What’s in a name: Marijuana companies hope to break through the haze
Keith Laham is pretty sure the name for his cannabis company came from, strangely enough, former Boston mayor Thomas M. Menino.
As Laham sat at his computer in 2015 wondering what to call his new marijuana-growing business, the name “Beantown Greentown” popped into his brain. Months later, he was shocked to find on YouTube that the words were first used by Menino as a slogan for his park plan: “Turning Beantown into Greentown!”
“It’s perfect for us. Menino was such a great guy, and I love the name because Boston’s a unique place,” Laham said. “We’re a group of growers from Dorchester, Mattapan, Hyde Park, Dedham, Roslindale.”
As more cannabis businesses emerge in Massachusetts, they face one of the most important tasks of starting up: choosing a name. From 2014 through November, most marijuana firms in the state were medical dispensaries that, in picking their appellations, sought to avoid stoner stereotypes and evoke professionalism and health, leading to such names as Alternative Therapies Group, New England Treatment Access, and Theory Wellness.
But now that recreational sales are flowing, the market is changing. More creative names have emerged, such as The Green Lady and The Verb Is Herb.
In most industries, it’s crucial for a company name to be easily pronounced, spelled, and remembered. But in this crowded field the need to stand out is becoming most important, experts say, while staying within state regulators’ limits on referring, directly or colloquially, to the main product.
So far, lots of companies have tapped into Boston’s healthy hometown pride with names such as Baked Bean, Mayflower Medicinals, and Patriot Care — a localized version of national parent company Columbia Care. Beantown Greentown is also growing local strains called Boston Skunk, 617 Haze, and Wicked Pissa.
The local angle works because people want to support Massachusetts businesses over big marijuana companies from out of state, said Hillary King, a Boston-based consultant with 5 Point Management Group, who has worked on cannabis store branding.
“It’s definitely important to create strong, localized brands that can help people weather the ‘green rush’ of the ‘Walmart of weed’ side of things coming in,” King said. “People want to see a local cooperative, small-business, mom-and-pop, rather than something commercialized.”
But to Eli Altman, a naming expert who was born in Newton and now lives in San Francisco, a name built on location wastes a key opportunity to stand out from the crowd. It’s better, he said, to show some personality.
“There can be lots of Boston-specific cannabis companies — it doesn’t really say anything that people couldn’t figure out from knowing where your business is,” said Altman, creative director at naming company A Hundred Monkeys and author of “Don’t Call It That.”
The stakes are high. If a company picks a boring name that sounds like everyone else, he said, “you’re going to have to spend a lot of marketing money to convince people that you’re the one they should go to.”
“It’s the only part of your brand that can go everywhere,” Altman said. “You can have a cool logo, but that doesn’t work person-to-person, word of mouth.”
His company recently held a naming contest among cannabis companies, and the winners were: Electric Lettuce, Legion of Bloom, Garden Society, and Auntie Dolores, a name that “feels like the cool aunt who hooks you up with a little weed before Thanksgiving,” strategy director Ben Weis wrote online.
“I think it’s a mortal sin to have a bad name in such a cool and hyper-competitive space,” Weis said. “It’s just a shame, really.”
One common obstacle for businesses is finding something that’s not already taken. The website Ganjapreneur.com has a domains section where, for thousands of dollars, you can buy a Web address that someone has already locked down. Currently for sale: Hightopia.com for $1,199; MarijuanaBank.com for $25,000; and BestBud.com for $55,000.
Marijuana shops in need of inspiration can also turn to TrailblazerSEO.com, which, with a click of the mouse, will generate variations on common pot terms, such as The House of Clinic, Chronic Flora, My Daily Redeye, The Dankest Botanics.
Such names, however, may be frowned upon by the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission. State regulators ban businesses from using logos, labeling, or signs that include “colloquial references to cannabis and marijuana.” That rule also covers names, a spokeswoman said, but so far the commission has yet to send anyone away to come up with something new.
It took months for Mario Signore to decide on his cannabis growth and production company’s name, Green Line, which is seeking to open in Boston. The son of the family that owns Brookline Ice, Signore said the Green Line wasn’t just a play on words, it held special significance. Since age 10, he rode that MBTA line into Boston from Newton Centre and later while attending Northeastern University.
“My goal is to develop a cannabis brand that’s authentically Boston,” Signore said, adding that the Green Line “was my connection to Boston.”
Ryan Ansin, who grew up in Lunenburg, said he decided on the name Revolutionary Clinics for his dispensaries in Cambridge and Somerville after growing obsessed with the popular Broadway musical “Hamilton.”
Ansin said he also saw echoes of the Founding Fathers’ grit, determination, and vision in Massachusetts’ burgeoning marijuana industry, which bucked federal law and ended prohibition in the state.
“The people that have led this charge are inherently revolutionaries, and I love the connectivity with the Founding Fathers,” Ansin said. “Here in Massachusetts, of course, we have a special connection to that.”
Former Boston city councilor and mayoral candidate Tito Jackson said he didn’t come up with the name for Verdant, the marijuana company that he was tapped to run, which plans to open stores in Mattapan, Provincetown, and Rowley. But he saw a deeper meaning in the name than just a synonym for green.
“The dictionary says it’s ‘green with grass or other rich vegetation,’ ” Jackson said. “When we think about richness, we think about how we can provide a richness in terms of opportunity to the communities that we’re partnering with.”