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“I’m Sean, and I’m a nameaholic.” 

I probably take naming shit too far. 

Or not, considering it’s a core element in our studio culture, enough that we recently added the Sterling & Stone Lexicon to our internal app, and we’re still adding to it regularly as new shorthand is coined. 

Writing that last paragraph reminded me to enter nameshopping into the Lexicon Builder (yes, we named it). I added firing the bride and #paidslack while I was in there — they were on my mind, because both are related to posts I’ll be writing soon. 

Nameshopping simply means brainstorming a name. But that’s an activity we engage in all the time, dedicating meeting time to the task most weeks, when we have a killer story idea with a crap title. But we also nameshop everything else — working groups, meetings, processes, and tools.

  • Our internal app is called The Garden
  • The trio of me, Bonnie, and Niamh is the Bermuda Triangle
  • Weekly meetings for bonding and updates are called Umbrellas (so they’re not confused with the “generals” that Niamh and I are always taking with production companies).
  • Our meetings where we nameshop and brainstorm are called StorySpace (Sterling & Stone totally hearts names with double S’s). 
  • When we hold an Umbrella and a StorySpace back to back, it’s called a Double Rainbow

It’s the Wonka Factory up in this bitch when it comes to names. Why? 

Because naming is a crucial aspect of both business and storytelling, creating identity, evoking emotion, and establishing a connection with the audience. (Even when that audience is internal.)

The right name can be magical, so it’s a spell we cast often.

Naming in Business

A name is often the first point of contact between a company and potential customers. The foundational anchor holding its identity in place.

A well-chosen name can capture a brand’s values and mission. Apple evokes simplicity, innovation, and a touch of elegance. Amazon suggests vastness, diversity, and a sense of discovery. Both names embody the spirit of the brands they represent.

But meaning isn’t enough, you also need memorability. In a crowded marketplace, a distinctive name can stick in a customer’s mind, making it easier for them to remember and recommend a business. 

  • Google has become synonymous with searching the internet.

Zappos is a name that’s as fun and unconventional as the company’s approach to online shoe retail.

IKEA is simple and functional, like the company’s affordable, self-assembly furniture.

Virgin suggests a fresh, unorthodox perspective and a willingness to challenge the status quo.

Spotify is catchy blend of “spot” and “identify,” suggesting the joy of discovery. 

Sterling & Stone is not named after people. I chose our studio moniker because silver and stone are two of materials that stand the test of time, and together their sound is pleasing to the ears. 

Naming in Story

Naming also plays a pivotal role in storytelling. The names we bestow upon our characters, places, and objects can have a profound impact on how readers engage with and remember our narratives.

Character names are a powerful tool for shaping reader perceptions and expectations. Names reflect personality, hint at background, and signal a character’s role in the story. 

  • Ebenezer Scrooge has become shorthand for miserliness and greed. 
  • Sherlock Holmes is synonymous with keen observation and brilliant deductive skills.
  • Hannibal Lecter brings to mind a chilling intelligence and psychopathy.
  • Atticus Finch embodies integrity, wisdom, and quiet strength.
  • Jay Gatsby is a name that exudes mystery, glamour, and a sense of reinvention.
  • Gandalf evokes wisdom, power, and a sense of ancient magic.

But character names affect as much as they reflect. 

A study by psychologist Albert Mehrabian found that certain names are consistently associated with specific traits: Katherine with sophistication, Sam with integrity, Vicky with cheerfulness. Authors can subtly influence how readers perceive and relate to their characters based on the names they choose. 

Unique names for places, objects, and concepts steep readers in a fictional world. Like the ones drawn from constructed languages (based on real ones) in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, from Elvish languages to Dwarvish runes. Or invented vocabularies in science fiction, from Isaac Asimov’s “positronic brain” to Neal Stephenson’s “metaverse.”

Naming conventions also create a sense of cohesion and believability, from Latin-based spells in Harry Potter or the old-meets-new mashups in The Hunger Games.

