By Gazala Vahanvati
I’ve spent nearly 10 years developing names for brands, so when it came to naming my first child, I was sure the process would be a breeze. Little did I know how wrong I was. Even after I finally made the decision to name my baby Zayd, I wanted to change it within the week! The process radically shifted my perspective on naming. All of a sudden, I was the client. I was thinking about naming from their perspective, because for our clients, their brand is their baby. Here are the six lessons I learned from naming my son.
Lesson 1: Start the naming at conception
Why wait? No one knows the brand’s DNA better than you. It’s always better to aim for a long list. Once you start discussing names with others, you may discover that a peer has a similar name (in our case, a friend’s child) or that the name reminds you of someone else (read: someone you don’t like). The longer you have to live with your options, the more likely it is that some names filter themselves out and others grow on you and start to feel right.
Lesson 2: Involve key stakeholders at the right time—not too early, not too late
It’s understandable that you’d want to make one of the most important decisions about your brand (child) yourself. After all, it will shape their future. But at the same time, you have a larger team (family) to consider. And they will likely have important input that you may not have considered. Also, you want them to feel involved so that they have a sense of ownership. It’s best to present them with a shortlist that they can debate and choose from. Keep the group you share the names with limited to those closest to you; they will apply the soundest logic while making their selection.
Lesson 3: Phonetics and spelling can change a brand’s (child’s) destiny
Let’s face it: No parent wants their kid to be the one with the constantly mispronounced name. Similarly, no brand wants to be discussed at an important time and have a presenter mispronounce it. In India—a country with many distinct languages and dialects—it might not be obvious that a “Z” is pronounced as a “jeh” sound or that a name with an “S” is pronounced with a “sh.”
To ensure that phonetics and spelling are clear for most audiences, ask people who are proficient in different languages to read the names out loud while someone else writes them down. This will help you grasp the ease of speaking the name, understanding the name, and communicating it properly in writing. This is especially important when the name is an unusual one—we all want our names to be different and unique—but often names are spelled differently from how they sound. For example, when Landor Mumbai was working with WGC on its jewelry brand, we opted for the name “Azva” instead of “Ashva”—the original Sanskrit spelling—because the potential “sh” pronunciation may have led to a less contemporary feel for the brand. By testing phonetics and spelling early on, we avoided this pitfall.
Lesson 4: The story behind the name says a lot about the brand
A name speaks to heritage. For a company, it can point to culture, beliefs, and ethos, while for a child, it may point to the family’s values, the parents’ style of childrearing, or the child’s personality. It’s a great opportunity to showcase to the world, in one word, what you stand for. While you can easily find the meaning of a word, try to weave in a story that your brand (or child) would love to tell one day.
When Landor Mumbai worked on the rebrand of IFMR Capital to Northern Arc Capital, the main reason for the shift was to have a name that lent more meaning to the brand. Northern Arc was a medieval trade route that completely transformed the geography it went through. The story drew a parallel to the role of the brand, which connects people who have access to finance with those who don’t.
Lesson 5: Context and trust will get you past the finish line
When it’s time for the brand to meet the world, your shortlist will be down to just a few names. This is when you’ll face the toughest decision yet: selecting The One. While making your final decision, consider what fits best with how the product will look and feel. Trust your instincts—you did the logical checks already—it’s time to follow your gut.
When we were creating the new upscale brand for the Taj Group, we had three names in the mix. It was only when we layered the names in with the look and feel, seeing them in context, that the right one emerged: Vivanta by Taj.
Lesson 6: Don’t be rash: Give the name time to settle before you change it
By now I’m sure you are wondering whether or not I changed my son’s name. The answer is that I didn’t. Instead, I called on my support group—my friends, my family, other moms—and asked for advice from people who had dealt with similar challenges. The takeaway: Any major changes require time to feel normal.
There are almost always negative reactions to a new name. It’s just a reality of the process. People will say, “Oh, it sounds like…” or, simply, “I don’t like it.” When Landor Mumbai decided on the name “Cuddle” for a serious analytics software brand, we heard similar reactions: “It sounds childish!” Today, Cuddle is considered one of India’s most innovative tech companies and one of the 10 most influential analytics leaders in India.
In reality, first impressions rarely last. All new things have an initiation process during which you, and other people, have to settle the nerves and get comfortable. Over time and with context, the name will start to fit like a glove. Eventually you won’t be able to imagine any other name fitting in quite the same way—you just have to give it a chance.
The name game
While naming may sound like an easy job, it’s challenging in many ways. It requires a balance of creativity and strategy that impacts the most critical part of a brand: its identity and voice. As a result, it’s something that requires the utmost passion, seriousness, and rigor—and a good dose of intuition. Whether it’s naming a brand or your child, happy naming!
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