Author Archives: Jay

About Jay: Jay Jurisich is the CEO and Creative Director of Zinzin, and he is never not thinking about names. For Jay's bio and those of the rest of our team, check out the Our People page.

The Ballad of the Fallen: in memory of jazz great Charlie Haden

Charlie Haden

The world has lost a great, deep musical and humanitarian soul. Jazz bassist Charlie Haden (August 6, 1937 – July 11, 2014) created an amazing body of work over six decades of work with the likes of Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett, Carla Bley, Hank Jones, Pat Metheny, and many, many others. Take a listen to Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, with Charlie Haden on bass and Hank Jones on piano, from their amazing 1995 Grammy-nominated album Steal Away:

The Atlantic has a nice appreciation of Haden by David A. Graham, complete with video song selections from throughout his career. Graham writes,

No one wants to be remembered most for what they did at 22, but history will forever recall Charlie Haden for his role in Ornette Coleman’s great quartet of the late 1950s…. Coleman remains surprisingly controversial today, but he and Haden and Don Cherry and Billy Higgins had incontrovertibly changed the direction of music.

Haden—who died Friday at 76, from complications of the polio he contracted as a child—was perhaps the least likely revolutionary in the bunch. Born in Shenandoah, Iowa (a town that shares a name with a famous folk song), Haden grew up playing country music in a family band. Despite making his name in a genre that often rewards flashiness, he was a resolutely unpretentious player, notable for the notes he didn’t play and for always being in the right place. Haden and his most frequent and fruitful collaborators during a long career were musicians steeped in American traditions, who synthesized a range of musical genres and spat them back out in varyingly eccentric and original ways. While Haden may have seemed like an unlikely revolutionary, his firm grounding in the roots seems to have been what enabled him to be such an effective radical.

Here are some words to live by from Haden himself, from one of five interviews he did from from 1983 to 2008 with Terry Gross on Fresh Air, talking about the value of improvisation and being in the moment:

“I think it’s very important to live in the present. One of the great things that improvising teaches you is the magic of the moment that you’re in, because when you improvise you’re in right now. You’re not in yesterday or tomorrow — you’re right in the moment. Being in that moment really gives you a perspective of life that you never get at any other time as far as learning about your ego. You have to see your unimportance before you can see your importance and your significance to the world.

“The artist is very lucky, because in an art form that’s spontaneous like [jazz], that’s when you really see your true self. And that’s why, when I put down my instrument, that’s when the challenge starts, because to learn how to be that kind of human being at that level that you are when you’re playing — that’s the key, that’s the hard part.”

The New York Times obituary concludes,

At the heart of Mr. Haden’s artistic pursuits, even those that drew inspiration from sources far afield, was a conviction in a uniquely American expression. “The beauty of it is that this music is from the earth of the country,” he said. “The old hillbilly music, along with gospel and spirituals and blues and jazz.”

Since the world has lost a deep soul of music, it seems appropriate to conclude with a track called “Silence,” with the also late, great Chet Baker on trumpet, recorded in Rome, Italy, November 11 & 12, 1987, just six months before Baker’s death. Haden and Baker are joined by Billy Higgins on drums, and Enrico Pieranunzi on piano.

If you’re alive you’ve got to flap your arms and legs

“Look, I don’t want to wax philosophic, but I will say that if you’re alive you’ve got to flap your arms and legs, you’ve got to jump around a lot, for life is the very opposite of death, and therefore you must at very least think noisy and colorfully, or you’re not alive.”
~Mel Brooks

5 Reasons A Name May Be Killing Your Brand

If your brand isn’t reaching the potential you think it should, perhaps it’s time for a brand audit. Specifically, take a long, hard look at the name of your brand, and see if it might be suffering from one or more of these fatal flaws:

