What’s in a Name?
Let’s face it, company or product names are not something we think about too much, which is interesting considering the ‘name’ is the primary identifier of any entity. However, choosing a new brand name can be a real contentious issue for those who are part of, or have a specific interest in the organisation. Emotion invariably creeps into the process because we are likely to judge the name suggestions from a subjective point of view. Typical responses to proposed ideas are usually “I love(hate) the sound of that” and “Oh no! that reminds me of…”. Unfortunately, this kind of reaction simply stifles creativity and, inevitably, the quality of the final outcome. When assessing name shortlists, the question shouldn’t be, “do you like this proposed name?”; instead, it should be -
“how closely does this name meet the agreed criteria of the naming brief?”
Yes, that’s a long-winded way of saying it is essential to draft a Naming Brief before beginning the brand naming process. The naming brief will guide you to more relevant and effective names and will provide the benchmark against which you make your final decision.
There are some important things to keep in mind when choosing a new name for your brand. Every name is different, and the criteria may change for certain situations, but the following guidelines will apply in most cases:
Guidelines on Naming
Whether you've just pulled a name from your head, used an online generator, held a name-storming session with your people or hired a professional agency, you will usually end up with a shortlist. This is where the fun begins.
Don’t get hung up on whether you like or dislike a name – The perfect name can often be elusive. Ask yourself, is this the right name? Is it fit for purpose? Will it resonate with our target audience?
There are no strict laws you must follow, but here are some good rules of thumb to help you arrive at the best name sooner:
Names should be clear and easy to pronounce – keep this in mind, especially when the name is to be used in overseas markets.
Names should be easy and obvious to spell just from hearing them spoken.
Names generally should “sound right” They should have a clear sound balance when spoken out loud.
Names should look good and be easy to read.
Names should be distinctive and stand apart.
Names should be easy to recall (as opposed to ‘memorable’ – my holidays were memorable…)
Names should align perfectly with your brand plan and reflect the personality and values of your brand.
Names should be future-proofed. Will your brand be the same in 5 years? Will the name lend itself to range extensions or other shifts in your brand architecture?
Don’t get side-tracked by the “That sounds just like …….” (unless it’s something definitively negative or controversial). Remember, names are almost always used in CONTEXT – (e.g. When people talk about Apple products, no one gets confused with the fruit). The name is used to identify the company, product or service.
It’s important to understand that names are symbols or trigger devices. In a fraction of a second, they identify the entity being referred to. We rarely give brand names any conscious thought, except when being introduced for the first time. Although an important part of a brand, they are not the brand itself.
Types of Names
There are several different types of naming styles, but these are some of the most common types to consider:
Descriptive Names – This kind of name suggests the type of product or service the brand pertains to, e.g. