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Lessons in Business Naming from Newspaper Headlines

Two headlines in the "Home" section of my local newspaper caught my eye the other day: "Natural floors can be knotty and nice" and "Serving cheese with ease." Both headlines involve enjoyable wordplay of the sort that could easily figure in business names or tag lines. I can imagine "KnottyandNice.com" as the domain name for a wooden items crafts shop, and "Cheese with ease" as the tag line for a cheese lovers' online community.

So I went looking for some tips on writing news headlines, thinking they might offer valuable insights for naming, too. After all, news editors need to come up with informative, catchy headers numerous times every workday.

Even more challenging, their headers need to fit the available space. They need to be able to condense or stretch an idea's expression, depending on how many columns an article spreads across.

My Google search didn't quickly turn up any such tips, though. Maybe headline writing is an art passed on in secret by grizzled, ink-stained veterans during the midnight shift.

Nevertheless, by pondering a couple of dozen headlines, I was able to observe several key points.

1. Newspaper headline writers collect short, vivid verbs, such as "mines" ("Obama mines small, red states"), "stirs," "pushes," "clings," "set," "edges," "sparks," "tosses," "sees," "OKs" and much more. Not only can headlines with verbs tell a complete story, they convey energy.

Because verbs are frequently overlooked as an element in naming, these punchy little words can help you come up with a trademarkable name or a free domain in a competitive industry.

2. Long, vivid words can also come in handy. In the headline "Super Bowl party can be gastronomical success," the word "gastronomical" rescues the line from dullness. It's a wonderful word that could be tweaked in a zillion creative ways for a company name or tag line.

The lesson: long, vivid words can help you convey a complicated idea concisely, as long as your average customer has an inkling of their meaning.

3. Short, vivid words come in useful, too. Take a look at the word "ire" in the headline "Delay in polar bear decision draws ire of Senate." This is another kind of word that most people understand yet probably wouldn't think to use.

4. Combined cleverly, ordinary words can please inordinately. Besides the rhyme in "cheese with ease" and the homonym in "knotty and nice," I also found "Hoops and hollers" atop a photo of kids cheering at a basketball game, which illustrates alliteration - the repetition of initial letters or sounds.

Another headline, "Bush comes clean with former addicts," used an expression with two meanings that both tie in with the subject matter - George W. Bush talking openly about his former drinking problem.

All in all, your newspaper can serve as a source of instruction and inspiration for naming. Just make sure you screen out bloopers like these, which have actually appeared in newspapers:

* Blind Woman Gets New Kidney from Dad she Hasn't Seen in Years
* Grandmother of Eight Makes Hole in One
* Quarter of a Million Chinese Live on Water
* Stolen Painting Found by Tree
* Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim
* Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges
* Iraqi Head Seeks Arms
* Kids Make Nutritious Snacks

Marcia Yudkin is Head Stork of Named At Last, a company that brainstorms creative business names, product names and tag lines for clients. For a systematic process of coming up with an appealing and effective name or tag line, download a free copy of "19 Steps to the Perfect Company Name, Product Name or Tag Line" at www.namedatlast.com/19steps.htm

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