River+Wolf reviews

Review: 5 Star Shade Names

Cosmetic naming is a holy grail for naming experts, as the beauty industry is generally open to every style of name, from the descriptive to the allusive. This means there is ample room for creative play, and we namers love to play. That said, the mind-boggling number of marks already registered or in use makes finding a name immensely challenging, at least from the trademark perspective–a point humorously made in this clever video.

We believe the 12 names below are superb and that they were created in a space as crowded as cosmetics makes them even more exceptional. Read on to discover why we think they deserve a space on the digital walls of our newly launched Names of Distinction (NOD) gallery, a monthly exhibition of outstanding brand names.

Smith & Cult: Five Star Nail Polish Company Name

Smith & Cult is a cosmetics company known for its blend of sophisticated beauty and rocker-like cool. Pairing two words–one simple and classic (Smith), the other dangerous and dark (Cult)–creates memorable dissonance. This dissonance is also found in many of their shade names, to mention a few: Demon Dazed (lipstick); Bitter Buddha (nail polish), and Ghost Edit (nail polish). Tip: Don’t be afraid of developing names with jarring words or concepts. It can be powerful. And if using an ampersand in naming, make sure each word adds something new to the name. Coven & Cult, for example, would be far less interesting as a name than Smith & Cult, as “coven” and “cult” live in the same mental space.

Butter London: Five Star Nail Polish Company Name

We did a little test to see what the word “butter” evoked with 20 people and almost everyone’s list included “smooth,” “creamy,” “thick,” “spreadable,” and “rich.” These are great associations for nail polish. Finding metaphors that convey similar attributes to a large group of people isn’t easy, but Butter London, a nail lacquer brand inspired by the streets of London, did just that. Tip: When developing metaphorical names, try to find images that spark similar associations in the minds of your target market.

Scuba: Five Star Nail Polish Shade Name

This deep teal shade from JinSOON’s summer Flagpole Collection is a wonderful example of a polish shade name that metaphorically maps to a color. As a metaphor, Scuba takes us deep into the sea, which evokes an opaque, blue-green world. Scuba also alludes to water which cues to shine and moisture, two great attributes for nail polish. Tip: When naming shades, think beyond the hue itself and try to evoke an experience that creates multiple associations. For example, naming a light pink Baby’s First Birthday goes beyond color identification–it calls up celebration, gentleness, and delicacy.    

Unapology: Five Star Lipstick Shade Name

This lipstick company moniker takes a page from the #MeToo playbook. Women are done apologizing for being too loud, too strong, too big, or whatever else society has traditionally made them feel bad about. In an interesting twist, this company name also suggests that women need not apologize for wanting to be beautiful, sensual, or glamorous, things commonly associated with lipstick and cosmetics. Bottom line: the name taps into the zeitgeist of our time. Tip: When naming, tune into leading social trends but avoid those that don’t have staying power, as these will lead to names that won’t wear well over time. As a general rule, avoid slang. For example, naming a cosmetic shade Groovy Gold might have been cool in the Sixties, but today, such a name would sound dated.

Juniper Water: Five Star Lipstick Shade Name

Burt’s Bees is known for its simple, clean products, as well as its direct naming style. While a little more metaphorical than most of their product names, Juniper Water is still right on brand. It themes to the natural world, an important part of the Burt’s Bee narrative. Too, mixing the berry’s dusky bluish purple color with water does double duty: the name covers both hue and hydration. Tip: When creating a shade name, be sure the name complements the company’s overall tone of voice. Also, when possible, create names that telegraph more than one communication. Juniper Blue, for example, would only get at the color whereas Juniper Water introduces two concepts.

Dark Fiction: Five Star Lipstick Shade Name

Dark Fiction perfectly encapsulates Lancôme’s deep red lipstick shade.  By borrowing a term for a genre of fiction and media that revolves around the sinister side of human nature, this dramatic name transports you to Old Hollywood melodramas, replete with private investigators, femme fatales, and moon-shadowed alleyways. In other words, it suggests that danger is lurking just around the corner. And while no one really wants to encounter danger anywhere (let alone around the corner), there is nothing like an imaginative dose of menace to add a rush of adrenaline to an otherwise ordinary day. Tip: Don’t be afraid to conjure up the sinister in shade or cosmetic naming. That said, be mindful of crossing the fine line between acceptable fantasy and that which is disturbingly graphic, like Slashed Wrist (not a real name, thank goodness).

