Choosing a Name
Names. We all have them, and so does everything and everyone we know, and yet when it comes to choosing a new one, whether for a game, a server, or your store, it can sometimes come as a surprise that it’s not quite as easy as it looks.
It turns out that coming up with a name that’s appealing and relevant to what you’re doing, and hasn’t been taken by someone else, is actually quite a challenge. If your server already has a name you like and the store URL is available, it’s job done. But life isn’t always so simple.
In this guide we’ll look at some of the core tenets of how to make that choice, as well as showing you some tools that can make it a little bit easier if you get stuck.
It’s Your Brand
The name you choose will be the first thing players see when they come into contact with your game, whether in search results, a server list, or a recommendation on Discord. First impressions count, but there are other things to bear in mind.
Being memorable, standing out, and being SEO-friendly - not being easily confused with other, similar search terms - are all primary considerations. You’ll also want to choose something that best represents the tone and feel that you’d like your players to associate with you.
The first step in that process is to understand your brand. What do you stand for? What are the values you’d like your game to represent? Is it friendly? Scary? Cheeky? Calming?
Getting to know your brand and how you would like it to be perceived is the starting point for choosing a name, and there are plenty of free online guides to help you do it. Here’s one we like.
Keep it short and sweet, or Keep it simple, stupid if you want to be rude about it. Making sure the name you choose is brief, memorable and easy to spell is a good start. If people are going to talk about your brand, which we all hope they will, it’s nice to make that process easy for them, rather than a potential tripwire.
Keeping it pithy isn’t always easy though, partly because KISS has informed brand strategy for generations, so a great many short, easy to spell words are either already taken, or are so generic that they stand no chance of being discoverable in search.
While you should normally be careful to avoid misspellings, there are times when you might want to take the odd liberty, either to increase SEO-uniqueness, or to make your brand more eye catching.
Flickr, Krispy Kreme, reddit and Tumblr have all done extremely well with their casually misspelled brand names, and provided the spelling makes sense - if you say it in your head, it sounds right - and if enough of your friends agree that it does, that may be enough to point you in the right direction.
Avoid Hyphens and Underscores
If you can possibly avoid it, don’t choose a name with hyphens or underscores in it. They make for hard-to-type names, and ones that it’s all too easy to get wrong, and we’re not just talking about your URL.
People attempting to email you, find you on Twitter, or simply message a buddy about the new server they’re playing on, will find the process harder and more fraught with errors if you force them to use easily confused special characters.
Naturally if you already have a hyphenated name that’s become famous, it’ll be easier to retain that, but if you’re starting from scratch it’s best practice to leave those underscores out of your consideration process.
Be Aware of Psychology (and foreign swear words)
1980s and 90s automobile, the Toyota MR2 was always a tough sell in France where MR2 is a homophone for the French word for “shitty”.
While France may not be your core market, it’s worth looking at which nationalities you’re likely to appeal to, and at least asking friends or contacts who speak those languages whether the name you’re thinking about is likely to get you into any trouble. It probably won’t, but if it’s easy to check, it’s worth doing just in case.
Even working in your own language though, it’s important to be aware that many words come with built-in negative connotations. Exploit, greedy, fail, nosy, and fear all immediately evoke negative emotions.
For many real world brands avoiding this sort of language is second nature, however that does not mean you should avoid them, because they can also be attention-grabbing in the right context.
Especially in games, having an air of violence, decay or malevolence may not be a bad thing, and in fact many players will seek out games with exactly those qualities. The important thing is not getting rid of that sort of language, it’s being aware of its power and using that knowledge and awareness in your choice of name.
Keep an Eye on the Future
If you have an established server or game, this job is already done, but if you’re just starting out, it’s easy to believe that your formative ideas will carry you forward into a glorious future.
The reality is that the worlds of games and business change pretty fast, and where you thought you were going, may not be where you end up. For that reason, when you choose a name, it may be wise not to make it too specific. Leave yourself some wiggle room to change your mind.
That doesn’t mean you can’t get detailed, or have a niche you dearly want to inhabit, but keeping a background awareness of where you may one day want to pivot, or the areas you could move into if things don’t work out exactly as planned, may pay dividends in the medium to long term.
If You Get Stuck
Writer’s block. Honestly, we get it. And while there is no single catch-all quick fix for finding a name when inspiration is elusive, there’s a range of completely free name generators available online.
Some err towards silliness, some get you to add qualities or adjectives to refine the search, and the chances are none of them will come close to your own ideas, once they get going. However these are fun and occasionally useful resources for spurring your own creative though processes, or at the very least informing you of what you definitely don’t like.