712 Hayes: Eat My Words (S1 EP3)

712 Hayes: Eat My Words (S1 EP3)

Episode 3 features my time working for Eat My Words: a company focused creating memorable names for companies and products.

Mustafa Shaikh
7 min read

Episode 3 features the life and times of a professional namer.

As you may recall from the first episode of "712 Hayes," I told my would-be roommates I was working at Eat My Words as a professional namer. My actual role at the company was a bit more nuanced than that.

The way I came around to my position at Eat My Words was through a series of fortuitous events. In October of 2011, I was in my living room surfing Craigslist for writing gigs. I came across a posting looking for a freelance namer. Who would have thought that naming companies and objects was a job in itself?

After submitting my application, I did a Google search to see if any other companies specialized in developing names. Only a handful of them pulled up, one of which, Eat My Words, was based in San Francisco. On the company’s website, they had an application to be a freelance namer: come up with 20 names for an external hard drive.

I submitted my names and the next day Alexandra, Eat My Words’ founder, dropped me a line: she would be happy to try me out on a future naming assignment, and if I was ever in San Francisco, to come by the office. I let her know that I’m out in Oakland and would love to stop by.

A few days later I hopped on BART to meet Alexandra. Eat My Words was a two-person shop. Along with Alexandra, she had a coordinator, Rena, working with her. They were backed by a fleet of freelance namers she would tap depending on the project at hand.

At some point, Alexandra started discussing her marketing efforts.

“Yeah it’s something we need to work on, but at least my website looks great,” Alexandra relayed.

“Oh yeah, that was the first thing I thought of when I went to Eat My Words, just how outdated it looks.”

“Wait, you think my website is bad? I just had it redesigned recently.”

I had completely misread her comment. I thought she was being sarcastic. Her website looked like it had been launched seven years ago, and well, the internet had come a long way since then.

At that time, I was pretty rough around the edges and didn’t know how to properly give feedback. It’s something to a certain extent I regret saying, especially for a brand like Eat My Words that is so inextricably linked with its founder.  

Despite my brusqueness, the next day Alexandra reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in joining Eat My Words full-time. She took another look at her website and thought, “Yeah, I would like to improve this website, and this kid seems to have half-a-brain and can help me on other things too.”

Seeing as earlier in the week I was splitting my waking hours between applying to random gigs on Craigslist, watching B-list films on Netflix, and mulling how long I have ‘till I have to ask Mama for rent money, I happily accepted the offer. By the next week, I was working on names, but primarily the marketing aspect of the business, which is something Alexandra didn’t personally have the time to invest in.

Many of you may be surprised to learn that there are companies dedicated to naming. Those of you would be even more surprised to learn what Eat My Words charged for a few syllables; when I was there it was anywhere from $15k to $35k depending on the level of service.

That being said, Alexandra and the Eat My Words team have come up with some hits. A frozen yogurt company: Spoon Me. San Francisco’s most unique ice cream shop: Smitten. A vehicle hose specialist: Hose Candy. A fair-trade coffee company: I Have A Bean.

By far the best name she came up with was for a nail salon in the Castro: Hand Job. I mean, c’mon guys, how perfect is that? Make some noise for this woman.

The founders of all these companies have been paid back many times via the investment in their names.

(For those who are coming up with a new name for a venture and can’t afford to retain Eat My Words, I have three options for you: 1) If you have a name in mind, put it through Alexandra’s Name Evaluation Test, 2) read her book, and/or 3) take her online workshop. If you convert on 2 or 3, let me know so I can pressure Alexandra into paying for lunch next time I see her.)  

The OG Wordsmith is ready to teach you. 

While most of my time was spent on redesigning the website, cold-calling leads, and presenting capabilities decks to potential clients, I was able to work on several naming projects during my relatively short tenure at Eat My Words. Unfortunately, while many of my names made it to the final round, none of them were selected. The closest I got was on an assignment to name a beer.

Half Moon Bay Brewing was looking to get in on the craft beer craze. In the late 2000’s you had microbreweries like 21st Amendment and Lagunitas putting their drinks into cans with bright colors and shipping them nationwide. They wanted a piece of the action so they brought on Pete Slosberg to take them to the promised land.

Your parents might have had a sip of Pete’s beer: Pete’s Wicked Ale. At one point Pete’s Brewing Company was the country’s second-largest craft brewery. Pete was looking at a full rebrand for both the umbrella brand and individual beers of Half Moon Bay Brewing.

He had a very specific vision when it came to names: stop you in your tracks, have an attitude with some fun, and have multiple meanings. If possible he was keen to also have names that had sexual undertones to them. Seeing the Eat My Words portfolio, he knew Alexandra and Co. were the right fit for the job.

Alexandra knowing that I 1) went to every sponsored open bar she told me about, and 2) wrote a sex column for my college newspaper, put me on the hunt.

I placed most of my energy into the names for specific beers. We met with Pete and he went into detail describing the two beers he was planning on re-launching with: a rye and milk stout. The milk stout was interesting in that there was no milk in it, but it was made with lactose sugar to give it a slightly sweeter taste. It was marketed as a milk stout to make beer drinkers in 1800’s Britain think that it was healthier than the average beer.

I spent several days looking over visual inspiration, running through rhyming dictionaries, and referencing other tools we used at Eat My Words. There had to be some way to say milk stout in a way that caught a would-be drinker's attention.

If you’re a very close friend of mine, you know that I’m intrigued by the idea of breast milk being consumed casually as an adult. (I should be checking that box off in April, but to be clear, the kid is not my son.) Meditating on breast milk is what took me to the promised land. After a week of working at it, I landed on a name that I knew Pete would love.

After a couple of weeks of workshopping names, the Eat My Words team made its way down to Half Moon Bay Brewing’s restaurant to meet with Pete and its executive team to present our initial list. After Alexandra teed me up, I presented what I believed to be my winning name to Pete on the restaurant’s picturesque patio.

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