The present study explored when and how the top-down intention to speak influences the language production process. We did so by comparing the brain's electrical response for a variable known to affect lexical access, namely word frequency, during overt object naming and non-verbal object categorization. We found that during naming, the event-related brain potentials elicited for objects with low frequency names started to diverge from those with high frequency names as early as 152 ms after stimulus onset, while during non-verbal categorization the same frequency comparison appeared 200 ms later eliciting a qualitatively different brain response. Thus, only when participants had the conscious intention to name an object the brain rapidly engaged in lexical access. The data offer evidence that top-down intention to speak proactively facilitates the activation of words related to perceived objects.