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When The Crowd Gets It Right: The Asilomar Name Review

By Beth Gerber

September 25, 2013

Screen shot 2013-08-05 at 11.33.42 AMAs a rule, our naming company doesn’t put much stock in crowd-sourcing as a means of naming companies and products. A group free-for-all isn’t likely to generate the kind of considered strategy and exhaustive, systematic creative process we’ve found most successful for brand naming.

So I was impressed when I heard the story behind the naming of Asilomar, the beachfront conference center where I recently stayed on a weekend in Monterey. The brainchild of some of California’s most influential women at the turn of the twentieth century (do the names Scripps and Hearst ring a bell?), the center began in 1913 as the YWCA’s west coast meeting grounds, and was designed by San Francisco architect Julia Morgan on a shoestring budget.

To name the property, the YWCA held a contest and received hundreds of entries (today it probably would have been thousands). The winner? Stanford University student Helen Salisbury, who coined the name Asilomar, from the Spanish words “asilo” (literally, asylum) and “mar” (sea).

She did well.

The place may be celebrating its centennial this year, but by capturing the spirit of the place, the name remains as apt as ever, even as Asilomar has morphed from a YWCA facility to a conference center and resort owned by the California State Parks Association.

Its linguistic roots convey that Asilomar is a refuge by the sea, where horizons are expanded and spirits renewed. And the name’s tonality is equally on target.  The frictionless sonorants “l,” “m,” and “r” create a sense of openness and expansiveness, while the sibilant “s” evokes the hiss of the sea. The name also sounds strong and elemental, fitting for a property surrounded by a stark landscape of dunes, rock outcroppings and cypress. And the vowel-consonant-vowel construction is intuitive to pronounce, even for non-native English speakers—a boon considering the center has become an international gathering place.

Nice job, Ms. Salibury. Good thing most crowd-sourcing experiments don’t turn out nearly this well, or they could put naming consultancies like ours out of business.

Grade: A

Grade:
A-
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