Do Name Generators Work?

Can they help you name your company or new product line?

The professionals in any field always seem to have better and bigger tools, engines and control systems.

When people are stuck for names, they look to computers nowadays for short cut help, unlike in the old days when we might have gone down to the library for help. And there are some interesting and tempting tools available for purchase or to use online. But do they work?

The answer probably lies in your expectations. If you are looking just for some ideas to trigger your own thinking, then the answer might well be yes. But if you think one of these tools will magically spit out some eloquent name that is suitable for registration, then you might be sorely disappointed.

I started my first naming agency on the conviction that computers could be used a lot to facilitate the process, and today as I sit here fifteen or more years later, I still find that there is nothing like a good professional namer on the creative front end. Yes, there are some people who can generate a few hundred names in a few days, many of which are on target, unique, and have a suitable (and sometimes perfect) marketing image. Anyone can make up a few names. Good amateurs can maybe even come up with fifty or sixty, but professionals come up with hundreds.

But computer name generators can come up with thousands and never tire of it. And they don’t need pay checks or even late night cups of coffee! So why aren’t they better? The answer is that computers can play with words and roots and even synonyms, but languages and images, humans and feelings, have far more complex reasoning. It took thirty more years than expected, and a lot of money and talent from IBM, before a computer could beat a master at chess. Despite the fact that the rules of chess are very precise, the number of options and moves are very finite, and the experience of your competitor (and other grand champions) is properly documented and available. Now how many roots and possible combinations are there in the simple twenty six character English alphabet? For two or three or four letter words, not too many hundreds of thousands (and all those domains are taken). But which of these words make sense? Sounds good? Makes good names? Are trademark and company registration legally clean?

On the other hand, if you are looking for a descriptive name for your new coffee shop, entering coffee and something else into,, NameRazor or may come up with some interesting ideas and even possibly tell you if the domain name is free. And even if you use a synonym thesaurus, you will still only get names based on roots and ideas you supplied. They will never come up with a name like Starbucks. Not even Peet’s Coffee or Seattle’s Best Coffee! Similarly, when naming your copy shop, they will come up with a zillion versions of copy, but never make the leap to Kinko’s! When naming your new search engine, they will never come up with Google or Yahoo, but may come up with names like InfoSeek or Ask.

This does not mean that professional namers do not use tools. Anyone who has to come up with a few hundred names on a tight deadline has some sort of process or set of aids. Sometimes even common name generators are used to stimulate thinking and variations, especially if the client prefers a much more descriptive name. But only a human with naming sense is going to have the smarts to say: What if we add an s, or change the ending to avia, etc.? And then immediately recognize it as a potential or a wasted direction, while subtly picking up the marketing message and implied meanings in other languages or contexts?

We have even seen name generators that given just a few starting words can make four thousand names overnight without you inputting much more. Great. Now which ones are any good? Will your boss agree? In fact, will your boss even recognize a good name from a long list unless he has been lead through a process of education and discovery? (Aside: Our experience with this is a 50/50 chance at best. Most management did not get to the top based on their marketing and naming image recognition skills.)

Cheap digital cameras have made everyone into a photographer, but when you get married or need pictures for your annual report or spring fashion show or new product launch, you call a professional. Someone who has practiced and studied the science and the art of photography. Someone who does it all day, every day. Similarly with professional namers. Those who have access to the best professional tools, even if some of them aren’t very good. Wouldn’t you be better at it, and save a lot of management time and money, if you too did naming all day, every day?


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