The Power of Naming Things

2072966785_ab9ff4c1d1When you start a project, what do you call it?

Imagine you’re just getting started with a new creative work. If it’s a book, do you say “this story I’m doing about guilt, fear, and cakes,’ or is it “The Ministry of Fear?” If a painting, do you say ‘this thing  with a bearded guy and a couple dead people’ or “The House of  Death“?

Which sounds less like an impotent attempt to describe a creative work?

Which seems more real?

No matter what kind of project you’re working on, giving it a concrete, specific name right from the start is a wise move. Even if the name isn’t perfect, a specific name will take your project from the abstract to concrete, from concept/idea to to an actual, tangible thing.

When you name an idea, a concept, a project, or a creative work, it becomes real.

Instead of having a few vague, ephemeral notions to grapple with, you’ve got something solid to hold on to. Naming clarifies your thinking and makes a thing real.

I’ll share a personal example. For several months, I intended to create this blog. For the longest time, I just called this ‘that blog-website-thing I’m going to start working on soon.’ For some reason, I couldn’t start. I couldn’t find a focus, I had no ideas for articles, and I really had trouble seeing any actual outcomes.

Then one night, dizzy from soju, I heard the word happenchance. The word struck my fancy. Maybe it isn’t perfect, but it sums up a lot of my life. It’s also vague and uncommon enough that I can just make up all kinds of shit and relate it back to happenchance.

Within a couple weeks, I had really figured what this project was all about. I committed to writing at least an article a week. Now, three months in, I’m focused on one thing: providing useful stuff for creative people.

All because I chose a name.

For another example, compare a definition of a thing with its name. “A rough, light-colored igneous stone.”  Okay, that’s a rock, but that’s pretty vague. Lots of rocks out there.

Now, if I say ‘granite,’ you know exactly what I’m talking about, and you probably have a clear picture in your mind.

Just like naming a child, the name you give your project will affect the way you and, eventually, the world, perceive it. A name will inform the decisions you make and how much effort, thought, and heart you put into your project.

If you’re halfhearted in your naming, you’ll be halfhearted in your execution.

Don’t worry if you think the name is too plain, too silly, too pompous, too anything. No worries! I would even argue that it doesn’t matter if the name is wrong, just so long as the project has a name. You can always change the name.

Choose a name that’s simple, descriptive, relevant, and fun.

Name your project.

Make it real. Make it happen. Watch it come alive.

Photo credit: Pagedooley

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • sara October 12, 2009, 5:29 pm

    I completely agree! If only I could come up with the title for what I’m working on now… For the time being I’ve got a nickname for it, and even that has helped keep my focus 🙂

  • Seth October 13, 2009, 2:41 am

    Sara, thanks for stopping by.

    I’m with you on the nicknames. A working title is better than no title. For longer works, I think the best title eventually reveals itself.

  • NunoXEI October 20, 2009, 2:29 pm

    Awesome stuff. This harkens back to the foundations of oral tradition and has become as staple in fantasy-based story frameworks: The power of Names. (Capital N of course!)

    The concept of turning an intangible concept into something more tangible requires naming. I maintain a “Brainstorm Master Document to collect all my ideas. Before it was just “Idea Stuff”–I’m not kidding–once I changed even the name of that document, all of a sudden all the brainstorming ideas started to gain a semblance of order, even amongst the chaos that is the core of that document’s purpose.

    Many an idea that’s been added is always added as a subheading representing the “name” of the brainstorm idea. Sounds meticulous, but it becomes natural and immediately spawns new sub-ideas. If the name doesn’t feel quite right later–change it to something that does when it comes to you.

    Great post!

  • Carol August 9, 2011, 5:35 am

    Great post. I ended up changing the name of my first book three times before landing on my current title. Each title added a new dimension to my work so I’m happy it worked out that way.