How to name your design firm

Bob Borson —  December 22, 2010 — 56 Comments

One the first things you must consider when starting your new architectural firm, is what to name it. The choices are varied and the ramifications staggering. If the personality of the firm is going to be projected by the name, you had better take it seriously – every one else will. That’s where Life of an Architect can help (not really) – because I am a creative and critical thinker and somebody has to think about these things.

Originally, before architects were licensed professionals and to add some credibility to the profession to help distinguish themselves from the other trade crafts (like carpenters and contractors), architecture firms turned to law firms as an example and starting stringing together the last names of the founding individuals or partners (i.e. McKim, Mead & White) . This method is still wildly used simply because it is the easiest albeit least creative method. It doesn’t take much to recognize that some of the older more established firms have chosen this method:

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Safe? Boring? I don’t know but maybe classic is a better word  - at worst these certainly aren’t very exciting, nor do they display the panache and overwhelming creativity that many of the younger firms are trying to project. Eventually, as the initial leadership retires and the next wave of partners take over, the names are reduced down to initials to help ease that transition. Here is a consideration for you: In the beginning when you open your doors for business, everybody gets to work with the person whose name is on the door. After a while, if you have experienced some measure of success, new clients will invariably meet with a variety of people who don’t have your name and those clients are going to wonder why are they not getting you? Despite the talents of the people they are dealing with, they came to Bob Borson Architects … so why aren’t they getting Bob Borson? (And really, who doesn’t think that?) There is a methodology I am working on to help you make your decision and it is based on a practice perfected by the owners of Chinese restaurants and Multi-family apartment complexes.

If you are going to have a Chinese restaurant, you have to work with certain words. The way this works is that you must have at least two of the following words used in any combination:

Panda,  Dragon,  Gate,  Royal,  Jade,  Happy
Golden,  Garden,  Wok,  Lucky,  China
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starting with, or followed by:

Restaurant,  Buffet,  Super,  Café, Express

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and viola! You get

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Bla-DOW !! Just try and tell me that you haven’t eaten in a restaurant named one of these places. All I can say is … Oh Yeah!! (okay that wasn’t a very good follow through but you know I’m right on this)

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The process with an apartment complex is a little more complicated but the strategy is the still the same. Tree Type + Geological feature type = apartment complex name. It’s really up to you if you want to add Villa, Estate, Apartment or Village at the beginning or end but isn’t that really just gilding the lily?

Trees

Apple, Walnut, Oak, Pecan, Willow, Maple, etc.

+

Geological features

Glade, Meadow, Hills, Grove, Valley, Forest, Glenn, Rolling,  Springs, Brook, Ridge, Cove, Garden

+

(elective) Estate, Villa, Apartment, Village

=

Rolling Valley Maple Brook Apartments
The Villas at Willow Forest
Oak Ridge Apartments

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Sorry but I’m not taking the time to prepare a graphic for the apartments – it would involve drawing trees, groves and/or brooks

Okay, so let’s use these newly discovered techniques to develop your new winning brand; it’s not that hard if you apply the same strategy used by Chinese food restaurants when naming your firm – you are guaranteed to have a winner. Of course, whether or not you are able to show some restraint and find a balance of what to include and what to exclude – that’s on you. Getting started, you have to select something that identifies that you have an office and aren’t simply working out of the closet in your guest bedroom. Good words to use are:

office, studio, atelier, agency, lab, bureau, department, or division

Trust me when I tell you to avoid using Guest Bedroom or Closet – it doesn’t look very professional.

I am going to start of with “Atelier” because it’s French and it means: an artist’s or designer’s workroom … that has got to be good for an extra $10 per hour on my billing rate (at least). I am also going to go with the color red as my background because it’s a complicated color – standing for beauty, passion as well as anger and wrath – but mostly because all those older and successful firms did it.

