What’s in a name?

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 audience and what you want the name to imply.

A common question we get asked is ‘how do I choose a name?’ We thought it would be useful to share a blog from the perspective of a branding designer. First, as with all creative projects, there is no magic formula. In the brand world, agencies have their own processes – names will go through rigorous strategies and creative processes, followed by testing and review. It’s usually the first thing your audience learn about you. It needs to be a name you are proud of, rooted in your brand story, to give you confidence.

Best practice checklist:

  • Is it trustworthy?
  • Is it future proof?
  • Is it memorable?
  • Does it support your vision and ambition?
  • Is it easy to pronounce nad jargon free?
  • Is it flexible and translatable across products?

Simplicity within a name can be very effective. Simplicity is a difficult process. It requires patience, time, dialogue and understanding, as well as an intensive strategic and rigorous creative process.

“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

Choosing a name – thought provokers:

  • 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? Etc.
  • What makes you unique?
  • What are your business values?

Starting the process

Adjectives are a good place to start. 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. Shortlist. Distil and define. Shortlist again.

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. Don’t hold back. Once you’ve narrowed it down, go back to the best practice check list.

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)

There is a great article here showing a list of big brands got their names: https://medium.com/@digitalrisks/how-six-world-famous-brands-got-their-names-133a4ccbb647

Beware: too many cooks

Opinions can also be overwhelming (when should you listen to one and when should you ignore it?) As a business owner, it’s always tempting to ask as many people as possible for feedback on a name. This can be useful, but too many opinions can also stifle creativity/imagination. Put a name in front of somebody/anybody and they will react instinctively. Sometimes this is relevant (if wanting to gauge your target audiences initial reactions on the name), 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. Also, the critic is never in position of the business owner and do not hold much authority unless they are experts in the field, your market, or industry.

Remember, you’re looking to appeal to your target audience, you can’t please everybody. Have courage in your conviction, and anything will work. Who would have thought Uber, Ikea, or Amazon would be household names? A brand is more than a name – so don’t get too hung up on it. A brand is everything that goes around it.

“You need to look inside and trust yourself and your expertise. If you don’t, how will those high-paying clients ever trust you?” https://www.forbes.com/sites/piasilva/2017/03/30/why-we-dont-ask-for-feedback-when-branding-small-businesses/#697bbb3f7f4a

Quick tips

  • Have a criteria based on your values, tone of voice brand beliefs and vision
  • 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.

The most important thing

  • There is no perfect name.

A name cannot do everything, but it can summon a vision. A name will take time to grow. When the founder first heard Nike he said ‘it’s okay. It will grow on me.’

All names will sound odd at first.

Don’t get hung up on URL availability. It is rare you will find any word with a URL that is available. There are ways around this for example, add a suffix or prefix (hub, lab, pro, co, etc etc)

Always get legal checks to make sure there are no copyright issues or conflicts. An IP lawyer will be able to help with this.

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