A FINE Book Review: Don't Call It That

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Over the summer I spent time with a good friend of mine who is currently going through a rebrand of his company. The current name is, well, less than inspiring- think along the lines of “Computer World, USA” or “Entertainment 720”. It fell into many of the typical traps when naming a company, like being overly obvious about your business, trying not to offend anyone, and using words that don’t really mean anything. The name really was an amazing feat of trying to say everything, yet in the end, saying nothing at all.

Skip forward a few months and I stumble upon Eli Altman’s book “Don’t Call It That”. Eli is the Creative Director at a naming and branding firm, A Hundred Monkeys, and has developed names for the tech start-up scene in Silicon Valley as well as for Fortune 50 companies. His recently released book is all about naming, and it reads less like a definitive guide on naming and more like a work book for naming. It's less like a map to the treasure and more like a guide on successful gold mining techniques.

He begins by getting you to write down all your bad ideas - to flush out the system and start from ground zero. He goes on to describe how names are, as consumers, our first way to quickly dismiss something since we're constantly bombarded by brands and their messaging every day. So if your name really is “Global Tech Kit, Inc.” you’re probably going to be one of the first casualties in consumer warfare.

As you read along and write down more names from his prompts, Eli does a great job of explaining why a URL availability shouldn’t be your first determining factor, or why dropping a letter from a word doesn’t necessarily make you the next Flickr. There is even a wonderful chapter explaining why asking opinions from everyone in your extended family is a bad idea, using what he calls "The Ice Cream Principle".

If you send a group of people to an ice cream shop and they can only pick out one flavor it will, in the end, always be either Vanilla or Chocolate. Not because those are the best flavors, but because everyone can agree on them. Does that make them the best? No, Cookies n’ Cream is clearly the best. We all know that.

The book is short and well worth the time if you have any upcoming projects that are currently called “Super Awesome Table & Chairs Manufacturing Outlet”. In all, it takes about an hour to read, but working through the prompts should take much longer if you’re serious about it. It even comes with some awesome stickers to paste beside the next name that will now makes you stop and ask, “Why?”

My friend sent me a new batch of names soon after I finished the book, and I gifted it to him immediately. He looked at me like I had just told him he had an ugly puppy. I encouraged him to take a look and give it a try, knowing that whatever came out of it was going to help. I haven’t heard anything back yet but here’s hoping he didn’t land on “Cowabunga Copy & Editing”.


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