The power of a name

nameWe’ve all come across names and phrases that stick to our mind long after we’ve forgotten what they stand for. I remember Project Lighthouse, KITES and a number of other projects and training programs not only because the names were far easier to remember but also because their quirkiness stayed with me. However, the power of names really hit me when in a recent hackathon, a quirky prototype name and tag line managed to grab eyeballs and ended up being selected in the top three after a participant vote. People at the hackathon barely remembered the vast number of entries that came in but everyone remembered that one. The other instance that sealed the deal for me was when a team came up with a catchy phrase for a method of work and it caught like wildfire across teams situated around them. They heard the term being thrown around a few times and asked what it meant. In less than a month, it creeped into the standard vocabulary of all teams on the floor.

Coming up with a name may feel like additional unwanted effort and is often the reason why it is pushed to the back burner. Finalizing of names involves multiple brainstorming and review sessions. If you’re lucky, it might happen in 5 minutes but it usually takes longer. The effort and time investment with no means to measure impact often leads to lack of names but here are three reasons why you should name everything you do:

  1. Improves stickiness: No one remembers yet another training program for high potential employees but everyone remembers programs named LEAD (Leadership Exploration & Development). If you want something to be remembered, give it a name. Great names sell. Ask a consultant for a solution and they’ll always come up with a fancy term for a seemingly simple task. These geniuses understand the marketing value of a name and the wildfire like quality they possess. Between two new products in the market, the one with the catchier name will always sell better. You tell me – what would you rather buy – a hookless fastener or a zip?
  2. Naming is fun and pulls the team together: Great names rarely emerge in the first pass. It takes multiple iterations to match the perfect name to the project. The naming exercise can transform into an activity that evokes much laughter and pulls the team together. It is a great stress-buster for when things get difficult. Take a break. Give your project a name. It is your baby after all. Don’t all babies deserve a name?
  3. Preserves confidentiality of the work: We’ve all given code names to things we don’t want eavesdroppers to know about. From coming up with code names for people at work to doing the same for confidential projects, we’ve done it all. Giving your project a name helps preserve confidentiality and even if it isn’t that confidential, pretending to work on a top-secret project can be great fun too.

Now there aren’t really any rules for names, but I can come up with some that help increase ‘stickiness’ and interest.

  1. Short: Long names are tougher to remember. When the brain’s already crowded with endless information, give it something short to attach to. Didn’t we always create acronyms for things we wanted to remember better? OCEAN? DISC? MBTI?
  2. Poetic association: Use words to your advantage. Alliteration, rhyme, metaphors are not for literary giants alone. Give your name a ring and watch the popularity sour.
  3. Symbolic association with the work: It is unwise to name a project ‘lighthouse’ when it is a research project on bird flight techniques. A more apt project name would be Boeing or Flap (clear examples of bad project names though. I haven’t been able to come up with a good one yet). Few will remember what LEAD stands for but everyone will remember it’s a program meant to develop top talent.

Having said that, it is important to note that rules are meant to be broken. As long as you are creative and sell well, anything goes. The important part is giving it a name.

Always remember – anything worth working on is worth naming.


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