Operative Words


How to create names using the world’s most powerful naming tool

Words inspire me.

The more words I see, the more inspired I become. So when I create brand names, I want to be overwhelmed by endless lists of words.

Publications and dictionaries offer words in abundance, but they don’t offer an easy way of discovering masses of words relevant to specific ideas or attributes, such as those found in a naming brief.

In my experience, a corpus – a large sample of words in context – is the most useful and comprehensive stockpile of words, especially when searchable in a database. I have several go-to corpus linguistics resources, but one favorite: Sketch Engine.

Sketch Engine: The Most Powerful Naming Tool I’ve Ever Used

Published by Lexical Computing, Sketch Engine has over 465 corpora to choose from. There are 75 English corpora, some comprising billions of words from spoken and written sources. The other 390 non-English corpora span languages familiar and exotic. If you are looking for a corpus of German, the Polish Bible or Igbo, you’re in luck.

Some of the English corpora you’ll find on Sketch Engine

Some of the English corpora you’ll find on Sketch Engine


How to Create Names with Sketch Engine

My starting point for creating names is a review of the name objectives I’ve developed, particularly the brand’s key attributes. To show what Sketch Engine can do, let’s pretend we’re naming a new brand that should be perceived as strong.

Sketch Engine will provide a deep exploration of the word strong, and inspire names that are differentiated yet relevant.

After logging-in to Sketch Engine — which requires a well-worth-it paid subscription — I click on a specific corpus link to load it. I choose English Web 2013, comprised of a mind-boggling 19 billion words culled from English-language web pages.

Having loaded the corpus, the option to search for a word and make its concordance is presented by default. A concordance is the context in which a word appears in a body of text. In my work, reviewing hundreds or thousands of sentences that comprise a word’s concordance is not as useful as knowing the word’s collocations, those words that habitually appear next to or near that word. 

A concordance of the word  strong

A concordance of the word strong


To identify a word’s collocations and thus find all of the words that naturally pair with it, Sketch Engine features Word Sketch. A Word Sketch presents a word’s collocations, neatly organized by part of speech.

Click Word Sketch on the left to get started

Click Word Sketch on the left to get started


Let’s make a Word Sketch of the word strong. Click Word Sketch in the blue box on the left, and you’re asked to enter a “lemma”. A lemma is the most basic form of a word, as you’d find in the headwords of a dictionary. Enter strong in the lemma field and choose “adjective” from the pop-up menu or just leave Auto if that’s available.

After clicking the “Show Word Sketch” button, we’re presented with tables of the specific words that have appeared near or next to strong in the texts of the corpus. Tables are organized by grammatical context and include frequency information about each collocation.

Before studying our Word Sketch of strong, click “More data” in the blue box on the left to fetch more results. Click it a few more times after the data loads to get even more results. And you do want more results, right?

Part of the Word Sketch of  strong

Part of the Word Sketch of strong


Our Word Sketch of strong can be used in different ways to create new brand names.

How to Create Compound Names with Word Sketch

To create compound names that include strong, navigate to the “adj_subject” and “modifies” columns. These words have been modified by the adjective strong. Combine strong with them and you’ll have a nice list of natural-sounding compound names:

Strong Tide
Strong Bond
Strong Wind
Strong Link
Strong Force
Strong Lead

Words like tide, bond, wind, etc. could be stand-alone names or may be combined with other words, ideally other collocations.

Scroll through the Word Sketch to explore further

Scroll through the Word Sketch to explore further


The columns “adj_comp_of” and “np_comp_of” include words that naturally precede strong, giving us potential names — or slogans — like:

Feel Strong
Grow Strong
Stand Strong
Think Strong

How to Develop Symbolic Names with Word Sketch

Our Word Sketch also tells us what symbolizes strong. To see what’s “stronger than ___” or “as strong as __”, navigate to the columns “pp_than_i” and “pp_as_i”:


Can your dictionary do that?

Some of these words will combine well with words from other columns, giving us interesting ideas like:

Steel Bond
Tide Force
Alloy Strength

Discover New Creative Directions with Word Sketch

The column “and/or” tells us what words combine with strong in an and/or phrase. This is helpful for finding words that naturally pair with strong:


You can use these words as springboards for new creative directions that indirectly reflect strong. For example, tall and healthy could be separately explored for synonyms, associations and metaphors that lead to new, relevant names.

A Totally New Thesaurus 

Sketch Engine also features an interesting thesaurus that gives you options Roget never thought of. The results from this thesaurus are generated automatically, so they include words that aren’t synonymous yet are related.

What’s another world for  thesaurus ?

What’s another world for thesaurus?


Click the “Thesaurus” link in the blue box, enter your lemma and choose the part of speech or use Auto and it will identify the most common part of speech for that lemma.

Thesaurus Rex

Thesaurus Rex


You might find viable names in this thesaurus or identify springboards for new directions, like these interesting ideas:


Compare Two Concepts Using Word Sketch

Sketch Engine also has a word comparison tool called Sketch-Diff which reveals the intersection of two words. Let’s imagine that we’re naming a technology brand that should be perceived as strong and fast.

What qualities do strong and fast have in common?

Click “Sketch-Diff” on the left and enter strong for the first lemma and fast for the second. Then click “Show Diff”.

Learn what two words have in common

Learn what two words have in common


The result is a an integrated Word Sketch, color coded by the degree to which words collocate with one word or both. Words in white collocate equally with both words, red or green indicate lesser degrees of mutual collocation.

A Sketch-Diff comparing  strong  and  fast

A Sketch-Diff comparing strong and fast


Here are examples of what strong and fast have in common:


To create names that reflect both strong and fast, use words from this list as springboards. for example, digging into the concepts of connection, travel (car and flight), flow, and growth will lead to new names that support or connote multiple aspects of the brand.

In the 25 years I’ve been creating brand names, I’ve used a lot of naming tools, but no one resource has been as useful as Sketch Engine. Learn how to harness its power and you’ll always be inspired.