“What’s in a name” is a proverbial question, thanks to Shakespeare. But while in Juliet’s case the question had to do with her forbidden love for Romeo, for the owners of Alaska’s cannabis dispensaries, as with all business proprietors, forbidden has nothing to do with it. They want names that are eye-catching and welcoming.

Naming a company is a tricky endeavor. The title needs to convey to potential customers what sort of business the establishment is engaged in, and hopefully encourage those same potential customers to walk through the door.

When cannabis businesses began opening their doors in Alaska, they had an additional consideration. Because the plant has long held negative connotations in society, and because many people were hesitant to have cannabis retailers in their communities, store names needed to present the product in a more holistic manner, one that let people know these businesses were a positive thing to have in their towns.

This was part of what Lloyd Stiassny was thinking about when he launched Uncle Herb’s. He didn’t want to have something directly cannabis or marijuana related in the name because Stiassny wants to move away from the word marijuana as a tag for the industry.

“I wanted something very generic that was more mainstream,” he explained, Something “that conveyed to people a business model that would be welcoming for everyone.”

The name he chose has certainly been successful for Stiassny, whose business has grown from its original location and now encompasses two stores in Anchorage and one in Homer.

Stiassny said he liked the idea of a green sounding name that had a gardening angle. “It was a little bit of a brainstorming with a group. We had a list of names, Uncle Herb’s popped up. We all sort of liked that and we moved forward. It’s friendly and warm sounding and I think that’s why we all felt comfortable with it.”

Barbara Paschall was thinking along similar lines when she opened Nature’s ReLeaf in Fairbanks, although she took the idea even further. Her granddaughter, manager Karissa Paschall, said the elder Paschall wanted to orient the store around the natural healing capacities of the plant that many consumers look for.

Karissa explained that, much like Stiassny, her grandmother wanted to move away from the stereotypes surrounding marijuana as simply a party substance and instead focus more on the benefits of the plant.

“The play in the name was ‘leaf,’”the younger Paschall recalled. “She wanted it to be unique and to have that connotation in our logo with having the actual cannabis leaf. She didn’t want a name that jumped out at you, like a ‘stoner’ type of feeling. She wanted it to be a name that was welcoming, that was respectful of what cannabis has done in people’s lives to help them. And something that could also be a little bit more discreet. So, Nature’s ReLeaf, that doesn’t necessarily scream that we’re a cannabis retail, but coupled with our logo it is informative enough to convey that we do carry cannabis here.”

The plant itself also inspired the name of nearby dispensary GoodSinse, which was named by owner Daniel Peters. “We were founded in 2016,” longtime employee Sabina Karwowski said, “one of the first pot shops in Fairbanks, and it was one of the owner’s favorite strains, good sinsemilla.”

The seedless strain of cannabis was first developed in the 1970s and quickly gained popularity with consumers. “It’s referenced a lot in Sublime songs and in pop culture,” Karwowski said.

For the shop name, the first syllable of the word was combined with one of the most well known phrases in the English language. The result, she said, lets customers know, “You have good sense when you’re shopping at GoodSinse.”

Anchorage’s Fuzzy Monkey had a plant reference in its original name, although a partnership change prompted an alteration. “Originally our name was Fuzzy Buds,” said owner Mindy Millhouse. “Then one of our members decided to withdraw, and do his own thing. In the withdrawal he ended up keeping the Fuzzy Buds name, that was the agreement. So we had to come up with a new name. My husband and I were talking and it was literally, ‘What about the Fuzzy Monkey?’ It was just random, and that’s it.”

She added, “I really don’t know where that came from.”

Customers were used to the Fuzzy Buds name, she said, but the new one was close enough that the transition didn’t cause any business disruptions.

While you won’t find any monkeys in the wilds of Alaska, you will find puffins along the state’s southern coasts. It was this local connection, along with the automatic pun it contained, that prompted Seward’s Randy Wells to choose The Tufted Puffin for his shop.

“It was actually a family event, when we were writing our business plan for the store,” Wells said. “Obviously we wanted to create a business name that featured something to do with Seward, and Alaska as a whole. So myself, my wife, my two sons, and my daughter, we all worked on a business name. We all pitched in rough draft ideas for a year. My oldest boy, Dalton, it was his idea that we ran with, which was The Tufted Puffin, with the tag line ‘Always puffin tough.’ And that’s how we got that name.”

Combining a local reference with a cannabis connection led to another shop name with a built-in pun. Lily Bosshart of Anchorage said that, much as with Millhouse’s stumbling on Fuzzy Monkey, the word Dankorage simply jumped out of her brain unprompted.

“It came about in an early owners’ meeting,” Bosshart said by email. “My previous career was as a kindergarten teacher and as such, I’m in the habit of working through word families in my head….i.e. cat, sat, bat, or pan, man, fan. We were all sitting around the table thinking of names and in my head I was working through the “Anchorage” word family. All of a sudden ‘Dankorage’ popped out of my mouth, the table went silent, and we all immediately knew that was it.”

The owners of Good Titrations in Fairbanks experienced a similar epiphany. Co-owner Shaun Tacke recalled “We originally started out with Cannabis Connoisseur, but we ended up pivoting. We had to come up with a name that was related to concentrates. We thought, ‘how about ‘connoisseur concentrates,’ something like that.’”

Like other shops, they didn’t want an obvious weed reference in their name. Tacke said his partner Brandon Emmett was brainstorming with his wife Allison Emmett while listening to the Beach Boys song “Good Vibrations.” Suddenly Allison said ‘How about Good Titrations?’ Brandon immediately replied, ‘Yeah! I’ll take that to the board.’”

‘This is perfect for us. It’s a chemistry-oriented name,” said Tacke. “Given what titrated means, or what titrations are, in chemistry where you’re adding just enough things to cause a reaction to occur. So this was perfect. The right amount of titrations to get you to have good vibrations.”

Choosing the right name for a new business is only a small part of the huge job of getting a company up and running and then keeping it going. There’s a lot in a name, but there’s a lot more to a company than just the name. Dankorage’s Bosshart said she’s glad that for her company, the naming part came easily.

“Choosing our store name was by far the easiest, quickest, and most uncontested decision we made as business owners,” Bosshart said. “We are so thankful that puzzle piece fell into place so naturally, as every other aspect of this start-up has been the hardest work of our lives!”

David James is a freelance writer in Fairbanks. Questions about this story? Email jstricker@Alaska Cannabist.com

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