The Art of Naming

guest: Brad Flowers, Partner, & Author of "The Naming Book"

Brad Flowers, Partner at Bullhorn Creative, and author of “The Naming Book” joins Joe to discuss his background as an English major, as well as his role at Bullhorn tackling branding and design projects. They then delve into “The Naming Book” and the basic ins and outs of effectively naming organizations. Is “fjorge” a good name? Find out on this episode!

Episode Transcript

Dee Gallegos 0:00
Enter the world of Mind Your own Marketing Business, explore variety of trends in the creative landscape getting insider knowledge from the industry’s best, fjorge is proud to present Mind Your Own Marketing Business with host, Joe Barsness.

Joe Barsness 0:10
Thanks for joining us on mind your own marketing business. I’m Joe Barsness is co founder of web and mobile development team fjorge. And today in our show, we’ll be talking to Brad flowers about his branding and design agency bullhorn creative, and his recent book, the naming, welcome to the show, Brad.

Brad Flowers 0:29
Hey, thank you. It’s good to be here.

Joe Barsness 0:32
Thanks for being on the show. I appreciate your time. We are just entering the first show in COVID-19 at the time, so we are doing this remotely as well as with some new technology. So thanks for being a part of this show. And we look forward to discussing you your business in your book.

Brad Flowers 0:54
Yeah, sounds great. And ignoring any children noise in the background.

Joe Barsness 0:58
Exactly. I think everybody’s using By now, yeah, um, so Brad, tell us first a little bit about your personal background, how you came to be into the branding and design business and how you started your company.

Brad Flowers 1:14
Sure. So I have a degree in English literature. And I always thought that I would go on and teach college and teach university level English. And as I was applying to PhD programs, I had this realization that I didn’t really like teaching all that much, which was sort of a complicated realization, because I didn’t really think there was anything else you could do with an English degree. And so during that time, I was working at a bicycle shop, and I ended up managing the shop. And I became really interested in business generally, but then also more specifically the marketing side of business. And so I left that I left the bike shop in 2008. And started bullhorn and we started off really, like a lot of companies doing a little bit have everything. And then over time we we focused and I think we used we kind of use three things to focus when we were trying to decide what are we really good at? Number two, what can we make money doing and three, what is a benefit to our, to our community. And so that intersection is how we made decisions and ultimately ended up where we are now, which is brand design company. And we do things like naming, front end identity work, and then some design applications from there.

Joe Barsness 2:32
Got it? So did your did your company start as just yourself? Or did you have partners and where have you grown since then? Sure.

Brad Flowers 2:39
Yeah, it was me and a partner. And we started off with the idea that there were there were just a lot of freelancers who were talented, and we thought we would be able to do that. But it quickly grew to where it was difficult for us to manage. And so we hired a project manager, and then we needed more consistent design work. So then we hired a designer now there are 14 of us, and over the course of 10 years.

Joe Barsness 3:06
Great, great, great, great. And in tell us a little bit more about what your organization is really focused on both from the work that you produce as well as any verticals or clients or experiences that think that give you unique skills and abilities.

Brad Flowers 3:24
Sure. Well, we often say we build confident brands with language and design. And I think that’s really what makes us unique is that we think without, without good design, strong language falls flat. And without strong language. Design is really just decoration. And so we approach every job that that we work on every every client’s. Every branding project we worked on, we approach with that idea that we want to get to what’s the core of this organization, what makes them unique, and how can we articulate that people? I don’t think Come to us to get a bullhorn identity, they come to us to get kind of the best version of themselves. And so we, we organize our process around that so that we get the clients talking. Because if we can start to write in their language, we can we can do a better job for them. And we’ve really realized that a lot of people have a hard time talking about design. And so if they can start talking about other things like why do we do this? What do we do? How do we do this? It helps our designers get their head around their perspective. And they can also do better work from a design perspective. And as far as verticals, we really, we think our process works well across lots of different verticals. And so we really focus on our product offering, which is that front end design and language work so often, a brain manual would be pretty standard deliverable for us in that brain manual would include all the visual stuff from color type face logos, etc to them some of the language guidelines as well, including foundational language, foundational headlines, etc.

