How to name your product


Sleepless nights, verbal spasms, and stressed hand-wringing. These are the afflictions of a product designer trying to christen her product. When I have an idea I’m serious about, naming it tends to be something of a bottleneck: I can never quite push on in earnest with development till it’s called something.

Finding the right name breathes life into a thing that might otherwise be just a bunch of sketches or UI mocks at that point. Explaining an idea to friends is infinitely more enjoyable with a moniker attached to it. However, reaching a satisfying title is hard. A name is so personal and can define — in the minds of others — who or what you are. Too many times I’ve spent weeks fixated on nomenclature, and suffering from the aforementioned oddities in behaviour: perhaps most notably — or annoyingly — shouting out random words in hope of friends’ approval, often at the most inopportune of times. A kind of naming-Tourette’s.

So I came up with a system for naming my digital products. It’s simple but effective: I’ve reduced both the time required to reach a satisfying name and the associated period of stress from a couple of weeks to a few days. Here’s how it’s done:

Method

Takes between 20–60m

Create a new spreadsheet. In row A, list the key attributes of your product. Typically, these are words or short phrases that describe what, why, and how your new thing does what it does. So for my product Peeps, which allows you to send selfie video messages, my column headings were Camera, Self, Messaging, Speed, Friends, and Stream.

Then, under each of your new columns, write words associated with the heading. This can be real stream-of-consciousness stuff. Don’t edit your thinking too heavily. Use a thesaurus liberally: synonyms are your friend. Some words might befit multiple columns — this is likely a good sign, so stick ‘em in. You’ll also want an ‘other’ column for words that are only tangentially related, or for some reason just take your fancy.

Don’t edit yourself too much — think quantity over quality

Add a couple of extra columns at the end: ‘modifiers’ and ‘dump’ (feel free to select a less divisive name for that last one). In modifiers you should fill it with words & letters that can be pre- or appended. You know, “-ly”, “-sy”, “-er” etc. These don’t really differ by project.

Dump

When you’ve filled in the columns, go through your list of words. Highlight the ones that stand out (a green cell color works well here). Then cross reference the highlighted words from each column and see if they can be combined to make a potential name; or if there are any single words repeated across columns, ascertain if they might work as a one-word title.

Shortlist

Create a second page in your spreadsheet. Take the highlighted entries from your dump column and put them in the first column of the new page under a title of ‘name’, ‘candidate’ or whatever. This is your shortlist.

Smell that delicious aroma? It’s you cooking up a name you’re going to be happy with. To help whittle down your shortlist to an overall winner, add the following columns:

  • Domain
  • Twitter
  • App Store / Play Store (if applicable)
  • Memorability (out of 10)
  • X-factor

These should be fairly self-explanatory: you’re ostensibly checking for how viable your new name is based on its availability, and then assessing its overall memorability and whether or not it ‘feels’ right (which I guess you could call the X-factor).

Finally, I reiterate the three most important facet columns from the first page, i.e. the 3 most important things your product name should convey, and mark whether your shortlisted names hit the mark for each or not.

Winner

Woohoo!

By the end of this exercise, you should have enough names to apply the shortlist evaluation methods to and choose a winning name. Start using it in conversation and see how it sits with you — I find a good name needs time to ruminate in the mind but also exposure in the wild for you to see how you feel about saying it. In fact, in my own version of this, I include a column called ‘Proud to Tweet?’ on the shortlist page—in other words, how do I feel about announcing this to the world?

Ultimately this is a decision you have to make on instinct, yet a quantitive approach to attaining options should help you get there.

Let me know how you get on — I’m @tomcavill on twitter.