Everything needs a name. A new magazine, cosmetic line, business, baby, boat, restaurant, dog… all are name hungry. With a baby, if you want to call him Wayne or Shane or her Jayne or Raine, go right ahead. Call your daughter Geoff if you like. No one will stop you.
Yet with businesses and brands, it’s rather different. You are particularly limited by those names already registered, so you must be original. Here you might call in a professional marketing consultancy to generate, research and register a name. Or you might call me, if you want a name on the cheap.
In Hong Kong, where I currently celebrate life by bashing out brochures and stuff, I seem to specialise in the names for resort or residential properties.
“Ha! Good money,” you say. “Scribble a few names down on a pad in the pub, filter out those that are quite ridiculous, then email those remaining to the client.”
Your, and my, thinking suggests if a developer is going to plunge billions into building on a prime site in Phuket, Penang, Koh Samui, Bali or in my back yard, then they’ll spend big on the one great name that pulls their concept together. The reality is that they will hand over millions to an interior designer who will pepper the place with things called ‘motifs’ (and shower taps that don’t work) and you, the namer of the place, get paid the equivalent of two Pilates mats.
Obviously, with an overseas resort property, the developer flies you there, puts you up and wines and dines. This is the only way for you to get a feel for the location, ‘the concept’.
The name will come from this immersion in the dream. No chance. You get sent a bad picture of a building site surrounded by scrubland with a bay barely discernable in the middle distance.
You just hope the name of the bay is something interesting like ‘Runaway Bay’, ‘Smugglers’ Cove’ or ‘Moon Water Inlet’ so you send an email and ask. The answer comes back that, in the local dialect, it is called ‘Krag Barg Kram’ which roughly translates as ‘Funeral Rocks Bay’.
The property development company (or their marketing agency) will give you no guidelines as to the sort of name they want, apart from saying, always, ‘it must sound prestigious’. They just tell you where the building will be situated and how tall it is. Then it’s out with a blank sheet of paper and you hope that some good names will pop out of your head. If they do, shove them back in there. They’ll never be used.
Over time, I’ve learnt that there is little point in suggesting names for buildings that are tasteful or descriptive. Every name has to shout ‘wealthy’ or ‘achievement’ as the property brochure will always start: ‘At last, a prestigious development that truly reflects the status of you, our honored occupant’. Here’s a real (or real enough to be typical) naming story in Hong Kong from some years ago.
Low-rise, residential, Clearwater Bay, near the water. My phone rings on a Friday afternoon and they want a name by Monday. The urgency is ridiculous, but I don’t make a fuss. Serenity Cove. Sunrise Villas. Tranquil Villas. Clearwater Villas. The Sanctuary. Calm Water Apartments. Crystal View… and on it went until I had about 40 suggestions and variations.
I then walked and thought in the hills with a tape recorder. I added a few with such client-satisfying rubbish as Prosperous Villas, Gold Sun Terrace, Wealthy Water Lodge. WinGold Hacienda. I gave the client the whole lot on the Monday morning and heard nothing for about six weeks. Good news! There must be difficulty at the client end deciding which is best; they are all so darned good. Then the phone rings.
“David, about those names for the Clearwater Bay development. We don’t like any of them.
We want something that sounds much more high-status, more aspirational,” comes the reply.
So I send them another list of 40 names now all with words like ‘gold’ and ‘success’ and ‘dream’ in them, all terrible in English. Again, I hear nothing. After another month I send off an invoice. Three months later the client pays it.
Five years later, driving through Clearwater Bay, I saw the completed development. It was called ‘Silver Crest’. The buildings were pink, so I wondered what ‘silver’ had to do with it. It was not on a hill, so what was the connection with ‘crest’? It turned out that the big boss of the development company once had a racehorse called ‘Silver Crest’ that won a few races in its time. I’ve driven past this development several times since, muttering about wasted efforts, calling the client all sorts of names.