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Charting the choppy waters of naming

April 2016, by Rupert Faircliff, Senior Consultant

Every so often a story about naming captures the British public’s attention.

Such is the case again with the hitherto-under-the-radar National Environment Research Council. This time, it’s ‘the public’ who suggested the names, including the eventual winner in the vote and probably one of the most unlikely candidates ever for an official scientific vessel, Boaty McBoatface.

The story has prompted fierce debate over the ingredients of a good name. Some argue that in its silliness the winner perfectly characterises the British character, and as such is an excellent choice; on the other side, the government have announced they “want a name that lasts longer than a social media news cycle and reflects the serious nature of the science”.

Because a name is so inherent to a sense of identity, we know from experience that naming or renaming a brand is often one of the trickiest, most sensitive and most subjective undertakings our clients embark upon. Following the creative generation process, we always stress the importance of objective criteria on which to assess names.

Strategy should lead. A great name will fit with and build on the strategic direction of the business and brand. It needs to be true to the brand’s heritage, but also to give flexibility for the future – for new sectors, new offers, new geographies. A name should be distinctive – one that’s forgotten in an instant has little commercial value. And finally, crucially, it must be legally available.

Of course, a ship isn’t a brand; but the decision makers at NERC would certainly benefit from some clear criteria to help them chart a steady course across potentially choppy waters in the coming days.