From a creationist perspective, the very notion of assigning a name can be a deeply personal exercise tinged with cultural and historical significance. It’s with that outlook that GIA sought to explore the thought process from the many creators and studios across the continent to learn how and why they opted for the names attached to themselves or projects they are closely intertwined with.
A huge thanks to Estelle Makhoba from Tiny Baby Crown, Nick Hall from RenderHeads / Yellow Lab, Eyram Tawia from Leti Arts, Olivier Madiba from Kiro’o Games, Bukola Akingbade from Kucheza Gaming, Julien Herbin from Kayfo Games and Seifeddine Haddar from Jana Games for taking the time to share what in some cases turned out to be deeply personal insights on what encompasses a name.
How did you decide on the name of your company?
Estelle Mmathapelo Makhoba – We struggled with coming up with a name that would be sentimental to each member of the then 3 member team. Shortly after myself and the other team members added each other on Discord, I realized we had all interesting Discord usernames, so I constructed the studio name from each username. Tiny from Joe, Baby from Estelle, Crown from Kate.
Nick Hall – RenderHeads South Africa got its name because we were a subsidiary of a UK company called RenderHeads. I can’t say 100% but I imagine they chose that name because it spoke to the company’s core offering. They are experts and passionate about rendering technology and creating high-fidelity and beautiful interactive experiences. Since we are no longer a subsidiary we will be rebranding, and we have settled on Yellow Lab as the name to rebrand to. We decided on Yellow Lab from a beloved member of our extended four-legged development team, a golden labrador called Charlie. “Yellow Lab” also allows us to be a space for experimentation, which, along with the same positive, wholesome & fun energy that labradors have, is what our team strives to imbue in our games.
Eyram Tawia – We drew inspiration for our name from the biblical tale of the guiding star that led the wisemen to Jesus Christ. It symbolizes two profound aspects: the birth of a savior, which gave rise to the star, and its role as a guide to salvation. Leti embodies this guiding star, leading the African video game industry to success as the first full-time game company, igniting the industry’s birth like a radiant star rather than just a typical company.
In my local dialect “Ewe,” spoken in the Volta region of Ghana and parts of Togo and Benin, “Letivi” means “star.” While “Leti” means “moon” or “moonlight,” the combination of “Letivi” literally translates to “Small moon” since “Vi” denotes “small.” However, we opted for “Leti” since it conveys the essence of illuminating the sky, staying true to the guiding star concept.
In the Ewe language, the primary spelling of “Leti” is “Ɣleti,” pronounced in a unique way. We considered using “xleti” initially due to the absence of the gamma sign in the English alphabet. Yet, we ultimately settled on “Leti” because many tribes use this variation instead of “Ɣleti.”
So, Leti Games was born with that name and mindset, embarking on our purpose-driven mandate to lead the African video game industry with determination and perseverance, narrating meaningful and authentic stories. We later changed to Leti Arts incorporating comics, games and other interactive media.
Bukola Akingbade – We picked Kucheza because it means play, it’s unique (even if you don’t know what it means), if you understand Swahili, it might be endearing (to our potential African playing field) and we can and will build our ethos, purpose and meaning into the name over time.
Olivier Madiba – Back in 2012, the studio was called “Madia Game Studio”, based on my 1st startup name “Madia”. But When we decided to really rurn pro, we wanted something more aligned with our vision:
We wanted to make games designed for the spirituality of people. Stories that will have the same impact as a good Paulo Coelho Book for example. So we wanted to say “Spiritual Vision” in an African language and Google Trad told us it’s “Kiroho Maono” in Swahili I think. That’s where we contracted it into “Kiro’o” to make it more easy for everyone.
Julien Herbin – We came up with the company name as we were brainstorming with the co-founders. We wanted a name in that was short, sounded similar in many languages and most importantly, a name that has a true meaning in Wolof.
Seifeddine Haddar – The name of our company is a tribute to my late sister, who passed away as a newborn. I chose this name to honor her memory and to reflect my vision of bringing light and color to the world through our games. I hope that our company name will also inspire our gamers and partners to live their lives with joy and purpose.
What is its significance to you?
Estelle Mmathapelo Makhoba – The name captured the one thing we all shared which was being around and taking care of Children at some point in our lives.
