In this episode, meet the world’s leading authority on brand names with buzz.
Since 2005, Alexandra Watkins and her naming firm, Eat My Words, have created love-at-first sight brand names for countless companies from Amazon to Xerox.
You are going to learn the most important qualities of successful product and brand names. Perhaps even more important, you’ll learn the top mistakes engineers make when naming their new business, new products, or new anything!
Don’t wait until you are ready to start a new company to learn this stuff. It’s powerful now and will save you from heartache when the time comes.
Alexandra’s breakthrough creativity book, “Hello, My Name is Awesome: How to Create Brand Names That Stick,” was named a Top 10 Marketing Book by Inc. Magazine and has earned high praise from engineers and product leaders around the world.
So press play and let’s chat… because The Happy Engineer gets put to the test against brand names considered the best!
Join us in a live webinar for deeper training, career Q&A, and FREE stuff! HAPPY HOUR! Live with Zach
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The Happy Engineer Podcast
WATCH EPISODE 095: HELLO, MY NAME IS AWESOME! WITH ALEXANDRA WATKINS | CHIEF EXECUTIVE BOSS LADY
LISTEN TO EPISODE 095: HELLO, MY NAME IS AWESOME! INTERVIEW WITH ZACH’S DEBRIEF
Previous Episode 094: From Hyper-Stressed Panic Attacks to the World’s Happiest Software Engineer with Erik Andersen
HELLO, MY NAME IS AWESOME!
One thing I have always loved as an engineer is going deep on topics that on the surface seem like there’s not much there, but as you dig in, there is so much to learn and grow and explore in that area.
And that was the case for me with Alexandra about naming.
Prior to owning my own business and naming this podcast, I honestly never even thought about it, and I definitely did not consider the importance of naming, until I got into this work myself.
But it was fun. It was fun to go deep.
And my guess is if you liked this episode, either you are starting your own business or getting ready to name your own product, and this topic really stood out to you and it was a perfect fit, in which case, awesome. I’m so glad that you got to hear it today.
Or you might just be like me and have that hunger and thirst for knowledge, even when it’s kind of obscure in, in areas that you’re not likely to leverage right now.
So for the first three people who email me with the title of the book and the subject “Hello my name is awesome”, and put your address in the body of that email, the first three people who send that over to [email protected]. I’m going to ship you a free copy of Alexandra’s book.
I really enjoyed reading it, and if this is a topic that’s relevant for you and you need guidance to make great decisions on naming, I want to support you in getting all of the resources you need.
And I am going to do that on the house as a thank you for sticking with us this whole episode.
And also to make sure you are getting what you need to succeed in naming your business, your podcast, your newsletter, whatever it is, or your product within your organization. So first three people. I wish I could do it for all of you, but if I get a thousand emails, that’s a lot of books, man. So first three people, let’s do it.
Also, a quick reminder before we go today, I’d love to see you at happy Hour.
This episode is going to drop on April 6th, and we have happy hour on April 7th.
So if you want to be a part of that free coaching, free training and have a conversation with me directly with anything going on in your career, make sure sign up here
Our next one is coming up on May 4th, 2023, so you can always register for the next happy hour.
It’d be awesome to meet you, have some time live. This is not a recorded webinar. This is real time live coaching and you can pop in at the end for an open coaching session and get the insights you need for whatever’s holding you back in your career development right now.
So would love to see you meet you, join us at Happy Hour. It’s a really fun time, and I hope you got what you need to name your next adventure. And even if it’s not something you’re going to do now, you never know when you may want to come back to this. So I’ll be looking out for those emails. I can’t wait to see you at happy hour.
And until next time, let’s do this.
ABOUT ALEXANDRA WATKINS
Chief Executive Boss Lady of Eat My Words, Alexandra Watkins is a leading and outspoken authority on brand names. Her breakthrough creativity book, Hello, My Name is Awesome: How to Create Brand Names That Stick, is considered “the brand name Bible” and was named a Top 10 Marketing Book by Inc. Magazine.
Since 2005, Alexandra and her firm have created love-at-first sight brand names for clients from Amazon to Xerox. Her own name hall of fame includes Wendy’s Baconator, the Neato robotic vacuum, Smitten ice cream, Spanish language school Gringo Lingo, frozen yogurt franchise Spoon Me, and the Church of Cupcakes.
Alexandra first got hooked on naming when Gap hired her to create names for their first line of body care products. Soon after, she broke into the business by talking her way into Landor via a Match.com date. With her fresh, unconventional naming style, Alexandra soon became a go-to resource for leading branding and naming firms around the country. And Landor sent her enough business to open her own firm. Since then, she’s generated thousands of names for snacks, software, sunscreen, sportswear, shoes, sugar scrubs, serums, and seafood. (And that’s just the S’s!)
LINKS MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
- Eat My Words
- Alexandra Watkins on LinkedIn
- Do you need help in transforming yourself to a successful career and a balanced life? Book a FREE Career Clarity Call now!
FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:
Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.
[00:00:00] Zach White: Happy engineer, welcome back and Alexandra, I am so excited that you are here, or should I call you ‘Awesome’ instead of Alexandra? I love, love, love your book. Welcome to the show.
[00:00:13] Alexandra Watkins: Thank you. Well, hello, my name is ‘Awesome.’ What if that’s how I told people the title of my book was to emphasize, “Hello my name is Awesome.”
Expand to Read Full Transcript
[00:00:08] Zach White: Way too long. I’ve been busy. I’ve been traveling and we couldn’t get this as soon as I would’ve loved, but, but now it’s better than never.
[00:00:27] Zach White: I think that’s perfect and I loved reading your book and all of the energy from it, even the little details like your email signature being chief executive boss lady. And I told my wife I was like this, she is your people. Like this is an amazing person. This whole dialogue about branding, naming, it’s something that doesn’t come up a ton in the engineering world.
