It’s All in a Name: A Guide to Picking a Perfect Brand Name for Your Product or Business
When building a brand, where do you start? With a name, of course. But we all know it’s not that easy.
A lot goes into thinking of a name – it can be a long, tedious process. But there are steps you can take in your journey to successfully name your business or product.
1) Review Types of Names and Existing Names
So you need a name for your product or company. Where to begin?
First, it’s helpful to understand that there are three categories of names you can choose from. Knowing this can help you to both generate and assess possible names. As a brainstorming exercise, you can think of names in all three categories and then assess those names individually. Alternatively, you can decide beforehand what category of name you want based on each catagories’ advantages and disadvantages, which we discuss below. The three categories of names are:
i. Names which are also real words (e.g: Apple, Amazon, Uber, Chrome, Safari)
ii. Literal or descriptive names (e.g: Facebook, Dropbox, Lyft, Evernote)
iii. Made-up names (e.g: Spotify, Verizon, Cisco, Snapple)
Note: no matter the type of name you choose, the brand can build around it. For instance, Spotify meant nothing before the company invented it – now the name stands for the music listening and streaming site. Apple was a fruit until it became synonymous with the tech giant and its products.
There are various advantages and disadvantages to the three different types of names. Names drawn from real words are often already familiar, which makes them easier to remember. These words often carry positive or interesting connotations that ideally color people’s perceptions of your product or brand. These are the advantages. However, these names can be harder to trademark (How do you trademark the word Apple?) and difficult to secure as URLs.
The main advantage to literal or descriptive names is that they explain the product or service – they make immediate sense to both investors and customers. They are also easier to trademark. As for drawbacks, they may not seem innovative or creative, may not adequately differentiate your brand, and may already be in use in other markets or industries.
The advantages of the third category, made-up names, are numerous. They are creative, innovative and unique, don’t need to make literal or figurative sense, can communicate a feel for the brand’s products or mission, and are easiest to trademark and secure as URLs. But they too have their drawbacks. Many are created from bits and pieces of other words, sometimes from English and sometimes from other languages. (Think of the com in Comcast, for example, or the dura in Duracell) – you should understand that these bits and pieces carry meanings and associations which could carry over to your brand or product. These names are also hard to create and have to follow pronunciation and spelling rules. Another disadvantage: since it’s not a familiar or logical word, the public might have trouble remembering or getting behind it.
2) Brainstorming Strategy: Questions
It’s not unusual for a marketing team to come up with a list of a hundred or more possible names. They do that using a variety of brainstorming strategies.
To start, rather than throwing out ideas willy-nilly, try focused brainstorming where you answer questions based around your product or business. Make a list of words or phrases for each answer:
- What words would you use to describe this new product if you were trying to impress your mom/dad or a spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend?
- What does your product do?
- What does your industry do? What is its purpose?
- What is your product’s benefit to the consumer?
- What makes your product or business unique?
- What words describe the most significant characteristics of your product or business?
- What characteristics or needs should a customer have to get the most from the product?
- Think of the words and phrases a typical customer might use when complaining about products in the same category as yours. What words or phrases are antonyms?
- What words describe the people who use the product? What words describe where, when, why, how, and what it’s used for by your ideal customer?
Now you should have several lists of words, but you’re not quite ready to move onto assessing the words as names. First, take a different approach to brainstorming.
Some of these tricks build on the work you did above, while some of them might take your brainstorming in a new direction.
Synonyms: Take the words you brainstormed above and put them into a thesaurus, making sure to mark down synonyms you like.
Word combinations: Try combining words from your lists to form a single brand name. In doing this, you can keep the whole words, like Dropbox did, or you can drop letters like Verizon, which fused the Latin word for truth, veritas , and the English word horizon.
Puns and plays on words: Look through your lists for words that describe or define your product/business. Then look at lists of places, animals, foods, etc. to see if you can play on any words.
Metaphors: Above you listed words and phrases that describe what your product, business or industry does. Now come up with other things in life that function similarly. For example, athletic shoes are made for running and mountain lions also run, which is how Puma came up with its metaphorical name.
Misspellings: Much to the chagrin of your old English teachers, incorrectly spelling commonly used words on purpose can help create a name that feels both familiar and unique to your potential consumers.
Rhyming: Names that rhythm can be very memorable, but be careful: certain rhymes might sound goofy or too cute.