  1. Your brand has a boring, generic, descriptive name. This is causing it to blend in with a crowded field of weakly-named competitor brands. If you want people to notice, pay attention to and care about your brand, you must not act out of fear. Be bold and unafraid, not ruled by FOSO — Fear Of Standing Out.
  2. Your brand name is an invented mash-up with no meaning. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the semantic meaning of individual morphemes translates into real-world brand engagement. It doesn’t. Such names may technically (linguistically) have “meaning,” but, like snowflakes in a blizzard, they are not meaningful.
  3. You brand name came from a visit to the thesaurus. Nearly all companies who move beyond the boring, descriptive name and the incomprehensible mash-up go this route, so it’s another excellent way to get lost in the crowd. Get over the idea that finding the right experiential synonym for “advanced,” “intelligent” or “powerful” in a thesaurus will lead to the perfect name. It won’t, because those names have already been done to death. Ditch the thesaurus and go deep instead – a poetic metaphor that maps to your brand positioning will transform your brand identity from a liability to a powerful business asset. Let you competitors adopt boringly “appropriate” names from a thesaurus — they’ll be doing you a great favor.
  4. Your brand is shrouded in vacant, overused words like “solutions.” A quick web search will confirm that you can find a solution for nearly every problem, except perhaps for the problem of having too many “solutions.” Other empty vessels include “network,” “business,” “business solutions,” “leading provider” (“leading” anything, for that matter), or the ultimate, “a leading provider of business solutions.” Search that last phrase in Google, in quotes, and you will see that millions of results are found. Don’t toss your beautiful needle into that haystack.
  5. Your brand name is different only for the sake of being different or extreme in any way just for the sake of being extreme. The most powerful names are those that best support their brand’s positioning, no matter what, and depending on the circumstances, a name might be “extreme” or it might not. If your name is trying too hard to be different just in order to stand out, it won’t — it will blend in with all the other names that are also trying too hard, and failing, to stand out. This is a mistake frequently made by technology startups.

The most important thing is that you should never “settle” for a mediocre name for your brand, when a great name can be such a powerful force for business success. Find a lot more tips in our Naming & Branding Manifesto, or download our free Naming Guide, which includes the Manifesto and much more.

Paul Tudor Jones, founder of The Robin Hood Foundation, on the power of a great name

In September, 2013, 60 Minutes aired a story, Modern-Day Robin Hood, about the billionaire Paul Tudor Jones. Tudor Jones’ charity, the Robin Hood Foundation, “fights poverty with the hard-nosed, business sense of Wall Street.”

At one point in the interview, Tudor Jones had this to say about the power of having a great brand name:

If you said to me what part of our success is due to our name, I’d say it’s a big part of it ’cause it’s a great name, right? It says everything.

It does indeed “say everything,” but not in the usual, descriptive way. Instead, the name tells a great story, tapping into the Robin Hood mythos of “robbing from the rich to give to the poor,” updated for the 21st century. The way The Robin Hood Foundation pulls off this feat is very smart, and well-told in the 60 Minutes piece.

It is refreshing to hear a successful business leader, let alone a billionaire, acknowledge that success in business is not merely the result of a great product, vision, or  founder’s genius. That having the right name can make all the difference in the world between achieving average results or phenomenal success.


Such desiderata of desiderata. Many antiquary. So curiosa. Wow.

Francis Peck - Desiderata Curiosa

Desiderata Curiosa: Or, A Collection of Divers Scarce and Curious Pieces Relating Chiefly to Matters of English History. By Francis Peck, M.A., 1779. Thomas Evans, London

Or, what do an 18th Century English antiquarian, an early 20th Century Indiana lawyer, Adlai Stevenson, Commander Spock and an obscure 1970s singer have in common?