[00:00:52] In fact, if anything, we probably complain about being on the receiving end of project names and product names and brand names that we think are stupid. And it really resonated for me, like, wow, I wish I’d read this before I started my company, and I wish I knew this back when I was at Whirlpool. So tell us first.
[00:01:10] like where in your journey did naming actually become the thing that you cared about the most and realized everybody’s doing this wrong? Where did that begin for you?
[00:01:19] Alexandra Watkins: I was an advertising copywriter for probably 15 years working at big ad agencies. And by the way, I helped launch Microsoft Windows when I worked for Ogilvie and Mather, and that’s where I learned the language of Geek Speak. So Oh, nice. I lived in Seattle. I, and I’ve lived in the, in San Francisco for 22 years.
[00:01:40] Worked with a lot of engineers, a lot of tech companies, a lot of startups. So, uh, I’m, I’m not foreign to your audience at all. So what happened is when I switched gears and became a neighbor, I realized that. most names coming from naming firms were based on Latin and linguistics, and they weren’t making emotional connections with people.
[00:02:02] Mm-hmm. and in advertising as a copywriter, I was used to creating headlines that would, make that emotional connection and turn heads and get people to notice and make them feel something. And I realized that names could make the same connection and nobody was doing it. So that’s when I realized that there was an opportunity.
[00:02:21] Zach White: It’s interesting. Comment about using, know, Latin and Greek derivatives to come up with names and just sitting here. You hear you say it now that I’ve read your book, and I’m like, that makes no sense at all. Who cares? what’s your perspective on why that was the way it was done for so long?
[00:02:37] Alexandra Watkins: so naming is part of branding and I think that they were hiring linguists to create new words.
[00:02:44] But most people do not know Latin people aren’t familiar with linguistics and people wanna feel something, they wanna get the name when they see it, and that doesn’t happen with those style
[00:02:56] Zach White: of names. That’s interesting point. Okay. So that makes sense. We had a, maybe a fixation on creating a new word for a new brand and go hire a linguist to do it.
[00:03:07] I could. Where you’d fall into that, that trap. That makes sense. So here you are, you realize you’re doing this copywriting, you actually know how to connect with people through words and seeing the gap on naming. Did you just one day decide, I’m a naming expert and do this? Yeah. Or, or what happened?
[00:03:25] Alexandra Watkins: honestly, that’s what I did.
[00:03:26] I just said, I’m gonna do names, and I changed my email signature to say, you know, Alexandra Watkins, professional Namer. And then once I said it, then I was that. And people are like, you know, you can’t make a living just naming things. And I said, yes I can. And I watch, know I have, and.
[00:03:45] Yeah. So I just decided that that’s what I was going to do, and I had to completely change gears because advertising and branding don’t ever really intersect. So I had to leave Advil and go into the branding world. so it was quite a transition, but, but I did it.
[00:04:01] Zach White: I I love that you just, I’m just doing it.
[00:04:04] I’m just changing my signature now. I’m a namer and I, I know for myself as an engineer, I did not have that type of courage. Just change my trajectory for life and my destiny in a moment. You know, I’ve done it now. I left my corporate career. I’ve built a business. I’m doing this amazing new work with Oasis of Courage and the Happy Engineer, and it’s super cool, but it took a long time to get there.
[00:04:27] So what would you say to Zach White? Like if, if you feel that urge to pivot like this, what does it take to do that? Well, what would you. . Well first
[00:04:37] Alexandra Watkins: of all, if you love what you’re doing, it makes it so much easier. And that’s like once I discovered naming it and I loved it, it was just easy. That’s all I wanted to do.
[00:04:48] And you know, most people that do leave corporate and go start on their own or you know, whatever they’re doing to go start their own thing, they’re being drawn by something stronger and knowing that the excitement that will follow once you start doing what you really. That should be enough to get people going.
[00:05:07] Zach White: blast through the fear. Do it anyway. Take action. No. So, alright. I wanna explore ways to do it right and the ways we go wrong with you, cuz you have some brilliant frameworks to support this, but beforehand, I noticed in your book there were some huge names in terms of companies that have worked with your firm you know, Amazon, Coca-Cola, Disney FritoLay, Google to name a few.
[00:05:30] And I was wondering, Alexandra, if you might take us behind the curtain, obviously anything on an NDA you can’t share, you can’t share, but were there any meetings or boardrooms that you sat in? To support a team of, you know, marketing people and engineers in a room from some big company where you just kind of slap your forehead.
[00:05:49] Like, oh, you gotta be kidding me. Like this is, it’s, this is bad. This is really bad. Any names gone wrong in real life stories you can tell us about. Okay,
[00:05:57] Alexandra Watkins: this isn’t a name’s gone wrong story, but I was at a meeting at Intel one time up in Beaverton, Oregon, and there was an engineer that was getting super hung up on some copy I had written.
[00:06:07] This is back in advertising Bill, we had the word via in some body copy. and the guy was getting hung up that via was Latin. Like people know what the word via means. Right. So yeah. That, that’ll never forget, um, .
[00:06:22] Zach White: But, and, and I assume hung up means like this was a big deal to that person.
[00:06:26] Alexandra Watkins: Yeah. Yeah. He just couldn’t have that word.
[00:06:28] And uh, I remember this joke from that meeting, and this is kind of some older engineers will get this, which was, do you remember the PCMs CIA slot and computers? It was a slot where you put a card. Do you know this joke? What does PCM C I A stand for? And it was, people can’t memorize computer industry acronyms, , but like that, that is so telling of brand names too.
