What Makes a Memorable Name?

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A name for a product, organization, or initiative is like the prow of a ship. As the first thing your audience sees, it sets the stage for how they will perceive the rest of your communications, cutting through the fog with the bulk of the brand story following behind. The right name can help ensure your audience is receptive to other elements of your marketing and brand communications.

Libretto has developed names for residential properties, products, services, and organizations – as well as themes for fundraising campaigns totaling well over $2 billion. Coming up with a compelling name or theme often feels like more of an art than a science, but our experience has shown that four qualities consistently make for memorable, effective names.

A great name should:

1. Be relevant and distinct

Names that play off a unique quality of the organization or initiative – something that only you can lay claim to – are particularly effective. Our name for Alloy, a new condo complex at Assembly Row in Somerville, alludes to the area’s industrial past as a Ford plant. The name feels distinct because it is a relatively uncommon word that is still recognizable.

Bright Minds, Bold Hearts, our theme for Loyola University Maryland’s $100 million capital campaign, reflects the University’s Jesuit ethos without being overtly religious. These simple, common words together create an evocative image that was universally embraced by the school, expanding beyond the campaign communications.

2. Reflect multiple layers of meaning

The more meanings you can derive from a name or theme, the more stories that can be spun out of it to enhance collateral materials. Instrumental Voices – our theme for the Handel and Haydn Society’s $12 million capital campaign – references the fact that the society comprises a combined orchestra and chorus. The dual meaning of “instrumental” lent itself well to describing the critical role that donors would play in the campaign’s success, metaphorically lifting their voices in support of the nation’s oldest continuously performing classical music ensemble.

Sticking with music, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s campaign theme, Beyond Measure, uses a less common musical term to convey the inestimable impact the organization has on the Boston arts scene.

As the name for a children’s literary and arts festival, Hubbub immediately evokes a bustle of activity and excitement. The fact that it takes place in Boston – i.e. “The Hub” – seals the deal.

3. Have great “mouthfeel”

“Mouthfeel” refers to how easy – and, yes, fun – a name is to say. We take into account the length of words, the combinations of letters (for example, “length” has terrible mouthfeel because of that awful pile-up of consonants at the end), and the rhythm of the word or phrase.

Coined words are ideal for ensuring great mouthfeel. Two of our favorites are Localore – a project from the Association of Independents in Radio that aims to involve more Americans in public media – and Soundbreaking, Berklee’s $100 million campaign that spawned the tagline “Sounds like ‘groundbreaking’ – and it is.”

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4. Serve as an ever-expanding platform

When it’s first created, a name represents something of an empty vessel. As it is used and enters the public consciousness, it will gain additional layers of meaning and associations. An effective name feels open-ended and lends itself to this process of organic growth.

For MIT’s $500 million interim campaign, we devised The Human Factor, which provided an eloquent refutation of the “pocket protector” culture associated with the school. The communications riffed on the theme: “The Analytical Factor,” “The Creativity Factor,” “The Perseverance Factor,” “The Imagination Factor,” and more.

While it may seem like an unassuming phrase at first glance, 10,000 Reasons, the theme for Salem State University’s $25 million campaign, inspired the entire design of the kickoff gala, at which guests were given numbers that identified them as one of the 10,000 reasons for support. It formed the basis of the remarks given at the event by President Patricia Meservey, who explained that the phrase “fills me with pride every time I hear it. It points directly to our student body – 10,000 stories, 10,000 hearts and minds, 10,000 carriers of the torch of knowledge – and tells me our focus is right where it should be.”

In addition to these four qualities, we like to say that the right name will feel inevitable. Taking the plunge and deciding on a winner from a list of finalists can feel daunting, but once a name has been released into the world and takes on a life of its own, it will soon be impossible to imagine calling your product, company, or initiative anything else.

Got a product that needs to be christened or a campaign that needs a rallying cry? Learn more about Libretto’s process and drop us a line.

File under Names, Communications, Campaign, Fundraising, Marketing

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