Apologies for invoking the faddish Doge meme in the title of this piece, but it seemed oddly and counter-intuitively appropriate for a discussion of desiderata, a strange English word from from the Latin desideratum (plural desiderata), meaning: something that is wished for, or considered desirable. According to the OED, the first appearance of the word “desiderata” in the English language was in 1651 in the religious treatise Act of Oblivion, by English theologian Nathanael Culverwell. Culverwell employs a “book of life” metaphor for good Christians achieving the perfection of divine grace (emphasis mine):

Whereas a Christian’s life shall be set out in a new edition; for all errata shall be corrected. Every iniquity shall be blotted out, and all desiderata shall be supplied; the book shall become perfect, and be looked on as a fair object to all eternity

This is basically the same sentiment that returns nearly three hundred years later in the song “When You Wish upon a Star,” written by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington for Walt Disney’s 1940 adaptation of Pinocchio:

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you

But let’s back up a bit. Francis Peck (1692–1743) was an English antiquary who published the book pictured above, Desiderata Curiosa, in 1779. An “antiquary” is itself a nice piece of antiquarian language, defined by Wikipedia like this: »»»

Luminous vaporware: Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde’s indoor clouds

Berndnaut Smilde - Nimbus D'Aspremont,

Berndnaut Smilde, Nimbus D’Aspremont, 2012. Digital C-type Print, 75×110 / 125×184 cm, Kasteel D’Aspremont-Lynden, Rekem, BE. Photo: Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk

Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde creates strikingly beautiful, fluffy clouds indoors. These luminous, ephemeral ghosts of vapor float through interior spaces for a few fleeting moments before literally vanishing into “thin” air. Smilde has received a lot of press for these works, but he has an extensive body of very interesting work beyond the “cloud projects,” which you can see on his website, which is linked below, along with a number of articles about the cloud works.

Here is a nice video where Smilde discusses his clouds and you can see them in motion:


For more on Smilde and the cloud projects, see:

Vic Chesnutt performing his song, “Woodrow Wilson”

Picking up on the Woodrow Wilson theme from Martin’s recent post about Arthur Samuel Mole’s living photographs, here is a performance of what must be the funniest and most unusual song “about” the 28th President of the United States, by the late, great Vic Chesnutt. The song begins about 2:42 into the video. This performance was from September 15, 2008, in Castellón, Spain.

A beautiful recorded version of this spare song appeared on Chesnutt’s 2007 album, The Salesman and Bernadette, and features Emmylou Harris on background vocals. Incidentally, Woody Guthrie’s full given name is Woodrow Wilson Guthrie. So that’s another interesting Woodrow Wilson reference to contemplate.

Woodrow Wilson
By Vic Chesnutt

She said her father looked like Woodrow Wilson
She said her father looked like Woodrow Wilson
Presiding from behind prescription lenses
She said her father looked like Woodrow Wilson

She said her mother act like a first lady
She said her mother act like a first lady
She’d been having those problems lately
She said she’s going to the clinic on Wednesday

She said her brother wished he was a negro
She said her brother wished he was a negro
Went to school in African-american studies
Once he had a picture taken with Adam Clayton Powell

She said her father looked like Woodrow Wilson
She said her father looked like Woodrow Wilson
I saw him once and thought he looked just a little bit like Truman
I know for a fact he has an Eisenhower ashtray


See a “living photograph” portrait of Woodrow Wilson: Crowdsourced imagery: Arthur Samuel Mole’s living photographs

A “Generic Brand Video” that tells the truth about the worst in branding and advertising

This brilliant parody of a blandly generic corporate brand video began life as a poem by Kendra Eash in McSweeneys, This Is A Generic Brand Video. When the folks at the video stock company Dissolve saw the poem, they knew exactly what to do:

The minute we saw Kendra Eash’s brilliant “This Is a Generic Brand Video” on McSweeney’s, we knew it was our moral imperative to make that generic brand video so. No surprise, we had all the footage. (Dissolve: This Is a Generic Brand Video)

Indeed they did. The video is a sarcastic, satirical parody, but it is dead on in tone and the blank vacuity of its “message.” It perfectly illustrates the kind of empty, employee-break-room-inspirational-poster “positivity” that all too may companies aim for in their advertising, their messaging (think “leading provider of business solutions“) and, ultimately, in the names they choose for their company and products. It is thus a very effective cautionary example of what not to do.

