Choosing a business name

Whats in a name-01

Tips on naming, by Mandy Barker

What’s in a name?
A common question I keep getting asked from start ups is ‘how do I choose a name?’ And it’s pretty important to choose a name before you can start trading! I thought it would be useful to share a blog from the perspective of a branding designer. Firstly, as with all creative projects, there is no magic formula. In the brand world, agencies have their own processes – we put names through rigorous strategies and creative processes, followed by testing and review. However, sometimes founders reach it in days on instinct alone. 

A well chosen name is an essential brand asset. It is something you will use every day, through conversation, emails, documentation, brand applications, websites and voicemails. Think about how it will be used in your industry, for your markets and what you want the name to imply. It’s usually the first thing your audience learn about you. It also needs to be a name you can be proud of, to give you confidence in the business world.

The right name should be:

  • Memorable
  • Easy to say
  • Visually appealing
  • Sound good aloud
  • Timeless
  • Not trend/fad driven (unless that is the aim of your business)
  • Available – legally and online
  • Meaningful to reflect your vision/brand
  • Translatable (if you want to go global) – be aware of translations or potential ‘bad’ connotations in countries you want to trade in

Simplicity within a name can also be very effective. 

“It’s easier to complicate than simplify. Simple ideas enter the brain quicker and stay there longer. Brutal simplicity of thought is therefore a painful necessity” Lord Saatchi

Simplicity is a difficult process. It requires patience, time, dialogue and understanding, as well as an intensive strategic and rigorous creative process.

Choosing a name/starting the process
Questions and words are a good place to start.

  • What is the purpose of your business? Why?
  • What is your tone of voice? How do you want to communicate? Do you want it to feel friendly and approachable? Cheeky and fun? Empowering and bold? Sophisticated and professional? Rebellious and bold?
  • What makes you unique?
  • What are your business values?

We can all list adjectives that relate to a new venture/passion. Why are you here? Are there emotive keywords or adjectives to explore in relation to your purpose? Start a list. No word is too obvious, no idea is stupid. Expand that list using synonyms, metaphors, and/or visual cues that could represent the word. Think of it like a creative mind map (in industry we do it all the time!). Distil and define. You may feel like you are opening up a can of worms before you reign in, and it can seem overwhelming, but this is completely normal. It’s good to go wide and far for inspiration! Be bold, fearless and experimental. This is only the idea stage – be as creative and courageous as you like!

Types of names

  • Contextual (Google takes its name from Googol, the mathematical term for the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeros)
  • Metaphorical (Virgin came from being ‘new’ to business)
  • Person’s/founders name (Harley Davison)
  • Take a word out of context (Apple)
  • Made up (Xerox)
  • Mythical (Nike derives from Greek goddess nike ‘Victory’)
  • Translation/merger (Aldi ‘ALbrecht-DIscount)
  • Acronym (DHL, merger of initials from the founders names)
  • Generic (Gap)
  • Descriptive (communicate what you do)

This is a great article showing how some big brands got their names.

Too many cooks
You will want to and need to do some testing (intensive or not) on your name or shortlist, but be careful. Opinions can also be overwhelming (when should you listen to one and when should you ignore it?). They can be useful, but too many can also stifle creativity/imagination. Put a name in front of somebody/anybody and they will react instinctively. This is relevant if you are testing it on your target audiences initial reactions, but sometimes asking for trouble (both depend on context).

An opinion can be insightful if the person giving one has insight, context and understanding of the project as much as the person who created it does. The critic is never in position of the business owner and do not hold much authority unless they are experts in a relevant field, your market, or industry.

And remember, you’re looking to appeal to your target audience, you can’t please everybody.

“You need to look inside and trust yourself and your expertise. If you don’t, how will those high-paying clients ever trust you?”
Pia Silva, Forbes


Quick tips

  • Start with a list.
  • Shortlist. Shortlist again. And again.
  • Look at it. Pin it (or the shortlist) up for a few days.
  • Say it out loud – you will have to say it dozens of times a day.
  • Listen – is it easy to pronounce? Could it easily be mistaken for another word? Easy to spell?
  • Don’t fall in love! If you do, and then go onto the stage of seeing if it exists, you will be disappointed. Research first.
  • Test it. Look it up. Check connotations/translations.
  • Think about how it will look on large format signage.
  • Don’t rush yourself (or do, if you work better under pressure), it’s a process. Sometimes, instinctively you may reach a good idea in minutes, other times it can take days, weeks, months.

If you require assistance and expertise for your start up, including name generation, get in touch.

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