by Micky Turk
'You gotta have a great name, Anna. You gotta have a name that
sticks out - a name to be remembered. You gotta have a name that
people feel good about, laugh about, tell their friends about - but
above all - you want a name that digs itself a hole right in here.'
Jack jabbed his right temple with his pointing finger.
'Hey, I don't need to be preached at, Jack. Don't think I
don't know how important a name is. Give me some cred, will
'Yes, I know you know. I am just reinforcing that knowledge. I
mean, look at this place? So perfect. My god Anna, you're next door
to a Starbucks! The rent's a steal. Parking's good ... give it the
right name and you are gonna hit the big time in a big way.'
'Of course I have been thinking about it. I have been thinking
about it long before I signed the lease. And I have some ideas. But
they seem silly whenever I say them out loud; so I hardly dare
'Well, you can tell me, girl. You know I'd be the last one to
make you feel silly.'
She looked at him hesitantly. 'OK, like ah, ... well, what do
you think of ... "Hairy Times"?'
'You're joking! "Hairy Times"?'
'Well, I was thinking "Happy Times", only with... now you see
what I mean - you did think it was silly. You laughed at me,
'Actually, Anna, I was just a bit surprised - that's all.
"Hairy Times" is not that bad. And it's different. It would
definitely bore a hole right here.' He tapped his head once again.
'You got anything else up your sleeve?'
'"Haricot" - it's French for green beans and if you say it in
the right way it sounds like "Hair I
Cut". I don't think having a French touch is any longer
considered a negative thing.'
'No, you're right. That's cute, Anna.'
They watched in silence as a very tiny woman with bright red
hair, one stocking up - one stocking down, slowly wheeled a huge
shopping cart full of salvaged cans and bottles past Anna's empty
'Cute? What do you mean - cute?'
'Anna, you remember my old ex, Suzy, don't you? She does this
for a living. She has a naming agency - Names Incorporated . Suzy
has come up with a lot of great names. "Hair Force", and "Hairport",
and "Hair we R", and god knows what else, that is all her work. Maybe
we could talk to her?'
'Jack, I don't think I need a professional naming artist. Just
how much effort did it take to come up with "Hair Force" and
"Hairport"?' It seems kinda demeaning to have to pay someone for
thinking up something as banal as "Hair Force".'
'Yeah, I understand where you're coming from ... OK, forget
Suzy. Let's you and I collaborate on this, Anna. Let's go next door
and sample your good neighbor's bill of fare, pick each others
brains and together come up with the world's best name for your
'You go ahead, Jack. There'll be a line. I'm going take down
the to-lease signs and let it sink in that this place is mine now.
Order me a Caramel Macchiato Grande with soy milk. I'll be right
Her own place. Her own dream. A lot of fixing up, of course,
and it wouldn't be cheap. Jack would help, sure, but he tended to
get lost in minute and unnecessary details. And he talked
all the time. She noticed that the keys in the envelope were a bit
greasy as she worked out how to lock the back door. She smelled
coffee the moment she was outside.
'Good going Jack. It's amazing - this place is so popular.
Hey, maybe I should call my salon "Starlocks".' He had already gotten
their orders and managed to find them a table with soft-cushioned
'Cool idea Anna, but I think they'd take you to court right
away. When you have a great name like "Starbucks" - you fight to
protect it. Believe me.'
'Where did they get it from?'
'Herman Melville. Starbuck was a coffee-loving character in
Moby Dick. Actually, they wanted to call the shops "Moby Dick", but
Suzy told them that it wasn't coffeeish and could be interpreted
the wrong way.'
'You're kidding me! Suzy came up with "Starbucks"?'
'No, Suzy came up with "Beandreams": the name that finished
'"Beandreams" isn't that bad.'
'I told you. Suzy's come up with some good ones. Now Anna,
lets not say anything for five minutes - we'll just sit here and
let the java jingle our jujubes until the creative juices begin to
Fifteen seconds later, Jack put up his finger. 'How about ...
"Cut the Crap"?'