Fast Company posted a nice article about this video (This Generic Brand Video Is The Greatest Thing About The Absolute Worst In Advertising), which also includes four real corporate brand videos from the likes of Acura, Mazda, Suncor and Cisco for comparison. The Suncor video is so “good” — in that it’s so tonally similar to the Dissolve/Eash video that it too seems like a parody — I’m compelled to include it here:

Where does this all lead? Hopefully not to the dark place that is the near future depicted in the great Alfonso Cuarón film Children of Men. Here is a compilation of clips from the movie that show some of the products that get their own “Generic Brand Video” treatments, such as Bliss, a happy pill, and Quietus, the legal suicide pill for when your depression is just too great to bear any longer:

The word quietus means an end to something unpleasant, such as tinnitus or a horrible life in a dystopian future, and is also a euphemism for death. It is the perfect smugly pseudo-comforting name for a suicide pill in a dystopian society, but what’s shocking is that it has shown up in a late-night infomercial as an apparently real “homeopathic medication” — Quietus — to combat tinnitus, or extreme ringing, buzzing or roaring in the ears:

This disturbing video is an unwittingly perfect commentary on the ubiquitous, persistent noise created by most brand messaging in our culture. Perhaps a little Quietus for the ear will help tune out such blandly “inspiring” advertising before the other Quietus becomes a pressing need.


Listen to the best naming project parody ever: Amtrak renaming project, by Harry Shearer

Poetry allows musical elements (time, sound) to be introduced into the world of words

“As I see it, poetry is not prose simply because poetry is in one way or another formalized. It is not poetry by reason of its content or ambiguity but by reason of its allowing musical elements (time, sound) to be introduced into the world of words”
~John Cage, Foreword to Silence

Symmetry and one-point perspective in the films of Stanley Kubrick and Wes Anderson

TOP: Kubrick // One-Point Perspective from kogonada on Vimeo.
BOTTOM: Wes Anderson // Centered from kogonada on Vimeo.

These are beautiful video compilations that demonstrate quite vividly Stanly Kubrick’s love of symmetry and how the director made use of one-point perspective in his films, and the influence he has had in this regard on the contemporary director Wes Anderson.

Visit kogonada.com to see move very interesting video “essays” on the work of great directors.


See also: The cutaway: The bisected sets of Anderson, Godard, Lewis, Berkeley, Keaton and Parrott

#NoFOSO: Help end FOSO — Fear Of Standing Out

No FOSO - Fear Of Standing Out

You’re likely familiar with the buzzword FOMO — Fear Of Missing Out. We even named an app, Gravy, that helps people avoid missing out on interesting things happening nearby.

Here’s a new buzzword I’d like to coin right here and now: FOSO — Fear Of Standing Out. This is a real phenomenon we have observed time and again in regard to company and product brand names. It is ironic because naming and branding is usually considered to be part of a company’s marketing efforts, and marketing is all about getting your brand to stand out from the crowd and be noticed, talked about, recommended and remembered. Yet for some reason, when it comes to naming, many companies become blinded by this irrational fear of standing out, and–consciously or subconsciously–elect to blend in with their competition rather than stand apart.

In our Manifesto entry number 18, Let Your Freak Flag Fly, we write: “It’s a very simple calculus: if your competitors are all doing the same thing, then you will stand out if you do something different. And the first and most visible point of differentiation is with your name.” We don’t mean being different just for the sake of being different (see manifesto entry #24, Difruhnt, But Not That Different), but by connecting the dots metaphorically and poetically to a unique, compelling brand positioning story, your brand will naturally stand apart from the crowd. But first your company must overcome its FOSO.

Zinzin can help. We have found that a rigorous and time-tested process such as ours helps everyone on the client naming team understand the reality of the marketplace, why great brand names succeed, and work through the internal divisions and concerns that are likely the root of their Fear of Standing Out.

Foso also just happens to be a Spanish word for a moat, ditch, pit or hole dug in the ground, a perfect metaphor for what can happen to your business if you allow your brand to be mired in the ditch that is Fear Of Standing Out. So let’s all open the window, or stand on our cubical desks, and shout to the world: No more FOSO!

How HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey” got his name…and no, it’s not IBM minus one

HAL 9000The HAL 9000 computer is one of the stars of Stanley Kubrick’s science-fiction film masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the novel it is based on by Arthur C. Clarke. It has often been a legend that the name HAL was derived because each letter comes one place before IBM in the alphabet. Arthur C. Clarke has always denied this, and the true origin of HAL’s name is recounted on the HAL 9000 Wikipedia page:

Although it is often conjectured that the name HAL was based on a one-letter shift from the name IBM, this has been denied by both Clarke and 2001 director Stanley Kubrick. In 2010: Odyssey Two, Clarke speaks through the character of Dr. Chandra (he originally spoke through Dr. Floyd until Chandra was awoken), who characterized this idea as: “[u]tter nonsense! [...] I thought that by now every intelligent person knew that H-A-L is derived from Heuristic ALgorithmic”.

Clarke more directly addressed this issue in his book The Lost Worlds of 2001:

As is clearly stated in the novel (Chapter 16), HAL stands for Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer. However, about once a week some character spots the fact that HAL is one letter ahead of IBM, and promptly assumes that Stanley and I were taking a crack at the estimable institution … As it happened, IBM had given us a good deal of help, so we were quite embarrassed by this, and would have changed the name had we spotted the coincidence.

Also, IBM is explicitly mentioned in the film 2001, as are many other real companies. IBM is given fictional credit as being the manufacturer of the Pan Am Clipper’s computer, and the IBM logo can be seen in the center of the cockpit’s instrument panel. In addition, the IBM logo is shown on the lower arm keypad on Poole’s space suit in the scene where he space walks to replace the antenna unit, and may possibly be shown reflected on Bowman’s face when he is inside the pod on his way to retrieve the body of Poole (there is speculation as to whether or not the reflection is that of the letters “IBM” or the letters “MGM”, the film studio).

HAL has become such an icon of our culture that we are fortunate neither Clarke or Kubrick noticed the downshift from “IBM,” or this epic computer may have been named “Siri.” Or Dora. Or Obie. Or any one of these other names of fictional computers.

The cinema and visual poetry of the Lettrists of Lettrism (AKA Lettrisme or Letterism)

Littrist cinema

Stills from Maurice Lemaitre’s Le Film Est Deja Commencé? (1951). Image from Vertigo (see below).

Lettrism (or Lettrisme or Letterism) is a French film and visual poetry movement that enjoyed a brief heyday as the avant-garde du jour in 1950s Paris, and is often associated with the French Revolutionary Student Movement of 1968. Founded by Elvis lookalike  Isidore Isou (born Ioan-Isidor Goldstein, 1925-2007), Lettrism influenced other forms of art and poetry in Europe and Latin America up to the present and likely into the future, even as most Viners and Snapchatters remain unaware of this strange fold in the space-time continuum of art.

From the Wikipedia article on Lettrism:

Lettrism is a French avant-garde movement, established in Paris in the mid-1940s by Romanian immigrant Isidore Isou. In a body of work totaling hundreds of volumes, Isou and the Lettrists have applied their theories to all areas of art and culture, most notably in poetry, film, painting and political theory. The movement has its theoretical roots in Dada and Surrealism. Isou viewed his fellow countryman, Tristan Tzara, as the greatest creator and rightful leader of the Dada movement, and dismissed most of the others as plagiarists and falsifiers. Among the Surrealists, André Breton was a significant influence, but Isou was dissatisfied by what he saw as the stagnation and theoretical bankruptcy of the movement as it stood in the 1940s.

In French, the movement is called Lettrisme, from the French word for letter, arising from the fact that many of their early works centred around letters and other visual or spoken symbols. The Lettristes themselves prefer the spelling ‘Letterism’ for the Anglicised term, and this is the form that is used on those rare occasions when they produce or supervise English translations of their writings: however, ‘Lettrism’ is at least as common in English usage. The term, having been the original name that was first given to the group, has lingered as a blanket term to cover all of their activities, even as many of these have moved away from any connection to letters. But other names have also been introduced, either for the group as a whole or for its activities in specific domains, such as ‘the Isouian movement’, ‘youth uprising’, ‘hypergraphics’, ‘creatics’, ‘infinitesimal art’ and ‘excoördism’.