[00:06:54] Like engineers love acronyms. A lot of people love acronyms. But
[00:06:59] Zach White: the P C M CIA A slot , oh, I, I had that urge, Alexandra to pretend like, I really know what you’re about to say, but I hadn’t heard that , but I felt that engineering ego come up of like, oh yeah, yeah, I remember that slot. Yeah. I was the one on the left side.
[00:07:16] Alexandra Watkins: No. Oh my goodness. Engineers. A lot of times what happens with engineers is they come up with a code. Right when they’re developing the product and then they get so used to using the code name, they want that to be the product name. And sometimes the name has meaning to the engineers, but it won’t mean anything to the audience that they’re trying to reach.
[00:07:37] Yeah. Or they fall in love with the name. This happened with th hx, you know, T x, the um, sound company. Yes. They were in love with this name, Blackbird, and then it, it wasn’t available trademark wise, but like the engineers couldn’t let go of it because they had been using it internally. Okay, so don’t fall.
[00:07:58] Don’t fall in love with a name. until you have your trademark research done. ,
[00:08:03] Zach White: we, we had, you’ll appreciate this, an entire suite of electronics products in my past life as an engineer, where all of the individual project names were Star Wars characters, you know, Yoda and Skywalker and all of this.
[00:08:19] I think it was just random and internal, but to your point, it became so. Known in the engineering community that when you called it by the actual name, nobody knew what you were talking about. It’s like, oh, is that Yoda? Or Skywalker? So . That’s really funny. Yeah, that happens. So tell us how to do it right, Alexandra, if somebody wants to start a business, they want to launch a new product, they’re an entrepreneur themselves or aspire to be and they want to get the foundations right.
[00:08:46] What’s the secret to a brand name that’s going to work in the marketplace and.
[00:08:52] Alexandra Watkins: The secret is when you’re starting out with a blank slate, don’t give yourself any disadvantages. . your name is really easy to spell, but people probably spell Zach instead of the correct way.
[00:09:03] Like Zachary, Z a c H. They probably spell it Z a C K, right? Often. Yes. So, right. So often. so think of the frustration you have with your own personal name. Most people have a name that. People butcher one way or another, even if it’s seems like a relatively easy word. Oftentimes names have two different ways that they can be spelled or people can’t pronounce ’em.
[00:09:25] Think about the pain that your own name causes you, and then when you’re coming up with a brand name, just remember that and you don’t wanna give yourself any of those disadvantages. So there’s five qualities that I tell people to, seek in a brand name, and then there’s seven. attributes that you don’t want.
[00:09:44] I have a test it’s called the Smile and Scratch Test. And that comes from my philosophy. That is a name should make you smile instead of scratch your head. And it doesn’t need to make you laugh, it just needs to make people get it because people wanna feel smart. So for instance, we named a G P S for dogs retrieve.
[00:10:07] And I can like, it’s like, ok, I’m the media at you. Yeah. And I can see the smile and I know everyone listening. Like it takes a second or two and then you’re like, oh, I get it. And you smile. People like to feel smart. , right? You know, your audience is obviously, their engineers are very well educated.
[00:10:25] People want to feel smart. Nobody wants to feel like they’re not in on the joke or they don’t get it. So that’s what I mean by smile. So SMILE is, smile is an acronym for the five quality years that make a name great. It’s suggestive. Your name should suggest something about what your brand is or.
[00:10:44] Something positive so people aren’t left clueless, right? People wanna feel clued in not clueless. So a name like Amazon, Amazon is suggestive of something very large. The Amazon River, and that’s what Jeff Bezos was going for when he named it. So that’s suggested. The M and SMILE sounds for memorable.
[00:11:05] Everyone always says, I want a name that’s memorable. But what makes a name memorable, and this is really important for engineers because a lot of times what happens especially with technology companies, is they go for the these.com sounding names that are like, you know, it looks like someone got drunk and played Scrabble.
[00:11:26] Zach White: Yes. So
[00:11:28] Alexandra Watkins: people wanna name. Is memorable, but a name, the, you know, like X O B N I. Like what is that? How do you pronounce it? How do you say it? What’s not memorable at all? by the way, that is inbox spelled backwards and it is pronounced zaney.
[00:11:42] Zach White: Wait, what? What, say that example again. This is a real
[00:11:45] Alexandra Watkins: thing. X Oh yeah. X O B nm, I, it’s inbox spelled backwards. Okay. It was, it was originally, Zony
[00:11:56] Zach White: Zo Zony.
[00:11:57] Alexandra Watkins: But then Bill Gates said it out loud and he said, Zony. So they changed the prompt. They how he said it. Okay.
[00:12:04] Zach White: Know how he said it? Yeah. I think that belongs in your tests. It’s if, if a famous person can say it wrong and you change it, then you definitely have have the.
[00:12:16] Brandon. Okay. Yeah. Just
[00:12:17] Alexandra Watkins: do whatever they say. Yes. That’s funny. Pretty. So yeah, that was Zoie. So that was an example of a name that was clever. And here’s something for you to remember. Just because it’s clever doesn’t make ma make it a good name. So just because it’s creative, like it’s creative to spell a name backwards, like inbox backwards.
[00:12:35] Zoie. But does that make it a good name? No. So, okay. Better mind. Yeah. So what makes something memorable is if it already has an association with something in our existing knowledge base. so, here’s an example. Uh, the bike lock company named Kryptonite Locks. We all know Kryptonite from Superman, right?
[00:12:54] Kryptonite repels Superman, so they’re using it metaphorically. Kryptonite will repel bike. So it’s in the knowledge base. We get it, we hear it, versus some name. There’s a similar you lock shape, bike lock, and it’s called, it’s spelled a B U S. Abbu a bus. I don’t know. It’s not memorable. Unless you think if someone steals my bike, I’m going to have to take, have
[00:13:19] Zach White: to take a bus.
