Every name, at its core, is the arrangement of its constituent ‘parts’ to result in a language construct that is either real, compound, or invented language.

  • Real language is language that already exists in our collective vocabulary – like Dawn.
  • Compound language is language that’s created by putting two real words together to form a new, unit idea – like Snapchat.
  • Invented language is language that that does not already exist – like Rolex.

Pretty simple, right? However, what do we mean by the ‘parts’ of a name?

That’s where ‘word type’ comes in. And this is another important element of name creation, distinctive of language construct, that needs to be independently considered.

Three main naming constructs: real, compound, and coined.

Word type refers to the linguistic elements used in the language construct – the word or word-fragments that make up the name itself. In general, when it comes to constructing names there are three basic types of language: literal words, suggestive words, and abstract words.  

Literal words clearly describe the underlying offering. Names made with literal words are designed to explain what an offering is, does or is related to in no uncertain terms. Whole Foods. PayPal. Resy. These names all have one thing in common. They bring an enhanced focus to the fundamental nature of offering to which they are attached.  Even though Whole Foods is a real language name, PayPal is a compound name and Resy is an invented name, none of them leave their respective fields of play open for interpretation.

Suggestive words indicate a meaningful aspect of the underlying offering – without actually describing it. They rely on symbolism, associations and metaphor to represent an important outcome or experience, and in doing so are both creative and communicative.  Take the real language name Tinder – the popular online dating site. Tinder immediately brings to mind ideas and mental images around sparks and flames, effectively hinting at igniting the passion of a new romantic relationship. However, the name in no way references dating, love, compatibility or any other language that explains the fundamental value of a matchmaking app.

A good example of a compound name built from suggestive words is OpenSea. The idea of openness makes sense in the context of an NFT marketplace – indicating the freedom and lack of restrictions that comes with less regulation. However, the name tells this story using the imagery of the vast, sweeping ocean – symbolizing the unbound trading activity delivered within this space without making an overt reference.  

Similarly, a good example of an invented name built from suggestive words is Noom. Derived from “moon” spelled backwards, this name evokes the idea of a quiet, ever-present guide – a highly applicable message for those seeking an easier path towards better body weight management. Again, while the word moon doesn’t precisely describe anything related to healthier eating, it symbolizes a relevant and valuable experience this offering provides.

Names made with abstract words rely on vocabulary that’s arbitrary or fanciful when applied within the context of the underlying offering – but still manages to bring to mind some invariably positive associations. Look at the real language name Gong – a tool that uses the power of AI and machine learning to help improve the performance of sales reps. Loosely inspired by the erstwhile tradition of ringing a “gong” every time a sale was made, the name feels quite random within the high-tech space of artificial intelligence and the people-oriented space of sales. However, the name does suggest impact and success – both ideas that are ubiquitously positive within all areas of pursuit, including business and sales.

Or take Skydance, the compound name David Ellison gave to his media company. This name clearly conveys to idea of limitless possibility. This is an inspiring and aspirational association, but one that is neither specific or contradictory to the media space.

Then there’s the communication technology company, Verizon. This name is infamously coined from the words “veritas” (Latin for truth) and “horizon” to signal the possibilities ahead. As you can see, both Skydance and Verizon speak to “possibility” even though they are entirely different businesses, offering entirely different products and services that deliver entirely different types of value within the marketplace. This is because the ideas and associations inherent to abstract names tend to exist on a more universally aspirational level – making them more broadly appealing but less specific to any given businessmarketplace.

How to select word types? Align with your target audience mindset.

Much like naming constructs, each word type comes with its own set of opportunities and challenges when employed in the context of naming.

Literal words are tightly tailored to the underlying offering. They are transparent, approachable, and very good at conveying highly relevant information to aid in purchasing decisions. However, given their precise nature, they can lack a certain degree of creative spark and emotional resonance.

Suggestive words are often viewed as a good compromise as they bring the stimulation of something imaginative and evocative, without foregoing specific relevance in its entirety. They are also the trickiest to implement, however. If not crafted with great care and consideration, a name built from suggestive words can end up being a “jack of all trades, master of none” – not aspirational enough to truly pique curiosity, and not specific enough to truly reflect anything unique to the underlying offering.

Abstract words tend to have deep and instantaneous appeal. They hit hard and hit home because they reflect our collective ambitions and desires. However, as demonstrated above, they are too far up the ladder to be reflective of distinct or concrete dimensions of any one offering.

Ultimately, selecting the best word type for your name is an exercise that involves considering the mindset of your target audience. Given your understanding of their needs and the psychological landscape surrounding them, what’s their ideal communication experience? When it comes to the messaging they receive, would they value clarity and transparency? Creativity and storytelling? Or something that speaks to loftier hopes and desires?

Keeping the people who use your offering at the center of this decision-making process will help ensure the word type you select “clicks with” what they are looking for from interactions within your market space

– By Tanya Gustafson