Through effective storytelling you can create authentic connections with your customers and transform your company into a bona fide brand. Campaigns like Apple’s The Song, Airbnb’s Wall and Chain, and Under Armour’s I Will What I Want, are just a few examples of wonderful tales that help spring brands to life and bring customers closer.
Unfortunately, massive brand storytelling campaigns like these are generally beyond the reach of most smaller businesses and startups with limited resources. But fear not — there are multiple ways you can add some storytelling pizazz to your company without breaking the bank. One of these easiest ways is to go with company or product names that have built-in backstories.
Names with great backstories generate conversation and have the potential to elevate companies above their competitors and create critical distinction. The names below receive 5 stars from River + Wolf for their backstory power.
Blue Bottle: Five Stars
Backstory: The story begins in the late 1600s when the Ottoman army swept across much of Eastern and Central Europe, arriving in Vienna in 1683. The despairing Viennese needed an emissary who could cross Turkish lines and gather strategic information. Disguised in a Turkish uniform, George Kolshitsky, fulfilled the difficult journey.
The information he gathered eventually led to the ouster of the Turks. In their haste to leave the city, they left everything behind, including 500 sacks of green coffee. And though the Viennese thought the bags full of camel feed, Kolshitksy had a different take. Having lived in the Arab world for several years, he knew they contained treasure (aka coffee). Using the money given to him by the mayor of Vienna, he opened up Central Europe’s first coffeehouse called the Blue Bottle.
Tip: Research the history of your industry. Besides making for fascinating reading, there are some great names scattered in those pages.
Rag & Bone: Five Stars
Backstory: Rag & Bone, known for their gritty aesthetic, gets its name from the 19th century British idiom for a person who scavenges for tossed out household items — “rags and bones”. The phrase also makes an appearance in the W. B Yeat’s poem about the dissipation of artistic inspiration called “The Circus Animals’ Dissertation”: “I must lie down where all the ladders start/In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.”
Tip: Comb through poetry for naming inspirations—you’ll not only be enriched, but chances are good that you’ll find original images and phrases that make for terrific names.
Airbnb: Five Stars
Backstory: When the two co-founders, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, packed their bags and headed for San Francisco in October 2007, they immediately confronted the enormous cost of living in the Bay Area and the incredible demand for hotels due to frequent industry conferences and events. The ever-resourceful Chesky and Gebbia solved their cash flow problems and travelers’ needs for places to stay by inflating three air-beds (air-mattresses) in their living room and renting them out at prices far lower than the average hotel. To attract customers, they created their own site “Air Bed and Breakfast”. Eventually they distilled the cumbersome moniker down to the much sleeker Airbnb.
Tip: Let the hot air out of a name—compress it to its shortest form.
Starbucks: Five Stars
Backstory: In 1971, an English teacher, Jerry Baldwin, a history teacher, Zev Siegl, and writer Gordon Bowker, started Starbucks. With such an intellectual group, it’s not surprising that the coffee giant owes its name to a literary classic. Nearly called Pequod, the name of the fateful whaling ship in Moby Dick, one of the partners rejected the name and the team chose to go with Starbucks, the name of Pequod’s first mate — though as often the case in naming, the first inspiration came from elsewhere—in this case, an old mining town called Starbo.
But there’s more to this shaggy dog story.
Naming a coffee company was not the first time the Starbuck name was borrowed either. There’s an island in the South Pacific, a popular region for whaling, called Starbuck Island. Starbuck Island was heavily mined for phosphate in the late 1800s and many ships were wrecked there. In Greek mythology there are seductresses who lure sailors to shipwreck on the coast of their islands. These mythical creatures are called Sirens and the Starbucks logo contains one.
Tip: When naming, let one thought spring from another, even if it doesn’t seem logical. Naming is part strategy and part intuition. The best way to tap into the latter? Don’t vigorously edit during the creative process.
Zappos: Five Stars
Founded in 1999, the website’s original name was Shoesite.com. When investment shop Venture Frogs came on board to provide the young company with funding they felt that Shoesite.com was limiting — they wanted a name that could grow with the company. Not to mention the fact that Shoesite.com is a bit, well, dull. The site’s name was changed to Zappos, derived from “zapatos”, the Spanish word for shoes. And “zap” speaks to quickness too—a very nice feature when ordering online. While not as richly detailed as the other backstories detailed here, one wonders where the shoe giant would be today if it had stuck with its original moniker.
Tip: A foreign word can give an ordinary English name zip and zing.