The Brand Namer

Jay Jurisich at his desk at Igor International.

What’s in a name?

According to Jay Jurisich, quite a lot. An emotional connection, separation from the competition, a unique positioning platform, a positive engagement with the audience. For starters.

Jurisich is the creative director at San Francisco-based naming and branding agency Igor International, which has worked with clients ranging from TV networks to oil and chemical companies. The most important factor in choosing great name is demonstrating your brand and values, Jurisich says. Bad ones resort to advertising to explain what they actually do.

Over the past five years, Jay Jurisich has filled 4,050 pages of Moleskine notebooks with ideas for names. In the Igor Naming Guide, he explains the company’s six-step process and four categories of names, from the super-boring (think: The Naming Company) to the metaphoric (think: Apple).

Position: Creative director and co-founder (2002)
Age: 48
Salary: Project-based, with up to six projects per month.
Typical naming cost: $20,000 to $35,000 for products; $35,000 to $50,000 for companies.
Graduated from: College of Creative Studies at UC Santa Barbara, Bachelor’s degrees in literature and art studio; UCLA, Master’s degree in fine arts
Based out of: San Francisco, Calif.
Previous jobs: Founder of, a free naming and branding website with community discussion forums; editorial director at A Hundred Monkeys, a brand naming company based in Mill Valley, Calif.

How he got the job: Before landing at A Hundred Monkeys, I was out of work for five months, completely broke, with a wife and two small kids. But I was working on Wordlab every day, putting out over 25,000 names and taglines for free, constantly writing and creating a community. A Hundred Monkeys noticed and hired me. Then, we created Igor. We had no clients and no portfolio to speak of, and it took us three months to get our first client. But then it really took off.

Photo credit:

Igor’s role in the market: We name the brand positioning, not the direct product or service. That is, we’re naming the brand’s unique tone, spirit, and personality. Apple’s positioning was creating user-friendly computers in a world of giant IBMs that filled up the room. They could have named themselves “Simplicity Computing,” which is direct, but it’s over the top and obvious. It’s like saying, Trust me, I’m honest. Only dishonest people say that. The concept of an apple has thousands of years of rich shared cultural history.

Do you have a specific brainstorming process? You can’t confine it to an hour or a day; it’s ongoing. Don’t approach naming like sitting down in front of a thesaurus or glossary. The best people are always thinking about it, and it’s part of who they are. There’s no punching the clock.

Weirdest place you’ve found inspiration? I’m constantly writing stuff down as I walk around. I’ve filled up 51 80-page Moleskine journals over the last five years.

When you find something, is it just…ta-da? A brand is born? We typically present 15 to 20 pre-screened names to the client in the first of three rounds, and then discuss them one by one.

Length of each naming process: 4 to 5 weeks. If we worked all day and night, we could do an entire project in a week, but that’s really shortchanging the process. You need time to live with the names, think about them at night, in the shower, at dinner with your wife.

Photo credit:

A great name has: A naturally creative response. You’ll start imagining everything you can do with it. It should make you sit up and pay attention, stop in your tracks and say, what is this? Like Snapple, or Oreo. If you don’t hook a person with a great name off the bat, you’ve lost them.

Name you’re proudest of: Gogo, a wi-fi broadband service on airlines. It’s short, energetic, and all about travel, in a fun, sexy, and distinct package.

The key to good branding: Demonstration. What you fail to demonstrate with a name and brand, you have to make up for by spending a lot of money explaining it with advertising. Every company that hires us says their product is new and innovative. So we say, you need to have a name that demonstrates you’re new and thinking outside the box.

What drew you to the industry? I’ve always wanted to elevate the conversation and quality of names out there. There are so many horribly mish-mashed or boring brand names, when they should be fun and joyful.

How would you qualify a “bad” name? If it’s easily forgotton. There are basically four types of names:

  • Functional/descriptive: rarely successful; usually just explain what company does. Ex: Name Generator, The Naming Company.
  • Invented: memorable and fun to say. Ex: Google, Oreo.
  • Experiential: only describes experience of using a company or product. Ex: Safari, Internet Explorer.
  • Evocative: usually most successful; hardest to get right. Ex: Virgin Atlantic, Yahoo!, Apple

What’s a great name you’ve come across recently? An Australian company, Crumpler, sells a camera strap called Industry Disgrace. Only a brand that is very good and secure in what they’re doing can call their product something like that.