[00:13:20] Yeah. But if you hadn’t, if you hadn’t primed me with that, I never would’ve. Yeah.
[00:13:24] Alexandra Watkins: Yeah. I have to make up pneumonics sometimes to remember things. Yeah. So that’s memorable. So you want your name to be based on the familiar, and then the eye and Smile stands for. People remember pictures much more easily than they remember words or letters.
[00:13:41] Hmm. . So imagine hearing a name like the Happy Engineer podcast, like that’s easy to remember. You know, I think of a smiley face, happy, all of your audience can remember being happy, in their lives at some point, at some point in their day. Hopefully every day at work, every hour at work is happy hour for them.
[00:14:00] You want to have something where people can grab onto the picture, so when they, when they’re trying to recall it later, like what was it like with the bike lock, right? Like you might not need a bike lock right away, but when you’re trying to recall the name later from your brain’s dusty filing cabinet.
[00:14:17] and you’re, you know, how you’re kind of closing your eyes cuz you’re like searching your database your database in your head. Yes, yes. Then it’s gonna boom there it’s right. So that’s why a name that lends itself to visual imagery is really good.
[00:14:29] Zach White: know, let me stop you there for a second.
[00:14:31] Cause what’s interesting too, the connection to coaching. You know, I coach engineering leaders and oftentimes I’ll challenge people and encourage people, you know, go find an image related to that core value or that idea or that thing that just came up in our coaching session to make a visual link to it is it’s so much more powerful to them.
[00:14:53] I’m curious why there’s such an obsession with brand names then to come up with. New words or obscure different things that have no, know, picture whatsoever. Is it, and obviously it’s not a, it doesn’t fit your recommendation here, but is it because people think. Like I need to go create some new association or like what?
[00:15:16] What’s that
[00:15:16] Alexandra Watkins: all about? No, no. That you asked really good questions. That is one thing only, and it is the obsession with finding an available.com domain name, .
[00:15:27] Zach White: Okay. All right. We can circle back to that. Okay. I
[00:15:30] Alexandra Watkins: get that. Yeah. Get that can circle back and talk about domain names, and we definitely should, but I think that’s what drives all of these crazy ridiculous names
[00:15:38] you know, if you go to our homepage, eat my words.com, that’s where it says your name shouldn’t look like someone got drunk and played Scrabble, because that’s what so many of those names look like. Yeah.
[00:15:48] Zach White: Yeah. Okay. All right. So imagery, what’s next? Legs.
[00:15:53] Alexandra Watkins: So the L and SMILE stands for legs and legs means that your name lends itself to wordplay or just to a theme, because that lends lets you extend the brand.
[00:16:03] So for. at Eat My Words. our blog is called The Kitchen Sink. We have packages like supermarket special, and our icon is a pink refrigerator. I have a 1950s pink uh, refrigerator.
[00:16:19] Zach White: Okay, so for those just listening, you gotta go check out the YouTube version to see Alexandra’s Amazing. This side. Oh, it’s a library in there.
[00:16:28] Oh, it’s so
[00:16:29] Alexandra Watkins: cool. where I keep my cool books. this. You’re laughing. You’re smiling. I love it. I
[00:16:35] Zach White: love it. I’m smiling for sure. Cool. Books in the pink
[00:16:38] Alexandra Watkins: refrigerator expected too. Like who expects to find books inside a refrigerator?
[00:16:44] Zach White: Brilliant. Okay. Most
[00:16:45] Alexandra Watkins: people think, when I ask people what did they think will be inside there, most people say, , which is interesting because I have a ator in my office, so why they say beer?
[00:16:54] I don’t know. so think about your name like this. can your name lend itself to a theme song so it eat My Words or a theme song is Sugar. Sugar by the Arches. Uh, we named a, a woman’s. PR business, fire Talker, pr, and her theme song is Fire by the Ohio Players.
[00:17:11] And when you have a theme song, then you know, if you’re doing a presentation, going on stage, you can play the theme song. just, it’s just fun. People like to have fun. I know engineers like to have fun it’s up and dry. Or, uh, crazy sense of humor. you know, look, just because we’re at work doesn’t mean that we’re boring people because we’re at work, like we’re still the same people.
[00:17:34] Zach White: This is something I’m curious about with product categories. So, you know, let’s say I’m a software engineer and I want to go start my own business. I’ve got a product in mind. It’s a piece of software that’s going to, help Zack schedule his podcasts easier or whatever would.
[00:17:52] Encourage people to think about legs a, in a very broad sense that, you know, you can write software that does a whole lot of things or where’s the limit to the scope? You know, if, if everybody tries to come up with a brand that can go, you know, huge versus Hey, we need a reasonable amount of association that now, you know, doesn’t make sense for your software company to.
[00:18:14] Dog collars, you know, like it’s just too far out of the, so what, where’s the boundary of it needs legs. But don’t be silly. You’re not trying to encompass the whole world.
[00:18:23] Alexandra Watkins: don’t get so hung up on legs that it stops you? I would say with your, you’re naming a company.
[00:18:30] you wanna it to be a wide enough umbrella name that any software that you develop will fit underneath it. but legs can be as simple as remember, I don’t know if they still do it when, Android was naming their operating systems after like snack food, What were they like Jelly donut or,
[00:18:47] Zach White: I’m, I’m an Apple user and so I’m trying to think what the word yet I am too.
[00:18:50] That’s what what you’re
[00:18:51] Alexandra Watkins: talking about. Yeah. I am too. So that’s why I don’t know any good apple. Okay, apple. So they’re operating systems for the longest time were big cats, right? So yeah. Leopard, Jaguar, leopards. No leopard. Then they ran out of cats. So then they went to California, like places in California.
