NIY: Name It With Numerals

A list of finalist name candidates we presented to a client this earlier week included one that combines a word and a numeral—an alphanumeric. Alone in a list of alphabet-only names, it stood out. Which, I suppose, is the point: This candidate seemed so unlike the others that our contact, the Head of  Marketing for the investment firm that owns the company-to-be-renamed, asked  if we could provide examples of other sticky alphanumeric names. “Uh, sure,” we said, proceeding immediately to draw a near-complete blank.

Alphanumerics Around Us

Shortly after our meeting, of course, the names came tumbling out—not surprisingly, since sticky alphanumeric brand names literally surround us. In short order: Formula 1, Motel 6, 7-Up, Heinz 57, 7 Crown, 7-Eleven, Union 76 (now just “76”), Century 21, Forever 21, Super 8 (hotels by Wyndham), 23andMe (genetic testing). We could go on. With a little more time online, in-store or strolling down the street, anyone can.

The Alphanumeric Advantage

a sticky name

Heard once, remembered forever: 26Red Sugar.

I’m generally fond of such names. Sticky as a class, alphanumerics happen to include one of the stickiest names I’ve ever encountered: 26Red Sugar, a streetwear brand whose name I heard precisely once in LA back in the late Nineties. (To be fair, the numeric part of the name is only part of what makes it sticky. The visual pop of “red” together with its incongruous pairing with “sugar” helps, too.) I’m happy to see the brand is being relaunched.

Practically speaking, as a class alphanumerics also may be more likely to be registrable as trademarks and available as dotcom URLs than an alphas-only.

Technically, it’s possible to create a nice, sticky alphanumeric with no excuse for the numeral beyond its role in a cool logo (Formula 1 t-shirts, anyone?) or its pleasing acoustics (7-Eleven just rolls off the tongue). For most people, however, simply looking or sounding great isn’t justification enough. They’ll want to the numerals to mean something, whether that something is self-evident, tied to an underlying story, or strictly personal. Whichever path you take, multiple potential sources of inspiration await you.

Alpha by Address

Can you tell a good story around a location name? Street addresses, area codes and latitudes all find their way into names. 2nd Street is a Japanese-based chain of clothing resale shops.  707 Flora, a premium CBD-focused skincare brand founded by our friend Joan Sutton, is a good example of an area-code based name: The 707 area code includes California’s Humboldt County, where the business is based.  Meanwhile, 48North, a Canadian cannabis brand (with a lovely identity by our friend Vanessa Eckstein of Blok Design, and on which we were privileged to work) is a good example of a latitude-inspired name.

Cueing Core Value Props

Some brands—in particular, value or convenience brands—might take inspiration from the hours they keep (or once kept) or the rates they charge (or once charged) Motel 6, launched by two Santa Barbara, California contractors in 1962, was named for its low nightly rate. 7-Eleven, renamed from Tot’em in 1946, telegraphed its hours of operation. It’s a credit to these brands that the general idea of their core value propositions—low-cost lodgings and anytime convenience—has outlived the specifics of their names. In our present-day world of accelerated change, these naming strategies are now probably non-starters.

Somewhat related to this are sticky alphanumeric names that incorporate “360” or “365”—the former suggesting a comprehensive perspective or offering, as do the 360 degrees of a compass, the latter suggesting “intended for everyday use” across the 365 days of the year. Child360, a name we developed for a non-profit organization focused on equity in early childhood education, is an example of the first. Murad 365, a name we developed (ages ago) for an extension of the Murad clinical skincare brand, is an example of the second.

Numerals with Symbolism

Other sticky alphanumeric names incorporate numerals freighted with symbolism from a landmark date or salient fact. The “76” in Union 76, refers both to the year of the Declaration of Independence as well as the octane rating of the gasoline at the time it debuted in 1932. (For more names inspired by somewhat technical or industry-specific numerals, read on.) The 3 Percent Movement (not that one, the other one), a business and wellness accelerator for women, takes its name from the fact that at the time the organization began only 3% of creative directors were women.

Drawing on Personal Meaning

Alphanumeric brand names with a more personal or idiosyncratic bent couldn’t find a better exemplar than Seagram’s 7 Crown. The apocryphal story is that CEO Sam Bronfman found the flavor he wanted for his new, inexpensive blended whiskey in the seventh sample he tasted. Birthdates, numerological formulas, dream visions, the number of a winning horse, they’re all fair game. Close your eyes and visualize your life on a timeline. What numbers appear? Which ones convey happiness, strength, or a welcome change of course?

Technology proves to be another well from which to draw sticky alphanumeric names. The name for 23andMe derives from the 23 pairs of chromosomes in a human cell. Element6 Dynamics (formerly Santa Fe Farms) is a company focused on accelerating the regeneration of the planet based on sequestering vast amounts of carbon (the sixth element in the periodic table) through large-scale cultivation of industrial hemp. As a student at  University of California, San Diego (UCSD), my friends and I would sometimes cruise into nearby Del Mar for pizza at the since-vanished Carnegie A-440, whose name references the tuning standard (in Herz) for the musical note of A above middle C, and hearkens to the musical instruments that were a hallmark of the pub’s decor.

This sketch of sources and directions is far from exhaustive. I could, and someday might, devote an additional post to the extensive added range of alphanumeric uses around the numerals 4, 3, 2 and 1 alone. Whether you set out on your own or engage a consultant, you might consider whether an alphanumeric is an option—and then reflect on the numbers that mean something in your and your company’s and your industry’s world.

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