What’s in a name? Campbell Hay, OMSE, and GrandArmy share the stories behind naming their studios
In the realm of branding, there are several reasons why deciding on a name for a new company or studio gets just as much space, time and importance as deciding how it looks or is presented to the world. As Michael Johnson points out in ‘Branding: In Five and a Half Steps’ – “Millions of names have already been registered by the hundreds of thousands of companies across the globe, so creating and protecting a name takes a unique combination of different creative and administrative skills.” You’re not only working with/against Google, but accounting for a whole host of factors. Does this name effectively communicate our vision? Will it be understood globally, by clients of diverse cultures and backgrounds? Is the name legally viable? And perhaps most important of all: does it feel right?
Digging deeper into the world of language, we consider the value of a name that – at first glance – has no meaning. OMSE, for example, is a London-based studio who decided their name based on their admiration for Scandinavia. Although not Swedish themselves, the studio felt a strong connection to the region.
“I’d been studying at the University in Goteborg, where I fell in love with the culture, people, style and overall vibe of the place,” Founder James Kape explains. And, as a major milestone, the company’s first commercial brief was to create a magazine for a Swedish clothes shop in Sydney. “With these two things, and our general love for Scandi design, it just made sense!”
This led them to discover the Swedish word ‘ömsesidig,’ meaning mutual or like-minded. “This felt like the perfect word for the relationship we wanted to have with clients, brands and designers,” Kape continues. “So we simplified the name to ömse and the umlaut (ö) lived on as our brand character.”
Being a word that doesn’t exist in English, OMSE had no trouble when it came to trademarking their name. It’s not something that they thought they had initially needed to do, but Kape reveals, “as the studio has grown and we’ve trademarked many brands we’ve helped create, I realised it was important. Luckily it was still available and we were able to trademark it without any issues.”
When we first started the studio, we wanted something timeless.
Campbell Hay, a London-based design studio led by Charlie Hay and Elly Campbell, took a different approach by using their own names for their studio’s name. “When we first started the studio, we wanted something timeless; something that will be able to outlive trends at all times,” Campbell explains. “Charlie (Hay) and I had also grown into a working partnership in an organic way, and using our own names for the studio seemed like a natural progression.”
The pair believe that using their names conveys a sense of pride and excellence in their work. “There’s a rigour to the studio’s work and excellence in delivery that the team upholds; there always has been.” By literally putting their names on their brand, they emphasised this personal investment and commitment to delivering exceptional results.
While they briefly considered other options, they ultimately decided that using their own names was the best fit for their studio, reflecting their working partnership and the organic growth of their business. Additionally, using their own names helped to resist the temptation to constantly tinker with their brand over time.
The multidisciplinary creative agency GrandArmy, based in New York, was founded in 2008 – amidst a global economic collapse – by college graduates lacking business experience. Founder Eric Collins recalls, “We were scared, basically, like everybody at the time. Budgets were tightening, and there was probably no worse time to start a company. Or so everyone kept telling us.” They therefore wanted a name that conveyed a sense of longevity, reflecting their desire to be seen as confident and established.
“Most people think our agency is named after Grand Army Plaza. We were living in Brooklyn, after all. And this is half true. But Grand Army Plaza is named for veteran soldiers who served in the American Civil War. That wasn’t the first “Grand Army.” There was an earlier and grander army that inspired them – the Napoleonic La Grande Armée. That’s what our GrandArmy is named after.
Because when you start learning the story of the Grande Armée, it’s hard not to get swept up in the drama – they were one of the greatest fighting forces to have ever assembled, overthrowing dynasties that had dominated Europe for hundreds of years. Some even longer – The Holy Roman Empire had stood, in some form, for a thousand years. None were a match for the Grande Armée.
Don’t buy into your own hype. Keep the egos in check.
But it’s a story that ends in tragedy. In 1812, Napoleon invaded Russia with half a million men. Within six weeks, half were dead of cold and disease. The sick and traumatised remains of what was once the Grande Armée straggled back to Paris, a broken mob. They never recovered.
The fall of the Grande Armée – as much as the rise – was actually what made the name so poignant for us. Because on the surface ‘GrandArmy’ sounds like how we wanted to be seen by the world – it sounds cool. And lofty. But we knew the truth. In reality, we were just scared college grads pretending to be hotshot designers. And we also knew what really happened to the original Grand Army.”
To state the obvious – a company name is something you encounter every day. From the signature of an email to the arduous administrative work of tax returns. In the case of GrandArmy, the name also serves as a reminder of humility and the ability to always stay grounded. “Don’t buy into your own hype. Keep the egos in check. Always remember what happened to the Grande Armée.”
These design studios carefully selected their names with specific, considered intentions. GrandArmy aimed to balance grandeur, self-awareness, and humility, taking inspiration from the rise and fall of the Napoleonic Grande Armée. OMSE wanted to convey their aspirations for mutual and like-minded relationships through their Scandinavian-inspired name. Campbell Hay used their own names to communicate a seal of excellence and a sense of pride in their work. While all three studios have remarkably different stories behind their names, they are united by a common thread – a deep care and devotion to their practice as a whole. Whether it is fostering successful relationships, persevering and triumphing through adversity (while keeping the ego in check), or upholding a high standard of work, these goals are encapsulated in their names. What’s in a name? A gold star; a distinguished badge of honour.