Photo by: Robert Occhialini, Flickr
Whatever name you choose for your event, it should instantly convey the gist and hook your audience. Accomplishing a good name is harder than it looks. If it’s too logical, it might not be exciting enough. If it’s too unusual, it might miss the mark. There are only so many words in the dictionary, and a great deal of them are already taken. Naming gets even more complicated when you consider the sheer amount of things to do in your category. SpinGo lists over 125,000 events every month. How does your name stack up?
In the book “Advertising: Concept and Copy”, George Felton explains how to name products, brands, and companies. Read on to see how the same process applies to events.
Before You Begin
Do your homework before you jump into the naming process. Research your event, your audience, and your competition. Then ask and answer the following questions:
- What’s your event about? What are you trying to accomplish?
- What do you want to emphasize about the event? What’s the key idea? What should its name describe?
- How does your event distinguish itself from other events? What do competing events in your category claim? What names are they using?
- Who are you aiming the name at? How should those attendees be addressed? What are they expecting? How might you surprise them?
- Do you have any constraints? Constraints limit what you can do, but they also provide direction.
Once you’ve answered the questions, now you’re ready to start naming.
How to choose a good name.
Take words right out of the dictionary.
Attendees may already know what these words mean, and you can apply them to your event. Look for something appropriate, but unusual. For example, Lollapalooza, now widely recognized as the name of the famous music festival, is originally defined by the dictionary as “something great and/or wonderful.” Picnic Pairing describes a wine and lunch food matching event. Open Mic aptly describes a type of live show where audience members can perform. Country Explosion is the name of a country music festival in Utah.
Metaphors can also be a good way to go: Brain Gymnasium is the name of a weekly event that conducts mental exercises. NPR’s Fresh Air uses a metaphor and a pun.
Create completely made-up words.
It isn’t a completely made-up word, but the name Bonnarro, when it was originally conceived for the music festival, simply “looked cool” to the founders. Turns out that it’s Creole slang for “good stuff.”
The downside to made up names? It costs a lot of money to teach them to your audience. But once you get it to stick, people won’t mistake your event for anything else.
Invent portmanteau words.
Felton explains that “two words, or parts of them, fused to create a new word, are easier to grasp since they contain identifiable parts. Portmanteaus come in all flavors. Sometimes they’re a true fusion of part of this word with part of that one to create a word people have never seen before. Other times they’re two words, more or less unaltered, simply pushed together to create a ‘new’ one (PlayStation, WordPerfect, ChemLawn, PowerPoint, FireWire).”
Lewis Carrol coined the term “portmanteau” because such combined words reminded him of the way different things could be crammed into a suitcase, or portmanteau. You get three words for the price of two. For example, Cotopaxi calls its adventure scavenger hunt event, The Questival (“quest” and “festival”).
Find words unique to the event.
Your event name may be found in its history or culture. Maybe the founder’s pet has a quirky name. Maybe their father had an unusual middle name. Historic city days have a knack for this type of naming. For example, Strawberry Days is the name of a community festival where strawberries were once an important economic activity.
Decide for yourself when a pun works or when it’s too corny. Chalk the Block is the name of a street painting event. Holy Smokes is a church-sponsored BBQ. Blood Vessel, a mobile blood drive.
Ask yourself what the heart of your event is, and then express this in terms a little off dead-center.
Get people interested. What’s a good name for an educational event for kids? How about Noggin? When Volkswagen and Apple devised a promotion in which anyone who bought a VW New Beetle received an iPod, they called it “Pods Unite!”
Bring in language from elsewhere: from pop culture, street signs, literature, poetry, TV, music. Breaking Vlad is a theatrical spoof (involving vampires) of the hit TV Drama, "Breaking Bad".
Say the obvious.
Sometimes the best solution is the most obvious one. These are names that clearly say what the event is. The Color Run, for example, is a themed fun run that involves color powder being tossed over participants.
Vet the name.
At some point, depending how large your event is, your lawyer will have to get involved. Vetting the name involves performing trademark screening, doing a linguistic analysis, and determining cultural fit. Is the name in use already? Does it work culturally with the audience you’re trying to target?
Once you have some viable options to go with, whether they’re made-up words, portmanteaus, or straight from the dictionary, the decision is really up to you and your team. Consider your event brand, its personality, and how the name plays into that. And who knows….just like naming your kid, sometimes you’ll see it, and you’ll just know.