[00:19:07] which was a good idea in theory, and some of ’em work really well, like Sierra, but then other ones like Mavericks. So Mavericks is a famous surf spot, big wave surf spot in Northern California. But Maverick’s, plural is not a common word. . So people like they should have just like Maverick would’ve been a better name, but that’s not a place in California.
[00:19:31] And also Yosemite, it’s hard for people to pronounce unless you’ve been here. Yeah. You know, Yosemite, Sam, you studied John Muer. I, you know, people might think it’s Yosemite. So exactly what I was saying, there’s a thousand. Thousand places in California that they could name something after.
[00:19:49] and then when we go through scratch, uh, you know, here’s what not to do. Those are all things
[00:19:54] Zach White: to consider. Okay. All right. So that makes sense. Don’t get too hung up on legs. So the engineer in me is hearing you like, don’t overthink this. And then, what’s the E and
[00:20:03] Alexandra Watkins: smile? The E is emotional. Your name has to make an emotional connection.
[00:20:07] Otherwise it’s just gonna go right over people’s. ,
[00:20:11] Zach White: is there a good test for that when you’re considering names? So if I had five options and I wanted to know which one creates the most emotional connection, how would you assess that?
[00:20:21] Alexandra Watkins: You know, just like right now, how we’re looking at each other on a video.
[00:20:26] You look at somebody’s face when you say the name and see how they react to it. Um, some names just contain a lot more. , we just named, we were working on naming a, business, a big business networking mastermind, all kinds of things. And it was called Business Growth Advantage, which is pretty descriptive.
[00:20:50] Little dry, you know, pedestrian. And they needed a much more high impact name. And so we rebranded them. Sky Break. and Sky Breaker. It’s about breaking through. It’s like, you know, the thunder and like, uh, reaching for the sky. Yes. Yeah, that’s good. Sky breaker. And it, you know, rhymes with tiebreaker and it’s like easy to spell and pronounce it, got all that going for it.
[00:21:14] Like it’s just, it shows you that’s the difference. Right. So one is, one, it’s like, how does it make you feel? That’s, that’s a really good question to. you don’t ask everybody, you know, run it through the smile and scratch us and you’ll, you’ll know if something is emotionally charged. I love that you’ll know.
[00:21:34] And also ask yourself, would I put it, would I wanna wear it on a t-shirt? Now I know engineers live in T-shirts. Okay. . I’ve dated
[00:21:43] Zach White: engineers. There’s a whole submarket of t-shirts just for, oh my gosh. I know.
[00:21:46] Alexandra Watkins: Absolutely. I know. No, I know. I dated an engineer from Workday for a long time, and he had. T-shirts, like over a decade old that he was so proud of and Yeah.
[00:21:57] No, I know. T-shirts are like product. When you release a product, there’s a t-shirt, right? there’s t-shirts for every occasion. So yeah. Would I wear it on a T-shirt and would my friend wear it? Who’s not an engineer wear, yeah. Who wear t-shirts? Would they wanna wear it on a t-shirt?
[00:22:12] That’s a really good task.
[00:22:14] Zach White: I love that. I love that. Okay, so we have some guidance. We know where to. Filtering what to do and we don’t wanna scratch our heads. So the seven things not to do, just lay ’em out quickly. I know. Okay. And I’ll just encourage everybody listening, like get a copy of the book. It is, hello, my name is awesome.
[00:22:32] We weren’t joking at the beginning. That’s actually the title of the book, And, and get it and read it cuz it’s really, really simple and powerful to go through. But what is.
[00:22:41] Alexandra Watkins: Scratch the s answer spelling challenge. Your name shouldn’t look like a typo, right? You don’t want bounce back Emails don’t frustrate your customers.
[00:22:50] The first hand scratch is copycat. Nobody likes a copycat. Can we just all agree on that? Why be somebody else when you can be yourself? Don’t open yourself up to trademark infringement. Don’t cause confusion. Just be your own beast. the R in scratch stands for restrictive and that’s. You lock yourself into a name that is so restrictive that as you introduce products down the road, you’re, you’re kind of trapped in that box, so you wanna name that you’re not going to outgrow. So as you’re developing your company, look into your crystal ball and try to imagine what you might introduce. I mean, we don’t know what’s gonna be next, but don’t limit yourself so much that it will be problematic.
[00:23:33] Zach White: Okay, so that’s the r Let me on that one really quick. Alexandria, this is an example that comes up a lot with engineers who want to go start their own business. The temptation to, go really specific around the one thing they do or, and we talked about this before, we recorded today, briefly. Maybe now’s a good time to use their name, you know, Zack White Engineering and Associates or whatever.
[00:23:57] how would you coach people around? The use of a name in relationship to restrictive or putting the actual product or service in the title, you know, Zack White Road Paving Engineering, you know, like where you actually SP or you know, so-and-so’s plumbing where you talk about it. What’s your thought around that?
[00:24:17] Alexandra Watkins: I would advise people, don’t you use your own personal name. think down the road. If you ever wanna sell your company and your name is in the company name, it’s gonna be harder to sell your company, right? Yeah. Also, you look smaller. If it’s just your name, you can appear much bigger if you brand your company with a name and then you have the opportunity then with legs and suggestive your, your own personal name doesn’t suggest anything about your.
[00:24:42] right. It’s probably not super memorable. All the things, imagery, all the stuff that we just went through doesn’t make a strong emotional connection unless people already know you. But when you’re trying to attract new clients and people don’t know you yet have a brand name, so that’s a reason not to use your own name.
[00:25:00] Zach White: Makes sense. All right, so I interrupted you. You were talking about restrictive. Uh, that’s okay.