Joe Barsness 5:10
Very nice, very nice. Um, what would you say the coolest thing that you’ve ever done in your career is

Brad Flowers 5:17
the coolest thing?That’s a tough question. I think right now, we’ve reached let’s see, I think right now, the thing that I think is coolest, often ended up being our pro bono projects. So we try to take on a pro bono project at a time, one at a time rather. And we’re able to do some really fun work because it’s, well, one, we have a lot of design freedom. And I think we can do some interesting things. But also it’s an opportunity to really work with some organizations who are really making a massive impact in people’s lives. And so for example, we recently opened an office in Louisville, Kentucky, and running up to doing that We did two pro bono projects. One was for performing arts Middle School, which was, which was really cool. And another one was for an organization called the opposite shop. And they do literacy work among some of the poorest kids in the city. And that work was especially rewarding, because it I think it’s really near near to our hearts and our mission, our idea, we were kind of starting to focus on some of the United Nations sustainability development goals. And the ones we’re really focusing on are related to gender equity, and also better education. And so both of those really went into play to this particular thing where they help a lot oftentimes that some of the poorest girls in the city, right, this amazing poetry longer form, work that. Really, it’s hard to overstate how empowering it is to see to see your words in print and that sort of situation.

Joe Barsness 6:57
Yeah, that sounds like really impactful work and field. Good work and good opportunity to really stretch your, your abilities and experience. And so that’s that’s great to see you getting out there in the community and doing those things. I noticed you, you You didn’t mention that writing a book was the coolest thing that you’ve ever done in your career. Tell me just, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t one of the cool things or wasn’t a great experience. But just I want to hear before we dive in a little bit, what made you write a book? Where did you see the opportunity and, and just tell us a little bit about that process?

Brad Flowers 7:37
Sure. So early on, as I was mentioning earlier, we, we did lots of different sorts of work. And one of the things someone asked us to do is name their organization. And so we said, yeah, we give that a shot. not really knowing exactly what we were doing or at all what we were doing. But we were determined to do it. And so the process actually was really interesting and Super exciting and we thought it was really, we were, it was something that we had kind of a natural knack for. And over time, we got more of that sort of work. But the problem was, as there was more work, and we needed to bring people along other co workers, people we were hiring, we didn’t really have a set process by which to create a name. So I couldn’t say like, here are like the five steps. And then you should have a pretty good list of names. And so I set about to see what other people were doing. And I read some of the popular literature, some of the academic literature, and I realized in the popular space, there was really, there really wasn’t anything out there. Most naming books fall into two categories. They either outline the history of names, which is, which is cool, but not really helpful when you’re trying to come up with a name, or they’re written from the perspective of someone who’s really good at naming and they talk about names that they like, and why they like them, which is also helpful, I think. But if you kind of need just a step by step thing, it’s still not quite it. And so we saw a gap in the market. For, I mean, it was something that we needed. And then also there’s a gap. And I thought, like, if we can’t figure this out and find something that’s like an easy resource, then the entrepreneur has a great idea and really just needs one name.I don’t know if they even stand a chance as hard. And so that was why we started. That was the original idea was that it just, there was a gap, and it would be useful for people.

Joe Barsness 9:27
Well, that’s cool. I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s very much an we all see names, and we wonder how they come about. And then of course, if you’re going to name a company, you want to know how to do it. And a lot of times you don’t have when you’re naming your company. You don’t always have a ton of resources. And so a book could be a really good thing for a single entrepreneur or somebody thinking of starting a business out of their garage without a whole lot of funding. Correct.

