Second first impressions: Reflections on naming at Otherwise
We founded our studio in 1992 under the name Otherwise, which went against the tide of naming conventions at the time. Lifetime devotees of language and grammar — and unafraid of doing things differently — the name Otherwise revealed itself naturally, signaling not only two forces coming together (design as “other” and ideas as “wise”), but our ability to see what others overlook. It sets up the possibility for an alternative, and we’ve carried that spirit through to our work for the past thirty years.
Transforming a good idea into a great brand is an art as well as a science, and one of the most compelling stages of the branding process is naming. What kind of brand name will be memorable, timeless and successful? What name will stand out in the crowded landscape of brands? And while logos and taglines may come and go, what name will withstand the test of time?
Hunting for available social media handles, researching trademarks and securing buy-in from a client team — naming can be an arduous and complex process. But it’s also one of our favorite projects because, for a moment, we get to exist purely in the realm of possibility, creativity and exploration.
At Otherwise, we take a nonlinear approach to the discovery process to challenge our biases and preconceived notions. Founder Nancy Lerner has several go-to literary resources to get the wheels spinning; she finds that poetry, such as the work of T.S. Eliot, sets the stage for reorganizing her thoughts and finding new meaning in familiar ideas. Maddie Rosemurgy, one of our Brand Strategists, starts by making exhaustive word lists and diving into the history books for inspiration.
Over the past thirty years, we’ve named tech start-ups, real estate developments, amenity spaces at commercial office buildings, restaurants and hospitality groups, and even an outdoor adventure park. Let’s take a look at five recent naming projects to uncover the strategies that we’ve developed and the stories that we’ve told along the way.
One of the most pervasive naming trends that we’ve observed in the past decade is the use of given names or surnames to personify a brand. The sources vary — family names, fictional characters, historical figures — but the intention is the same. Taking inspiration from its location and storied history, we named Embry, a classically-modern luxury residence in the heart of Chicago’s West Loop. While scouring the archives at the Chicago History Museum to explore the West Loop’s past, we discovered the name of a resident who lived near the building’s site: Embry.
RENELLE ON THE RIVER
We often play with language to develop unique names and portmanteaus like Renelle, the name of a luxury residential real estate project on the Chicago River. Fusing the word runnel, a delicate stream or brook, with renaissance — which reflects the premise of a new beginning for this coveted site and its residents — we created the alliterative name Renelle on the River. It carries the fluidity and elegance of the building’s architecture while referencing the sights and sounds of the river below.
Connections to cultural and familial roots provide a rich resource for naming. A Minneapolis deli serving bagels by day and Middle Eastern cuisine by night, Meyvn honored heritage, language and family. A Yiddish word meaning an expert or connoisseur, the name speaks to deeply understanding a subject — qualities embodied by the menu and Meyvn experience. It’s also a subtle homage to the co-owner and chef’s grandmother, whose recipes inspired the menu.
Unlikely sources reveal themselves when you push the boundaries of branding. Nationally recognized bar educator, trainer and operator Mike Ryan engaged Otherwise to develop the brand and visual identity for his new bar and beverage consultancy group. We turned to academia for this brand, borrowing from noetics, a metaphysical branch of philosophy concerned with the study of mind and intellect. Thus the name Noetica Group was coined, referencing and celebrating their combined roles as storytellers, artists and scientists.
Sometimes, short and simple names make the strongest impact. The brainchild of three successful technology entrepreneurs, The Forge in Lemont, IL, is a one-of-a-kind outdoor experience that celebrates natural beauty and provides engaging recreational activities for adventurers of all ages and abilities. Inspired by the thrill of adventure racing, a commitment to nature and preservation, and an unyielding respect that the definition of physical challenge is highly personal, the name alludes to a space that helps us develop, or forge, new challenges for ourselves within a like-minded community.