[00:25:06] Alexandra Watkins: a is annoying. So annoying are some of the, the drunk Scrabble names, names that are really cute or have numbers in them, or just anything that frustrates people. Names that are ambiguous, right?
[00:25:21] Nothing about your business should be ambiguous. I like that. And then the tea in scratch stands for tame. You can’t afford to be tame and boring and flat and descriptive. Kind of like business Growth Advantage. That was pretty tame, but Sky Break that’s very impactful. High impact, um, stands out.
[00:25:41] Then the second C in scratch, and this is what engineers can be very guilty of, it’s called the Curse of Knowledge. and the Chris .
[00:25:53] Zach White: Okay. You’re absolutely right that engineers could be bad at
[00:25:56] Alexandra Watkins: this. Let’s talk about the space that you’re making cuz not everyone can see your face, so let’s talk about
[00:26:01] Zach White: that.
[00:26:01] Yeah, no, I think the temptation to use insider language that only your one perfect avatar can understand. Really challenging for most engineers. Yeah. When they wanna go be that technical co-founder and they’re naming their company, they want to use insider language almost to create our cool club of people who understand.
[00:26:25] And I, in my mind, when I hear my clients who wanna start companies and they give name ideas, you know, now I’m gonna be able to coach them better on this. But it’s. Yeah, you, you’re trying to help your client feel special that this is just for them, and I get it, but you’ve also completely alienated everybody who doesn’t understand, and this is probably a life lesson for engineers.
[00:26:47] We, we loved our insider acronyms and lingo, but yeah. Guilty. Guilty, .
[00:26:55] Alexandra Watkins: Well, I’m glad you get it because Yeah, it, it, engineers are guilty of that. think outside of of your knowledge and yeah. A lot of times engineers will wanna name something after some obscure character in a science fiction novel or.
[00:27:11] Zach White: Yeah. , I’m thinking of Doom or some of these other like Yeah, sci-fi fa famous sci-fi. Yeah, totally.
[00:27:18] Alexandra Watkins: Okay, I’m gonna give everybody a fun place to go just to poke around. It’s called fantasy name generators, plural Generators. Okay. And there’s over a hundred name generation engines, and there’s things from, you know, Mutant worm names and all kinds of like things from Harry Potter and place names, just all kinds of weird fantasy places. But this woman put it together and every once in a while I’ll go there to come up with ideas, but it’s just a fun place to
[00:27:51] Zach White: poke around. That’s cool. Fantasy name generator. Okay, we’ll put the, yeah.
[00:27:55] Generator. Show us. And if somebody needs. Break out of their box brainstorming session
[00:28:00] Alexandra Watkins: or, or a good code name like that would be a great place to come up with a code name for the product. You know, when you guys want something cool to use internally, great. But when you’re introducing it to the public, you know, not so much consider.
[00:28:12] Okay. Yeah. Yeah. So that’s the second in scratch. And then finally, the H stands for hard to pronounce. you want your name to be easy and intuitive for everybody to
[00:28:22] Zach White: pronounce. My one that pops in for this is Hogan Da. like, yeah, when you see that written out, if you haven’t heard it before, . It’s like, uh, no idea.
[00:28:33] No idea what to see. I’m
[00:28:35] Alexandra Watkins: so glad you said that cause that’s one I get challenged on a lot where people are like, what about hawing dots? You know, where I’m chalking out something that’s hard to spell. Maybe it’s, yeah. Haw dos. It’s
[00:28:44] Zach White: got, it’s got dots above the a like, i I don’t even know what those, what
[00:28:48] Alexandra Watkins: the dots are.
[00:28:48] Those are called M lots. Yeah. Don’t, never use an MLO or any of those diacritical marks. They’re so annoying to type, How do you have an umla, no idea. Or even like the little accent mark. Those are hard, Like we don’t know what keystrokes those are.
[00:29:02] make it easy for people. Make sure that it’s intuitive to pronounce and don’t think that you know how to pronounce it. So everybody else will. cuz they will not necessarily know how. there’s this, story, I don’t know who came up with this name, but it was, I’m pretty sure it’s a software, it’s some kind of tech company and it’s spelled N E K T A R.
[00:29:21] It was supposed to be nectar, nectar, like nectar, you know, but everybody ended up pronouncing it nectar. But they thought it would be pronounced Nectar. Nectar, but it was pronounced nec. Everybody pronounced it nectar. just like Bill Gates, Zaney, or Z? Yeah, . .
[00:29:40] Zach White: There’s an old movie that my, sister used to love, and I forget the title right now, but there’s a band in it that’s wants to be called The Wonders, and they spelled it like, O n e, the number ones.
[00:29:53] And they, they’re in the movie, they talk about the O netters. Everybody’s calling them the O netters and they’re like, no, we’re the wonders. They’re like, ah, the O Netters . So, alright, well, before we move Alexandria, I want you to tell me, honestly, so you, you gave the Happy Engineer podcast a little bit of praise earlier, but let’s, if we take the scratch.
[00:30:11] just being critical of places where it doesn’t do as well. In terms of that acronym, I’m wondering what would you say is the downfall of the happy engineer if you were gonna pick None. None really. Yeah. No it doesn’t. And just being
[00:30:24] Alexandra Watkins: nice to me. No, it doesn’t have any Scratch. No, that’s a great name.
[00:30:28] It’s a really
[00:30:29] Zach White: good name. this is a very, I. Lucky and justified in my decision making cuz I didn’t know you when I named it. So No, Zack, I’m
[00:30:37] Alexandra Watkins: on a lot of podcasts and it’s hard to remember all the names and the happy engineer was super, super easy to remember and I was excited to be on your show cuz it sounded like fun.