Brad Flowers 9:52
Right. Yeah. And I think our observation is that there were two hard things about naming and the first is creating the criteria by which you’re going to judge things. And that’s something that almost everyone kind of steps past and doesn’t think about doing like, like, what are some of the nuts and bolts things that the name needs to do. And if you haven’t established that, it’s going to be really hard to do the next steps, which the second step is, I think, also really hard to generating lots of ideas. Most of our education is oriented on helping us come to a right answer. And naming isn’t really that sort of effort, you need to have lots of potential ideas, and then weigh your criteria against those two, to decide which is going to work the best. You know, if you’re out there looking for one, you’re probably not ever going to find it. But if you generate a lot, you’re gonna have some pretty good candidates.

Joe Barsness 10:39
Yeah, great. Cool. Well, um, I want to move on a little bit now and talk more about advice, some things that you know, you’re the expert. Yeah. Um, and, and so I want to know, can you give our listeners a pointer to on how you do your typical work effectively? In terms of naming and branding,

Brad Flowers 11:02
sure. Well, in terms of naming, the book outlines the process pretty well. But I can give kind of a quick overview because I think it’s worth noting, in its follows like what I was saying before, it’s those two things that are hard building the criteria and then developing a lot of ideas. So the first step in the process is building criteria, and that goes through several different aspects of criteria. So one is memorability. You know, most people want the name to be memorable. And there are linguistic tricks that you can use to make a name more memorable. You also want something that’s on tone with your business, you know, two different businesses could be doing the exact same thing, but one, have a have a certain set of tones and it could feel quite a bit different. For example, you know, swatch makes watches and that sounds a lot different than Montblanc, the pin company that also makes watches, you know, one is really accessible fun, the other is this sort of like inexplicably literally an inaccessible mountainous place that’s hard to reach. So they’re really saying two different things even though they do kind of the same thing. every industry has unwritten rules we talked about and you can strategically approach those by either. If you want to sound established right up front, you can kind of slide in with the unwritten rules, or you can go against the unwritten rules to try to break them and stand out. Then there are several other considerations for criteria. And then the second part really, which is the bulk of the book has to do with the second, third and fourth step has to do with generating ideas. So the first is how to brainstorm most people, you think of brainstorming and you really think of like staring at a blank piece of paper. It’s hard to do for most folks. And so what we do is we set out really prescriptive tasks for write a sentence about your business, take the verb from that sentence, and then develop a list of 10 words take, you know, another part of the sentence. So we help folks really get started. It’s that starting point that I think’s hard. And then the second, then from there, we kind of get into taking those lists and compiling names. And I think you can come up with a wide range of names. If you think about the types of names that exist, a lot of folks are looking for just like a single word or you know, maybe you have like a type of name that you prefer, you’re thinking I want to name like apple, when you’re looking at those sorts of things. Well, that’s a real word. And that’s a good place to start. But anymore, any common real word is kind of hard to use, because there’s so much competition for the name. So then we look at other types of names that are foreign language words, that are compounds like Facebook, there are phrases that are blends, like few words, for example, which blends two words there are made and

Joe Barsness 13:46
ask you about that in a second. Yeah, I’m gonna ask you about that in a minute.

Brad Flowers 13:50
Right. So if you lay out the different types of names and try to create names in each category, you can sometimes come up with stuff that’s really interesting and surprising. And I think that’s the A big piece of advice is try to think as well as, as laterally as possible. There’s, there’s a good, there was a book about creativity that I referenced in the, in the book and they talk about, there’s a pottery class and the class is split in half, one half of the class is supposed to make the kind of the finest piece they can make. So they’re judged on the quality of one piece. The other half of the class is judged on how much all of the stuff that they make ways. So it’s really like, one is really quality, the other is quantity. And the interesting thing is that 10 out of 10 times the quantity side also creates the best quality. So something interesting about in this kind of creative act that you have to get past a lot of a lot of bad ideas, a lot of cliches and it’s not till you really start to dig that you get interesting things.