'Shit. You are seriously suggesting "Cut the Crap" as a name for
my salon? That was a serious suggestion?'
'No, not completely, but nevertheless, to be creative we have
to be foolhearty. We have to take the risk of saying dumb
'... because we are two dumb people who will invariably come
up with dumb ideas? Isn't that it, Jack?'
'Hey, loosen up kiddo.' He gave her his best smile. 'Look,
your first ideas sounded a bit silly to me - I admit. But that's
because, no matter what sort of impression people might have of me,
well, in here...' He indicated his heart with his thumb. '...I'm
just a conventional guy. And conventionality blinds us to true
creativity - our own as well as others. So I, and you, we - we have
to shed our conventional skins and think positive about what we see
beneath them. We need to get creatively naked. Unconventional,
brave naked brains -that is what we need, baby.'
'Jack, Maybe in your world being a hairdresser is uncreative and
conventional, but I don't consider myself ...'
'Relax! I am only saying that new ideas are fragile. They are
like little, tiny, newly-hatched birdies - if we're not careful we
will push them out of the nest prematurely. People step on great
ideas and squish them to death without ever even knowing it. To be
really creative we have to let ourselves be just a little crazy -
just a little stupido.'
'Yeah? Well, "Cut the Crap" would be a pretty stupido name for
'"Cut the Crap", as I said, was more like a joke. But even if it
wasn't, you should give it a reasonable chance. Let's work on the
premise that everything we come up with is good - until proved
otherwise. I am ready to think positive about "Hairy Times" and
"Haricot" if you can relax and let me suggest stuff like "Cut the Crap"
without biting off my head. Now, what have you got?'
Hesitatingly, she peered up at him out of the left upper
corners of her eyes. '"Bangs, Braids and Beyond"!'
'Da-da-da-da-da-daaaa,' Jack fanfared on an imaginary bugle.
'Now that I like.' 'That's original! You're right - we don't need
Suzy to do this. Suzy is going to be coming to us for ideas.' He
turned to a Starbucks employee busily wiping the neighboring table:
'Hey honey, how would you like a free hairdo at "Bangs, Braids and
She looked at him with suspicion. 'Never heard of it.'
'Didn't think so.' He turned back to Anna with a wink.
'Hey Jacko, take it easy with giving away my hair cuts - as
well as my ideas.'
'Sorry Anna, just running it up the flagpole - just tuning in
with the general public. Now it's my turn. Close your eyes and
picture a large scissors over the entrance to your place. The
scissors are open and on the top blade we write "Snip", on the bottom
- "Snap", and in between the open blades, with letters drawn in
artificial hair, we write "in
'... in a?'
'...in a snap. "Snip in a Snap"! You get it? It's great- you
know with the scissors and all. I really like it.'
'That is because you thought of it.'
'Perhaps, but otherwise...'
'What kind of salon do you think I am going to run, Jack? Home
of the three minute hairdo? Vroom-vroom - in and out you go,
ladies. Might as well call it, "In 'n Out Coiffures", if that's the
'Hey, I like that too - and it was you who thought of it. But,
if your selling point is not going to be speed, give me something
more in line with your intended image. Don't think, girl. Just
shoot off the top of your head.'
'"Off the Top of your head"?'
'Yeah, that is what I said.'
'No, I meant that as a name - I cut hair off the top of your
'Well good morning little Miss Shakespeare! Now I'm really
impressed.' He leaned back in his chair and wiggled his hands
vaudeville performer style. 'Brilliant. You got any more like
'I've got "From Hair to Eternity".'
'And I've got "Hairistotle".'
'Like the philosopher?'
'Love it! Love it Girl! OK, my turn. How about ... "Cold
'You'll have air conditioning won't you? A cool haircut when
it's hot out... ? Don't interrupt me when I'm cooking. Listen up
instead. Pick your favorite from one of these: "Anna Scissorshand",
"Scalpers Depot", "Headshots", "Sizzl'n Scissors", "Sheers", "The Curler
Dome", "The Curly Gates", "Qwik Cuts" with a "Q" you know ...'
