What’s in a name? Quite a lot, it turns out. Names are the building blocks of how we think. They let us put things into categories, which is required for reasoning. Without a name, concepts remain unshaped. If you see a bath you're in the bathroom, a bed you're in the bedroom, but if you see both in the same room, that's trickier to describe. When something fits our preconceptions we can take cognitive shortcuts when deciding what to do. We don’t like to observe something that doesn’t fit neatly into a box: it creates uncertainty and demands more attention and processing power from us.
Naming a thing makes it easier remember, because it creates an anchor in our memory, an easy reference to return back to when we observe it again. In ancient times they believed to name a thing was to create it, and honestly that isn’t far from the truth. As most people were illiterate in ancient times, anything forgotten did functionally cease to exist. If you discovered a black swan and never told anyone about it, then for all intents and purposes there is no such thing as a black swan. Granting space in your memory to a concept lets it gather meaning, form associations, and take shape. When you hear the name again, it references that place in memory. When you speak the name to someone else, it means something to them. Names are a tool for efficient compression and recall of information, necessary for our society to function. Without them, talking to each other would be extremely laborious as we would have to give increasingly precise definitions for any concept we wanted to convey.
It’s easier to talk about “Project Lightspeed” than “that project we’re working on to develop a COVID vaccine”; and it reminds us we need to go fast. If we called it “Project Tortoise” we’d be conveying we’re taking a slow and steady approach to vaccine development, which would carry implications for the general public and those working on the team. Names are often chosen for their pre-existing associations. It’s important there’s a shared culture: naming a secret meeting “Project Elrond” will tickle only Tolkien fans, and confuse anyone else. However if everyone involved is a huge nerd, referencing LOTR may be a great way to make the project seem more appealing, over a more boring corporate name.
Naming is an art, and there are consequences. The wrong name shapes destiny – just ask Romeo Montague. A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet, but calling them “stench blossoms” might affect sales. If a name references a spot that’s already taken, its associations come with it. This mechanism is so powerful, it can go haywire: people named Dennis are more likely to become Dentists. It’s not just the name that builds associations, but the positioning. Whether I introduce myself as “Dennis the Dentist” or “Dennis the DJ” changes enormously your perceptions and expectations of me. Marketers understand that the category a product is positioned in can change a lot about the behavior. For example a muffin and a cake share the same ingredients, but one is seen as a (relatively) healthy breakfast, while the other is an indulgent desert. As Rory Sutherland says “’Tiny home’ and ‘hovel’ share their dimensions, but not their associations”.
65 Trigger Words and Phrases for Powerful Multimedia Content
Antonio García Martínez Tweet, Airfryers
Emotional Persuasion: The Advanced Guide
How consumer needs shape search behavior and drive intent
How your name affects your personality
If Your Name is Dennis, You're More Likely to Become a Dentist
Keerti Thread, Growth Hacking
Naming Is An Act of Creation
RJ Youngling Tweet, precise language
Software Complexity: Naming
Sutherland Tweet, Airfryers
The Martian 2015 | Project Elrond - Secret Meeting
The Simpsons: "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." (S9, E2: "The Principal and the Pauper")
Thread on Airfryers, Rory Sutherland
Wrong enemy vs Right enemy