Vertigo Magazine has an excellent article about Lettrism, The Negation of Cinema: Some Brief Notes on Letterist Cinema 1950 – 1952, by Louis Benassi; here are some excerpts to further elucidate the story of Lettrism: »»»

Pop bands are brand names in themselves

“The music industry is a strange combination of having real and intangible assets: pop bands are brand names in themselves, and at a given stage in their careers their name alone can practically guarantee hit records.”
~Richard Branson [Emphasis ours]

Describing the color white to a blind person

Einstein and white swan

I have been searching online for years for this story that’s been half-submerged in my memory, with no luck; I finally found it in an old journal entry dated June 8, 1985. It was cut out of a newspaper, but I have no idea which one, and I can’t find this exact version of the story anywhere:

One day Einstein was asked by a pesky reporter to describe his theory of relativity in a few simple words. He responded with the following story:

“A man was asked by a blind man to describe the color white. The man said, ‘White is the color of a swan.’ The blind man said, ‘What is a swan?’ The man said, ‘A swan is a bird with a crooked neck.’

“The blind man asked, ‘What is crooked?’ The man was becoming impatient. He grabbed the blind man’s arm, straightened it and said, ‘This is straight.’ Then he bent it and said, ‘And this is crooked.’

“Whereupon the blind man quickly said, ‘Yes, yes, thank you. Now I know what white is.’”

So there’s the first clue why I could never find this story online — I had thought it was one of John Cage’s zen stories, but it’s actually a story told by Einstein. This in itself is a good illustration of the fallibility of memory. Here is another version I found, and this fits the pattern of all the references I found to this story:

Einstein and his blindfriend. This story shows how complex Einstein could be. Not long after his arrival in Princeton he was invited, by the wife of one of the professors of mathematics at Princeton, to be guest of honor at a tea.-Reluctantly, Einstein consented. After the tea had progressed for a time, the excited hostess, thrilled to have such an eminent guest of honor, fluttered out into the center of activity and with raised arms silenced the group. Bubbling out some words expressing her thrill and pleasure, she turned to Einstein and said: “I wonder, Dr. Einstein, if you would be so kind as to explain to my guests in a few words, just what is relativity theory?”

Without any hesitation Einstein rose to his feet and told a story. He said he was reminded of a walk he one day had with his blind friend. The day was hot and he turned to the blind friend and said, “I wish I had a glass of milk.”

“Glass,” replied the blind friend, “I know what that is. But what do you mean by milk?”

“Why, milk is a white fluid,” explained Einstein.

“Now fluid, I know what that is,” said the blind man. “but what is white ?”

“Oh, white is the color of a swan’s feathers.”

“Feathers, now I know what they are, but what is a swan?”

“A swan is a bird with a crooked neck.”

“Neck, I know what that is, but what do you mean by crooked?”

At this point Einstein said he lost his patience. He seized his blind friend’s arm and pulled it straight. “There, now your arm is straight,” he said. Then he bent the blind friend’s arm at the elbow. “Now it is crooked.”

“Ah,” said the blind friend. “Now I know what milk is.”

And Einstein, at the tea, sat down.

Now the plot thickens. Here is a similar version of the milk story, but with Einstein now completely out of the picture, as told by the Hungarian-British writer George Mikes, in one of his books, which I found quoted in a post to the Pakistan Gardening Forum, of all places:

A blind man asks a young girl to describe milk. The young girl is astonished that he doesn’t even know what milk is. “Milk is white,” she tells him. The old man tells her that he is blind and doesn’t know what white means. The young girl tells him that this is very easy to explain and tells him that a swan is white. The old man tells her that a swan may be white, but he has never seen a swan. “It has a curved neck,” she tells him. The blind man says that he has no idea what ‘curved’ is. She lifts her arm, bends her wrists forward like a swan’s neck. “Feel it,” she says, “that’s curved.” The old man feels the girl’s arm, touches the girl’s wrist and exclaims joyfully: “Thank God. Now at last I know what milk is.”