'Wait a second. Sheers? - that already exists. It's like a
franchise or something. And several of those other names sound
familiar as well. I don't think they're original.'
'That's a good sign Anna. That's the hallmark of a good name:
so natural sounding you think it must already exist.'
'...because it does. Maybe they all exist, Jack - just like
Sheers. Maybe people a lot smarter than us have already come up
with all the good names.'
'Anna, I was together with Suzy for three years. Believe me,
she is no smarter than we are. Just crazier.'
'Well I can understand that. Naming definitely gets you crazy.
All these stupid names -I have already forgotten half of
'You're right, we should be writing them down. I'll get
napkins. All the best ideas are conceived on napkins and table
cloths. I guess you're aware that Einstein first designed the atom
bomb on a place mat?'
'No I wasn't, and this is crazy - too many names - too many
ideas. Everything ends up sounding like shit.'
'No Anna, craziness is what it takes. And we can never have
too many great ideas because you know what? - we can sell them to
others - like Suzy does. There is no reason why "Names Incorporated"
should have a monopoly on creative naming. We can set up our own
business. We can call it "Names Unlimited".'
He got up and grabbed a couple of dozen napkins from the
'Or "Names 'r Us"', she said when he returned.
'You got it. Or how about "Names to go"?' He had three pens in
his shirt pocket.
'Or "Name Your Game"?' She began to write.
'"Name for fame"!' He too.
'"Name Factory!"' She grabbed for a new napkin from the pile on
'Oh my God, Anna! We've got what it takes. Don't you feel
'"Steak 'n Cake!"'
'What's that, Anna?'
'A restaurant chain - what else?' She beamed.
Write it down!'
'Wow, good work!' He wrote it down.
'And write down "Drink 'n Drive!"'
'A bar? Jesus Anna, that is pretty unethical don't you
'No - "Drink 'n Drive" is to be the name of a golf course
'Anna, You're too much. "Drink 'n Drive" that's the clincher.
We're going to go into business together. We're gonna be
'Thanks Jack, but I just took out a lease on my salon. Just
because we've stumbled upon some ideas now - well that doesn't mean
we could make a living doing this. We've had beginner's luck or
something. Eventually we would run out of ideas? What happens when
the well goes dry - huh?'
'That's not the way it works, my dear. Creative inspiration is
like a bottomless coke at Wendy's - if you don't drink it, yes, it
just sits there and goes flat, but as long as you keep sipping on
it, as long as you thirst for more, the waitress - she's the muse
you see - will keep it filled with fresh, bubbly, liquid
'So you think we've got bottomless brains, Jack?'
'Seems that way to me.'
And they continued naming. And the waitress kept refilling:
for every idea they wrote down - ten more would pop into their
heads. Before giving up in exhaustion, they had covered their
Starbucks coffee table with a mountain of napkins, bearing clever
and memorable names for all sorts of businesses.
Anna's hair salon, which incidentally, was christened "Hairy
Times", closed shop within months of opening - not due to lack of
patronage, but on account of Anna and Jack finding much better use
for the space as the home office for their WhaChaCallIt Naming
Agency. And they were hot. Before the end of the year they had more
customers than they could handle; Names Inc was out of business,
and Suzy was on their payroll.
Their success is legendary in the industry. "WhaChaCallIt" has
named and renamed products, services, brands, schools, hospitals,
towns, and (though it is a company secret just which) two
third-world countries looking for a fresher image with donor
nations. Today "WhaChaCallIt" has 26 branches around the world and
employs several hundred namers, but one company tradition is
unfailing observed: Brainstorming sessions are always documented on
napkins from Starbucks.
author of this story would like to express his gratitude and
appreciation to Anna Wretin and Jack Lombard of WhaChaCallIt
Corp. for their consent to letting his fantasy fill in between the
lines of their entertaining and inspiring autobiography - The
Naming Game, Pandemonium Books, 2004. The title of this story is a
registered trademark of WhaChaCallIt Corporation, NYC, NY and
used here with kind permission.