1) The Indomitable Thesaurus
This one should be transparently incontrovertibly patently obviously obvious. When a client needs a name that says reliability, we need to know every way to say reliability, and there’s no more reliable way to do that than using a good ole fashioned thesaurus. Thesauri are a namer’s best friend. Some namers I know go so far as to take them to social events and, believe it or not, have even read the editor’s preface in the front of the book. Now that’s dedication.
I like to start with an unabridged physical thesaurus, because, I have found, they are more comprehensive than free digital thesauri (paradoxically, perhaps). And of course, plumbing the very depths of language is essential in our world of crowded trademark categories—that’s why comprehensiveness matters. But digital thesauri can be thought provoking in different ways, just by dint of how some of them are set up. Thesaurus.com allows you to sort answers by relevance OR alphabetically, which is nice. Visuwords.com and VisualThesaurus.com present synonyms in an ever-expanding web of colors and lines, which can either be creatively inspiring or overwhelming and suggestive of a fly caught by a spider, so check them out if you dare (NB: these resources generally they prioritize breadth over depth, though this is perhaps due to spatial limits rather than laziness or oversimplification.)
2) Visual Dictionaries—Not Just For Kids!
These are particularly great for overcoming a bout of namer’s block. If you don’t really know where to begin, or have hit a wall, why not browse random pictures! (This is also a resource that must be print—you can’t thumb through a website.) You’ll be perusing along…ant colony, dojo…or skipping around, minding your own business…geode, pole vault, train engine, volcano…volcano! That’s a great metaphor for my new hot sauce! Which will get you thinking about lava, magma calderas, eruptions, and eventually you’ll realize you want to name your mouth-searing concoction Wrath of Vesuvius. Or not, in which case you can go back to the drawing board (which in this case conveniently already has pictures on it).
3) The Soup to Nuts Word Resource Wordnik.com
Wordnik.com is a great site (and a non-profit) that compiles definitions from many other dictionaries together with synonyms, hypernyms (more general, less precise synonyms), rhymes (though they are not as comprehensive as RhymeZone), and lists words that contain the word you looked up in their own definition. Inspiration can strike from anywhere—even looking at the extensive etymologies on Wordnik can lead to new creative ideas or directions. Just a random example here: I recently saw that the flower Amaranth comes from Greek meaning “never withers,” which would gives the name a powerful depth and backstory, and led me to look at other flower etymologies, and other words that come from the same roots (accidental pun, I swear) as Amaranth.
4) The Johnny-on-the-Spot OneLook.com
OneLook.com has a few fantastic tools that I use almost daily. My favorite is that they allow you to search for words containing a specified word part. If you want a list of all words beginning with “free,” you can search Free* and return freeform, freestlye, freebie, etc. You can also include phrases to get Free Agent, Free Rein, and the like. You can search for patterns where there is only one missing letter, or unlimited missing letters, it’s all there. They also have a reverse dictionary that I find very useful for assisting in lateral thinking. It allows you to search a term or phrase, and it returns concepts or examples or words related to that phrase. Are you looking for playful inspiration to name a game? Searching “circus” in the reverse dictionary will return related words and concepts, from Acrobat to Clown, Three Ring to P.T.Barnum.
5) The Most Profound Pit of Knowledge Known to Human Kind: Wikipedia
Wikipedia is awesome, as I’m sure you know. But what has proved most helpful for me as a naming professional (different from how Wikipedia is helpful for me as a procrastinator) is that they have zillions of categories and lists. Are you naming a security company? Look at a list of castles. Castle architecture terms. Famous Knights. Greek heroes. The lists go on. And though Wikipedia is very comprehensive, there are other lists to be found elsewhere, just a Google away. And don’t forget lists of Greek and Latin roots for creating those coined, latinate names. Then, after you search internet lists exhaustively and name your company, why not try out for Jeopardy? You’ll have absorbed tons of trivia in the process.
I do use other resources, including translation tools, dedicated rhyming dictionaries, random letter generators, and then of course, Catchword has a few proprietary creative resources. But if I told you about those, I’d have to hire you. Oh, and if you also want help with any other aspect of naming, check out our handy-dandy free naming guide. Good luck!