Naming Tip: How to Choose the Right Codenames


When clients come to us needing a new product or company name for an exciting project, there’s a common situation we encounter. And it isn’t what you might expect. More often that not we have to battle the love a client has developed for their awesome codename.

Clients often pick semantically relevant codenames, (e.g., Dimension, Revolution, etc.) thinking this will help create internal excitement and drive the brand-building. I mean, it is pretty cool it to say to your coworker, “We’re meeting to discuss Revolution at 2pm today.”

The problem this inevitably creates is people falling in love with their super-awesome-perfect-can’t-be-beat codename. But unfortunately, that codename is totally legally unavailable.

“Ring ring. Hi, naming firm? Yes, please come create a new name that’s legally available and that we’ll fall in love with more than the name we’ve been living with and loving for six months. Kthanksbye.”

We have encountered this exact scenario enough times that we have even created a slide to project at our first meeting. It’s a gravestone. On the stone is the project codename. We take a moment of silence, then we remind everyone that it’s gone for good. The mourning process complete, we now move on to creating a new awesome product or company name.

But all this can be avoided. How, you ask? Easy. Here are some tips and tricks for avoiding this sticky situation:

  • Never give your project a fancy codename that theoretically could be its brand name (if only that pesky in-house counsel would just give the okay — which they never will do).
  • Pick completely abstract and unrelated codenames that convey nothing about the project and therefore will never be adopted as the brand name.
  • If you have frequent projects and regularly need a lot of codenames, consider sets of bizarre names (see below for a few examples).
  • When thinking up sets of codenames, consider picking things relevant to your company’s history, geography, culture, etc. (See the Intel example, below).
  • Consider naming your projects after your conference rooms. We frequently see amazing conference room naming systems at our clients’ offices. Try re-purposing these names.

Intel gets it right by choosing great codenames that won’t ever become the product name. From Wikipedia:

Intel often names CPU projects after rivers in the American West, particularly in the state of Oregon (where most of Intel’s CPU projects are designed). Examples include Willamette, Deschutes, Yamhill, Tualatin, and Clackamas. (Full list here)

If you’re brainstorming codename systems, here are a few ideas free of charge:

  • Farm animals (but avoid fancy ones like Leopard and Tiger, ahem Apple)
  • Landforms (Basin, Peninsula, Canyon, Cliff, Delta, Isthmus, etc.)
  • Cities (perhaps choose lesser known cities like Dubuque, Corpus Christi, Waltham, Fresno, etc.)
  • State trees (Redwood, Bristlecone, Cottonwood, Spruce, etc.)
  • Fish names (Catfish, Eel, Goldfish, Koi, etc. — but avoid the fancy ones like Shark and Stingray)
  • Cheeses (Gouda, Paneer, Havarti, Provolone, etc.)

We hope these tips will help you pick codenames that are more easily discarded and replaced by your real brand names down the road. Of course, if you’re looking for someone to help you come up with an great new product name, you know who to call.

Need help picking the perfect name? Catchword offers a variety of naming services for your company, product or service. Contact us today to learn more!


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