The Art of Effective Naming

There is no one-size-fits-all formula in either business or story when it comes to crafting the perfect name, but there are some key principles to keep in mind, and a basic playbook I typically work from. 

Aim for clarity. Names that are easy to pronounce, spell, and remember tend to be more effective than those that are complex or obscure. Think of successful brand names like Coca-Cola, Lego, or Uber — each is distinctive yet simple.

Consider relevance and appropriateness. A name should fit the context in which it’s being used, whether that’s the industry for a business or the genre for a story. A whimsical name like “Curiosity Corner” might work for a toy store, but it would be wildly out of place for a law firm.

Consider your target audience and potential cultural implications. A name that seems clever in one context might be offensive or inappropriate in another. The Chevy Nova ate shit in Spanish-speaking markets because “no va” translates to “doesn’t go.”

Sometimes different is better, so don’t be afraid to get creative. Clarity is important, but memorability is even more so. Sometimes, an unusual or unexpected name can be the thing that sets a business or story apart. Like Google, Yahoo!, or Etsy.

And always listen for the music. I love the melody of a name, because the right tune can say a lot about both the character and story. 

  • The alteration in Fahrenheit 451s Mildred Montag adds a poetic touch to her name, emphasizing the conformity in the dystopian society. 
  • Holden Caulfield has a name that suggests a sense of clinging to innocence and resisting the inevitable fall. 
  • Ignatius J. Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces (also the inspiration for mine and Johnny’s Decoy Wallet) combines an archaic first name with a dignified yet whimsical middle initial, capturing the eccentric character’s essence. 
  • Winston Smith, George Orwell’s protagonist in 1984, has a name that conveys a common everyman quality and an adherence to societal norms.
  • Oy from Stephen King’s Dark Tower series has a simple, monosyllabic name that befits his loyal and endearing nature.
  • Call me Ishmael” isn’t just the famous opening line from Moby-Dick, the name itself carries biblical resonance and the whole sentence hints at the character’s quest for identity.
  • Clarice Starling is another creation of Thomas Harris, but unlike Hannibal, this name combines elegance and determination as a counterpoint to the cannibal character. 
  • Severus Snape only needs to be spelled out once, and the reader has a good idea about what that character might be up to. 
  • Boricio Wolfe is my favorite Sterling & Stone character, and he was born name first, with a rather musical sounding moniker that also sounds dangerous. 

The same is true for product names in terms of what the customer can expect to experience. 

Uber is short, snappy, easy to remember, and hints at the company’s goal of being the ultimate solution for transportation.

Airbnb blends the idea of an air mattress with bed and breakfast to perfectly encapsulate their offering.

• The name Slack is as simple and straightforward as the communication tool itself.

Peloton’s name suggests a sense of community and shared momentum.

Hulu is short and catchy, easy to remember and rolls off the tongue.

Bonobos sounds as playful and friendly as the company’s approach to menswear.

Patagonia suggests adventure, and the environmental awareness that the outdoor clothing company is known for.

Blue Apron sounds inviting and convenient, like the meal in a box delivery service it represents.

Calm is a meditation app that named itself with a promise to the user. 

  • Impossible Foods has an ambitious name, suggesting a challenge to the status quo and a commitment to rendering the impossible into reality.
  • Invisible Ink has an alliteratively lyrical quality, but our name also communicates what we do: ghostwrite your book for you, before disappearing into the background. 

Names matter because they shape how we perceive, remember, and engage with the world around us.

In business, a name can be the difference between obscurity and brand recognition. Between blending in and standing out. It can encapsulate a company’s values, differentiate it from competitors, and create an emotional connection with customers.

In storytelling, a name can be a window into a character’s soul, a key to unlocking the narrative’s symbols and themes.

Whether you’re naming a startup or a protagonist, a product or a fantasy realm, take the time to explore, brainstorm, and refine. Consider meaning, sound, and cultural context. Above all, choose a name that captures the essence of what you’re trying to communicate to the world.

Because the right name is a promise to your audience that they’ll expect you to make good on.