Naming things is a fundamentally human act. It literally sets us apart as a species. But that doesn’t mean we have to do it all alone.
At this point, you have heard of ChatGPT, an interactive platform launched by OpenAI that can generate astounding creative responses to an astounding array of instructions and questions. Give it a nudge, and the chatbot will generate original essays or poetry or shopping lists for your dinner party. It will also generate names.
Some of our colleagues in the branding world have been testing ChatGPT’s chops with fake naming exercises. One firm even built a “Chatnamer” using OpenAI’s tech. At Catchword, we’ve started using it for research in real-life projects and have found the quality of output to vary widely—from stinky-garbage ideas to concepts that made us guffaw with delight.
Based on our exploits so far, here’s some advice on how to get the best out of the bot in your next creative naming exercise, whether you are naming a new brand or product or even a human child.
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1. Figure out who you are before you start.
If you ask ChatGPT for advice on how to use the platform for naming, its first dictum is to make sure you know what your brand is all about. “What are the core values and unique selling points? What makes your brand different from competitors?”
In the bigger picture, what story should this name tell? How should it make people feel? According to ChatGPT, brands that make people feel happy include Ben & Jerry’s and LEGO, while the likes of Volvo and Nest make people feel safe.
Having a clear understanding of your identity will help you generate ideas that are actually useful. As Leonardo da Vinci quipped, “Art breathes from containment and suffocates from freedom.” Queries that are broadly open-ended or generic give the bot too much room to fail.
2. Get really specific about what you’re naming.
Once you’ve figured out what you want from this name, turn those qualities into practical parameters.
So, don’t tell ChatGPT to “give me cocktail names.” Instead say something like “give me highly creative, non-alliterative, metaphoric names for a cocktail that incorporates the ingredients gin and pineapple, but do not include gin and pineapple in the names.” (Sample output: Gilded Pine, The Golden Hour) Don’t say “give me names for a TV show.” Say, “give me names for a reality TV competition for chefs making snail dishes.” (Battle of the Escargot, Shell Shocked)
This particular platform—there are more advanced ones in the works, coming from OpenAI and elsewhere—can lose the plot if you include too many requirements; give ChatGPT five specifications and you might find the responses fail to adhere to one or two. But in general, more specific instructions will yield more interesting, pertinent responses.
3. Feel free to specify the quantity you’re after.
Ask ChatGPT for ideas and by default you might get a list of ten. But don’t be afraid to ask for more. In our experience, ChatGPT is most useful for jobs like word association, for which quantity is a plus.
For example: Say you want to name a new organic farm and you’re interested in channeling the mood of physically being among lemons and celery at the grocery store. You can ask ChatGPT to give you 50 descriptive words that might appear on signs in the produce section and in seconds you’ll have them.
Only you know whether your brand is more juicy-sweet or earthy or tender. But there’s a better chance you’ll find a word that speaks to you if you’ve got a longer list of candidates.
4. Don’t expect too much.
To elaborate on the usefulness point—don’t expect ChatGPT to spit out the perfect name in an instant. You probably want something that feels fresh or at least specific, and by its very nature the machine’s output is derivative. After all, ChatGPT gives answers based on an analysis of old text.
That means the platform might suggest a name that’s already in use or that feels like you’ve seen it a million times. If you ask ChatGPT for baby names without qualification, for example, most of those it suggests (Olivia, Noah, Charlotte, William) come straight from the Social Security Administration’s Top 10 list. It makes sense. Data tell us people like them! But maybe you don’t want your baby to have the same name as three other kids in class.
Consider the platform more of a brainstorming partner. Whether you ask for names or figures of speech or descriptive words, expect to use each set of responses as the basis for additional questions and refinements and creative generation of your own.
(For the record, when asked about the nature of its suggestions ChatGPT conceded that “in a sense, the answers may be considered derivative in that they are based on existing language patterns and structures found in the training data.” But the bot also insisted that it is “designed to generate novel and diverse responses.”)
5. Have fun!
Get really silly and playful in your refinements—because it’s fun and because sometimes a little goofiness can help cleanse your brain’s palate.
Maybe you’re using the platform to help with that baby name and you’ve gone deep on refinements—four letters, two-syllables, Italian in origin, a meaning related to nature, ends in a vowel—but you still haven’t found one you love. Take a break and ask the platform for “rhyming names” or “punny names” or names you might use if you were adopting a baby penguin. Waddle might not be the ticket for a little person, but it can still put a smile on your face. And that alone is a pretty good result from a robot.