What’s in a name? Juliet asked Romeo. That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
Well, that didn’t work for Juliet, and it certainly doesn’t work for event planners. When it comes to planning events, choosing the right name is crucial.
For expert advice, we sought Gay Lyons. Nicknamed the Party Goddess, Lyons has years of experience planning events for nonprofits in Knoxville. She is currently a member of at least seven event planning committees, three of which she chairs. Clearly, Lyons knows a thing or two about naming events.
The name of an event should guide the entire planning process.
“The earlier the name is chosen, the better,” Lyons said. “You wouldn’t want to hold up your process. Coming up with a name helps you focus. And if it’s a new event, you can get the buzz started.”
For the purposes of EventCheck Knox, however, Lyons advised to “go ahead and claim your date before the name.” The priority for placement on the EventCheck Knox calendar is a confirmed date – other details can be filled in or adjusted later.
Once you’ve staked a date, the hard part starts: What will you call your event? An ideal event name has several key characteristics. According to Lyons, at its most basic level, an event name must be informative.
Beyond that, it should be attention-grabbing and memorable. If possible, it should be congruent with the organization’s mission, and above all else, it should sound fun. It is a party.
The hardest thing about naming an event, Lyons continued, is coming up with a name that simultaneously meets all of these criteria. The attributes that make an event name attention-grabbing and memorable – an appellation that is short, unique, and often, alliterative – is not typically what makes an event name informative and indicative of organizational values.
Even more complicated is coming up with an event name that meets these criteria and that can stand on its own merit – one that requires no explanation.
“If it’s a great name, you don’t have to explain it,” Lyons said.
An organization Lyons believes is doing an excellent job of branding itself through its event names is the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum.
“Green Thumb Gala is brilliant,” she said.
While she didn’t help come up with the name, Lyons recently joined the event’s planning committee. Other effective names, she noted, include Story Thyme in the Garden, a gathering for kids, and the “In Bloom” series, with events that include: Hats in Bloom, Champagne in Bloom, Country Garden in Bloom and City Garden in Bloom.
Lyons also commended the Knoxville Zoo for its catchy event names: “Zoofari,” “Feast with the Beasts” and “Boo at the Zoo.”
Lyons always works with a team when coming up with an event name. She explained, “It’s a brainstorming process. But it needs to be the right brains. Not everyone is a good brain-stormer.”
Who is? Someone creative, open, thick-skinned, willing to say anything, able to withhold judgment and attuned to the nuances of languages.
The trick to recognizing when someone comes up with the right name is simple.
“Most of the time, when someone says it, everyone else says, ‘OMG, that’s it!’” Lyons said.
Sometimes, however, “the best name isn’t the one you use the first year,” Lyons added. With a repeating event, the best name often evolves over time.
“Dogwood After Dark,” an event for the Dogwood Arts Festival, started out with the rather lackluster name, “Dogwood Gala.” By changing the name, the event was no longer restricted to a formal gala. The new name sounded more fun and was “not tied to any theme or tone,” Lyons said.
Another evolution was “Scruffy City Soiree,” the annual fall fundraiser for Knox Heritage. The original name for the first two years was “Cocktails in the Attic” – so named for the hosts of HGTV’s “Cash in the Attic,” who were celebrity guests. Then it changed to “Cocktails at the Station” – chosen for the venue, L&N Station. By the fourth year, the event planning committee decided to rebrand the event with a new name.
Brainstorming took hours. Eventually, someone proposed “Scruffy City Soiree.”
Most of the committee members thought it was brilliant, but some were less confident. They weren’t sure “scruffy” was the right choice for the organization.
In the end, the risk paid off. The name was a hit. “People got the ironic juxtaposition of ‘scruffy and ‘soiree,’ ” Lyons said.
Other event names that Lyons has liked, regardless of her involvement: Pork on the Porch, Boogie ’Til Breakfast, Summer Suppers, Sundown in the City, Wine on the Water, Movies & Martinis, L’Amour du Vin and Rhythm N’ Blooms.
The most unfortunate event name Lyons could remember was Saturday Night on the Town. Though the event itself was a success, “they might have wanted to ponder the inevitable acronym on that one,” she said.
Listen to Gay Lyons – don’t plan the next SNOTT.
Martha Ashe, a summer intern at Moxley Carmichael, is a senior at the University of Richmond studying marketing, English and art. When she’s not planning her future, Martha spends her time putting together 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles. Her dog Mayzie swipes the pieces.