Scattered Light: Five Star Eyeshadow Name

Hourglass’s Scattered Light is a glittering eyeshadow shade name that works on many levels. First, the word “scattered” is a wonderful way to convey diffusion. As a modifier of “light,” it creates a magical scene of bits and specks of light shimmering everywhere. Plus, the dual meaning of light–weightlessness and luminosity–gives the name even more power. Tip: Think beyond nouns and adjectives when naming. Verbs or verb-like words add energy and spirit to a name. Luminous Light, for example, would be much less intriguing than Scattered Light.

Clay Play: Five Star Shadow, Blush, and Eyeshadow Palette

Sephora’s Clay Play features nine neutral-to-smoky shades in a single palette. Not only is the powder infused with clay, but the word cues to the earth’s warm tones. It also transports us back to childhood, an idea reinforced by pairing the word “clay” with “play.” In a subtle way, the name suggests that applying color to our faces is a form of creative play.Tip: When naming, try to avoid one-dimensional words and instead choose those that evoke a multiplicity of thoughts, feelings, and memories.  

Moon Beach: Five Star Blusher Name

Referencing the moon is an effective way to convey iridescence and glow. And there is no better word than “beach” to usher in images of warm sands and sun-kissed bodies. But in this case, the name did not arise from a namer’s artful juxtaposition of unlikely words, but rather from an actual place–Moon Beach in Ibiza. Though a “found” name rather than an invented one, Moon Beach is the perfect moniker for this opalescent peach shade blusher. Tip: When naming, you don’t always have to start from scratch. Stay on the lookout for wonderful words and phrases in the public domain that can be repurposed into names.

 Petal Metal: Five Star Highlighter Name

 Smashbox’s Petal Metal line of gel-powder highlighters weds two seemingly opposite concepts–the bright, reflective shine of metal and a bloom’s ultra-soft touch. This unusual pairing captures the higlighter’s ultra-flattering rose-gold radiance. In addition to the striking use of opposing textures and images, the name creates aural memorability through its use of hard rhyme. Tip: Rhyme is one of best tools in the namer’s tool chest. But to work, it must be used thoughtfully and sparingly. Remember rhyme is not a panacea for creating “catchy” names.

Cloud Paint: Five Star Blusher Name

Glossier’s name for its gel-cream blush evokes creativity and fantasy–the artistry of painting and the dreamlike, lightweight nature of clouds. The name also makes it easy for us to picture the blusher’s hues as clouds naturally conjure up the rose and gold of sunset and dawn. Tip: Makeup is a form of self-expression, so artistic images and concepts work well, especially when used in surprising ways. And while color and makeup attracts the eye, try to include senses beyond the visual. Cloud Paint is also a tactile name, evoking sensations of smoothness and creaminess.

Photo Finish: Five Star Primer Name

While not exactly a color name, we wanted to include Smashbox’s Photo Finish Foundation Primer because great color can be improved when applied over primer. The word “photo” implies that this product will get you ready for your close-up and as pretty as a picture. Additional layers of meaning are created through pairing “photo” with “finish,” resulting in the term for a race so close, you need to look at a photograph to see who won. This makes the name empowering, as it provokes thoughts of victory and achievement. It is also clever. The formula smooths and blurs imperfections so you look flawless–even if someone zooms in on your photograph. And bonus points: the repetitive ‘f sound’ (photo finish) is phonetically pleasing. Tip: Use common concepts and well-known metaphors as starting points to riff on but avoid anything humdrum or cliché. Photo Shoot, for example, sounds uninspired, but it was likely the gateway to the Photo Finish concept. And in naming, don’t forget the musical power of alliteration (repeated consonants) and assonance (repeated vowels).

Naming shades and cosmetic companies is challenging, but challenges are also opportunities. The 12 names above are extraordinary brand naming feats because they stand out in a very crowded market. Their creators found novel ways to convey meaning in a way that is on-brand and pleasing to say, hear, and read. For these reasons, the River + Wolf team salutes their creators.

For a more detailed overview of naming in general and specifically the process used at River + Wolf, have a look at the River + Wolf’s downloadable naming guide, Hitting the Mark.