What’s the difference between good names and bad names? A lot less than you think.

a hundred monkeys branding don't call it that eli altman

Ever since I wrote the first edition of Don’t Call It That, a question I always get asked is “What is the worst name you’ve ever seen?” I deserve this. If I wanted to talk about great names all the time I should have called the book “Naming Awesomeness: How to Come Up with Awesome Names.” I’m far too sarcastic for that.

The question of bad names is actually misleading. When people ask this question, they’re looking for names that are comically bad — names that miss the point and get laughs in the process. Search for #dontcallitthat and you will see a bunch of these names.

Here’s the thing though: these ARE NOT terrible names.

They’re memorable. Because they stick out like a sore thumb, these names are hard to forget —
they missed the mark, but that’s why you have to stare.

They get a reaction. Bad names make you laugh. They make your eyes go wide while you think “Wait, did they actually call it that?” These names have character and feel alive.

They get you to talk. People love sharing “bad” names–they post them on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook in the same way that they post pictures of statues that weren’t intended to look like penises. There’s something really fun about seeing a joke that the creator might not have seen.

So bad names are actually pretty good. They do most of the things that good names do. Some brands would kill for the exposure bad names get — people taking pictures and sharing on social media. These are not terrible names. They shoot for the stars and miss spectacularly and I, for one, applaud them for taking the shot.

So, what names are truly terrible? The boring ones — names that are so self-conscious of how they’re going to be perceived that they’re drained of all their life and character. Terrible names try to speak to everyone at once and end up saying nothing at all. Terrible names are so concerned with fitting in that they forget marketing is about standing out. Terrible names are so bad that you can’t even remember what they are. You see them while you’re walking down the street and by the end of the block they’re gone from your mind forever.

Great names are about standing out. They’re about having a personality, having a point of view, and not being afraid to share it with the world. “Bad” names feel a little naïve or out of place. This is a minor infraction compared to all the names you’ve already seen today and immediately forgotten. So take a risk – what’s the worst that can happen?