Choosing the right name is a tough task. You want a name that draws attention and gets people saying, "Tell me more!", but how?
We got you! Know that you -- yes you -- can name your company or brand with confidence.
Choosing the right name is a tough task. You want a name that draws attention and gets people saying, "Tell me more!", but how? It seems like all the good names are taken, you think “I’m not that creative”, and you don’t even know where to start. Relax! The good news is that using the proven naming process we use here at Wildstory, anyone can come up with the “right” name (more on that later). Don’t let coming up with a name for your company keep you up at night.
It is my goal to make sure you find a great name, don’t spend a fortune during the naming process or even worse, spend a fortune after you choose a name and run with all the branding only to find out after that it’s not going to work. Now that’s an expensive mistake.
We got you! Know that you -- yes you -- can name your company or brand with confidence.
Here, we’ll break down the naming process. We’re giving you the inside scoop on exactly what goes into the naming process - the theory, the practical how to, and how to fail-test your name to make sure there aren't any "gotcha's" down the road. You've got a brand to run, you can't be worrying about your name forever!
Why Are Names So Important?
Names are tricky things. The right brand name becomes an asset. Done well, it signals differentiation and locks a consumer into a specific mindset instantly. On the other side, the wrong name can cost a company millions of dollars in lost income and, in many cases, cost the person credited with naming the company their job.
The right name creates emotion – a deep emotion that triggers something within the consumer to make a decision to buy. (Notice we say "the right name". More on that later.)
We don’t buy brands – rather, we join them. Brands tell us who we are. We in turn, tell the world who we are by the brands we choose to join. If you've ever said, "I am a [fill in the blank with any brand] person... you've joined a brand. Personally, I'm an Apple person, a Levi's person, a Sony camera person, a Snow Peak person, a S'Well water bottle person, I am a Tesla person (even though I don't own one as of writing this article), and on and on...
It is important to us to be a part of the company’s story of those brands we support. And we all experience a first time introduction to the brands we choose to support. It helps to think of a name as the first introduction, then, to your product or service.
In this guide, we’ll give you tips and strategies that a marketing agency like Wildstory uses to help companies to build brand identity. These are the inside secrets we use to help businesses create effective brands.
What’s the Process for Naming a Company?
Let’s be honest here. Not every name is going to be one that’s a sudden hit or so memorable it lasts for 100 years. Many companies have changed their name at some point. But there are certain steps you can take to find the right name and hopefully only have to go through the naming process once.
The process combines magical and logical elements. At Wildstory, we work through a naming funnel, like this diagram shows. Start wide with many names to get through all the hurdles and finally arrive at the "right" name.
Now that you know what to expect from the process, we need to consider what actually goes into a good, effective, memorable name.
First, let’s dispel a big myth. Often, people say they want “The Perfect Name.”
Hear me on this: There are no perfect names – they just do not exist. Instead of striving for a single name or word that is “perfect” focus on finding the right name.
There’s a lot that goes into the right name – more than just what you like or what sounds right. In fact, you never want to ask yourself, “Do I like this name?” There’s too much bias in that question. Maybe that day you went to the supermarket and had a bad experience, or there was, something you saw on TV, or something talked about could be influencing your opinion of that name.
Instead, we need to remove that bias from the process fully. Instead, ask yourself, “Is this name right?”
To know if the name is right for your business, consider these 7 criteria from world renowned branding expert Marty Neumeier and his book, The Brand Gap. These are the questions or elements of any name that must be present.
When you have a name in mind, one you’re considering to any degree, ask yourself a few key questions:
- The first one is distinctiveness. Is the name distinctive enough? Is the name unique?
- Is the name short? A long name isn’t effective or memorable.
- Is the name appropriate? Does the name actually fit your business?
- Is it easy to spell? This is actually more important than you realize. You want people to be able to say and spell your name. They may not be able to find you!
- Is the name likable? Does it bring a good, positive emotional feeling?
- Can you do other things with the name? It shouldn’t be so specific that it locks you out of other divisions for your company in the future.
- Can you own the name and protect it? There’s an important legal aspect of naming your company, too.
