[Originally published on B2B Brand Debate]
If you search the web for advice on naming, you’ll find plenty of blog posts and articles instructing you to try to come up with a name that’s easy to remember, easy to pronounce, and different from other names in the category. This is all great advice, but it may not be helpful to someone just getting started. Platitudes like “stick with short words,” are useful when choosing between several good name options, but they’re not much help when you’re starting from scratch. However, there are websites that can serve as very practical tools for naming. This post points out some free online services (links included) that might come in handy if you’re attempting to develop a long list of name candidates.
First off, naming newbies should know that professional namers (or organizations that provide the service) start with a creative brief that outlines the intended meaning(s) for the name to express. These range from literal and descriptive—a social networking application or a high-end hardware store—to emotional and abstract—the joy of connecting with friends, or the confidence that comes from using the best tools available. (Arriving at the brief is a process entirely unto itself.) From there, a list of hundreds of names is generated.
The process of generating name lists is classic brainstorming: start with the concepts on the brief, think of associated words or ideas, and leave nothing off-limits. Take notes, and pick the best name candidates from the words listed. Repeat this process until you have a satisfactory list of potential names. The genius of a good namer, therefore, is rooted in lateral thinking, voluminous knowledge of seemingly irrelevant information, and a passion for wordplay and language—none of which can be replaced by an online tool or information provided in a short blog post. But experienced namers and novices alike can benefit from some outside help. While this is probably why many namers prefer to work with a team, there are also several websites that can augment the solo brainstormer engaged in generating a list of names.
Here’s a list:
Synonyms and word association:
- Obviously, a thesaurus is a must. Here’s one of several online.
- Free association is hard to capture in a database, but this is an attempt to do so.
- Sometimes it’s easier to start with the definition and search for the word. Hence, this reverse dictionary.
Pre-screening and availability:
- The United States Patent and Trademark Office allows users to search its database (TESS) for free. Follow this link and click “Search.”
- If URL availability is important, this site allows you to simultaneously check many names for availability with the most popular extensions.
Wordplay and translation:
- This helpful site allows you to search for words that contain specific strings of letters.
- There are a few sites that allow users to combine prefixes and suffixes to form new words. Dot-o-mator adds a comical twist to poke fun at stereotypical “Web 2.0″ names.
- You may want to try translating words; there are a lot of free translation services, but Yahoo’s Babelfish is one of the better ones.
Word lists and glossaries (obviously these are only useful when somehow relevant, but here’s a sample of what’s available online):
All of these links serve a purpose in naming, and many can help alleviate a bad case of writer’s block (namer’s block?). In the end however, it’s critical to keep in mind that offline sources (real life books, for example) can be just as important. It’s an embarrassing story, but in a moment of frustration I once asked a fellow namer if he knew of a website where I could simply find a list of words in alphabetical order. His response: “Go to Amazon.com and buy a dictionary.”
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