Eyram Tawia – The significance of the name “Leti” to us is profound. It serves as a constant reminder of our role in the video game industry—to maintain relevance and leadership continually. The name’s association with the guiding star and its representation of lighting up the sky align perfectly with our mission to lead the African video game industry to success and tell meaningful stories.
Bukola Akingbade – Can I just say that I find the questions quite fascinating because coming from a marketing and branding background, a lot of fuss is made about naming and nomenclature.
For me, if the name is a word that already exists, I believe the name should represent the essence of what the thing will be or based on its function. If it’s a B2C product. Furthermore though, I believe, the meaning needs to be built into the name through a series of actions and interactions. So, I have “a brand is what a brand does” philosophy, even if your name states your essence, it needs to be living and breathing its meaning as the brand shows up in the world.
I believe the name should be distinctive where possible. I take this viewpoint from a search engine optimization perspective, the more unique the name, the better. How do people find your brand? For example, Google. The word didn’t exist until it was created, and the meaning has been cleverly built into it over the years. It’s playfulness, adaptability, simplicity, and user-centeredness.
Olivier Madiba – Pheew the question has a vast answer. I think at some point I “fused” with the project. Of course my life had more important sides like my kid and my wife. But when as a founder I say “Kiro’o” in my brain, what ear is “Keeg going, keep evolving, keep growing”.
I want Kiro’o to be a symbol of … opportunity for everyone and also a source of inspiration of our community.
There is also of course an accumulated pain in the word for me as an entrepreneur. A lot of loneliness often on the way to build a company behind the name. But it’s a “good” pain. The one you feel when you are working hard in sport for example, and you know it’s worth it.
Julien Herbin – Our intent as a studio is to create a lot of fun games for a broad local audience, and « Kayfo » perfectly reflects that vision, as it translates from Wolof to English into « Come Play ».
Seifeddine Haddar – Jana’s name means a lot to me, because it represents the values and goals that I had in mind when I started game development. I was so excited to create games that would make her happy, and to see her smile as she played them. She was my inspiration and my motivation. Even though she is no longer with me, she will always be in my heart.
Are there any cultural, personal or political considerations made when deciding on a name?
Estelle Mmathapelo Makhoba – Yes, coming up with a name that does not offend or perpetuate suffering for others was very important for us, because it also carries with it what the studio represents.
Nick Hall – I think there should absolutely be these considerations when deciding a name for both the studio and its projects. You want the name to speak to both the identity and values of the studio, the game and the team behind it. But given we are also a global industry with a global audience it is also pertinent that you are not accidentally breaking some sort of social taboo or cause offence, especially in your key target markets.
Eyram Tawia – When deciding on a name for our game studio, we do consider cultural, personal, and even political aspects. The name “Leti” reflects our roots and the rich cultural heritage of the “Ewe” language, spoken in the Volta region of Ghana and parts of Togo and Benin. It represents our identity and connection to the African continent.
Olivier Madiba – Yes, Cameroonians can be really sensitive about tribalism, so we didn’t want to take a local name in a local tribe language to avoid the conflict of “Oh so you think this tribe is better than the other one” etc. When we started at some point we had our Minister of Culture supporting us and it was really important to avoid this conflict in the general press.
That’s why we went for Swahili.
Also we wanted something that can be easy to pronounce for latin language (English, French, etc) but forcing the African tone into it. So Aurion was less complex. I was 17, in my student bedroom at University.
I was starting my project on RPG Maker and I had no idea for a game name. So I went to bed, and I was looking my roof: there was a stain which made me think of the “Orion” constellation.
I was a fan of the “Saint Seyia” Anime and it poped in my mind “Aurion” I liked the “energy vibe” behind the name. It sounded like something with a good vibration. When we turned pro, we decided to keep the name because it has a lot of possibilities like the “Aurionics” adjective. And we wanted the brand to be more like a “Big Title” like a “Legend of Zelda” or “Elden Scroll”. Every game/product of the saga would be “Aurion: X”
Julien Herbin – We chose to build our studio name from Wolof, so there are definitely cultural considerations there, no personal or political considerations though.
Seifeddine Haddar – Yes, there are many. Adapting a name to suit local cultural norms and sensitivities requires careful consideration as what is acceptable in one region may not be in another.
Do you think it’s important to select a name that can be understood globally even if it compromises on its local significance for you?