[00:30:48] Zach White: Well, I hope you’re having a good time. I’m having a
[00:30:50] Alexandra Watkins: great time. I’m having a great time. No, it is a fantastic
[00:30:53] Zach White: name. We mentioned domains and wanted to circle back to that, and I know this was a challenging sticking point for me, and I’ve got clients who wanna start their own business, who get stuck on this as well.
[00:31:07] Wh what’s the kind of thinking around the hierarchy of importance of the domain? In choosing the brand name and, and then what would you recommend quickly around how to,
[00:31:18] Alexandra Watkins: okay. Can I just say again? You asked really good questions. No one ever has ever asked me the hierarchy of importance cause that is important.
[00:31:25] So the most important thing, go back to smile and scratch, is that it passes all that right? People can pronounce it, spell it, everything like that. dot com. A lot of engineers. Now we’re, we’re naming two tech companies right now, and both of them are fine going with the AI domain, but both of their products and companies are very focused on AI and their audience is okay with ai.
[00:31:50] if it was for just a basic consumer audience, I would not advise AI or io by the way, here’s a quiz for you.
[00:31:58] So what country is io or like what does IO stand for? Oh,
[00:32:04] Zach White: great question. I don’t know. I mean, I’m thinking of like dot n l as the Netherlands and dot, you know, there’s these different, but I don’t know which one is io.
[00:32:13] Alexandra Watkins: This would be a good quiz for your people. Uh, Indian Ocean. T. Serious. Okay. Yeah.
[00:32:19] Okay. What about ly
[00:32:21] Zach White: l y? I’ve got, I got nothing. Libya. Libya. Okay. At Vent,
[00:32:29] Alexandra Watkins: by the way. Fun fact. Fun fact at Violi have,
[00:32:32] Zach White: do people choose LY domains? Because it’s like Lee, like, like, like bit Bitly bit,
[00:32:38] Alexandra Watkins: whatever, just to, yeah, that’s where Bitly is, where the Wholely thing started and yeah, there’s all the do ly name, so the worst dot y name.
[00:32:46] Dot well, so not even a ly, they just chose an LY name cuz the ly became popular. Grammarly. is there grammatically incorrect means? Yeah. . . Wait, wait.
[00:32:59] Zach White: That’s, that’s, that is true. I’ve never like, . I, I don’t spend a lot of time in that world, but yeah. Grammarly, it’s not even, it’s not an accurate word, but I’m gonna trust them to help me with my grammar.
[00:33:10] Okay. This, this makes sense. all right, so, so name passing the tests first. Yes. Dot com is king. Maybe especially for an engineering audience. If you’re gonna go into the AI space, you might build a get away with that. Yeah. Ai.
[00:33:24] Alexandra Watkins: Here’s a trick to watch out for with ao. Cause a lot of engineers like io. I was at, uh, TechCrunch one time and I saw this company and it was a c a r d, like card.io.
[00:33:38] And I asked myself, is that pronounced card cardio or card.io?
[00:33:47] Zach White: Oh, yeah. Interesting,
[00:33:49] Alexandra Watkins: interesting. So that comes back to pronunciation. So just don’t think like, oh, everyone knows how to pronounce it. Cause if you think about it, cardio. would be interesting spelled with the.io, but it looked like card io. and if you have the DO io people do stumble upon those things.
[00:34:07] Everybody remembers Delicious, the bookmarking website. Remember how it had the dots in it? Well, well, no one was paying attention a number of years ago. , they got rid of the dots and they just POed up and bought the.com because, and they announced us very quietly in a blog post that no one knew where the dots went and it confused everybody so they doesn’t work.
[00:34:28] Just got rid of the dots. It doesn’t work.
[00:34:30] Zach White: Okay, so I come up with my brilliant name, and actually in mine is an interesting example. I really wanted the happy engineer.com. Not available. So I’d have the happy engineer podcast.com. But, um, what do you do if the name you want.com is taken? Which in ni, I mean, a lot of cases that’s the case.
[00:34:49] Most of the core, you know, two words are less dot coms are, are purchased at this point. So what do you do?
[00:34:56] Alexandra Watkins: Good question. You did exactly the right thing. You put podcast in your name, so add that extra modifier word. It actually will help you with, search engine optimization, because if someone is looking for an engineering podcast, for instance, and then.
[00:35:10] You have podcasts in your domain name that’s going to help you come up in results, but you can add a, hello, get, you know, bye. You know, we are, there’s a lot of, and I list a lot in my book of suffixes and prefix words that you can add. There’s a great website called, name studio.com, and there’s a brainstorming tool on there that will help you come up with, if you, what you want isn’t available.
[00:35:36] acts like a daars and it will give you other ideas. And I’ve used it and come up with brand new business name ideas, not just the domain name. I’ve been like, oh, okay. This is an even better name. yeah. Name, studio.com.
[00:35:48] Zach White: Cool. Alexandra, if I zoom back out from this whole. , you know, deep dive on naming, which is super powerful.
[00:35:57] By the way. I love the simplicity. Of course. You know, no surprise coming from the queen of naming that it would all be so, you know, makes me smile. Every single one of your, even down your pink refrigerator, . But sometimes the skeptic in me, the engineer in me, the analytical thinker has a sense of, It’s not that important.
[00:36:19] You know, if I’m starting my business and I’m picking a name, you’ll hear a lot of people say, you know, don’t spend money on branding and marketing and business cards and all that stuff, like focus on the product. You know, engineers are product people. you know, I think a lot of my peers fall into that kind of trap thinking this is not that important to the success of the business.
[00:36:39] If the product is great and the service is. , whatever. You can succeed with Hogan Doss. You know, it just like, it doesn’t work. So tell us anecdotally, or if you have, you know, data to support it even better, but just like what’s the real value of getting this right?
