How to Name Your Company
This post is a collection of excerpts from Designing Brand Identity by Alina Wheeler.
Naming is not for the faint of heart. It is a complex, creative, and iterative process requiring experience in linguistics, marketing, research, and trademark law. Even for the experts, finding a name for today’s company, product or service that can be legally protected presents a formidable challenge.
Various brainstorming techniques are used to generate hundreds, if not thousands, of options. Culling the large list takes skill and patience.
Names need to be judged against positioning goals, performance criteria, and availability within a sector. It is natural to want to fall in love with a name, but the bottom line is that meaning and associations are built over time. Agreement is not easy to achieve, especially when choices seem limited. Contextual testing is smart and helps decision making.
Naming a company is like naming a baby.
Naming is a rigorous and exhaustive process. Frequently hundreds of names are reviewed prior to finding one that is legally available and works
I will know it when I hear it
People often indicate that they will be able to make a decision after hearing a name once. In fact, good names are strategies and need to be examined, tested, sold, and proven.
We will just do the search ourselves
Various thoughtful techniques must be utilized to analyze the effectiveness of a name to ensure that its connotations are positive in the markets served.
We cannot afford to test the name
Intellectual property lawyers need to conduct extensive searches to ensure that there are no conflicting names and to make record of similar names. It is too large a risk — names need to last over time
The right name is timeless, tireless, easy to say and remember; it stands for something, and facilitates brand extensions. Its sound as rhythm. It looks great in the text of an email and in the logo. A well-chosen name is an essential brand asset, as well as a 24/7 work horse.
A name is transmitted day in and day out, in conversations, emails, voicemails, websites, on the product, on business cards, and in presentations. The wrong name for a company product or service can hinder marketing efforts through miscommunication or because people cannot pronounce it or remember it. The wrong name can subject a company to unnecessary legal risks or alienate a market segment. Finding the right name that is legally available is a gargantuan challenge. Naming requires a creative, disciplined, strategic approach.
Don’t pick a name that makes you one of the trees in the forest, and then spend the rest of your marketing budget trying to stand out.
-Danny Altman, Founder & Creative Director, A Hundred Monkeys
Qualities of an effective name
It communicates something about the essence of the brand. It supports the image that the company wants to convey.
It is unique, as well as easy to remember, pronounce, and spell. It is differentiated from the competition. It is easy to share on social networks.
It positions the company for growth, change, and success. It has sustainability and preserves possibilities. It has long legs.
It enables a company to build brand extensions with ease.
It can be owned and trademarked. A domain is available.
It has positive connotations in the markets served. It has no strong negative connotations.
It lends itself well to graphic presentation in a logo, in text, and in brand architecture.
The right name has the potential to become a self-propelling publicity campaign, motivating word of mouth, reputation, recommendations, and press coverage.
-Lissa Reidel, Consultant
Types of names
Many companies are named after founders: Ford, McDonald’s, Christian Louboutin, Ben & Jerry’s, Tory Burch. It might be easier to protect. It satisfies an ego. The downside is that it is inextricably tied to a real human being.
These names convey the nature of the business. Good examples are Match.com, Toys “R”Us, Petco, E*TRADE, Evernote, Ancestry.com, and Citibank. The benefit of a descriptive name is that it clearly communicates the intent of the company. The potential disadvantage is that as a company grows and diversifies, the name may become limiting.
A made-up name, like Pinterest, Kodak, or Activia, is distinctive and might be easier to copyright. However, a company must invest a significant amount of capital into educating its market as to the nature of the business, service, or product. Haagen-Dazs [an American company established in Brooklyn, New York] is a fabricated foreign name that has been extremely effective in the consumer market.
Things, paces, people, animals, processes, mythological names, or foreign words are used to allude to a quality of a company. Good examples are Nike, Patagonia, Monocle, Quartz, Tesla, Kanga, Amazon.com, Hubble, and Hulu.
These names are difficult to remember and difficult to copyright. IBM and GE became well-known only after the companies established themselves with the full spelling of their names. Acronyms are difficult to learn and require a substantial investment in advertising. Good examples are USAA, AARP, DKNY, CNN, and MoMA
Some names alter a word’s spelling in order to create a distinctive, protectable name, like Flickr, Tumblr, Netflix, and Google.
Combinations of the above
Some of the best names combine name types. Some good examples are Airbnb, Under Armour, Trader Joe’s, Shinola Detroit, and Santa Classics. Customers and investors like names that they can understand.