Sometimes, when you launch or take over a company, its name is mercifully obvious. Perhaps it’s an existing brand name with a strong reputation or a sub-brand that follows the conventions of its ‘parent’. However, sometimes you’ll need to start from scratch, and that’s when it pays to take a step back and think about the creative naming process.
There are lots of different ways to categorise names, and lots of different names that straddle many categories. However, most names can be placed in one of the following groupings. It’s useful to be aware of these before you start, as you might want to use them as prompts later.
e.g. British Airways, We Buy Any Car, Pizza Hut.
Descriptive names are the most successful at immediately communicating what you’re offering. The only downside is that if your core offering changes or expands, your name may lose relevance.
e.g. Fortnum & Mason, Chanel, Selfridges.
This kind of name suggests heritage and inspires trust. It’s normally seen in older companies, but there’s nothing to stop new brands adopting the approach, especially with single names. However, double names (like Marks & Spencer) naturally sound more old-fashioned, so should be used with caution.
Abstract & invented
e.g. Google, Ocado, Hulu.
It takes creativity to come up with an invented word, but one benefit is that you don’t have to worry about existing trademarks, URLs and social media handles. If you’re taking this approach, you can still incorporate elements of ‘evocative’: Ocado is based on the word avocado, suggesting a fictitious fruit (and therefore freshness) in the minds of audiences. Words, partial words and word sounds can all have very different connotations, making this a real art form.
e.g. GWR, IBM, H&M.
Initialisms are shortened versions of previous long-form brand names. Weight Watchers famously took the plunge in 2018, in order to move away from associations with dieting. Although a few brands do buck the trend by diving straight in with this approach, we suggest it’s best saved for when you’re so well established that the new version is immediately meaningful.
e.g. Graze, Innocent, Amazon.
Some names are designed to evoke a certain feeling or experience. They might be loosely related to your product or service area, or they might be metaphors (Jaguar suggests sleekness and speed). Bloom & Wild is a nice riff on the ‘founder-based’ style, implemented in an evocative way.
e.g. Netflix, Airbnb, Reddit.
This grouping refers to any names that are pun-based, abbreviated, deliberately misspelled or compound (where you stick two words together). As with invented words, they’re often much easier to ‘claim’ than other names. They can also blend words that are descriptive and evocative to reap the benefits of both approaches.
A collaborative process
Because there can be a lot of pressure on choosing the ‘right’ name, it’s always helpful to get others involved – many minds make many options. Beyond that, there’s no official-stamped and approved naming process, but we’ve found the following to be productive:
1) Get everyone together to share initial thoughts. If possible, aim for a diversity of team members, rather than choosing people from the same department or seniority level.
2) Encourage free thinking and open dialogue. We always tell clients that (with the exception of anything downright offensive), there’s no such thing as a bad name. At this initial stage, it’s helpful to simply throw out any words, word associations and ‘not-this-but-something-like-it’ suggestions. These needn’t be names; they could just be words that relate to your offering, or even a feeling you’d like to inspire. Jot them all down in some way, and try not to get too caught up in whether you like them yet. This gives you material to spark other ideas, and things to sift through later. You might also like to prompt suggestions according to different name types (as outlined above).
3) Research your sector. It’s useful to have a broad view of the brands that are already out there, as this will help you to spot trends or themes (whether for good or bad). Note any recurring words or approaches that might be worth considering, and pay attention to anything you don’t like.
4) Choose a select few to ‘own’ the process. It’s great to have lots of people involved initially, but ‘naming by committee’ is almost impossible, as everyone will want to promote and veto certain options. Try to choose a small handful of people who’ll have the final say; these will form your core naming team.
5) Create a shortlist. Using the words gathered from your initial session, convene the core team to whittle down your options and add any new ones that may occur.
6) Stress-test your shortlist. Take each name option in turn and assess it against some key considerations. From this, remove any that don’t really qualify. This may be a time to get brutal.
Ideally, you’re looking for something that is:
- Relevant to your audiences;
- Easy to say and spell;
- Future-proof (depending on your plans);
- Suitable across many channels (URL-able, tag-able, and so on);
- Appropriate in other languages;
- Harmonious with any sibling brands (if applicable);
- Unique (although this isn’t a deal-breaker; think Polo mints, Polo Ralph Lauren and the Volkswagen Polo, all jostling together).
7) Choose a winner. Hopefully, you’ll be left with just a few strong options. If you’re happy with these, agree on a favourite and run with it. If you’re not…
8) Repeat as needed. It's not unusual to go through the whole process more than once. If you’re not satisfied that you’ve found ‘it’, regroup and have another try.
Remember the bigger brand picture
It’s easy to get caught up in feeling that we might pick the ‘wrong’ name, but this is where it’s good to keep a sense of perspective. Yes, name does matter, but ultimately it’s just one tiny part of a much bigger brand picture.
The points we've touched on here form a handy guide to naming, but don’t be afraid to also go with your gut. There are plenty of names that shouldn’t work in reality (is FatFace really the best name for an aspirational clothing brand? Check out the story behind it here), but with the right branding, messaging and delivery, almost anything can be a success. Having a fantastic name is just one step on that journey.
Naming is a creative process, so above all, try to enjoy it and have some fun. And if in doubt, you can always ask us to help.