What’s the best name for a telescope?

ImageIf you are working in the outreach or management team of a telescope, observatory or space mission, read along some advice on how to choose the best name for your project.

Let’s face it. Astronomers are bad with names. At least from the lay people’s perspective. If you ask me, the disconnect comes from the fact that scientists and engineers look for names that are rational and descriptive. We have a large instrument, it is an array. Let’s call it…. the Very Large Array. Same with the Very Large Telescope 🙂 Most people however connect with a name emotionally and prefer evocative names that generate positive feelings or meaning to them.

Companies and VIPs spend serious resources in identifying the best brand name, one that would hit it off with the public.

What brand experts say not to do

  • Avoid geographical names.
  • Preferably avoid acronyms (though sometimes they work well for us, see GAIA).
  • Avoid generic names that don’t mean anything like Mary’s ice cream.
  • Avoid descriptive names.
  • Don’t try to be iSmart by embedding lots of new technology language.

And my personal advice: think ahead! Telescopes are long-lived instruments. Don’t tie your name to something that is likely to become obsolete. (size, technologies etc)

So how can we identify a good name?

10 steps to find a good name

  1. Determine the values that your project (ie telescope, observatory, space mission) should communicate: extreme engineering, front line technology, people’s telescope etc.
  2. Identify the features that make your project/telescope distinct from others.
  3. Check if there are important people in the history of your organisation or important milestones that could serve as inspiration.
  4. Start brainstorming: aim at gathering as many names as possible from all types available: acronyms, names of personalities etc.
  5. Short-list the options by keeping in mind that the name has to be: relevant, memorable, short, easy to pronounce, unique.
  6. Test these names with a group of different people and see which one gets the best reactions.
  7. Make some tests by using the name in various simulated contexts: press releases, oral presentations, graphic work.
  8. Search the name to see if it is not a trademark or if it doesn’t have a bad connotation in other cultures.
  9. Search the Internet domain and other social media domains with the chosen name to see if they are available
  10. Register the name and the domain and start building your brand. You can start with the visual identity manual as the next step

Some examples out there

NASA has a good history of re-branding its telescopes by replacing their dull names with evocative names, especially those of personalities. To name a few examples, Spitzer Space Telescope, James Webb Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory. ESA is doing well at acronyms that sound good, GAIA, but also has examples such as Herschel.

Any thoughts on what makes a good/bad telescope’s name? Drop me a comment 🙂

Clear skies!

Further links:

2 Responses to “What’s the best name for a telescope?”
  1. Manuel Cheta says:

    I thought of Luce. Kinda Italian and also a bit different from other names. 😀

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