Joe Barsness 14:55

Yeah. So So, so we went with the blend. So we were bar sness solutions, which was my last name, and solutions, which was just kind of what we put forth as my brother and I started this. And we realized that that didn’t really mean anything to anybody. And it wasn’t creative or anything like that. So we went in blended the word fiord, and forge are building something together. And we really like telling the story, and we see how that helps people remember who we are, and there’s also curiosity around that name. Would you say that that’s, that was an uneducated strategy. But is that something that you’ve seen or heard before?

Brad Flowers 15:46
No, I don’t. I’ve never heard that particular name before. But I do think you, you must have a good intuition for what you’re trying to do because I think while there might not have been an educated strategy He certainly had a sense of what the name needed to do. And one of which was you kind of need the name, so as to stand out among your peers. So you want to be recognizable or memorable. And then also you want something that is kind of a hook. So it’s the it’s an entry point for how to tell a story about yourself and what you’re trying to do. And if someone thinks hard enough, they can probably start that getting that idea of like, bridge building and how that’s a metaphor for what you’re trying to do. So in that sense, I think it probably works pretty well. I’m curious if you have a hard time with misspellings are

Joe Barsness 16:36
very likely considered. Of course, lots of people call it forge or spell it Forge. And, and I think, obviously, we’re not offended because we made up a word, but I think that maybe if they’re searching for it, it could hurt us or something like that. So it’s what we don’t know that probably hurts us there.

Brad Flowers 16:55
And the good thing is, is the only thing that can overcome that is repetition. And so With any shirt with any new name like that, you know, like right off the bat people aren’t, are maybe gonna miss spell Skype every time. But over time, it just you see it so many times that you can’t really imagine how else you would spell it?

Joe Barsness 17:12
Yep. Do you think that a successful company can have a bad name? And if a business has a good name? Does it give them an advantage?

Brad Flowers 17:21
Yeah, I mean, I think inherently I have to believe that a good name gives a business and advantage, but the best name sure world isn’t going to overcome a bad business. Unfortunately. You know, and I think, yeah, I think there are plenty of great businesses out there with bad names like I personally, I don’t like Microsoft very much. I think it’s a I think it it’s kind of lived past its its origins. And now like, if you think on the surface, it’s kind of like, the pieces are kind of soft and cuddly, or small and cuddly, rather, and that doesn’t really talk about the global behemoth that they are. So yeah, you know, but it doesn’t matter that I like the name of Because they have a great business with products that people rely on, you know, they deliver stuff deliver value to their clients. So yeah, you can definitely, I think especially right off the bat as you’re trying to figure stuff out a good name can can definitely help open the Open the door. I talked about a name. I mean, when a main premise of the book is ultimately that what I liked doesn’t really matter. You need to find a name that works for you. And I talked about there’s a frozen food company called evil EV AOL. And I talked about coming across the, you know, walking down the grocery store and, like 50 doors of refrigerators and they’re just like overwhelming options. And trying to think of something that I can send with my kids for lunch and I happen upon the burrito aisle and I see are the burrito doors and I see that name and the way it’s rendered that the E is backwards. So it sort of makes you want to read the word backwards. And so I’m sitting there looking at It’s like, are they trying to say the name is? Or is it love backwards? So it’s evil is the name of that company evil? And it’s like, no, it must be evolved because they’re trying to, like, evolve. So anyway, I’m like, totally confused. And I think the name is like trying to do too much. But sure, the deal is, is that I bought the burritos. So it doesn’t matter if I like it or not. No, I bought the burritos. So it’s like it’s a when they caused me to stop among a sea of like thousands and thousands of choices. I stopped, I considered what they were doing. And I thought, yeah, my kids eat that. And so I bought some.

Joe Barsness 19:36
Well, and you’re still talking about it today. You’re spreading the good word. Talking about their burritos today, you know that that has a lasting impact. Um, let’s talk a little bit more specifically about the book. Can you walk us through the process like quickly in terms of how you outline like, the process you outline in the book?