How did you arrive at the name “Igor”? A naming company having to name itself is scary and self-referential. It’s kind of like the movie Being John Malkovich, when John Malkovich goes inside his own head. There’s a big irony that naming companies can’t think of good names for themselves, exemplified by agencies with names like Namestormers, Name Razor, and Brand DNA. Igor, on the other hand, refers to the hunchback idiot in Young Frankenstein, the idiot who screwed up the whole project. We purposefully wanted a name with strong negative connotations, to prove to potential clients that even very edgy names, if they support the brand positioning, can be very successful. And our positioning is more along the lines of, the ultimate assistant, or we’ll do whatever it takes to bring your brand to life.

Best part of the job: Thinking of a great name and having a client sign off on it. The first is the joy of conception, the latter is like giving birth. Neither happens without the other.

Worst part of the job: When clients don’t “get it” and require lots of extra meetings to go over the same ground. The downside of owning your own company is being on call all the time.

Your biggest flaw? Being too nit-picky. I wish I could just crank out work and not care about typos.

Best career advice? Don’t wait for others to give you permission to do something.  If you can’t get a job, go out and create the job you want, and then take down the companies that refused to hire you.

Jay Jurisich suggests three ways to hone your skills for the branding industry.

Photo credit:

1. Start creating names, even if it’s just for your friend’s band or startup company, and begin assembling a portfolio. In the meantime, learn web development, coding, and programming skills. These are all extremely useful ways to make money as a side or temporary job; many small companies can’t afford to hire expensive web developers.

2. Create a web presence for yourself. If you have something to say about naming, start a blog or build a website. We get resumes all the time, and it’s much more interesting to see a project a candidate is working on – like a website – than items on their resume. I can tell a lot from someone’s website: design sense, writing skills, work ethic. Building a site isn’t the only thing you can do, but it’s a handy, visible tool that can be shared anywhere.

3. Create social networks with people in the industry. Hunt down branding companies on Twitter and retweet their tweets, mention them, get on their radar. You can even communicate directly through Twitter with specific people at companies you’d like to work for.

You can follow Jay on Twitter at @Jurisich, check out his artwork on, and find out more about the industry on Igor’s naming blog.

Update: In the time since this interview, Jay Jurisich has left Igor and opened Zinzin, a new naming and branding agency. 


5 Ways to Make Your Business Card Stand Out

Photo credit:

A few years ago, I began collecting business cards everywhere I went — restaurants, boutiques, hair salons, coffee shops — and stored them in a 3×5 index card file. Today, I dumped them all out to take an inventory. Of the 132 cards in my box, I was most attracted to about 10 of them. I noticed a few commonalities among these 10 cards, and each trait can be translated into a tip to make yours just as noticeable.

1. Include a visual element. Choose a concept that connects to what you do. An image can help jog someone’s memory of who you are, and will reinforce your brand if used on your website and resume, too. Images should use color and take up at least one-fourth of the total surface area.

2. Utilize both sides of the card. Many of the most attractive cards in my box used one side for name and visual element, and the other side for contact information. On some, one side was a solid color, and the opposite side was a white background with that same color for text.

Photo credit:

3. Show, don’t tell. Add a creative twist that suggests your passion or field of expertise. For example, the “Google Me” business card to the right implies an interest in programming and technology.

4. Try non-traditional color schemes. Most of the cards in my box had a white background, so the light-text-on-darker-background cards really stood out. Also try going vertical with your layout.

5. Don’t include extraneous information. Pick and choose from these basics: name, email address, phone number, Twitter handle, LinkedIn URL, and personal website/blog address.

Want to really push the envelope? The following suggestions will definitely set you apart from the crowd, but make sure your alterations have purpose and adhere to your product or brand.

Play with shape. Some cards in my box were squares, circles, and ovals.

Add bite marks or holes.

Photo credit:

Non-cards. Several businesses have online catalogs for personalized chocolate cards. Other materials I’ve seen include leather and dog tags.

Photo credit:

Remember to keep a few business cards with you at all times – not just during networking events. You never know when you’ll meet someone at a bar or on a train ride!

What do you think is the most important element on business cards? What does yours look like?