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Do you include your name in the title? That’s a good question and one that warrants some consideration. It is your firm after all but including your name can add for some challenges if your firm experiences some success and grows beyond you as the main talent. In addition, things can really go haywire if your last name is something that you know people will mis-spell … like “van Leeuwen” (man, does that guy have a road to hoe). That is probably why he and his business partner, “Mr. Eckert”, chose not to use their names in the title of the firm. For now, I am going to use my name because in my make believe firm, if I don’t do it, apparently it doesn’t get done and nobody has any talent other than myself. I also likes the o’s.

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If you don’t have a proper noun in the title, you absolutely need to introduce an action verb to the title – such as:

design, construct, work, build, or shop

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If you were to use “Architect” or “Architecture”, be prepare to be ridiculed by me as supremely generic and not very creative. You must also prepare for the fact that you will spend your professional life site-adapting fast food restaurants and big box tenants (if that works ever comes back that is…) but I will raise my Hamm’s beer to salute you from afar … since you will be at a table reserved for bottle service and they won’t let me in that area.

Since the possibility that someone other than yourself might eventually work there, another consideration is to include words such as (and don’t forget the punctuation):

Partners, Associates,  or Architects

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but please give some consideration to the “and” portion. You could write the word out but up until this point, you don’t have any graphics. That is where the & symbol or the + symbol come into play

+   /   &   and

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So put all this magic and good sense together and you have yourself a guaranteed winner

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I hope you can use this most instructive methodology to develop your new firm name. Choosing your components properly and building your new firm name with this methodology will ensure that you will experience everything that you have coming – I’m warning you now so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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**Disclaimer**

I should come clean and let everyone know that post was supposed to be a goof – hopefully you know that. The problem is that no matter how hard I tried to make this post humorous, there was simply too much truth to the process. Maybe this is a  commentary on how predictable a purported group of creative thinkers have become – along with their black clothing, heavy-rimmed glasses, and felt tipped pens. <sigh> I have all those things too – I am soooo predictable…..

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  • Annie Uribe

    …moriarty?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      ???

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  • Rahmath

    i think philosophy of designs should also be considered !!!

  • Liza Macalandag

    Thank you for this post. I feel ridiculous having to Google tips on naming arch firms, but after reading your post, I feel even more ridiculous, but funnily ridiculous. I was gonna go for (___) Design Lab myself. Thanks and cheers!

  • http://www.facebook.com/DasherHurst Tom Hurst

    So true….it seems the latest terms are “Collaborative” and “Collective” which just makes me think of the Borg
    (resistance is futile) …..but maybe that’s the image they’re going for.

  • http://www.facebook.com/edward.j.shannon Edward Jay Shannon

    Nice articel Bob, But…..did you know the first architect to incorporate a practice was…..Daniel Burnham! The firm had been Burnham & Root. In 1891, when John W. Root tragically died at the yong age of 44, Burnham was not content in having another partner. So, he incorprated and changed the name of the firm to D. H. Burnahm & Co. Evenutally he took on earnest Graham as a partner When burnahm died in 1912 (his shares in the firm were worth over 1M!) the name of the firm was changed to Graham, Burnham & Co. and then to Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, or GAPW as they liked to be called!

  • http://twitter.com/FivecatStudio Mark R. LePage, AIA

    We named our firm Fivecat Studio because “Six Cats, Two Dogs and a Guinea Pig Studio” sounds ridiculous. ;-)

    You always keep us smiling. Keep up the fine work.

  • Shailendra

    Hi Bob,

    I am starting a trading firm. I will be dealing with Presentation, Audio-Visual, Surveillance & Office Automation Products. Pl suggest a unique name.

    regards!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Hi Shailendra – I think you missed the point, you still have to name your own firm …

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jim-Bunion/100003342731120 Jim Bunion

    Joe Architect.

