Naming In The News

Businesses use catchy names to gain competitive edge

By Mike Tumolillo,
Tribune Reporter
June 19, 2006

When Jeffrey Rodriguez pondered what to call his two-year-old company doing handiwork in Taos and Albuquerque, he wanted a name that explained his business in a breath.

He wanted a name evoking two cultures.

He wanted the name to last.

"'Los Handy Dudes' kind of gives me that little kick, that little head start into the upcoming generations," Rodriguez says. "We want to be alive 20 years from now. The 'Dudes' gives us that link."

Rodriguez's hunt for "Los Handy Dudes" was a slow troll through memory and hope, where snippets of relevant sound crouched amid personal experience like cherries atop milkshakes. A pluck here, a pluck there and the sweet success of a money-making moniker was born.

For other Albuquerque entrepreneurs, flashes of inspiration effortlessly wove the lingual identity of their dreams.

Whatever the method, the results burst with significance.

"If you name poorly, it's like doing anything poorly - it harms you," says William Lozito, president and co-founder of Strategic Name Development, a brand name consultancy out of Minneapolis that specializes in product and company naming. "Because we're such a developed society - people are really naming this, naming that - the challenge is coming up with a name that fits, and is sustainable, long term and differentiating."

In the Duke City, there's no lack of differentiating denominations. Consider martial arts and simians.

Ninja Monkey

"The first thing that came up was 'Robot Pirate Ninja Monkey,' but that was way too long," says Woody Grover, co-owner of Ninja Monkey, a computer gaming center in Albuquerque. "Personally, in the pirate-versus-ninja wars, I'm a ninja guy."

The name arose in January at a concert Grover attended with his girlfriend.

"We were in between acts, and we said, 'OK, what do you think we should call this place?' " he says. "We wanted something the kids could identify with, but... all these gaming centers are called Extreme Gaming and have all these X's and Z's in them, and we didn't want something like that.

"'Ninja Monkey' just kind of came out of her mouth. Everyone likes monkeys, and if it's a ninja monkey, then it's cool and kind of dangerous."

Grover says the name has won much approval from customers.

"Every comment has been positive," he says. "Most people are like, 'How did you come up with that?'"

As far as being distinct - mission accomplished, he says.

"There's no place else," he says, "that's going to be called Ninja Monkey."

The expert's take: "You're juxtaposing two things that are very unrelated, but they kind of work together here for the target market," Lozito says. "It's for the audience. That's good. That's cool. I like it."

Lozito's tip: Pick a name that lasts and can still fit the company as it grows. "Is it something that's sustainable long term?" he says. "You don't want to get too cute - something that's kind of faddish."

Free Radicals

Free Radicals Store
Beanie Hill catches some relief from the heat among the racks of clothing inside Free Radicals on the corner of Lead and Yale avenues Southeast. "The name comes from a nerdy chemistry thing," says proprietor Nan Morningstar. "It's a loose electron that destabilizes systems. We think it's a fair metaphor for a little punk and goth store." (Erin Fredrichs/Tribune)

In their hunt to make themselves whole, free radicals - molecules hungry for an electron - can start a chain reaction that disrupts living cells.

"They destabilize systems; they screw things up," says John Morningstar, co-owner of Free Radicals, a shop selling counter-culture gear and clothing that opened in 2002. "It was a play on the word in that regard."

He had been fond of the term for a long time, and when the store opened, he knew what to call it.

"We didn't talk about much else in terms of other names," he says. "That had to be the name."

He hopes the name evokes an anti-corporate attitude and a service style in opposition to what might be found at a chain store.

"I'm hoping eventually there's... an almost anti-capitalistic undercurrent to it," he says. "Both using the word free and radicals, we generally think of it being leftist."

The expert's take: "I think that one's also clever for the store that it is," Lozito says. "They're just floating around your body. They might connect here. I think that's a good one, too."

Lozito's tip: Figure out what you want to accomplish with your name. "What are you trying to accomplish and why?" he says. "You want to leave your ego at the door and leave your preferences at the door. We believe it's really important to talk to the target market."

Burning Paradise

"It kind of has a double meaning," says Kurly Tlapoyawa, owner of Burning Paradise, an independent video store renting and selling hard-to-find films.

Tlapoyawa's heritage traces to a people indigenous to Mexico. The Spaniards enslaved his family and brought them to New Mexico in the late 1600s, brutalizing their lives and the Land of Enchantment, he says.

"The title always had a sense of what the Spaniards did when they came here," he says.

"Burning Paradise" is also a brooding martial arts movie from Hong Kong that holds Tlapoyawa's favorite film spot. Seeing it for the first time 15 years ago took a drive from Los Lunas to the University of New Mexico through a blinding snowstorm.

