“That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” That famous line comes to us from the Immortal Bard, William Shakespeare, in the classic Romeo & Juliet. Yet, despite the question of what’s in a name, the journey from conceiving a coffee company to finding a name you love can feel long and arduous and mistakes catastrophic. The truth is, a name defines who you are: the ideas, sensory memories, and assumptions that will arise in the mind of those who hear about you.
With so much wrapped up in a name, how can coffee companies choose? We talked to the owners of four coffee companies to find out how they chose their names and what advice they have to offer those making such a critical choice.
Chromatic Coffee: Sensory & Layered
Based in San José, Chromatic started in 2012 to offer top-quality direct trade coffees while prioritizing the dual ethos of innovation and tradition inherent in the Bay Area, says Hiver van Geenhoven, Chromatic’s president and green coffee buyer.
When how the founding Chromatic team chose their name, van Geenhoven shared the definition of the word:
1: of, relating to, or giving all the tones of the chromatic scale
2: of or relating to color or color phenomena or sensations
“It’s done an amazing job encompassing our goals and mission,” he says. “We use the terminology of both color and sound frequently in the world of coffee: low-toned Brazilian offerings, high and bright geshas. We deliver a wide scope of flavors, processes, origins, and varieties. We run the gamut of all that’s possible in coffee through our purchasing practices and offerings—and we keep broadening the spectrum with more exploration.”
To van Geenhoven and his team, the meaning they’ve associated with their name is “complex and layered. It’s what we live by, from the product to the people who produce it at every stage, seed to cup, to the people we involve in sharing it, the craftspeople whose products we offer, the artists who design the bags, the musicians behind videos and events, and the baristas.”
Choosing their name wasn’t an easy decision. “We wanted something that would have relevance and longevity,” he says. “When San José artist, musician, and sign-painter Ben Henderson pitched ‘Chromatic,’ it initially felt like a compromise but quickly became a favorite.”
His tips on choosing a name for those just getting started? “Don’t do what everybody is doing.” As examples of trend-based names, he lists the “super punny 90’s style java/addict theme” and the 2000s “ampersand” trend. “Joking aside—make it yours,” he says. “Hype fades, trends pass, but your love for coffee should only grow and deepen over the years. Communicate something about who you are and what it means to you to serve coffee, and the significance will resonate.”
Vignette Coffee: Bringing Intention to a Moment
Mandy Spirito is the co-founder of the newly launched Vignette Coffee, a roastery-café founded by coffee veterans Spirito and Michael Harwood. “As baristas, educators, roasters, and green buyers, we’ve experienced highs and lows in the specialty coffee industry,” Spirito says. “Through this lens, we’re working hard to create a welcoming space for coffee professionals—one that invests in people, pays a living wage with benefits, and stays true to our core: practicing kindness to all with quality coffee.”
Spirito didn’t take the naming process lightly. “We researched different types of brand names and actual company names in coffee and related industries. We asked ourselves what our company’s name should convey in terms of literal meaning, but also emotionally,” they said.
“Building three lists (YES / NO / MAYBE) helped us stay organized as we pitched ideas to each other, most bound for the NO list.” They followed every possible YES with extensive Google and trademark searches, which knocked out several top contenders. As the list whittled down, they solicited reactions from close friends and family, mostly through quick messages and polling.
“We found it important to seek opinions from coffee professionals and casual coffee drinkers alike,” they say. “After combing through all the reactions, we settled on Vignette. We love Vignette because it speaks to bringing intention to a moment. Life isn’t lived as a series of notable events, though it can be made to feel that way. We see life being lived in the small moments, like cups of coffee.”
Selecting a name was one of the more challenging decisions they made as a team. “We had a few contenders before Vignette that were either taken by existing companies or received lukewarm responses from our friends and family. Sometimes, one of us would love a name, but the other would hate it—those kinds of small frustrations were common. It took months before we felt comfortable enough to seek feedback on our short list.”
To choose the perfect name for your company, they recommend list-making, utilizing digital quizzes to get anonymous feedback from a broad base, and having the courage to go outside the ordinary.
“We worried extensively about Vignette being French, outdated, or too esoteric for folks, but most of our guests have responded enthusiastically when we pitch its meaning through their cup of coffee. “After all, a word is just a sound with some associations. It’s up to the people who embody the company to imbue their brand and space with meaningful experience for your guests.”
Proud Mary: A Good Strong Name
For Nolan and Shari Hirte of Proud Mary Coffee, the choice of name was easy once inspiration struck. It was on a road trip right after selling their partnership stake in their first café.
“We were discussing what we should call our first business of our own,” Hirte says. “I was explaining to Shari that it really annoys me when people choose a name with a very special meaning that’s difficult to spell, doesn’t look good written down, or is hard to remember.”
All they really needed was a good strong name, he says. “Next second I said to her, ‘Proud Mary.’ Without hesitation, Shari said, ‘That’s it!’ Mary is about as strong a name as it gets. Shari grew up listening to Tina Turner, and I grew up with Creedence [Clearwater Revival], so it just felt right.”
Clearly a very decisive person, Hirte has some advice for those who might otherwise spend a lot of time deliberating: “Try not to overthink it. How does it feel when you say it? Does it have a nice ring to it? Can you remember it easily? How does it look?”
Stereoscope: Dimension & Depth
A stereoscope is a device by which two photographs of the same object taken at slightly different angles are viewed together, creating an impression of depth and solidity. Stereoscope Coffee Co. owner Leif An carefully deliberated and researched to find the perfect name for the experience his coffees and spaces would foster.
“I first wrote a list of things that I felt were important to the company I wanted to create,” he says. “From the list, I chose one that was the most important. From there, I looked up words that are similar or objects that define the word. For us, giving another dimension and depth to something generally known as dull and common defined who we are.” Hence, Stereoscope: an object that adds depth and dimension to otherwise ordinary moments.
“It was a hard decision because Stereoscope isn’t a common word or easy to remember, but we took the chance because it resembled who we are,” An says.
In sharing advice for name-seekers, he also recommends against trend-based names. “Don’t follow trends when choosing your name. Find something that defines your company, and you will stand out.”
He also advises looking at the bigger picture: “Think—will the name be relevant even if you had 5, 10, or 20 shops?”
Whether Cautious or Decisive, Be You
The most important takeaway from the stories told by these four business owners was that who you are will define not just the name you choose, but the process by which you choose it. Are you a list-maker? A researcher? Do you seek outside opinions when deliberating, or is your opinion paramount?
In answering the question of who you are to start the process of name-seeking, you learn a lot about who you are for the eventual name you will find. As in so many realms, the most important thing is to be yourself throughout the process. When you do that, you’ll find a name you love.
Cover photo courtesy of Chromatic Coffee
RJ Joseph is a coffee writer focusing primarily on equity, workers’ rights, and structural alternatives to the status quo. She’s been a barista, a roaster, a green coffee grader and lab tech, and finally made coffee writing her full-time gig at Red Fox Coffee Merchants. In her decade in coffee, she’s also run a queer coffee events organization, written a blog on equity in coffee, and run a coffee satire website called The Knockbox. If you see her around, say hi.