How to Name a Game

Ticket to Ride

So you’ve designed a game.  It’s going to be the best game ever.  But now you need to give it a name.  What are you going to call it?

Anyone who’s tried to name anything will tell you that this is harder than it first appears.  Whether it’s a band, a company, a child, a product or a boardgame, there are many considerations.  You can’t just go with the first cool-sounding name that pops into your head.

We’ve been exploring names for the games we currently have in development for a while now.  This is my checklist of things to consider when evaluating a possible name.  They’re in order of importance.

Games names should be…

  1. Original

You can’t design a train game and call it ‘Ticket to Ride’.  In fact, you can’t design any game and call it ‘Ticket to Ride’, even if your game has nothing to do with trains.  It’s been taken.  You can’t go with ‘Tickets to Ride’ or anything that’s remotely close either.

Legally, if your name is too close to another name, you’re likely to receive a ‘Cease and Desist’ letter, which essentially forces you to stop using the name.  I’m no lawyer, but my understanding from the cautionary tale of others is that if you want to fight it in court, it will delay your game by a couple of years and potentially bankrupt you.  Not worth the risk in my opinion.

Sharing a similar name to another boardgame isn’t the only thing you need to worry about though.  If your name is similar to the name of a computer game, or a film or book franchise or anything vaguely connected with entertainment, you could be in trouble.

Apart from the legal risk, I would want to have an original name anyway.  You don’t want people confusing your game with another one that will no doubt pale in comparison to your amazing game.

So step 1 is to check your name on BoardGameGeek to make sure it isn’t similar to any other boardgame.  But then you should do a google search to check that it isn’t similar to, well, anything really.  You need to look through several pages of google results – don’t just skim the first page.

This can be really hard.  The number of times we’ve brainstormed some great names only to find that they’ve already been taken.  Persevere.  It’s worth it.

  1. Easy to remember / Short

I wouldn’t recommend calling your game Ziklophasmogripha.  No one will remember it.  Shorter names are easier to remember, but even Ziklop isn’t going to stick in people’s minds.  It’s possible to come up with a memorable name by making up random words, but personally, I would avoid it.

I would also avoid generic words.  Fantasy Adventure, Dice Challenge, Space Wars – these names are so bland that no one will remember them either.

  1. Easy to spell

When people hear the name of your game, they should be able to google it and find it.  If you’ve called it ‘Nemasis’, people won’t find it because they’ll be googling ‘Nemesis’.  This includes using k’s where you expect c’s (eg. Adventure Kard Game) or q’s where you expect ck’s (eg. Running Traq), or any unconventional spelling in fact!

  1. Connected with the theme

You want people to have some vague idea of what your game is about from the name.  Just to get them into the ballpark at least.  I don’t think this is actually that important, but it can help.  Think of ‘7 Wonders’, ‘Pandemic’ or ‘Mansions of Madness’.  These names all conjure up images that relate to the theme of the games.

Having said that, ‘Caylus’, ‘Tzolk’in’ and ‘Orléans’ are all successful games whose names convey nothing to me about what you’re actually doing in any of those games.

  1. Good

Honestly, I think this is the least important consideration.  Everyone will have their own opinion about what constitutes a ‘good’ name for a game.  Personally, I don’t think ‘Star Realms’ is a good name for a game, but it did very well and other people may love it.

Think of all the awful band names that have made it over the years.  I think U2 is a terrible name for a band, but it’s distinctive and they were good at what they did.  Now everyone associates that name with their music because there’s no other name like it.  Originality is far more important.

Now these are just my opinions.  Games have certainly broken many of my ‘rules’ (eg. Qwirkle) and still been successful.  But unless you’re an established game designer or publisher, I think these tips will improve your odds of success a bit.  And if you’re trying to establish yourself in the industry, every little bit helps.

Do you have any tips for naming games?  What are the best game names you have come across?

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Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn't doing anything else, he designs games.

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[…] boardgame about Lord of the Rings now, you’re going to have great difficulty coming up with a name for it that makes you think of Lord of the Rings, but hasn’t already been taken.  Prior to the […]

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