Why creative bot names help build your brand – and better customer relationships
Sometimes a rose by any other name does not smell as sweet – particularly when it comes to your company's chatbot. Learn how to choose a creative and effective company bot name.
Published March 14, 2022
Last updated March 14, 2022
2001: A Space Odyssey is a cult classic; the quintessential "evil robot takes over" science-fiction tale featuring a soft-spoken killer robot with the neighbourly name of HAL. Arthur C. Clarke, who wrote the story the 1968 movie was based on, went through several creative bot names before deciding on HAL (Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer). He toyed with Autonomous Mobile Explorer-5, Socrates, and Athena. Any one of these bot names had the potential to change the reader's perception of the robot's personality, and therefore the story, dramatically. Similarly, naming your company’s chatbot is as important as naming your company, children, or even your dog. Names matter, and that's why it can be challenging to pick the right name – especially as your AI chatbot may be the first "person" your customers talk to.
Things to consider when naming a bot
First and foremost, choose a name with meaning. Branding experts know that a chatbot's name should reflect your company's brand name and identity. Or put another way, its mission, vision, and values. One question you might want to ask yourself is "if our company was a person, who would that person be?"
- Would they be gendered or genderless?
- Where would this person be from, geographically and culturally?
- What would this person believe in?
- What would their lifestyle be like?
- Who would their friends be?
- What name would this person choose for themself?
A chatbot may be you one chance to choose someone else's personality. Create a personality with the register (casual, formal or colloquial), level of empathy and humour etc. you choose for them.
Once you've worked out "who" your chatbot is, you have to find a name that fits their personality. Gabi Buchner, a user assistance development architect in the software industry and conversation designer for chatbots, recommends browsing the dictionary for chatbot name ideas. You could also look through industry publications to find what words might lend themselves to chatbot names. You could discuss favourite myths, movies, music, or historical characters. Don't limit yourself to human names: come up with options in several different categories, from functional names – like Quizbot – to whimsical names. This isn't just an exercise for executives and marketing teams, either. Your front-line customer service team may have a good read about what your customers will respond to and can be another resource for suggesting chatbot name ideas. Your robot's name might evolve from the name of your company itself – Acme's chatbot, for example, might be Ace. Loyola University gave its chatbot the voice and name of the university's greyhound mascot, Iggy. You might pinch a robot name from a famous person, place, event, or myth. Amazon's Alexa, for example, is named in homage to the Great Library of Alexandria, a source of knowledge in ancient times. Before the company chose Alexa, several other names were considered. Amazon's Jeff Bezos suggested:
- Finch, the name of a fantasy book
- Friday, the helper in Robinson Crusoe
- Samantha, the Bewitched character witch who marries a mortal.
Each of these names reflects not only a character but also the bot's intended function. Friday communicates that the artificial intelligence device is a robot that helps out. Samantha is a magician robot, who teams up with us mere mortals. But Alexa represents the source of all knowledge.
Choosing a chatbot name for a function
In addition to identifying the bot's function, the Alexa naming team also sought a word with three syllables that were a "distinct combination of phonemes". That way, customers wouldn't wake up the device whenever they spoke. It needed to be both easy to pronounce and difficult to confuse with other words. In many cases, giving a chatbot a name that engenders ease and comfort is paramount. But what engenders comfort? Customers might feel more comfortable learning about holiday letting extras from "Stacey," but to troubleshoot issues with a medical device, you may prefer a bot called "Medic Helper" As Buchner put it, WHO Health Alert isn't a really creative bot name but "You won't turn to the WHO chatbot for some chit-chat but to get important health updates or warnings on the latest coronavirus health situation." Many people involve their bot in social media campaigns, which should also be factored in when choosing a name.
What to avoid in creative bot names
Gender is very much at the forefront of customers' social concerns, as are racial and other cultural considerations. All of these lenses need to be considered when naming your chatbot. You want your bot to represent your organisation, but also be sensitive to the needs of your customers, whoever and wherever they are.
A chatbot name that is hard to pronounce, for customers in any part of the world, can be off-putting. You also have to consider the meanings of names. For example, Krishna, Mohammed, and Jesus might be common names in certain locations but will call to mind religious associations in other places. Whether human or contrived, the Internet is full of hilarious examples of, and conversations about, companies and products with chatbot names that are appropriate in one place but absolutely appalling in another. Siri, for example, means something anatomical and personal in the language of the country of Georgia. Wherever you hope to do business, it's important to understand what your chatbot's name means in that language. You also need to know if the name has a meaning for people in your own country but which will be lost to others from another geographical, generational, gendered, or socioeconomic background. Doing research helps, as does including a diverse panel of people in the naming process, with different worldviews and backgrounds.
Give your bot a creative name – and introduce its personality
If you give your chatbot a human name, it's important for the bot to introduce itself as an AI chatbot in a live chat, through whichever chatbot or messaging platform you’re using. If a customer knows they're dealing with a bot, they may still be polite to it, even chatty. But don’t let them feel hoodwinked or that sense of cognitive dissonance that comes from thinking they’re talking to a person and realising they’ve been deceived. Humans are becoming comfortable building relationships with chatbots. Maybe even more comfortable than with other humans – after all, we know the bot is just there to help. Many people talk to their robot vacuum cleaners and use Siri or Alexa as often as they use other tools. Some even ask their bots existential questions, interfere with their programming, or consider them a "safe" friend. Depending on your customer base and the bot's programming, your chatbot may become much more than a tool that can answer questions; it could also build new, lifelong relationships with your customers. Key takeaway? Don't trust random names. Take some time, be thoughtful, and pick a chatbot name you and the bot can grow with.
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Messaging best practice examples for better customer service
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