The Name Game

Here’s a story from the SF Chronicle about a naming consultant.

In working with his clients, Cecil adopts the persona of ‘Ranger Steve’ and takes turns with various hats while giving his in-person presentations. The 6-foot-4, 270-pound master of neology (a newly invented word or phrase) said that his work is akin to being a docent in leading corporate clients to a better understanding of words and meaning.

‘I wear different hats, like the Nike hat, and tell great fable-like stories,’ Cecil said. ‘We explore where good names come from. There are one, or two, of 40 different ways to name things. There are alphanumeric names and products that are named after people. Starbucks came from the book ‘Moby Dick. ‘ Listerine was named after (founder) Joseph Lister. You couldn’t name a product with your own names these days.’

Cecil said that companies often come to him with a narrow idea, and they want him to be more descriptive.

‘The namer is a verbal chemist,’ Cecil said. ‘We combine and recombine words — looking for just the right nuance, or glancing blow. I do this in real time — and sometimes I talk the group into a cul-de-sac.’

I find the idea of a goofy-ass guy as namer to stand in marked contrast to the larger naming firms who are often positioned on language-as-science (a la the “chemist” spin here) but with more rigor than creativity. This entry on a Snark Hunting, a naming blog illustrates some of the other companies (we all know Landor, right?) and what they’ve done.
(See all naming process posts on Snark Hunting here including a NYT article about big clients and boutique (naming) agencies

So here’s a category of service that is not design or innovation but is right next door in the branding and marketing world, and here’s at least one example where making the choice between a small provider and a larger provider is presumably going to offer a very different type of relationship, service, and presumably result. Maybe that’s not true and maybe I’m just recycling the biases against small businesses that don’t seem “professional” along more traditional terms.

What do you think? Is this a goofy, cheaper alternative, or am I biased based on some semiotics of competency that I haven’t articulated yet?


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