Developer’s Guide to Marketing an App — How to Name an Application

by Stacey Mulcahy


The Name Says it All

Ugh. Yep, that’s the exact feeling you have when you are sitting around, staring at a blank computer screen trying to name your new little bundle of application joy. Suddenly you become lazy, and your code name becomes the real name before you know it and “Burrito” sounds like a great damn name for a home calendaring application geared to make every Mom’s life easier.

Naming your application can be one of the hardest things to do and uninspired names are pretty hard to hide. So much is dependent on a name, if it does not inherently suggest what the application or game is about, it has to be intriguing enough that the lack of association won’t matter. For example – Shazam.

At first glance, it is nearly impossible to know by the name that the application identifies songs through audio sampling. Chances are when you hear the name, you are thinking about some comic book character or the sound effect word bubbles like the beloved “Kapow” or the classic “Blam”.

He is so dreamy

Yet, the name does imply something – it implies something mysterious and magical, evoking memories of Saturday morning cartoons with sugary cereal. After using the application, the connection sticks– there is a magical moment right when a match has been found, where you have absolutely zero idea how the application manages to do it, you just know it does, and that it is alarmingly good at it.

Some tips for Naming an Application

When naming your application, think about how people might search to find it. Is it an application that tracks daily calorie usage? Something health or fitness related in the name would be appropriate if that is the case.

1. Be Descriptive

Making your application name as descriptive as possible will make it easier for users to find it. A user might search for “counter”, “tracker” when searching for a calorie counting application. Carefully chosen adjectives can help sell the application – “easy”, “simply”, “smart” for example, might put a basic user at ease.

For a game, the same rules apply, but there definitely is a greater creative license to be had with the game title. Let us look at popular game titles: “Angry Birds”, “Plants vs. Zombies”, “Temple Run”, “Fruit Ninja”. All of these titles convey one of two things: a) a struggle or challenge b) a context through an object. Both of these play right into what people desire when they are looking for any type of game. They are not looking for something to occupy them as much as they are looking for something to challenge them. Zombies and Ninjas are on the pulse of popular culture, so these names are likely to resonate with a large audience group. Get creative with your names for your game and explore a variety of adjectives to help convey the in-play experience to the user.

2. Keep it Short & Sweet

Different application store ecosystems have varying character limits for the name length. It’s best to keep it short – around 11 -15 characters short. In the Windows Store, an application name can having varying character lengths ranging from 15 to 23. Since the name and icon will be shown in a variety of areas, remember that a name that is too long will be truncated. More information on all the uses of your application name and icon in the Windows Store can be found here.

3. Embrace a Tagline

With only a few words, it can be hard to convey the application’s intention or purpose. When a name can’t say it all, embrace the idea of including a tagline that picks up the explanation slack. Think of Evernote, with it’s tagline of “Remember Everything”, or even back to Shazam’s “Experience More”.

3. Leverage Search Terms

Brainstorming for a name can be frustrating. If you need a kickstart, consider using a tool like the Bing Keyword Search, the free keyword search tool from Treillan or WordStream, or Google’s Keyword Planner . You can also go a bit more abstract and just evaluate the overall search trends across many of the platforms using Bing Ads Intelligence, Google Search Trends, evaluating auto-complete on many networks like LinkedIn, etc. Knowing what people are searching for might help you come up with a name that is both meaningful and findable.

4. Keep it Classy: Avoid being the Clone or Knockoff

Using an existing company or product name as part of your name is not just bad form, it could be in violation of their EULA or terms and conditions. Most often, this becomes an issue if the application is a clone of an already existing product or it uses data from an API. Most APIs have terms and conditions that that a developer must respect (ahem, adhere to) when using them. If you are considering using an API, read the terms and conditions prior to starting: they are almost always listed on the APIs developer site.

If you want to use the API or product name to signify to the user that this is an application built on top of it, then you are best to keep it in the tagline or the description. For example, an application that takes advantage of the Instragram API to find pictures based on geolocation could be called something like “PhotoByYou” where the tagline could be “Instagram Photos taken by you”. Instagram’s terms and conditions, available here, clearly forbids the use of their name or variations of it. A complete list of best practices for working with API’s can be found here.

5. Make it Memorable

What makes a name memorable? Well it starts by being able to spell or pronounce it. If it doesn’t roll of the tongue, then it will be harder to share.
Although unusual or cute spellings can be overdone, I mean intriguing, they might result in missed organic traffic from internet searches.

6. Check Availability

Nothing sucks more than spending all this time to come up with a name, only to discover someone has already used the name, owns the domain and all the social accounts to go with it. The Windows Store, as with most app stores, requires unique application names.

The Art of Naming

Coming up with a name for a game or application can sometimes be a daunting task. Start by creating a list of words related in some way to your idea.

Some people find that it helps to use a mind map. Mind mapping is an exercise where you draw the connections between words and continue to branch them out, exploring the smaller branches in detail. Do it right and you could end up with something really valuable. Do it wrong, and suddenly you’re competing with some preschoolers for the coveted fridge space. With mind mapping, you start in the center and then continue to branch out as you add new words, ideas or thoughts. Embrace free association. Read more about the basics of Mind Mapping here.

Brainstorming Ideas

Everyone needs a gentle swift kick to sometimes get them started. Here are a few brainstorming ideas that might help:

  • Consider other languages. What are similar words in Latin, German, Spanish? Perhaps those words are more intriguing that the English counterparts.
  • Get physical. Sometimes doing something with your hands can help with brainstorming. Embrace the art of collage and grab a few magazines or papers, and pay homage to William S Burroughs by utilizing the cut-up technique. Or, grab that game of Scrabble that has lovingly been staring at you and see what new words you can come up with by tossing the tiles around.
  • Do the social challenge. Post an image or a moodboard and ask your Twitter or Facebook community to start doing word associations or caption contests. Often popular culture references and terms can be discovered this way. ImageSpark is another great tool for putting together a visual moodboard designed to share.

Tools and Resources

How to Name Anything

“How to Name Anything” is a great presentation from Victor Pinereo. Many of the following suggestions are taken from this presentation. It lists a bunch of useful tools and approaches, walking you through an example to show you how to put these tactics into play.

Consult the Thesaurus

Several online tools exist that will help you visually map words that are similar such as the Visual Thesaurus or WordStorm. Explore a variety of words much quicker with node diagrams.

Embrace Popular Culture

New words are being created all the time, sayings and quotes that suddenly become a part of our language. Check out what popular culture can offer from sites like the Urban Dictionary or Slang Vocabulary

Be Anything but Boring

Advice on how to avoid a boring name, along with pretty much everything else, can even be found on Youtube. Check out this video that includes some basic exercises and ideas to help you brainstorm a name that is anything but boring.

Using Domain Search Tools

Domain name generators can help come up with some creative names while checking the availability of those names at the same time.

There are some worksheets made for naming exercises that might help as well:

If you have any ideas or suggestions of your own to help make this process an easier or enjoyable one for the reluctant developer, get busy in the comments!

Reprinted with permission.

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