[00:36:54] Alexandra Watkins: That you will stand out from everybody else and your name does matter.
[00:37:00] I mean, think about your name like this. No other investment you make in your business will last longer or get used more than your. Think of the name Microsoft. How many times have people said the word Microsoft over the life of that brand?
[00:37:13] Zach White: Oh my goodness, right? Can’t even imagine. Think of
[00:37:16] Alexandra Watkins: your own personal name.
[00:37:17] How many times has somebody said your name? So you will cycle through many iPhones, right? You will. Your most loyal employee will eventually leave you. things don’t last, but your name will last forever. So it’s really worth making the investment.
[00:37:34] Zach White: I like that. Thinking of any decision, cuz the product will change too.
[00:37:39] I mean, at some level maybe you’re still in software, but it won’t be the same software through the whole business. the name is the only piece that endures even beyond you as a founder. You mentioned selling your company. Yeah. Mm-hmm. , that’s that piece that goes with it. that’s a great reminder. This is the found.
[00:37:57] That’s awesome. Alexandra, where can people get connected to your work? The resources. I know anybody who’s, either they have the opportunity to name something internally or they wanna start their own business. They like, this is a must get resource. So how can people find you and your work?
[00:38:11] Alexandra Watkins: our website is Eat My words.com.
[00:38:14] If you want to test your name through the Smile and Scratch test, right on the homepage you’ll see test a. Can walk through the chest as you answer the questions in the smile and scratch chest, it will high five you if you are doing something right. If you could be doing it better, it will let you know that in a humorous way you’ll never get your wrist slap.
[00:38:34] there’s a free, mini master mastermind course there, of my main course, which is called How to Create Super Sticky Brand. you can connect with me on LinkedIn, Alexandra Watkins, go on Amazon, get the book.
[00:38:47] there’s a great chapter in there that, let’s say you’re in corporate, let’s say you work at, Whirlpool, you’re engineering oven doors, right? Like maybe. , you’re never gonna get to name something, but you still like to have fun at work. There’s a chapter in my book called Corporate Creativity, and it’s a total blast.
[00:39:05] It’s all about how people are having fun in the workplace with names from titles. like at Yahoo, their security, security team is called the Paranoid So it has job titles, it has conference room names, it has ideas for conference room names, Who wants to meet in conference room A or a conference room named after a golf course, which so many are, or cities.
[00:39:27] Paris is the most popular name for a conference room, by the way, but like, why not do tongue twisters as conference room names, right? Like you can have a lot of fun or named, I like that. Conference rooms after childhood toys. Like anything that’s a conversation started that helps bring people together.
[00:39:42] People have fun. there’s names of Toastmaster clubs and you know, softball team names. So there’s a lot of fun in there just for entertainment value or just if you’re looking to inspire your workplace or have a little more fun, that’s an easy way to do it.
[00:39:57] Zach White: Mm-hmm. and Alexandra, I’ll just acknowledge too is I think back to my engineering days, which it’s funny you say Whirlpool door engineer, cuz that is exactly one of the jobs that I had, the.
[00:40:09] The principles of Smile and Scratch apply in a broader sense to any message that you want to convey in life. it’s really important for this choice of a great brand name, but I just encourage, you know, any engineer to go read the book as a way to put a lens on how you communicate and present any of those important ideas.
[00:40:32] You know, you want a certain feature to be added to the product you want. There’s principles here that are really timeless and important in how someone responds to what you’re saying. That I would encourage everybody, it’s worth reading regardless of if you see naming in your immediate future or not.
[00:40:48] And the other thing that popped into my head is you were talking about conference rooms. Just a funny story, Alexandra, uh, I’ll pick on my old organization a little bit. They built this amazing facility still here in the town where I live in Michigan, a brand new building, and they unveil it. The conference room names had already been preset and it’s, you know, it’s in the system so when you go to book rooms, you can go into that building and see all the available conference rooms.
[00:41:13] I started looking through all the names and really confused as to. What these were, and a couple of them I finally recognized, okay, they’re, they are city names. So I recognized a few of the city names, and then someone came along and said, oh, it’s a three floor building. The conference rooms on the top floor are Canada cities, the middle floors.
[00:41:35] US cities and the bottom floor are Mexico cities. So it’s like the, the map from north to south. And then there was something about like the wings and how I was like, okay, first of all, I’m an engineer. I mean, geography’s not my strongest point. Half of these cities in Mexico I’ve never heard of.
[00:41:52] And this is, you know, it was just a really funny moment where, That’s
[00:41:58] Alexandra Watkins: so funny cuz I’m thinking of Oaxaca, which is like, it, it’s spelled Fanatically would be good cause it’s with a W. But yeah, Oaxaca, O X A C A I think is how it’s spelled. Right, right. But that would be really difficult for
[00:42:11] Zach White: people. Yeah.
[00:42:13] Anyway, I, I failed that particular test. So funny. Well, Alexandra, just to wrap things up, I would love to hear your perspective. We talk a lot about how engineering and coaching and great branding has in common. Like the questions we ask lead the answers follow. And for anybody who’s gonna go out there on their own, start a business name something important, we wanna get a great answer.
[00:42:36] So if there was one question that you would lead us with today, what would.
[00:42:40] Alexandra Watkins: Ask yourself, does this name make people smile or scratch their head?
[00:42:45] Zach White: Does it make them smile or scratch? Amazing. Alexandra, thank you so much for being here today, just acknowledging your work and the impact it’s having for, for companies and bottom lines and the joy of the consumers who smile every time they see those names.
[00:43:00] It is amazing, and thanks for your generosity to share with
[00:43:03] Alexandra Watkins: us today. My pleasure, Zach. Anytime.