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anthony shore, 50, namer, san francisco

ageist EDITORS | april 12, 2018

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Photo: Balazs Gardi for AGEIST

High energy is not the right term. Anthony Shore is more like a piston that’s constantly pumping. Words tumble out of him in rapid succession. He moves through his backstory neatly with appropriate transitions, embellishing or going back with another anecdote if necessary. He even narrates the pauses.

Shore loves words. Not like you and I love words; Shore has spent his life studying the roots of language, the meaning of ancient utterances, and turned it into a profitable career as someone who names things. He’s named many companies and products. Fitbit Ionic is one of his, as is Virgin Voyages.

“A client once called me a mad word scientist, and I wear that with considerable pride,” he says. “And I have to say, it’s kind of true.”

And like any scientist, he’s got an appetite for experimentation. For years, Shore’s used technology to help guide his process. He’s built searchable naming databases into which he burrows when he compiles a list of easily a thousand names before coming up with the 50 he’ll present to a client. In the last year, he’s added another tool: artificial intelligence.

“AI is capable of coming up with some … natural words that are totally new,” he says. “I literally have goosebumps right now thinking of the potential of it.”

To meet Shore is to meet someone who defined his passion early on and spent his life accumulating the skills necessary to fully realize it. And that’s something AGEISTs seem to specialize in. So we wanted to talk to Shore about the journey to his ideal job, and the challenge in naming the phase in which our group finds itself.

When Shore was very young, his parents gave him an American Heritage Dictionary. (“I didn’t ask for it. They just knew.”) When he was 12, he started taking Latin at Riverdale Country School in the Bronx.

“I was always into ancient languages: Proto-Indo-European, Anglo-Saxon, Greek, Latin … You’d have this syllable and from that syllable came dozens and dozens of words that were loosely related,” he says. “I was struck by the generative power of an utterance, and that really was fascinating to me. It’s remarkable now that I’m 10 times the age that I was, it’s still a fascination to me.”

Shore’s is a restless mind, one that moves quickly from topic to topic — a great benefit to a job like his. He switched majors a few times at Clark University in Massachusetts before eventually transferring to UC Santa Cruz, where he received a degree in Linguistics with honors.

During his studies, he got jobs in the Bay Area that added to his skill set. He worked as a typesetter while still in college, then as a copywriter for an ad agency, and graphic designer for a premium wine seller before joining a tech company ahead of the first dotcom boom, running marketing and design.

“When I was living in Santa Cruz, a woman was interviewing to be our housemate. So I took a walk around the neighborhood with her, and I’m walking with my roommate-to-be and she says, ‘So what do you want to do with linguistics?’ and my mouth said, ‘I want to name things,’ ” he told me. “My body knew before my mind knew that’s what I wanted to do. It would be years before I knew I would actually want to be a namer. My id had identified that as my destiny. But my path there required broad marketing communications skills.”

When he landed his first naming job, as an associate at the global creative agency Landor, something clicked immediately. In a career there that spanned 12 years, with one off to work elsewhere, he built his methodology and his skill set. One of the biggest projects he ever worked on was Andersen Consulting’s 2000 rebranding to Accenture, a process that involved all 65,000 of the company’s employees, several agencies, and took place over just two months.

“The top 53 names went through full legal screening. Each was checked in 65 languages by three native speakers each,” he says. “And all of them had to have [corporate] identities. Nuts. It was nuts!”

The key to naming, says Shore, is being able to think about things from a different perspective.

“There are people who are true language geeks and they may get into naming, but they’re going to be limited in the kind of creative they can develop. They may be enamored with rare or obscure words, and that is not a broad enough talent set and interest set to be successful at naming,” he says. "I talked about the fact that I think of 1,000 names — those are 1,000 perspectives on the same thing. It’s about fluidity and agility with seeing something from many different perspectives.”

Many of the junior associates he mentored while at Landor have gone on to top jobs at Google and other agencies. One of his former colleagues now occasionally beats him out at pitches. Shore loves it. He gives away a lot of his strategies and insight into his process for free on his blog, figuring that a rising tide floats all ships.

“I hate shitty names,” he says. “And it’s kind of my cause to make sure they don’t happen. So just as I’ve bred namers …  I actually give away everything I know on my blog, because I don’t want my competitors coming up with shitty names either!"

Since 2009, Shore has run his own company. From his wood-framed, light-filled house with a view of the Bay, he can retreat into naming sessions for clients that can last hours. After reading about Janelle Shane, a research scientist who ran sample car names through a neural network — AI — for fun, he hired her to teach him everything she could about the process.

He reckons he might be the only namer out there using AI, a tool which he believes could become more and more useful as the number of non-trademarked names shrinks. In a recent blog post, he offered as an example the words he got after running science and astronomy terms through a neural network. Among them: Starly, Lunate, and Quarticle.

“Creativity is going to be fueled and led by artificial intelligence,” he says. “I think we’re going to see new and really interesting names that are still going to be relatable and curious and familiar and not sound like planets on Star Trek.”

We talked about the challenge of naming our group, which he says is less a generation than a stage of life. You can read more about that — and the names he and the neural network came up with — on our LinkedIn page. We’d love to hear your feedback.

As for what Shore envisions for his next 20 or 30 years, he used a familiar term in an unfamiliar way.

“I feel like I’m retired,” he told me. “I can’t imagine doing anything but this. This is my reason for being! This isn’t a job, a career; it’s me!! I don’t see any separation. It’s a reflex. It’s a need. I have to do this. And these pursuits I’ve had have always been driven by what has always interested me. There wasn’t a long term plan, but there was an instinctive drive.”