In SMPL Q+A, we interview Siegel+Gale practitioners on all things relevant to branding, design, and simplicity.
Siegel+Gale encourages global office swaps so that practitioners can master their craft in a new city. The exchange program is personally and professionally enriching, making our people better at what they do. Here, we speak with San Francisco-based Gabriele Zamora—Senior Strategist, Naming—about her experience swapping lives with a fellow namer from across the pond.
What was the naming exchange and why did Siegel+Gale do it?
Think Wife Swap. That show from the early 2000s where two very different people with very different backgrounds trade places. That’s the way I usually describe it to people. I quite literally swapped lives with one of my naming colleagues for a few months—he worked in the San Francisco office and lived in my apartment. I worked in the London office and lived in his flat. There was far less drama, but just as much opportunity for learning and reflection.
We did the exchange to put our global naming capabilities to the test. The way our naming team works at Siegel+Gale is pretty unique. We have ten career namers around the world—three in San Francisco, four in New York, two in London, and one in Shanghai. But, we don’t just work within these siloes. We are in constant contact with one another and collaborate on almost all projects. The distance makes our work stronger. We’re consulting in a more globally-informed way. We create a wider range of names because our naming styles are so heavily influenced by our individual experiences.
We wanted to take this collaboration a step further. By living and working in new places, we would be forced to fully immerse ourselves in the unfamiliar. We would gain direct exposure to naming challenges we would typically only experience from afar. And we would form lasting connections across offices and departments (shout-out to the London team—you are all amazing!).
How is naming in EMEA different from naming in the US?
We always talk about how naming is more global than ever before, but I don’t think this fully resonated with me until I worked in London. When we’re partnering with US-based companies, we’re naming for audiences who are very much like us. Odds are we speak the same language—English—and derive similar meaning from word parts. We share expectations around what brands sound like and how they appeal to us. It’s easy to run with what is familiar and operate within the confines of what we know because that’s what works here. It’s not always what works beyond here.
London is one of the most diverse cities in the world. Its location alone calls for a greater understanding of what lies around it. In EMEA, we often make names for clients who are not native English speakers. This broadens the set of tools we have at our disposal to create—it’s a longer alphabet, a bigger dictionary. It also means we have to be more aware of how words land—how their meanings shift and shape perceptions.
Can you give an example of how these differences impacted a naming project?
One of the first projects I worked on was renaming a global pharmaceutical company. The client team was wonderfully diverse. Every member was fluent in English, but each separately spoke Dutch, Italian, Spanish, and Chinese, among a few other languages. We kicked off the project with 25 sample names to gauge reactions to theme, style, and tone. We showed a full range of possibilities, everything from real English words, to two-word compounds, to names with Dutch heritage (the company was founded in the Netherlands), to completely made-up, coined names.
We thought names with English words like “Ready Supply” or “Sourcehouse” would be appealing because English has become such a global language. Perhaps these names would be more easily recognized and understood across continents and cultures. We were wrong. The team consistently gravitated toward coined names grounded in Latin or inspired by multiple languages. Names like “Revera,” “Versana,” and “Neoleon” resonated because they sounded universal, like they couldn’t be traced back to a single language. They functioned as empty vessels ready to take on new meaning. The company renamed itself Centrient. Coined from the words “central” and “ingredient,” the name transcends the English language and feels immediately more global.
Was the exchange a valuable experience?
It changed the way I approach naming. We should always think like global brands. It’s hard to predict how a company will grow and evolve. It may just be in the US today, but in new global markets five years from today. It’s important to think about how the company’s name will be received by new audiences. Will they get it? Can they pronounce it? Does it welcome them in and make an immediate, genuine connection? We should be answering these questions for every naming assignment.
The exchange was just as valuable on a personal level. My arrival coincided with the 2018 World Cup. It was refreshing and inspiring to see such a celebration of identity and acceptance of difference, and all in one city. I’ll never forget what that sense of global camaraderie felt like. I think the real value is in the mindset shift. Simple exposure to new people, new places, and new things beyond “home,” broadens your entire perspective.