"You could see maybe three feet in front of the car, the snow flakes were so big," he says. "I got to the university and there were maybe two other people in the theater, so they let us in for free. We watched three or four movies in a row and the first one was 'Burning Paradise.'

"In the film... these guys are destroying all these Buddhist temples, destroying their books and killing all their teachers," he says. "Wow, that's exactly what the Spaniards did."

Most customers, he says, praise the store name.

"When they find the movie on the shelves, it's pretty obvious but they'll ask, 'Is that where you got the name for your store?'" he says. "I'll tell them, 'No, the movie's named after the store.'"

The expert's take: "If it's the name of a film and it's a video store, that's probably OK," Lozito says, warning that choosing a name for its personal relevance alone can alienate potential customers.

Lozito's tip: Informal research into a name is better than no research at all. "While you're developing names, bounce them off consumers," he says. "It's a way to weed out things. Plus you get some insights. You don't have to spend big bucks. You can do it informally by talking to 20 or 30 people."


Astro Zombies Store
Mike D'Elia, owner of Astro-Zombies, reorganizes the display case under the front counter of his novelty shop on Central Avenue in Nob Hill. "I wanted to slap a name on the business that stands out from 'Comic This' or 'Comic That,'" he says. (Erin Fredrichs/Tribune)

When Astro-Zombies owner Mike D'Elia first proposed the collectibles store's name seven years ago, a few people tried to dissuade him.

"Certain parents wouldn't want their children shopping in a store named after the walking dead," he jokes. "It might turn off your average customer."

But the minute he said the name - taken from the title of a 1960s science fiction film - he knew it was the one, especially given the store rented out cult films in its early days.

"We had more of an underground feel to us," he says. "That has always been one of the schlockier of the movies."

It was also inspiring that an actor in "Astro Zombies" came into the store and introduced himself, D'Elia says. Then there's D'Elia's cousin, a member of a New Jersey punk rock band that plays a song named after the film.

"It shows people we're not 'Bob's Comics,' " he says. "A lot of times it brings people in because the name is so out of the norm and people want to come in and see what we're all about."

The expert's take: "That's a classic case of inside-out naming, as opposed to outside-in," Lozito says. "The owner is naming it for what he knows and maybe less so for the marketplace."

Lozito's tip: Pick a name that will tell your customers what your business or product is about. "What I think doesn't count," he says. "What you think doesn't count. If it's a rum, what are the rum drinkers thinking? If it's a car, what do the car buyers think?"

Art is OK

On many occasions, people visiting the Art is OK gallery and frame shop will ask for Art, says the gallery's co-owner and artist O.K. Harris.

Harris' playful response - "Art's not here; I'm O.K.," he says - only generates more good-natured confusion. "Well, I'd like to talk to Art," are customer responses to the quip, Harris says.

"It loosens up a lot of the people that are really just browsing," he says.

He considered calling the business the O.K. Harris Gallery, but a gallery in New York City already claimed the name. It also failed to fully communicate his inclusive attitude toward art.

"Art is all right," he says. "It's good to have art in your life."

A friend suggested Harris get away from using the word reflecting Harris' name and his feelings about art. But "Art is . . ." didn't sit well. Harris wanted to keep it simple, friendly and open to people who might typically turn away from buying fine art.

"I wanted it as eclectic as I could get it," he says.

The expert's take: "That's another naming from the inside-out," Lozito says. "In terms of developing a name, you always want to hold your feet to the fire."

Lozito's tip: Infrequently used letters, such as Q, lend distinction to a name.

Los Handy Dudes

Los Handy Dudes
Reynaldo Rodriguez, an employee of Los Handy Dudes, measures the hole he cut for a window in an apartment building that the Dudes are remodeling on Tennessee Street Northeast in Albuquerque. "We wanted a name that all generations could relate to," says Jeffrey Rodriguez, co-owner of the business. "Some people call us just because they like the name, so it works."

One of the oddest responses Los Handy Dudes' Rodriguez got to his company's name came from a woman who had just seen an Albuquerque concert of Los Lonely Boys, a Latino rock band from Texas.

"This one lady . . . called us because the name reminded her of that," he says. "She wanted some type of cultural building."

Rodriguez, who speaks Spanish and English, says the company's name makes sense in a time when more and more people in New Mexico draw from the cultures of Mexico, Spain and the United States.

"Trying to grasp the center of it, of where people are these days...that's what we're after," he says. "We wanted to get across to everybody in all those dimensions."

The expert's take: "It's Hispanic, then you have the 'Dudes,' which is kind of colloquial or slang," Lozito says. "Los Handy Dudes in New Mexico makes sense. That's clever."

Lozito's tip: Beware of software programs promising to help with naming. "You get a lot of nonsense," he says. "There's a lot of science (to naming), but there's an equal amount of art."