Industry terminology: Each industry has its own slang or jargon, which often originates with consumers themselves. Try tapping into the lingo of your industry to come up with a relevant and solid name. For instance, technology and consulting corporation IBM stands for “International Business Machines” while Intel derives its name from “intelligence information.”
Word Tools: You can use online word tools to help generate a name. My Tool creates combinations of words, More Words allows you to search for words containing what you want, and Word Lab has a list of company names, name creator, name builder and more.
4) Assess Each Name
After you’ve come up with a list of names for your business or product, it’s time to analyze each of them. Ask yourself these questions to help judge what name is best:
a. Is your name easy to pronounce and spell?
b. Is it unique and memorable?
c. Is it too broad or specific?
d. Are there too many numbers? (Three or four is usually considered the max.)
e. Is it positive?
g. Have you used words that have a negative connotation in other languages? (Puffs tissues runs into problems in Germany as “puffs” is a colloquial term for “whorehouse.” The Ford Pinto might not sell well in Brazil, at least not to men, since “pinto” means “tiny penis” in South America’s largest country.)
h. Will your name alienate any demographic group?
i. Does it communicate something about the essence, image or positioning of your brand?
j. Is it future-oriented to allow for expansion and growth?
k. Have you researched to make sure the name is available?
Helpful hint: Study your competitors’s names and be different. Stand out from the crowd!
These Steps in Action: An Example
Image credit: Global Panorama / CC BY-SA 2.0
Now that you’ve read through the process, let’s try an example together. Say we’re selling an eco-friendly pet shampoo for dogs. It effectively and efficiently cleans your pup without harming the environment. We’ve got the product and now we want to come up with a unique, catchy and memorable name. We’re open to names in all three categories and will consider the advantages and disadvantages of each once we’ve brainstormed a list of potenital names.
We start by thinking of the most significant questions: What does our product do? What does our industry do? What is our product’s benefit to the consumer? What makes our product or business unique? Etc.
From there, we come up with lists of synonyms and associated words:
Eco-friendly: eco, environmentally-friendly, environmental, green, nature-friendly
Dog: canine, hound, pooch, pup, puppy, canine companion, doggie, man’s best friend, mutt
Shampoo: soap, suds, lather, detergent, bubbles
Clean: wash, bathe, bath, disinfect, cleanse, scrub, soak, sheen, hygiene, not dirty, spotless
Now we think of word combinations, puns, rhymes, and misspellings. (Of course there are many, many more – and likely far better – names for eco-friendly dog shampoo, but for this exercise these names will have to do.)
Eco Suds Puppies
Eco Suds N Pups / Eco Suds N Mutts
Eco Pup Suds / Pup Eco-Suds
Nature’s Dog Wash
Eco Dog Wash
Pups N Bubbles
Green Sheen Pup
Green Pup Hygiene
We assess each name and research competitor’s names.
Eco Suds Puppies – descriptive, cute
Eco Suds N Pups / Eco Suds N Mutts – descriptive, rhymes, cute
Eco Pup Suds / Pup Eco-Suds – descriptive, rhymes
Nature’s Dog Wash – descriptive, play on “car wash,” professional, welcoming
Eco Dog Wash – descriptive, play on “car wash,” professional
Pups N Bubbles – descriptive, might be too much like “Suds N Bubbles,” no mention of eco-friendly
Canine ECOmpanion – made-up, pun, no mention of shampoo
Puppy Eco-Wash – descriptive, play on “car wash”
Pup Eco-Scrub – descriptive, rhyming
Pup Greenwash – made-up, negative connotation
Green Sheen Pup – descriptive, “green” contradicts the idea of clean
Green Pup Hygiene – descriptive
Eco ShamPooch – made-up, pun, “pooch” could sound inappropriate
Eco Pupples – made-up, play on “bubbles”
We can now subject these names to the “basic guidelines” we listed above as well as think about the advantages and disadvantages of names in the three categories. Given our product, we don’t gain much by coming off as creative, but we do want the customer to get the gist of what the product does from the name itself. Without running through all the questions, we can see that “Nature’s Dog Wash,” “Pup Eco-Scrub” or “Eco Suds N Pups / Eco Suds N Mutts” are our best candidates for our product name. None of these names should offend any demographic or inadvertently imply something that would discourage potential customers. Each of these names is short, easy to pronounce and understand, catchy and unique.
Of course, this is a somewhat subjective business. What name would you choose?
If you found this article helpful and want more information on how to build your brand, see our article “7 Logo Design Tips to Create a Killer Brand”.