We are Flag & Wire. I’m Nick Walton. And I want to talk about names some more.
Naming stuff is hard, people. Look around you! There are poorly named things everywhere. Businesses, towns, even people. Is that cruel? I don’t mean to be cruel. But when it comes to naming things…. You gotta be bad, you gotta be bold, you gotta be wiser.
In 2009ish I bought Mud River Coffee Roasting from an old friend & mentor. I’d worked in the company some in the previous years and my wife Kim & I owned a coffee shop at the time so it made good sense to buy the roasting company when we did.
We’d known for a long time that Mud River wasn’t our “forever name”. One of the problems was that from the beginning a lot of people seemed unable to sort of… get it right. Muddy Waters. Mud Coffee. Muddy River. Mud Bay, River Water, and my personal favorite, Muddd. Just Muddd. With three “d’s”. That one kind of actually made me mad when I saw it there, written in ink—it was just so far outside of reasonability.
When we opened our second café in 2013 we called it Chrysalis Coffeehouse. My wife, who knows more about biology than I do explained to me how a Chrysalis works, the differences between a Chrysalis and a cocoon, how the pupae state of an insect works, and we both felt like it was really beautiful imagery, and we grabbed onto it right away.
I love that name. It was perfect for us. It’s been such a pupae life for us the last couple of years—we’ve liquefied! We’ve spent time restructuring and being renewed—sometimes newness is natural and unavoidable; but still painful. So the name Chrysalis has really been beautiful.
But now, it’s time to unify the brand, it’s time to unite under a common banner and plow forward. I’m now going to type a simple paragraph explaining in short a thing that happened, but you will not understand how much it changed our thinking. And that’s okay.
I mentioned the idea of a name change to a customer at Chrysalis who turned me on to a blog called Fritinancy, which is written by Nancy Friedman, a naming consultant. Via email, phone calls and blog posts she led us down this incredible path of naming discovery, taught us a TON about the theory of naming and helped us to feel equipped to name confidently and clearly.
In my last post I gave some of the reasons we decided to name this company Flag & Wire. The following things form the “lens” through which we hunted for, and eventually found our new name in a poem, hanging in our office, right in front of our noses.
Nancy Friedman taught us that a name should be three things:
- Spellable & pronounceable
This seems like a no-brainer. But as I mentioned before—Mud River has been hard enough. Chrysalis? Forget it. I get every imaginable pronunciation of the word Chrysalis. Most commonly the front half pronounced like “Chrysler”, and also people tend to elongate and put emphasis on the “a” as in “apple”, chrysAAAlis.
I’m going to write a post soon about my feelings on hospitality—on people feeling cared for. I mention that because this idea of a name being pronounceable hits on that. People don’t want to be made to feel like idiots. We’re all already doing life—struggling & succeeding in wave-frequency. My primary aim in life—and I own the company, so my company’s primary aim in existence—is to be a blessing to the people and communities we’re working with.
Not knowing how to say or spell a name isn’t the end of the world. But my coffee shop—by its nature—should be easy like Sunday morning.
bringing strong images, memories, or feelings to mind.
A name should be saying something to you before you know what it is or maybe even what it means. It should be speaking to your guts. It should be evoking feelings, and not just sitting there like a typefaced-turd.
This alone can be a tricky one! I know that for Mud River, for instance there are a number of competitors out there with similar names, particularly involving the word Mud/Muddy. That’s fine, and there’s a measure of that which is unavoidable because there’s 28 million businesses in the USA, and we’ve all got to be named something. But as a part of a smaller community of businesses, (an industry), it’s important to distinguish yourself. So for example. There is, in Iowa, a company called Mud River Dog Products. It seems like a pretty cool place to get some gear for you & your dog. It was a challenge for us because I wanted people to be able to search for “Mud River”, and pick us right up. But because our name was used by another, (larger) company, that made getting to “the top” tricky.
There are several other companies within my own industry who didn't share our name exactly, but are very similar. Maybe a word or even a letter or two’s difference. That’s particularly destructive for both companies. I’ve encountered a lot of confusion over the years as people come find my business looking for my competitor, or who refer to a previous conversation we’d had, only for me to realize two minutes later that their previous conversation was with my competitor and not me. It’s confusing, see?
There’s also a question of protection. The day I started my business it was worth, oh, about nothing minus debt & expenses. But now things are different. We’re growing. We have hard assets, we have soft assets, we have a reputation, we have “blue-sky”, we have prospects, we have staff, (who like being paid). We have a lot of challenges ahead of us. But we have a lot behind us, too. We have a lot to lose.
So when we talk about procurability, we’re talking about facebook.com/flagandwire. We’re talking about things like web domains and social media handles.
But we’re also really talking about protecting our brand as an asset in itself. And we can’t do that if we ourselves are, (unintentionally), naming our company something too similar to another company.
I don’t want to work hard for 5 years, seeing an expansion from local, to statewide, statewide to regional, regional to national, only to discover there’s a Flag & Wire Coffee in Tuscaloosa. Not cool.
So there you go. My last post was a pretty emotional look at our re-naming process, and this has been a pretty analytical one. That’s how decisions and processes work—probably everywhere—definitely here.