The Three-Word Method (for Names)

Nancy Friedman
3 min readDec 13, 2022

In May 2022 a New York fashion stylist, Allison Bornstein, posted a series of TikTok videos explaining what she called the three-word method for finding your personal style. Pull out the clothes you wear most often, she suggested, and identify three adjectives that describe them. Bornstein’s own three words are classic-Seventies-elegant; yours might be thrifty-edgy-whimsical or tailored-romantic-polished.

It didn’t take long for magazines like Glamour and Harper’s Bazaar — as well as fashion bloggers and Instagrammers — to take up Bornstein’s #threewordmethod challenge. It wasn’t merely a thesaurus-searching game; it was also a way to edit your existing wardrobe and shop more thoughtfully for a new one.

Why am I — not a fashion writer, definitely not a fashion influencer— telling you about this? Because the three-word method works for more than clothing. It’s also a helpful tool for developing a company or product name.

“Three Little Words” (1930), via Virtual Sheet Music

The magic lies in the number: three words. Not one, not two, and definitely not fifty. With name development as well as with fashion, too often we try to distill a brand, or a style, into a single word (too reductive) or to pile on a dozen or more adjectives (too noisy). Three turns out to be the Goldilocks number: just enough range, just enough rigor.

Three turns out to be the Goldilocks number: just enough range, just enough rigor.

Here are three (yes, three) examples of how the three-word method can work in branding. Note that these names are suggestive rather than descriptive; note too that I am taking some creative liberties in reverse-engineering the descriptive words — the naming objectives — from existing brand names. (I don’t know for certain whether these words were part of the creative briefs.)

  1. A British fashion brand.

Three words: playful, well crafted, classic

The name: JIGSAW

Why? A jigsaw is a tool for crafting straight and curved edges such as those required in the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle: a classic game that provides hours of satisfying play.

2. An online retailer of a wide range of products.

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Nancy Friedman

Writer, name developer, brand consultant, idea-ist, ex-journalist. @fritinancy on Mastodon, Instagram, Bluesky, Threads, and elsewhere.