What of this strange connection between the “white” things called “milk” and “swans”? Turns out that goes back to Hinduism and Sanskrit, according to the swan page on Wikipedia:

Swans are revered in Hinduism, and are compared to saintly persons whose chief characteristic is to be in the world without getting attached to it, just as a swan’s feather does not get wet although it is in water. The Sanskrit word for swan is hamsa or hansa, and it is the vehicle of many deities like the goddess Saraswati. It is mentioned several times in the Vedic literature, and persons who have attained great spiritual capabilities are sometimes called Paramahamsa (“Great Swan”) on account of their spiritual grace and ability to travel between various spiritual worlds. In the Vedas, swans are said to reside in the summer on Lake Manasarovar and migrate to Indian lakes for the winter. They’re believed to possess some powers such as the ability to eat pearls. They are also believed to be able to drink up the milk and leave the water from a saucer of milk adulterated with water. This is taken as a great quality, as shown by this Sanskrit verse:

Hamsah shwetah, bakah shwetah, kah bhedah hamsa bakayo?
Neeraksheera viveketu, Hamsah hamsah, bakah bakah!

(The swan is white, the duck is white, so how to differentiate between both of them? With the milk-water test, the swan is proven swan, the duck is proven duck!)

I guess the ancients required empirical evidence to distinguish a swan from a duck, a task that many modern humans can perform with relative ease.

Of all the versions of this story that might be floating around the universe, I like the original one I clipped from an unknown newspaper all those years ago, because to me the idea of describing the color white to a blind person is much more abstract and interesting than describing what milk is, since milk, after all, is a substance that can be discerned by other senses. But how can you possibly describe “white” without referencing other things? Such is relativity.

Seven Criteria For Evaluating A Naming Agency

Stephen King wrote, “The scariest moment in writing is just before you start.” For many companies, the prospect of hiring a naming agency is filled with nearly as much uncertainty as the process of naming itself. In order to feel more confident with your selection of a naming company, regardless of who you ultimately hire, here are a few things to consider:

  1. Check out the agency’s portfolio. Have they created any great names? Do they demonstrate the ability to create a range of names, or only a narrow niche? Do any of the names resonate with you?
  2. Does the agency have a well-developed process for creating names? Is it transparent and easy to understand, or is it missing in action, hidden behind a proprietary TM-branded “black box” or riddled with alienating biz-speak and obfuscating consultant diagrams?
  3. Does the agency have a clear philosophy of naming? Do you get the sense that they live and breathe naming? Does it seem like they enjoy their job?
  4. Can you get company principals on the phone to discuss your project, and are they helpful, or are you routed to “account rep” intermediaries?
  5. Is the agency a thought leader, or a follower? Are they talking about the same things in the same way as all other naming companies, or do they offer a fresh perspective? Do they have strong opinions that they are not afraid to share? Do they engage in conversations, or is it mostly just one-way marketing chatter that’s all about them and how awesome they are?
  6. Do you get the sense that working with this agency will be an enjoyable experience? Is their process interactive, encouraging your involvement and input? Are they good listeners?
  7. Is the agency’s own name any good? Does it tell a story? Does it rise above the goods and services being offered? Has the agency invested it with meaning and built a strong brand identity for themselves?

Get engaged

What is the essence, the core value, of your brand? What is the core value of any company you hire, for naming, graphic identity, or advertising? It is no longer enough for brands just to shout messages for “consumers” to digest — brands, companies must be engaged with their audience, society in general, and the world we all live in. So before you engage an agency to position you in the global village, make sure they understand the fundamental shift in how business is done that is going on right now, or they might just build you a glossy new pedestal to display your vision in a museum of dead brands.

Steve Jobs on understanding the essence of a brand

“Apple at the core, it’s core value, is that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better.”