It’s nearly impossible to have the only name in the world – you may have many competitors on a global scale with the same or similar name?
Marty Neumeier's 7 Criteria For a Great Name via the Brand Gap[/caption]
Another easy way to vet or score your name choices is this simple naming test. Ask yourself these questions when considering your name:
- Is the name actually meaningful? Whether it is to you or someone else, it needs to offer some level of meaning.
- Does the name make a person take you to a place or bring up a specific thought?
- Does the name offer some type of suggestion? Does it bring up a specific feeling or thought process?
- Does the name have legs? Is it extendable?
- Your name should be emotional. It should bring up some type of positive emotion.
Your name, then, is one component of an overall brand identity.
That is, your name, combined with your tagline, your visual design, like your logo, and your advertising copy have to fill in the picture. You can’t tell the whole story with your name – and trying to do so is likely to cause a number of problems.
Types of Names
There are various types of names, but these are the top four types of names most commonly used. Let’s break them down.
Descriptive names are the first type. They are some of the most commonly used because they tell you what the product or service of that business is. However, they tend to be very generic or not very imaginative. Corepower Yoga, for example, is a descriptive name. It focuses on yoga that’s core-focused.
Image-based names are those that take you to a place. They build on a very effective image. Patagonia is one of the best examples of it – the logo itself is very evocative of adventure.
Abstract names are a bit different. Google and Kodak are very good examples of these. These are more of the “made up” names in that they are not words easily recognized.
Names of Provenance are those that have some type of history-based link, most often associated with a family or specific heritage. They could be linked to an event or town, as well. Ford, for example, is the name of the man who first built these vehicles.
The very best names capture the features, benefits, and feelings of the brand or product. These are the names that make you smile. Here’s an example of a name I recently came across: OMGYes!
It is a business dedicated to women’s sexual pleasure backed by science. The company is serious and has a good quality product. But they don’t want to come off as too scientific or intimidating. Their name is perfect because it is fun and brings a smile to your face while telling you what they do AND the feeling you’ll have after using their service.
Let’s Talk About Renaming a Business
Most of the time, companies are going to create names at the start of their business using these processes and steps. However, this same process also applies to your company if you are renaming.
Renaming is not uncommon. You may be a business looking to rename your company for many reasons. Let’s talk about the specific factors impacting renaming your business and branding.
Why Are You Renaming?
This is a big change for your company, but why is your existing name not working? It’s critical to focus on this as a first step.
- What are the clear business benefits to renaming?
- Is there a legal reason to change the name?
- Do you need to change the name for marketing reasons?
- What emotional turmoil will this change have – is it worth it?
- Has your business model changed?
Assess the Impact of Change
A name change is very complicated. You’re taking established brand equity and having to change them – that’s going to confuse your customers. What’s the cost to your brand in that sense? You also want to consider how this will impact your investments and operations. There’s a real cost factor of renaming to consider here.
Transition with Confidence
It’s critical to introduce your new name in the proper format and frame. Your new name needs to be introduced in some type of value-oriented story. You want everyone to know what the benefits of this new name are and why it is so important to you. You want to commit to the change with confidence and really ensure you implement your new name efficiently and quickly without any backstepping. Having two names trying to do the same thing in the market is never going to work – and it can push customers in the opposite direction.
Renaming also has to focus on every aspect we’ve talked about so far in terms of naming, including knowing what your choices are, knowing what you are trying to say before you actually name it, and avoiding trendy names.
You’re looking for the right name, but you also have to remember this. Your name can only do part of the job. It cannot do everything to educate your buyers.
Names to Avoid
Now that you have some guidance on how to get started let’s put down the ground rules. Specifically, let’s be clear about the things you need to do to avoid making big mistakes with your names.
- Weird spellings, or spelling-challenged, names. It’s not cute or clever. In fact, they tend to age fast.
- Don’t go with copycat names. You want your name to stand out, not blend in. Names like “iclock” or .ly names were common at one point – don’t do it. Another problem is the something & something name like Martha & Marley Spoon. You also don’t want to copy the latest trend of Hello! - an example of this is Hello Fresh. Hello names are also too cliché.
