newtothepublic logo


Dissecting Great Names

24 January 2018

"You're not gonna have fun if you analyze everything." - Rick Sanchez


Still not satisfied with the choice of name. I know it's the wrong choice for a publisher name because it won't stop bothering me, so something about it must not be right.


Let's analyze! What's in a name?


Some outstanding examples of names for independent publishers/labels:

  • Temporary Residence (record label)
  • Headphone Commute (music blog)
  • Two Dollar Radio
  • Conundrum Press
  • Fugue State Press
  • Insomniac Press
  • Passager Books (note it was not Passager Press)
  • Short Flight/Long Drive Press
  • Tin House Books


After thinking about it and testing out a whole list of names, I've concluded a few things.


What seems most important in an outstanding name is that the imagery it creates finds a sweet spot between being too vague and overly complicated. Some are just a little too vague on the one hand, while some just circle on themselves.


Another trend to avoid - something I personally struggle with - is going for the overly abstract. An abstract name could work for a band, or a large company that aims to be very expansive and buy up a ton of smaller specifics. Instead it seemed the ones that have caught my attention most effectively have been more concrete objects, but ones with an idea behind them. That's another characteristic of that sweet spot: the perfect marriage of object and meaning, or concrete and abstract.


Ideally, the symbols/objects/words used should already have a connotation in the lexicon, and a rich one at that. "The Heartland Review": "Heartland" is a perfect example of that, and that's why it can stand alone. "The Pencil Review" (not an actual thing), not so much. But, "Pencil", though too concrete and opaque to serve on its own, could certainly be combined.


The connotations and meanings of words should be warped and manipulated, either contextually (by being the name of a press or publisher), by touching on a contemporary but not fleeting idea and maybe being slightly provocative or memorable for it, and/or by the juxtaposition of words. That is, two words with very rich meanings behind them, rich in the sense that they evoke a lot of ideas when one meditates on them, placed together create a new idea. And on top of that, what does that say about the publisher who takes that connotation as their name and banner? But sticking together two words to make an interesting sound, yet without that mystical third thing, just doesn't work.


Another point, one that I think is more subtle and could be much more debatable, is that the meaning should be neutral toward publishing. It's tempting - sometimes very tempting - to include in your name a statement or feeling about what you're trying to put out ("new to the public"). "Damaged Goods", for example. I think it' better to exclude words like "damaged", "lonesome", "lost"... anything negative, really. Neutral, or slightly positive.


Along this vein, leave your mission out of your name. It's too much! It's like going on a first date with someone and them telling you what they're looking for in a spouse. Another subtle sub-distinction: "The Feminist Press" does not push its mission but simply states what it's about. "Pioneers Press" does push. There's so much in the word "pioneer". "Feminist Press" is more like a house. It's stable and waits for you to come to it. A pioneers is on a mission.


As you can see of the names I listed, part of the hook is almost always that these are the names of publishers or media producers. "Insomniac Press", "Conundrum Press" - they're perfect for readers, or writers and readers. The ones that incorporate something directly related to the craft of writing or publishing seem to not carry the same appeal. There is something exasperating in them.


Other considerations:

  • You know it when you know it. That's the ultimate rule. But sometimes you don't know it until you sleep on it for 24 hours.
  • It shouldn't be already in use, or too similar to something already in use.
  • Sometimes it's not a real word but it just sounds good.
  • Shouldn't be too on the nose.


A last point is that a great name is important, but not a dealbreaker. In fact, I'd say a good name functions more like a ticket than a bad name does a hamper. A great name is a propeller. It's your flag. And an equally effective flag is a combination of an okay name with a great logo. A vague, un-ideal name, or a word not ideal to use by itself as a publishing imprint or label, can be made excellent by pairing with a logo that brings it out and likewise.


Choosing an excellent name really is an art. It's a matter of hitting a sweet spot between the concrete and the abstract, of containing an intriguing idea that can be encapsulated by a single, whole symbol, of taking advantage of context without being too self-aware, of being neither too general nor too personal, and of considering those who will see you without pandering to them. Some things you'd think should work don't for the reason that they're too obvious, too expected, or too embracing of a trend or understanding that we've already loved or picked apart or embraced to death. Some things that seem like they wouldn't work at all, or like they're nothing, fly under the radar but have an unexpected longevity and get you to keep coming back to them. They quietly infiltrate your mind with their little image exactly in a spot where one hasn't been placed yet. Someday I might come up with a chart or a map, refine it further to define some axes and, given a name, plot it to where it falls relative to the bullseye.


Or I might not. I might get a job instead.



Addendum: After more thought, the importance of certain factors has shifted, namely two emerging as more important:

  • consideration of the reader, and the context in which they'd want to consume what you produce
  • tie to something contemporary, that something contemporary being not a trend but a modern manifestation of something timeless. "Short Flight/Long Drive".