Top 10 traits of great namers: Do you have the right stuff?

Here’s the truth behind what it really takes to succeed as a professional namer.

So you do Friday’s NYT crossword puzzle in ink, no one in your family will play Boggle with you, and you’re the first one asked to define a mysterious word. . . . Does that make you namer material?

Here’s the truth behind what it really takes to succeed as a professional namer.

1. A Way with Words

You may love words and frequently fall down etymology rabbit holes, but do you have a natural command of language? Strong namers not only love words, but they know how to wield them. If you’re an eloquent orator, a journalist or poet, or a story-creating powerhouse, this could be the right job for you.

2. A Good Ear

Naming is not just about semantics; the sound and flow of a name can also evoke feeling. On any given day, you might be called on to create euphony through alliteration (think: Firefox), establish a technical feel through hard consonants (like Zyrtec or Optane), or make a name feel more friendly (see Mochidoki). Having a good ear surely helps!

3. A Brain for Business

You might think the best namers are English or Linguistics PhDs, but those distinctions aren’t enough. A good namer adeptly maneuvers in any business setting, and frequently pitches and presents to CEOs, CMOs, and technical product managers. Must-haves in the naming toolbox? An understanding of competitive space, differentiation, the environments in which a client’s brand will live, and the ability to talk the talk.

4. Killer Curiosity

Curiosity might kill cats but it surely drives namers. You might be naming a line of beans one day, a highly technical application suite the next, and a jetliner in the days that follow. Being excited to learn about all these innovations is critical to success.

5. Serious Stamina

Many people believe namers huddle in a room (possibly with alcohol) and volley ideas back and forth till they land a few winners. Many people would be wrong. At Catchword, we believe quantity and quality are tightly correlated—not just because of the many messages, styles, languages, and constructions that can be explored, but because names must clear the countless hurdles of trademark and domain availability, cultural and linguistic appropriateness, and human subjectivity. We create well over a thousand names for a typical project.

6. Creative Flair

Do you see ideas—not storefronts—when you walk down the street? Are you constantly pushing the status quo? That ideaphoria that keeps you up at night will come in handy as you’re called upon to name another Product X in a seriously saturated category, Naming calls for daring (think Virgin or Vudu), out-of-the-box thinking (see Monster or Asana), and serious word play (visit our game PopNamer to see what fun can be had).

7. Thick Skin

A name might remind Client A of his dog’s rash, or Client B of the restaurant where she ate bad tuna in 2004. And why can’t these names—immediately, without any context or marketing support—seem as clever as Google or Twitter? As strong opinions fly in meetings and names get crossed off for less-than-solid reasons, namers need to keep emotions in check and calmly guide their clients to more objective and reasoned choices.

8. A Mediator’s Mindset

Part science and part art, naming can—at times—be incredibly divisive. Clients evaluating names oftentimes find themselves on different sides of the fence: she says Apple, and he says Oracle. As a namer, it’s your job to reconcile these differing opinions and to provide the necessary tools for decision-making.

9. The Right Resources

Did you know that there are multiple dictionaries dedicated entirely to slang, and Merriam-Webster admits hundreds of new words, pronunciations, and meanings to the dictionary each year? In today’s industry, it’s critical to know not just words but where to find them. From traditional dictionaries and glossaries to obscure resources like Foyle’s Philavery to newer sites like Wordnik, having the right tools can get you halfway there.

10. Love for (Pop) Culture

When showing a restaurant chain names for its new bone-chilling drink, you need to know that Ice Age shouldn’t make the cut because of the movie franchise’s marketing tie-ins with another well-known restaurant. Namers need to always be up on news and pop culture, watching language emerge and evolve, cheering it on…and keeping tabs. At Catchword, The New Yorker sits alongside People, and we’re enthusiastic consumers of Netflix, live music, and TechCrunch, and keeper-uppers on politics, world news, and all things media.


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