Brad Flowers 19:57
Yeah, sure. So I started to talk about a little Little earlier, but it outlines the criteria, or the three middle steps are all about generating ideas. So it’s brainstorming, compiling names. And then the third one is expanding your knowledge. And I just give some research tips on how to use the tools at hand, whether it’s books or the internet, etc, to come up with words that you don’t know, because some people feel like, they have to know the word. But you know, if if you’re thinking of things like, you know, like your metaphor of building bridges, if if you start there, from that, from that metaphor, you can look up lists of engineering terms about bridges, and famous bridge makers and famous bridges. There’s like so much out there in the world, and you can come up with lots of really interesting words that you would never have come across. And so there’s a there are several tips there on how to how to do some research and how to decide what would make an interesting name from those. And the last step is really the hard part which is kind of deciding on a final name. So here, bullhorn if we get hired to do Naming exercise we like to have 150 or so names to kind of before we start whittling down. And so first we’ll weigh it against the criteria, and right off the bat, some will lose in favor of other ones. So one is maybe, maybe like, for example, spelling and pronunciation might be really important to you. And so some that are more difficult to spell than others will get taken out in favor of the ones that are easier. And then also, once you kind of whittle it down to 30, or 20, or 30, inevitably, people will want to ask other people because you’ve gone through this process and you feel like kind of, you start to get too close to it. And so you want to ask other people’s perspective, but it’s really kind of a critical point because when you ask other people that’s really when the wheels can totally fall off. Because other people who people who don’t normally think about names, when you say something, it just sounds weird and uncomfortable in there. They don’t have context. And so they automatically don’t like it. And so we I think it’s, it’s good to ask people their opinions, but you kinda have to take it with a grain of salt. And you have to have a little strategy on how to do it. So we give us some tips on how the best way to do that, and one of which is don’t for first don’t ask people if they like the name or not, you know, give them 20 or 30. Show them over a couple of different photographs and a couple of different typefaces because we’re really, as humans are really influenced by aesthetics. And so I’ll usually go through and show each each word on two different images with two different typefaces. And so we’ll go through and basically just say one to 10 is one is it a terrible name? 10. Is it a good name, and then like a quick initial reaction, and that’s sometimes helpful because different people have just have different cultural experience or in different vocabularies. And so they might have a totally different reaction to a name, then you would have just because maybe they’d never heard of it or just because of that. experience, they had maybe a negative connotation that you should know about. And so that’ll usually help you cut it to 10 or so. And then you can think a little bit about your competition. And so looking at looking online, but you go to the Secretary of State’s website, US Patent Attorneys webs past patent, trademark, sorry, Office website And, and that gives you a good sense of how much how much competition for that particular name, there will be. And we’d also encourage folks to search not just in your space, so if you were wondering if if like, for example, if yours was another someone in your field, you would look specifically for search terms that people might search for, but it’s also good to know generally are, are there other companies out there? And I give another example in the book of one of the early times, we got hired, I came up with a name for this nonprofit organization. That was they were going to be an nonprofit entity. Bader actually, and I had this really great idea. I loved it, it met all the criteria. It was smart, it worked easy to say easy to spell memorable. And then the final step when I guess I was searching, generally it ended out ended up being a really prominent pornographic website. And it was just, like, crushed the whole thing right at the last step. So it’s pretty important to get all the way to the end to know like, what other people are gonna see and associated with, even though it doesn’t really have anything to do with them stone.

Joe Barsness 24:30
Yeah. Well, well, Brad, thank you so much for talking to us about you bullhorn as well as the naming book, can you tell our guests where they can find out more about you and the book?

Brad Flowers 24:47
Yeah, sure. You can find us at bullhorn creative calm, or you can look read more about the book at the naming

Joe Barsness 24:56
awesome. And thank you to our listeners for joining us. Youcan download episodes of our program by going to your own mind your own marketing business or subscribing to the show on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, and iHeartRadio

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