Choosing a Name

For the past few months, Nicole and I have been thinking about starting this new company. We've had lots of conversations with friends and colleagues who've gone down the start-up path, began planning workshops and events, and filled out a lot of paperwork! But I think that we'd agree that one of the hardest parts of starting this new project was deciding what to call it.

We spent many weeks waking up in the middle of the night to jot down brilliant ideas only to realize in the morning that they didn't quite make sense. Trusted friends led us through brainstorming exercises to help us articulate the emotional experiences that fit with our goals. We researched different spaces with intriguing and inspiring names. And along the way we uncovered a few good stories, read some inspiring articles and learned a lot about different techniques and tools for finding the right name.  

One of the original inspirations when we started the Tinkering Studio was 826 Valencia, a pirate store and writing workshop for teens in San Francisco. We liked how they chose a completely non-descriptive name solely based on the address of their first location. But although this strategy seemed attractive because we wouldn't have to assign any deep meaning to the name, we knew we wanted to communicate something a little more playful and evocative.

Along those lines, another name that we liked was Meow Wolf, the artist collective and interactive installation in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We pondered how they could have possibly come up with such a creative and cool name. And then I looked at the FAQ on their website which describes their process of coming up with a name. It reads, "at the very first meeting of the collective in 2008, everyone put two words into a hat. Then they picked two random words out of the hat and got 'Meow Wolf." Seemed almost a 'too good to be true' way of relieving the pressure of picking the perfect name but we knew we were too particular and indecisive to make a selection that way.

One name that we almost went with was "Useful Arts Workshop" which we found in an article by our friend Tim Hunkin highlighting the "large amorphous" section of the dewey decimal system between fine arts and pure sciences. Tim writes that this section of the library "contains everything from rocketry to crochet, engineering, hobbies, cookery, etc." That sounded pretty good, but from an outside perspective we worried that at first glance it would sound too serious or practical. 

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As we got more and more desperate to make a final decision, we started thinking that maybe our solution would be found in rearranging letters or creating novel portmanteaus! We considered merging the words tinkering and bricolage to create a new concept of tinkolage. We tried tinkering studio spelled backwards but we doubted that people could understand, much less pronounce 'gnireknit oiduts'. Some anagrammed possibilities included albicore, cabriole, or my favorite, logic bear. All of these slightly ridiculous options had the added benefit of actually of bricolaging the word bricolage. 

This line of thinking sidetracked us into the world of recursive acronyms, which are acronyms that contain themselves, creating an infinity mirror effect. We remembered an old favorite from the PIE days at the Exploratorium, "PIE Isn't Easy". Some recursive acronyms we liked included "TEA Engineering Art" and "EAST Art Science Technology".   

But when we really thought about our vision for the studio, we kept coming back to a few essays and articles that have deeply inspired our work over the past 10 years. These touchstones include the 'Introduction to Mindstorms' by Seymour Papert, 'Adult Play' by Frank Oppenheimer and 'The Having of Wonderful Ideas' by Eleanor Duckworth.

It felt right to reference the 'wonderful ideas' that all three wrote about throughout their lives. To us, wonderful ideas are a catalyst for people to discover their own interests and abilities. These ideas aren't required to be unique or innovative to be personally meaningful for the learners. Frank references the importance of messing about and playful experimentation which can result in "something incredibly wonderful" happening every once in a while.  

So after a long but fun process, we decided to go with Wonderful Idea Company! The name has the extra benefit of forming a fun acronym, WICO, which calls out to our friends at PICO (the playful invention company) and also sounds like WE-co, stressing the spirit of do-it-together-ness and collaboration that's so important for tinkering spaces. 

Just like our experiments and prototyping in the Tinkering Studio gave us the chance to define the word tinkering on a larger scale, we now get to develop the installations, exhibits, and workshops that will exemplify the "wonderful ideas" that we care about supporting for learners of all ages.