Why naming matters

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Do you pay attention to how you name things in your company? I don’t just mean product names. I’m referring to the names you use for reports or day-to-day activities. Naming matters. It can make a huge difference to your success…

Most companies think they understand the importance of naming. They may even hire a “brander” or “namer” to develop a corporate or new product name. (Did you know, for example, that in 1955 the Ford Motor company hired poet Marianne Moore to name the company’s new car? Yes, she was responsible for the Edsel.)

But firms sometime stop short of thinking about other equally important names they use, often day-to-day. Here’s an example of a term many firms get wrong: “accident rate.”

Think about it. Doesn’t the word “accident” imply that what happened — whether it involved a car, a piece of machinery or simple human error — was something that could not have been avoided? We even have expressions for that kind of thing. “Accidents will happen,” we say. “That was more by accident than by design.” Or even, “that was a happy accident.”

For a time, I had a contract with the forestry company MacMillan-Bloedel and later with its successor, Weyerhaueser. Both of these companies took safety really seriously. In fact, they tracked their monthly “accident rate.” That was until a really smart CEO declared that calling something an accident was wrong-headed. “These things can be prevented,” he said, “meaning they’re not actually accidents.”

After that, we called them incidents. And our monthly stat became the Recorded Incident Rate or RIR. It made a difference. The company’s laser-like focus on reducing acci incidents reduced injuries by more than 50 percent in less than a year.

That’s just one example of what effective naming can help accomplish.

Scroll to Top