Brain Rules for Naming
In my previous post, I introduced one of John Medina’s brain rules, and perhaps the most important one for naming and branding: “We don’t pay attention to boring things.”

So what do we pay attention to?

We pay attention to things that make us feel something, and memory plays a big part in this. If past experiences triggered an emotion, our brains will notice similar new information again.

Medina provides the example of a Westerner traipsing through a jungle with native guides. While they’re noticing every broken branch left by a predator and giving a wide berth to poisonous plants and insects, he’s blissfully unaware. He doesn’t notice these things because he’s had no previous emotional response to them. He’s never been stung. He’s never come face-to-face with an animal that could shred him like jerk chicken.

That’s a great example to help us understand the concept. Now how can we apply it to naming?

For our purposes, let’s assume that any emotional response to a name is preferable to none. And if this is true (and I believe it is), then names that stir emotion are more likely to be noticed. (And remembered, too, but that’s another blog post.)

I know this from my own experience. Years ago, when I was employed by an agency that shall remain nameless, I first heard about Monster, the jobs site. I was standing in the hallway with some other creatives. We were all desperate to find another job. Someone said, “Have you looked on Monster?” Monster! What’s that? I was instantly intrigued. It sounded big and powerful—like a beast I could harness and put to work for me.

By contrast, I don’t recall the first time I saw an ad for Career Builder. Both job listing sites were launched in the mid- to late-90s. But Monster got my attention. Career Builder didn’t.

Think of all the emotions a brand name could trigger: humor, warmth, feelings of delight, serenity, excitement, hope. A brand name can even spark negative emotions — fear, disgust, sadness, irritation, etc. As long as the name has positive connotations as well, those emotional responses actually make it more powerful. (I explain how that works here.)

Take a look at these competing brands. Try to forget everything you already know about each and imagine you’re seeing the name for the first time. Of each pair, which one triggers an emotion?

VIRGIN AIRLINES

DENNY’S

TOP FLITE

FOSSIL

PANAMERA

AMERICAN AIRLINES

BAD WAITRESS CAFE

KING COBRA

9 WEST

GHOST

By the way, brain rules for naming apply to business-to-business naming, too. We don’t stop being human just because we’re at the office. So don’t be afraid to get some emotion into a B2B brand. It will help get your brand name noticed and make it easier to be remembered.