- Names that are too restrictive – Tim’s Roller Skates, for example, isn’t anything but roller skates. Justin’s Nut Butter is a bit different, for example, because there are different types of nuts.
- Annoying names aren’t ideal. Yahoo! For example, is a name a lot of people like, but it’s a bit too cheeky.
- Boring names are stale and lacking imagery. Consider a name that’s dynamic and exciting instead.
- Curse of knowledge – if you’re an expert in your field and doing techy things, avoid using that as your name if no one else will understand it.
- Don’t go with a name that’s too hard to pronounce. You want people to talk about your name.
Let’s Get to the Naming Process
We’ve covered the theoretical components of naming. Now, let’s get into the practical application of the process.
You never know where a great name is going to come from.
It might be you, an entry level employee, or your naming firm. You just never know.
Now that we’re ready to work the process – the process we use here at Wildstory – it’s time to have some patience. It’s possible you’ll come up with the very best fit for your company in 6 seconds – wouldn’t that be great! It could take 6 hours or 6 months. Most of the time, the process takes about 4 weeks. That includes researching and brainstorming.
In the next few images, you’ll see all of the components that go into a great name.
The first step is to set up a naming brief. This is the criteria and strategy for the naming process. Here’s the breakdown of what’s in the brief. You’ll need to answer the following prompts in the naming brief.
Goal of the Project: Why do we want to do this?
In a Nutshell: List out the company’s services, products, experiences, feelings, and other details
Brand Positioning: What makes your brand unique and interesting?
Consumer Insights: What aspects are important to your consumers?
Target Audience: Who are you targeting, who is your customer?
The Competition: List out all competition. It’s best to add their logos and names here to see trends in the industry. Also list names of adjacent businesses, those companies somewhat like your own but not direct competition.
Desired Brand Experience: Describe what your customers will feel or think after their experience with you.
Brand Personality: List things important to your brand’s voice. What words help describe your business?
Themes and Ideas to Avoid: List names or words that just do not work or offer the right type of text for you.
Words to Avoid: You may have some words you just don’t want to include.
Domain Name: What modifiers can we use on your domain name that could impact the company’s name?
Then, I like to have clients take things a step further. For example, name style likes and why is one of the areas of the brief you’ll fill out. This starts to get you thinking. You’ll find five brand names that you like – as a group – and talk about why. For example, EVO, this brand name is catchy, and it implies evolution and change. You may like it because it’s unique and refreshing, but it’s also short and to the point.
You’ll then do the same thing with five brands that you don’t like and why. For example, American Airlines is a very well-known company, and its name tells you exactly what it is. Yet, that’s too obvious and too boring for most companies today. It lacks modern appeal.
Acid Test: An acid test for the name uses your new name in a mission statement style. It gives you a way to test the name. It can help you with the feeling and experience of using the name in a full sentence.
The final component is just a bit of additional information we want to keep on hand about the company or the expectations. This is a good place for added details.
All of this information is put into a single chart or document that’s easy to read and reference later.
Here are a few more things we keep in mind. You may have to add this to your brief.
Create Naming Criteria
- Performance Criteria
- Positioning Criteria
- Legal Criteria
- Regulatory Criteria, If Any
- You should never fall in love with a name. There will be steps in the process that will eliminate names. Don’t let your heart be broken.
There’s no bad idea in this process, though there are some rules. I want you to enjoy the process, which means putting out a lot of fun names that may even be strange. Remember, at least 50 percent of those names will be rejected right away. That’s okay!
Different Approaches for Naming Your Company
There are plenty of ways to approach the naming process. Here are a few examples.
Go Solo: You sit down and start brainstorming names.
Co-Creation: You’ll sit down with a group in a workshop-style approach. Involve the company in the process. Get people excited about the process. It also helps to build some ownership in the company. Include those who are most likely to value the process.
Collaborative: It’s a collaborative process but on your own. You assign a quota of names each day and with some guidance. Everyone works together but apart.
