I heard some discussion on a radio show yesterday about the heroes who fight wildfires. Very interesting stuff, and what these “wildland firefighters” do is truly amazing. But I was pleasantly surprised to hear some of the fantastic names that are used for the various types of firefighters:

A Smokejumper is a wildland firefighter that parachutes into a remote area to combat wildfires. A descriptive name that also communicates the drama of the job with powerful imagery.

A Hotshot is a wildland firefighter specially trained in wildland fire suppression tactics. The name arose from often being in the hottest part of fires, but the additional meaning of a “hotshot” as someone who’s particularly good at what they do is perfect.

Within a Hotshot crew, there are some other great names for particular types of crew members:

Sawyers are generally the crew’s strongest, most-experienced members. Obviously, this name is directly connected to the brush cutting that they do, but the connection to Tom Sawyer gives the name another level of meaning that fits well.

Swampers are those who help the sawyers by taking away the brush as it is cut. I don’t get a strong descriptive connection here (though I expect there is one that I’m just not seeing for lack of understanding of the job), but swamp is one of the most fun words to say in the English language and is rich with imagery and connections.

Much of the power in these names comes from the fact that descriptive words related to such extreme job requirements have a lot of inherent impact and memorability. But any name — whether for a firefighter, a product or a company — needs to have some of the elements of power and fun in evidence in these names in order to be effective.

Ironically, the same day I heard about these firefighters, I also heard another smoke-related name on the absolute opposite end of the quality spectrum. What I heard was a radio ad for a product to help with smoking cessation. The product itself is quite interesting. It looks like a cigarette, but is actually an electronic device through which you inhale water vapor with harmless flavoring that tastes like tobacco. Unfortunately, the name they gave it is Smoke Assassin.

The meaning they’re intending is that this allows you to “assassinate” your smoking habit. But the word “assassin” is such an extremely powerful negative that its use for any product is potentially perilous. And when your product’s brand promise is all about improving your customer’s health by allowing him to quit a habit that is known to cause death if left unchecked, “assassin” is a name that could easily put your brand six feet under.