One of the most consistent hits that Magical Wasteland gets from search engines is from people looking for advice on how to name a new video game studio. (The hit comes from a throwaway post I wrote over six years ago.)

This is a difficult process. In many ways, it’s like naming a band: technically, you can do anything, but if your idea is at all clever, someone else has probably done it first. And really, the name shouldn’t be too clever, otherwise the joke gets in the way of what, ultimately, should be a desire to express the group’s ethos sincerely.

Some people will say that the name “doesn’t matter,” and that you can pick anything as long as it’s unique. A nonsense word or a weird combination of words can work inasmuch as you start from a blank slate that you have the opportunity to build some meaning around (“Infinity Ward”). In some sense this is true. I know of no correlation to how good or bad a studio name is with its success or failure.

At the same time, we should not forget that words hold meanings and associations, sometimes very deep ones rooted in thousands of years of human culture and civilization. A more mystical take on names would inform us that a name is, in some fundamental sense, a spell– the most basic type of spell. So why not take advantage of this? The name could evoke the power of those ancient connotations and place them in service of your enterprise.

The very best kind of game studio name might be memorable, meaningful, powerful, and let people know what to expect before you have to explain it to them.

Naming can become excessively complicated and political if there’s a group of opinionated people who are all expected to agree on a single name. Someone is always going to pick on it or be dissatisfied or worry that it isn’t cool enough. If you think about a name too hard you can always find something wrong with it– it is either too bizarre or too generic, it always seems to make your brother-in-law laugh, or, there is a way to interpret the name as to suggest a sex act that, once imagined, cannot be unseen by the mind’s eye.

Finally, all the good names are already taken.

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In my own case, picking the name Shadegrown Games took an entire year of restlessly mulling different ideas (thankfully, I was not in a rush). During that time I kept notes of words that I liked or found interesting, even ones that had no relation to games or my work (here are a couple of them: boule, pellicle). I also noted general concepts with which I felt a certain affinity, like wit or adaptability or self-reliance. The final name uses none of those words or those concepts, but going through that process was what got me to my destination.