I am a big fan of co-creation and collaboration approaches. The people working in the business know the customer, the lingo, the business better than anyone else ever can. It’s important to tap into this insight and knowledge. This is usually where the best names come from.
Now, you need to assign a decider. There can only be one person who absolutely gets to make the decision. This is usually the founder in a small company. In larger companies, a CMO or CEO may be the person. Only one person can make this decision. Once you know who this is, everyone else in the naming process needs to know who it is. Remember, you’re getting the big bucks for a reason. You need to be a decision-maker!
Let’s talk about the collaborative approach. We can then go back to the solo approach because the techniques used here can be applied to both methods.
You’ll first want to build a brand team and decide who is going to be on it. In smaller organizations, this is rather easy to do. In larger companies, work on getting representation from each of the departments within the business and people from all levels of the company. This includes the front line employees who really do most of the interaction with your customers. These people are probably your best choice when it comes to the naming process.
Be honest with everyone about what the process is. Be sure to be clear their name suggestions may not be chosen. You can also have some fun with this. Encourage people to participate, perhaps even offering a gift card or bonus to the name chosen. Most importantly, you want to make the process fun, no just getting their name chosen. You want to reward them for participating.
When you do this, and a name is selected, those who participated in the process are going to be advocates for your new name. They are going to help get that name out there and support your company’s efforts in marketing and branding.
Create an Agenda
Get everyone involved from the start, with a quick exercise such as choosing a brand name each person loves and why. One person needs to be keeping everyone moving forward in the process.
Generally, there’s a large whiteboard present, and every name suggested during the process is written down. There are no bad names. The goal is to generate as many names as possible, but not to get stuck on any of the details.
Each person says one name – everyone can throw out a name that gets written down. Collect all of the names from the group or just let people shout them out.
Next is a visualization exercise. It doesn’t have to take too long, but it is an important part of the process. We’ll take some aspect of the naming brief that’s already completed and translate it into a personal emotion or sensation. Power, satisfaction, freshness – whatever your brand stands for.
During this process, individuals need to close their eyes for a moment. Then, I’ll present them with a scenario that’s the opposite of the sensation. In this scenario, I want to pull out the negative feelings of being dissatisfied or isolated. The process is meant to stir emotion so much so that they hate the feeling.
Then, I take that feeling away. At some point, I’ll clap or snap my fingers as a way to tell them to feel the opposite of what they’ve been feeling. Then, we do the same thing in creating a scenario. This time, we focus on the opposite of the sensation in the initial process, but we paint a much less vivid and more vague experience. I want them to imagine it on their own, whatever comes instinctively to them.
It’s important that the scenario is imagined in-depth and detail – what does it look like, taste like, and sound like? Focus on a sensual awareness of what’s present. Then, keeping those eyes closed, they can come up with a name or words that sum up the sensation they are feeling.
Fake Language Exercise
Another exercise to create names is what I like to call the Fake Language Exercise. Everyone is paired up, much like they were on an airplane, ready to have that uncomfortable chit chat moment with the person sitting next to them.
Right before the plane launches, tell each person they will be having a conversation in a made-up language. They should talk to their partner about something they are really passionate about in that fake language. This is a fun way to get the energy level in the group up and, in most cases, get everyone laughing.
They will need to communicate to the other person to do something in that language. That’s when we come back to the naming brief and try to communicate all of the features and benefits of the product in that new language. It takes a bit of practice, but it opens up the mind and offers new views.
When we come back to our normal language, we talk about the name of the business in their invested language.
Brainstorm Specific Words and Places
The next part of the process is to brainstorm around specific words that relate to the business. You can pull these words from the naming brief. Create a list of any name that is, in some way, related to the business.
From here, we need to work on pairing down that list. We can vote on the right name for the company, write down the top five in private, and then work on those names.
In some cases, you may not have a co-creating or collaborative process that’s in person like this. If that’s the case, follow this process:
Set a quota of names per person on the team, for example, five names a day for five days. The names are submitted each day, not at the end of the process. At the end of the process, you’ll find far more creative names like this.