Estelle Mmathapelo Makhoba – No, the only rule we put was the name needed to be easily rememberable, The local significance of the name was more important because we believe names are anchors. And can serve as a reminder and direction for where we want to go or see ourselves in the future.
Nick Hall – For studios I think this is less important than it is for actual games. Something to bear in mind when deciding on you game’s name is its ability to be translated into other languages. We learnt this lesson with Metavoidal, where there was no good way to translate the name to Chinese both verbally and in writing, resulting on us having to give the game a whole other name for the Chinese market.
Eyram Tawia – The importance of selecting a name with global understanding is acknowledged. While “Leti” has strong local significance due to its cultural roots, we strive to ensure that its universal appeal is not compromised. We aim to strike a balance so that the name resonates with a broader audience, allowing us to share our authentic stories on a global scale.
Bukola Akingbade – I think it’s important to select a name with alphabets that are broadly used. Google meant nothing, until Google. Whilst Amazon and Apple are both English words, Apple didn’t mean what it means now until apple and amazon I think was named after the largest river on earth because Jeff intended to create the world’s largest bookstore. I do not know what Tencent or Naspers “mean” but based on their level of success, the names don’t appear to have been a significant setback.
Olivier Madiba – I think the best choice is to have both. Find a local name whith a local history, but which can resonate on something universal enough for a global brand.
Julien Herbin – We’re an international company, so it’s important for us that players and partners around the world can easily read and pronounce our studio name. Now, we think it’s cool that people who understand Wolof can figure out its meaning. And for others, to maybe find out the meaning later, and thus learn they first 2 Wolof words.
Seifeddine Haddar – I think choosing a name that can appeal to a global audience is not always easy or possible. Sometimes, there are cultural, linguistic, or legal factors that can limit the options for a name, some names may have different meanings or connotations in different languages, or may be trademarked or registered by other entities. Therefore, it may be necessary to compromise or adapt the name to suit different markets or regions.
Finally, are there any considerations you plan to incorporate into the naming conventions for future projects?
Estelle Mmathapelo Makhoba – Yes, I would like to incorporate names that reflect where I come from and names that are inspired by African folklore.
Nick Hall – Only to the extent that we would look to build out a franchise or series then some sort of common naming convention would follow
Eyram Tawia – In our future projects, we will continue to integrate similar considerations into our naming conventions. We’ll strive to find names that carry cultural significance, align with our vision, and resonate with diverse audiences worldwide.
An excellent example of this approach is our new game, Sweave. The name was thoughtfully coined by blending “weave” with “swerve.” Since the game mechanics revolve around weaving cloth, inspired by prestigious Ghanaian cloth like Kente, we initially explored naming it “Kente [something].” However, to ensure global appeal and avoid clichés, we delved deeper into the gameplay’s essence.
We found relevance in the concept of “swerve,” a term often used in Ghana’s pidgin language, conveying the idea of outsmarting someone. Combining “swerve” with “weave” in the traditional English sense, Sweave came to life. This creative process was shared with my wife’s company, Prestige Kente, an Instagram shop offering unique Kente cloths. This connection added depth, signifying a physical entity that could serve as a source of game patterns and reinforcing the link to local heritage.
Balancing our local roots with a global reach will remain a fundamental aspect of our naming process. By infusing cultural depth and broader appeal, we hope to create names that resonate universally while still honoring our heritage.
Bukola Akingbade – We plan to use more nuanced local words for their uniqueness and SEO opportunities, not really because they are cultural. These words are made up of English alphabets so they will be approachable.
Olivier Madiba – It took us sometimes, but we have finally structured the Kiroo IPs into 2 groups:
Aurion: for all our African-Fantasy creation and we organized the Games and comics around the “AurionVerse”. Mboa City: Where we want to make games about africans jobs and social life.
Every Aurion game or product will be “Aurion: X” and every Mboa City game will be “The X of Mboa” where X is an African job.
Julien Herbin – It’s really a case-by-case consideration, each project is unique and comes with more or less cultural elements. So I’d say Maybe.
Seifeddine Haddar – Some of the important considerations for naming a product or service are the uniqueness, visibility, and scalability of the name. The name should not only be distinctive and memorable, but also easy to find, pronounce, spell, and remember, both online and offline. Moreover, the name should be adaptable and flexible for different markets, regions, languages, and contexts.
Additionally, the name should be relevant and understandable for the target industry and audience, and reflect the brand image and values of the product or service.