  • http://twitter.com/TwinklePancholi Twinkle

    How about BOB THE BUILDER?? Your client’s kids will bully their parents into giving the job to you!!  And kids are really persistent when they want to be!! :)

  • Tan Han

    Hi my name is Tanvir Hasnain. . n really stuck up in naming my architectural firm. . how about Hasnain design + associates or Visionary Design Associates. . 

  • Mehnaz_15t

    This is so AWESOME!!! 

  • http://wink.io/ Wink

    Its a really great post. Personally I also feel one needs to analyze the need to add ones own name to the practice.

  • http://wink.io/ Wink

    Its a really great post. Personally I also feel one needs to analyze the need to add ones own name to the practice.

  • http://twitter.com/ExtremelyAvg Brian D. Meeks

    I thought it was a very funny post.  Though I agree, there does seem to be some truth in it.  Mostly, it just made me hungry for Chinese food.  Well done!

  • Oscia Timschell

    So I’m trying to name my new firm, and I just found out that the Practice Act requires that we have one of the founders/owner’s last name and the word Architect/Architects/Architecture.  Requires.  Lame…

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  • http://www.justinfair.com Justin Fair

    Thanks for the humor! Some of these are truths, some of them are sadly…truths. Good times.

  • David Bourbon

    What about TAC (The Architects’ Collaborative)? An early acronym.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      It kinda fits the recipe – maybe you got it right the first time

  • http://www.soulstrong.com Justin Fair

    Thanks for the humor! Some of these are truths, some of them are sadly…truths. Good times.

  • http://www.soulstrong.com Justin Fair

    Thanks for the humor! Some of these are truths, some of them are sadly…truths. Good times.

  • Floorheleen

    hi Bob,
    my name is Heleen Floor and i’m thinking of a name for a firm…use to trade under ‘floorplan’ architectural studio, but i keep on thinking that ‘floorplan’ is a bit like main bedroom or layout or something like that….any suggestions? i would like to use my surname in some way in my name as it is quite related to architecture…:-)

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Hi Heleen,

      I think you should go with a name that suits your personality. Clever wordplay on names is only okay if you have a supporting personality / behavior to go along with it.

      Cheers

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  • Andrew

    Wait… you made fun of our last names and didn’t even give us a plug? No hot-link? Nary a go-check-out-the-most-amazing-design-blog-in-the-world? Where’s the love? Our humiliation has a price tag (granted it’s very inexpensive).

    -Andrew van Leeuwen
    lead designer
    Bureau of Design + Construction & Associates

    • http://twitter.com/Alexandrafunfit Alexandra Williams

      If Bob would study Dutch (shouldn’t everyone) he’d have no trouble pronouncing your last name. And he’d know what a lion you are! Tot ziens.

      • Anonymous

        Alexandra,

        As you should know (because you stalk me), I am half Norwegian. As such, we refer to the Danes as “them”.

        Cheers!

    • Anonymous

      fair is fair … but aren’t I ahead of you in the doing awesome stuff for the other category? I think you will find something magical in the website analytics courtesy of

      R+B Borson
      Lab Panda DesignShOP

  • http://twitter.com/Alexandrafunfit Alexandra Williams

    Instead of sorting out the whole name thing, why don’t you focus on what you produce? Then you could call it “Oodles of Doodles,” ” Dribbles of Scribbles” or “Lines on Paper?” That way you could sort of sound like an architect slash Chinese restaurant slash dentist slash coke dealer. People would be so curious they’d come right over. Besides, I really just want to call your firm “The Rubberband Man.”

    • http://twitter.com/ExtremelyAvg Brian D. Meeks

      When the day come that I need to hire Bob, to design my shipping container castle/evil lair, I will ask that he call his firm (unofficially) “Oodles of Doodles”.

  • http://www.rjaarchitects.blogspot.com Nicole

    So true! Although, I believe that if you are an architecture firm, you should have either the word “architect”, or some variation of the word, in your name. And since “architects” is already three syllables long, I think a good name would be “(one syllable word) Architects”. Just fill in the blank with a word of your choice. It will be a lot easier to say “Hi my name is ____ and I work at Blue Architects” and it gets the point across quickly!!