Provide them with prompts to help them through this process:
1. The obvious. Think of how the name should:
- Make customers feel
- What it does
- How it does what it does
- Features/benefits of the product
- Experiences around what the business does
- Values, beliefs, what the business stands for.
2. Internal :
- What is the slang and lingo of the industry, the business?
- Any inside jokes or stories?
- How many tries did it take to find success if you’re inventing a new product?
3. Pop Culture:
- Google books, movies, iTunes playlists all inspired by your business
- Look at www.brainyquote.com for ideas
- Think of popular phrases around your business or the customers you serve
- Amazon searches
- Get out of the office. Take a walk, go to a movie, a library, and art museum
4. People, Places, Things, and Spaces:
- Are there people, historical, fictional, made up that would inspire or add to the name? Warby Parker, Martha and Marley Spoon come to mind.
- What about your name or name of the founders. Thor Industries is the mash-up of the two founders' names: Wade Thompson and Peter Orthwein.
- Same with places. Is there something regional or special about the place you are in or the feelings you evoke? Think in terms of metaphor
- Look at your names list and start looking for combinations of names that work in order to create a made-up word.
- Get silly. I love names that bring a smile to the face.
- Remember, no bad ideas.
- Get crazy… these wacky ideas are a great place for good names to be born
Additional Ways of Building Names
Here are some tools to help you master this process.
Take a feeling, adjective, or benefit and then abstract or modify it.
Precision optics → Precise → Zeiss
Naturally sweet juice → Tree Sweet
Atmospheric sound that envelopes you → Atmospheric → Dolby Atmos
HTML Email → Hotmail
Organize the world → Google (a number with 100 zeros)
Sky peer to peer → Skype
Now That You Have Names
With this list of names in hand, you can start to test them. There are various steps in this process, but we want to narrow things down slowly.
Search: Take your top 30-50 and do a high-level clearing search yourself. Google until your fingers bleed. See if there are any conflicts in your industry. You will kick out a bunch of names really quickly, and that is good. You can even ask Siri or Google to do a search for the brand using voice search.
Domain Name Conflicts: Weed out any conflicts within your industry or competitors that may have been missed to this point.
Legal Clearing: With about 10 or so names left, start working on the legal clearing for the process. It’s worth using a trademark lawyer for this process. It saves you time, money, and frustrations later.
Name Uses: Consider how the name will be used and ensure it works properly. How might it show up locally or regionally? Many global names are made-up names – like Lenovo and Accenture because there’s too much competition for a standard, routine word.
Work through this process with your final set of names:
Voice of the Stakeholder Exercise
Here’s another strategy to take:
- Create a page for each name you’ve come up with.
- Create 5 to 10 statements using the name in context, such as, “NAME is a product I trust.”
- Attribute each statement to a key stakeholder, for example, “NAME is a product I trust, Joe Smith, Customer.
- Have each decision-maker read one statement out loud.
- Talk about what you like about that name first.
- Outline what challenges the name brings.
You've Done It!
It’s time to have a big celebration. You’ve found your new name! You can start thinking about how this will be applied to all other touchpoints in your business now. We can cover how to do that in another post.
A few things to keep in mind before you get started:
- It’s okay to hire a branding agency to help with this process. It’s an empowering opportunity to do on your own, but it’s so important to get right.
- Tell the story of how you created your name. People will ask you – so create one!
- Don’t talk to people about the naming process. You have the group of people working on this that are most invested. Don’t turn to outside sources, such as your customers or clients, Facebook, or anywhere else.
- Don’t be afraid to be different. Discomfort – at least a bit of it – is a good thing. It means you’re doing the right thing!
- Don’t make the biggest mistake: Not having fun in the naming process. This is an opportunity to have some fun with your employees and create a memorable experience.
Listen to the naming masterclass Podcast
If you are more of an auditory learner or want to go deeper on this topic, I recorded a masterclass version on the Baby Got Backstory podcast. You can listen to that episode HERE.
Share the Joy!
If you've followed this process to select a name or have any questions do not hesitate to let me know. I can be reached at: marc at wildstory dot com - shoot me a note and let me know that you've found the "right" name for your company!
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