to turn up loads of advice. It’s pointless for me to reiterate all that advice here. Any list of the available resources would go on for pages. And as you may have guessed by now, AI is already on board as a player in this arena.

That Name

Some brief general advice anyway — especially for naming a company. It’s got to look good (though the right typographic choice goes a long way here), sound good (provided there are sufficient clues as to its pronunciation), not confuse or insult (at least within the surrounding and adjacent cultures), not be or sound like a swear word in another language (asked and answered), AND not already be taken by — or easily confused with —  another existing name (due diligence includes a search of trademarked names with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and a chat with your attorney about your state’s laws – see “Secretary of State”).

Classic tales of naming woe include the Chevy Nova which didn’t go over well with Spanish-speaking folks since “Nova” sounds like “doesn’t go.” Another victim of its time was the diet appetite suppressant (“reducing plan candy”) that came out in the late 70s named “Ayds.” It did not last — not because of the spelling, but because of the sound of the name. Any name that avoids such unpredictable reversals of fortune still needs to survive the test of time. The entire naming process is daunting, seemingly fraught with peril, but not without a solution. It just takes time and effort. The clever stuff is still out there. Have faith.

The X

We’re all wondering why Elon decided to rename Twitter (which was a darn good name, actually) to … “X.” Heaven knows what he’d gone through in the name-struggle to get to that. We need to ask: what’s going to become the term for a post on … X? An “Ex”? A “Xs” (I’m trying to represent it phonetically here. Maybe it sounds like the word “kiss” (spelled phonetically as: “/kɪs/”) but without the “ɪ” sound?) Initially, “X” was described as an “interim” name. Elon really likes the “X” thing. Malcolm had already been there and done that, so it’s not as original as it might seem. And the sound of it does have some negative connotations in phrases such as “my ex.” The French word for the letter X is pronounced like “eeks,” so perhaps a post on X could be called an “eek” as a pseudo-singular borrowing from French (with a similarly pseudo plural as: “eeks”)?

My initial reaction to this name was that “X” has a lot of baggage. On the web and in other common usage — it is universally used to indicate “close,” “delete,” “dismiss,” “remove,” “cancel,” “stop,” “no/not,” “n/a,” “denied.” Add to this a whiff of menace and mystery by association with other well-known words and phrases (“The X-Files” comes to mind). The X is evoked in the classic pirate’s scull and crossbones and of course with the treasure map, denoting not only the location of the buried treasure but also with vague reference to the perils in finding it.

Also in the X category is the time-honored cartooning tradition of putting X marks where a character’s eyes should be to denote its demise. “Madame X” is a familiar X-phrase while its origins are not well-known. Search on “Madame X” and you’ll get the back-story there along with John Singer Sargent’s pentimento. The phrase “Brand X” usually refers to the inferior / generic knock-off of an established or respected brand. Getting back to the social media instance, the X along with the use of the color black for the brand is certainly in keeping with the platform’s tone of late. So “X” is burdened with a massive set of inferences.

Learn the rules / break the rules

The world is full of namings that made no sense when they started out, but that are now “household” names, so don’t let the challenge defeat you. Because it’s not just the NAME, but the BRAND that makes the difference. Juliet’s very point was that a name in and of itself is meaningless. It’s the MEANING we give to it that truly matters.



Rules for Naming Your Business in All 50 States

United States Patent and Trademark Office

For some fun, see —

The Five Worst Car Names Ever?

By Any Other Name