How to Name a Cocktail: Finding Inspiration for that New Drink

You Have a Great Recipe, Now You Need a Name

Creating new drink recipes is fun and once you have the perfect mix, the next step is to give your new creation a name. The name gives the drink it's final character, adds to its appeal, and can attract attention to it among the thousands of other recipes available today. How do you choose a good name, though?

There are many reasons why someone chooses a specific name for the cocktails they create and it's an aspect of drinks that I've always found fascinating. The name can often lead...MORE you to the back story of the drink or the bartender behind it and it is one of the best opportunities to let your creativity shine.

I've outlined a number of ways that drinks get their names below and if you're ever stuck on naming your latest creation, you may find some inspiration among the examples.

If you need further inspiration, simply browse through the A to Z Cocktail Recipes, where you can browse all of the great cocktail names that I collect.

  • 01 of 06

    Tell It Like It Is

    Humberto Marques' Cranberry Peanut Buttered Hot Rum Cocktail
    The name 'Cranberry Peanut Buttered Hot Rum' is very clear about what you can expect in this drink. © Humberto Marques

    This is a very literal approach and, when in doubt, it's a great route to go. Here you are just naming the drink what it is: think Rum & Coke, Vodka Tonic, and Strawberry Margarita. With this type of name the drinker knows what to expect because it is right there in front of them.

    Humberto Marques of the Bartist is very good at this and his cocktail creations include names like Eucalyptus Martini and Cranberry Peanut Buttered Hot Rum. I can almost taste either just by hearing the name and...MORE most of us are familiar enough with each drink's base (Martini and Hot Buttered Rum, respectively) that we have a good idea of what these variations will take to prepare and taste like.

    Martinis, margaritas, and daiquiris are an inspiration for many new variations and it is perfectly acceptable to name your new recipe with one of these bases. Some examples include the Apple Martini, Jalapeno Margarita, and Cranberry Daiquiri. In other instances, like this Cranberry Ginger Sparkler, I've simply put together the drink's flavors and feature.

    There is a little gray area with renaming or adding to a common drink and Darcy O'Neill makes some good points about it in an Art of the Drink article titled How to Name a Drink. Essentially, if you are going to add something like margarita or daiquiri to your drink's name, make sure it at least includes the ingredient that those monikers are known for.

    If I see any type of margarita, I expect tequila. Likewise, a daiquiri should have rum. The 'martini' name is an entirely different debate so we won't even touch that one, but a ​Manhattan should have whiskey. I have rejected publishing recipes because they did not follow this unwritten (but common sense) rule.

  • 02 of 06

    Personal Experience

    Dafne Martini Cocktail
    A personal inspiration, I named my Dafne Martini after my beloved cat because it reminded me of her. © Shannon Graham

    This is one of the approaches that I take quite often. Sometimes it is a feeling of the moment, an inspirational person, event, or object, a memory that the cocktail evokes, or it could be something as simple as the season or the weather of the day.

    For example, I named the Dafne Martini after my cat because she was hanging around when I first mixed it up and the Autumnal Temptations mocktail was created on one of those last beautiful days of fall when all I wanted to do was get out of the studio...MORE despite having a few deadlines. Elijah Venanzi's Goose In Spring was inspired by his mother's garden, and Susan Lund's The Julia gave her fond memories of watching Julia Child on PBS.

    Just as everyone's personal experiences vary, so are their inspirations for naming drinks. This is a very personal approach and you don't always have to reveal the reason, it's okay to be allusive.

  • 03 of 06

    The Locale

    The Classic Boston Cocktail
    A timeless classic, the Boston cocktail is a fantastic and simple mix of gin and apricot brandy. Shannon Graham

    Naming a cocktail after a geographical location or the bar it was created in is another popular option.

    There are many drinks that include a city, state, or other significant location in their names. There is the Boston Cocktail as well as the Boston Sidecar, the San Fransisco Cocktail and the Barbary Coast, the Baltimore Bracer, the Reno Cocktail, and at least one cocktail named for every borough and attraction in New York City, including the Bronx, Park Avenue, and, of course, the New York...MORE Cocktail. This list is endless, but there are many names still available to use, you may just have to add to it or use some local lingo.

    If you're working at a bar, you may also consider using the establishment's name in your drink naming. It's been done for years - think of classics like the Pegu Club Cocktail, Waldorf, Hi Ho Cocktail, etc. - and these signature drinks are a great way to show off the skills of that bar.

  • 04 of 06

    Current or Historical Events

    Time For a Change? Cocktail
    Jim Beam chose the name Time for a Change? for this drink released during the hotly contested 2008 presidential election. Alejandro Rivera/E+/Getty Images

    Holidays are always a popular inspiration for drinks and their names, though you can pull inspiration from other timely events, both past and present.

    Some examples include Jim Beam's Time for a Change?, which was a promotion during the 2008 presidential election, the Harbaugh Bloody Sunday from the 2013 Super Bowl that found two brothers coaching on opposite sides of the field, and the 1915 creation of Harry MacElhone, the French 75, which was named for a piece of artillery used in the First...MORE World War. There is always a sports team or championship, a news event, a political or social movement, and many other notables that you can pull inspiration from.

    A word of advice, though... try not to offend. It's a tricky thing, especially when you're trying to add humor or satire to the name. I would also avoid any highly controversial issues or satirical names involving religion or any other establishment or widely held beliefs that are against alcohol. Point of the matter... don't be rude.

    Also, if you want your drink to (potentially) last through time you may want to avoid too timely or trendy of a name.

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    The Namesake

    Robert Burns Cocktail
    The Robert Burns cocktail has taken the name of the famed Scottish poet. Rob Palmer/Photolibrary/Getty Images

    Another popular source of inspiration is the celebrity or other famous person of past or present.

    There are many great examples of namesake cocktails and many of the best come from the Golden Age of Cocktails. There is the Robert Burns and Rob Roy, the Mamie Taylor and the Johnny Weissmuller, and of, course, the great mocktails named for Roy Rogers and Shirley Temple. Modern mixes also pay homage to historical figures like the Ernestine Rose Cocktail and Alice Paul Cocktail. 

  • 06 of 06

    Art, Literature, and Popular Culture

    Virginia's Punch
    This innocent Virginia's Punch was named after the favorite Christmas line: "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.". Brian Macdonald/Digital Vision/Getty Images

    Cocktails and culture are a natural mix and you can find many great names within art, literature, music, and pop culture. This is a source where you can step away from the literal naming and be as creative as the inspiration.

    The options here are endless and fun to play with. We have drinks named the Scarlett Letter and the Scarlet O'Hara (Rhett Butler, as well), movie-themed drinks like Revolutionary Rum and There Will Be Rum and those inspired by a single memorable scene like the REDRUM. Of...MORE course, artists are often as colorful as their work and their stories can be a source of inspiration as shown in La Canne Creuse and Rimbaud's Left Hand.

    You may also want to do some wordplay from a popular story, poem, or phrase. Two examples would be Virginia's Punch (named for the popular Christmas story, Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus) and the Rhyme & Reason.

Naming drinks is fun, but it's important to remember that you need a tasty recipe first. In the 1911 edition of The Practical Soda Fountain Guide..., William S. Adkins makes a good point: "A good name will not carry a poor drink to success; but a good name attached to a good drink forms a strong combination."