If you’re about to start a company or launch a product, you might be feeling pretty intimidated by the prospect of having to name it. Here are some guidelines to consider when creating or evaluating potential names for your brand or business.
I’ve been a professional “namer” for 15 years. (Yes, it’s a real job.) Through my work, I’ve helped dozens of businesses — from startups to the Fortune 100 — find the best names for their companies, products, and services. Long story short: I know the challenges you’re likely to face in creating a brand name, and I’ve developed strategies for dealing with each one.
If you’re about to start a company or launch a product of your own, you might be feeling pretty intimidated by the prospect of having to name it. We’ve all seen those long lists of “must-haves” for every brand name — they’re intense. But in reality, the name you choose shouldn’t just check off the boxes. After all, even the most successful brand names — Apple, Twitter, Kodak — rarely meet all the criteria.
Instead, the brand name you select should strike a balance between being strategic, creative, and technical. Here are some guidelines to consider when creating or evaluating potential names for your brand or business.
When you set out to name your brand, you should always start with a naming brief — even if it’s an informal one — that defines the strategy behind the company, product, or service being named. In your brief, make sure to include a description of what’s being named, ideas you’re hoping to convey via the name, a description of your target audience, and the names of your competitors. This will help guide you as you consider your various options.
Bringing strategy into the naming process ensures your name will send the right signals to the right people, align with brand and business strategy, and take the cultural and competitive backdrop into trương mục.
When reviewing your brief, ask yourself these questions about each of your potential names:
1) Is it meaningful? Does it convey the intended message and evoke the right feelings?
Tesla is a name that does a great job of suggesting electricity and technical prowess.
2) Is it adaptable? Is it able to stretch to accommodate foreseeable changes in the brand?
Pizza Hut and RadioShack have trouble explaining that they sell more than pizza and radios, respectively. Kodak on the other hand, works for everything from film to scanners to advanced materials and chemicals.
3) Is it distinctive? Will it stand out when compared with your competitors?
When Apple was named, other computer companies included Commodore, Microsoft, and IBM. The simplicity of Apple stands out in that crowd far better than other names founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak considered, like Executex and Matrix Computers.
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Creativity is hard to quantify, but it matters when it comes to naming your business or product. The most effective names are often unexpected, catchy, or buzzworthy — characteristics that creativity can help deliver. Even when making subjective judgments about a name, it’s useful to break up a big, nebulous question like “Is it creative?” into smaller, more manageable questions, like:
1) Is it memorable? Will it catch people’s attention and stick in their minds?
This could be due to distinctiveness (see above), brevity, emotional resonance, or structural features. BlackBerry was easy to remember because it was unique, related to physical properties of the product, and had those alliterative “Bs.”
2) Does it sound good? Is it sonically pleasing? Fun to say?
I get a kick out of Toca Boca every time I hear about one of their new apps. That’s what the company wanted — a name that’s “fun to say, easy to say,” and “work[s] in many different countries.”
3) Does it look good? Is it visually appealing when written out?
One of my favorite examples of a visually interesting name is Vaio, short for “Visual Audio Intelligent Organizer.” In the logo, the V and A resemble a sine wave, representing analog technology, while the I and O look like one and zero, representing digital technology.
One of the hardest parts of naming a brand is ensuring that your ideas are technically viable, legally available, and that they avoid linguistic, spelling, or pronunciation challenges. Names that work from a technical standpoint will help you avoid worst-case scenarios, like having to recall a product with an offensive name or rebrand your company due to legal action from a competitor.
A big part of the naming process is pre-screening names for those legal, linguistic, and other risks before they can be seriously considered. Before finalizing a name, ask yourself these questions:
1) It is legally available? Is it unlikely that picking this name will result in legal problems?
While this question rarely has a black-and-white answer, preliminary trademark checks help avoid obvious conflicts. The company Poachable was forced to change its name to avoid legal challenges from brands named Poached and Poachee.
2) Is it linguistically viable? Does it avoid inappropriate meaning or associations in relevant languages?
You’ve heard the horror stories. Clairol marketed a curling iron called “Mist Stick” in Germany, only to realize that “mist” is German slang for “manure.”
3) Is it easy to spell and pronounce? Will it avoid confusion or mispronunciation?
This is where so many Silicon Valley brands get a (deserved) bad rap. Xobni (“inbox” backwards)? Phreesia (maybe a misspelling of “freesia”)? It’s what happens when domain availability takes precedence over the quality of the name (something I recommend avoiding). A high-quality name is more important than having the exact name in your URL.
Remember, the qualities above are not requirements for good brand names. Think of them more as general guidelines to consider when creating or evaluating names. They can also overlap with each other — distinctive names tend to be memorable, names that sound good are sometimes easier to spell, and meaningless or ambiguous names are likely more adaptable — and vary in their relative importance.
Ultimately, creating a good brand name is about balancing the qualities across all three areas in a way that makes sense for the project at hand. If you’re careful to consider these three broad areas — strategic, creative, and technical — you’ll be well on your way to a strong brand name.