How to Generate Ideas for Names

Pieces of paper for ideas in bowl on wooden table

The following is an excerpt from Stir It Up! Recipes for Robust Insights and Red Hot Ideas by Laurie Tema-Lyn. Published under license from Paramount Books.


This is a great exercise if you are working with a client on a name generation project. Getting the “feel” for a name by saying it out loud is particularly important now as companies struggle to find names that can be trademarked. Many firms try eliminating vowels, or using symbols in a name, which may look pretty cool, but leave people in a quandary as to how to pronounce it.

The impetus for this exercise was a re-branding assignment for a green energy company that Lisa and I were working with. We had come up with hundreds of name candidates through a variety of creative exercises and had narrowed the list down to a top dozen. I find that good names are “tasty” on the tongue as well as to the eye and brain. I created a quick role-playing exercise on the spot to help us develop and refine the best name options. The experience quickly revealed which names to consider further, and helped with finding the right language for rebranding the company. It also provided important insights into our team’s primary decision-makers’ and stakeholders’ receptivity to the potential name change.

How to Do It

Set Up Time:  2 minutes

Run Time:  15+ minutes

Team Size:  6-16 people, set up in pairs or triads

Materials Needed:  imagination


The right business name is more than just a collection of letters that conveys an aspect of the business or benefits. The name has to be easy to pronounce and understand when communicated verbally. We’re now going to set up a series of mini improvisations to see how these name candidates might play out in the real world. I’m going to ask you to arrange yourself in pair teams or triads. Select the two name candidates from our short list that you think are the strongest based on the criteria we’ve already discussed. Then I will ask you to come up to the front of the group and “act out” a name in conversation, and the rest of us will listen and observe.

As moderator / facilitator, give each team a different scene, such as :

  • on the phone with a prospect
  • on the phone with a client of the company
  • in an elevator with a stranger describing what the company does
  • at home talking to a spouse
  • at home talking with the kids about your work
  • at a conference talking with a competitor
  • at a business meeting talking with a colleague
  • at a friend’s home talking with someone who knows nothing about your professional world
  • on an airplane talking with an interested stranger

Call upon pair teams or triads to come up to the front of the room. Give them the situation and 30 seconds to decide who is in what role. Have them spontaneously talk or act it out. Give them the option of doing one or two role-plays. Each role-play should be no more than 2 minutes.

After several teams have done their improvs, debrief the exercise to gather observations and feelings about the name candidates and “build” or generate more names if needed.

Laurie Tema-Lyn is the founder of Practical Imagination Enterprises, an innovation and qualitative research consultancy  In Stir It Up! she shares exercises she has used to help her clients recharge their thinking.


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