    • Anonymous

      Did you choose “Blue” for any reason or because that’s how all architects are feeling these days?

      Gotta say, it’s not bad.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe a little flavor from the south… Bob’s Design Boutique or perhaps you could go by BluePrint Bob + Associates

    • Anonymous

      Blueprint Bob + Associates sounds like a bluegrass band

      • Anonymous

        lol (do you play bluegrass as well? If so a perfect name has been found)

  • http://www.amcraftsman.com Todd Clippinger

    Had a great chuckle out of this for a few reasons.

    One of the local law firms in town has grown over the years and the number of names they add to their title has grown to the point it feels like a classroom roll call. This is especially noticeable as they support the local NPR station. Announcing their support takes about 20 seconds to say all of the names and my wife & I joke about it.

    I have concluded that they choose partners based on how the name sounds. I would not be considered for hire (if I was a lawyer) because the sound of my name would not flow well with the others.

    I have come to envy people I know with great sounding names that can be incorporated into their titles. For example: Borson Design, Pacini Design, Kindy Creek Productions (a real creek and name of one of my friends), and Peaslee Productions all have a sound to them that seems to guarantee success.

    Before I hit the disclaimer I thought to myself, “as funny as this is, it is pretty accurate.”

    • Anonymous

      sadly, it is a little too accurate.

      As far as Borson Design, I could see it becoming BD – which sounds a little too much like VD.

      Yes, I am that juvenile.

  • Anonymous

    What about a mashup of Design firm names and architect bingo?

    • Anonymous

      yyou just want to make loads of extra work for me don’t you?

  • mgerwing

    yeah, the name thing has been really bothering me lately. I posted this this morning:
    http://mgerwing.wordpress.com/2010/12/22/whats-in-a-name-architects-monikers/
    I think you should go with “b(OR)son”.

    • Anonymous

      Kate may not like this one when she takes over the family business from the old man as the “son” is much more pronounced. Move it down one and you get a whole different feel bo(RS)on and its now more visually balanced ;)

    • Anonymous

      Kate may not like this one when she takes over the family business from the old man as the “son” is much more pronounced. Move it down one and you get a whole different feel bo(RS)on and its now more visually balanced ;)

      • Anonymous

        maybe b(orso)n…

        Who am I kidding – it will be Kate Borson + Associates (me)

  • http://twitter.com/cvandevere Craig VanDevere

    What about “Borson Architecture”, Clients may not get Bob but they at least get your deisgn influence, after all that is why they came to your firm to begin with. Isn’t it.

  • Food*Sparks

    I especially like the addition of “buffet” to the architecture firm…

    • Anonymous

      I thought about adding Golden Wok … still might

      • Spirit_of_the_West

        During my interview I’ll be sure to ask about the free meals and fortune cookies

  • http://twitter.com/mfrech Mike Frechette

    this is too true, great post. i’m partial to the naming of Renzo Piano Building Workshop. it avoids sounding aloof and inaccessible. it also makes me think of Gepetto making models with a tiny wooden mallet, rather than a highly prestigious international firm.

    • Anonymous

      I always thought that Building + Work + Shop was a little redundant – but you are right about Gepetto

      “I want to be a real building”

  • http://twitter.com/Lisa_S_47 LisaS

    now see, if you were going to be Really Trendy and avoid the spelling issue altogether (since the Borson I think about most is after all Boursin) you would have made it

    atelier B design laB

    funny capitalization and all.

    • Anonymous

      just really go nuts and trick it out! I was going to add 20″ rims to it as well but I can’t afford them (sad face)

  • Cmuwalpole

    “Eventually, as the initial leadership retires…”
    Ha! *initial* leadership!

    • Anonymous

      retires or more likely … dies

      Architects never retire do they?