What’s in a Name? How Developers Choose a Building’s Moniker

Susan M Boyce
January 20, 2016

Just as people inevitably judge a book by its cover, consumers can be significantly influenced by the name what they are buying. This is equally true in real estate developments, where sometimes the pendulum of public favour can swing at light speed in a new direction, based solely on changing perceptions of a name or brand. And yes, we’re talking about last year’s storm surrounding Trump International Hotel & Tower Vancouver.

Just two and a half years ago, the Trump name carried an enviable cache of luxury that even questionable hairstyling couldn’t tarnish. Then came the US presidential campaign, and suddenly half of Vancouver, including even Vancouver’s mayor, was calling for project developer the Holborn Group to dump Trump – or at least, dump his name from the 63-storey twisting downtown tower.

In a press release issued shortly after, Joo Kim Tiah, Holborn Group’s CEO, said that since the company is not involved in US politics it “would not comment further on Mr Trump’s personal or political agenda, nor any political issues, local or foreign.” He also stressed there were contractual obligations to the Trump Organization and other business partners that specified exactly how the hotel-condo tower was to be named and branded. Attempts to break these legal contracts would likely result in years of litigation with only limited chances of success. The name stayed and, as many predicted, the PR nightmare is already fading into the background.

Inspiration for the Perfect Name

Fortunately for marketing companies, most residential development names aren’t this contentious, although finding the perfect one can still be challenging.

Often a site’s topography, history, even street address can provide an answer. RDG Management found a winning name by combining one site’s location adjacent to a forested ridge with its much-loved heritage as one of the city’s original pioneering farms – and The Ridge at Bose Farms was born. Now nearing completion in Vancouver, MC2’s name came about when someone laughingly suggested its location at the corner of Marine and Cambie was like part of Einstein’s famous equation. And in Coquitlam’s Maillardville neighbourhood, translating the street name, Blue Mountain Highway, into Mont Bleu not only created a standout memory point but gave a nod to the community’s French Canadian heritage.

Sometimes inspiration comes from considering lifestyle. In Chinatown, Porte Communities realized their primary demographic would be young, creative and take a playful attitude to life – “active and definitely a bit outside the box,” as Jeanette Chaput, director of marketing and sales, puts it. So the name of its latest development, Ginger, being a spicy component of Asian cuisine, reflected this zesty outlook perfectly.

The Creative Process

Typically, though, naming a building or community begins with the time-honoured tradition of brainstorming. Here’s when the developer, sale and marketing gurus, sometimes even family and friends get together and toss their wildest, most creative ideas into the proverbial hat. Scott Brown, president of Fifth Avenue Real Estate Marketing, notes it’s common for 20 or more suggestions to be on this preliminary, unedited list of possibilities.

First-round cuts usually involves eliminating names that are overused, overly obscure or trying too hard to be clever. Some will fail what Brown describes as the “snicker test” – words that if mispronounced become a joke, often one that’s in bad taste.

Then there are names with a pre-existing negative connotation. “Three or four years ago, using Whalley in a name would have been a mistake. Now the area’s been rebranded, though, that could be a good thing.”

Keeping it Simple

After being involved in naming hundreds of projects over his more than 25 years in real estate, Brown says 3 Civic Plaza in the emerging Surrey City Centre neighbourhood was one of the most difficult to brand. “We had almost 50 names on the table at one point,” he says.

“Having the lobby of a residential tower open directly onto a public plaza like this is rare, so we knew we wanted ‘plaza’ in the name. Then we looked at the fact that since its two neighbouring towers would both be civic buildings – a public library and Surrey’s new City Hall – this would be the third place-maker in a civic, community-oriented space.” Finally, the name selection had become obvious.

Brown laughs as he says that sometimes it seems developers spend more time naming their buildings and communities than they do naming their children, but tells how one developer turned that to an advantage. Although at first glance, Teo and Reef by Alpha Beta Developments might seem etymologically unrelated, a family picnic would reveal both are names of the developer’s grandchildren. With a current total of seven grandchildren, it seems unlikely he’ll run out of inspiration in the foreseeable future.

Susan M Boyce
Susan M Boyce is a Vancouver-based freelance writer specializing in real estate and residential development. She has co-authored four books on writing and business and is a regular contributor to REW.ca and Real Estate Weekly newspaper.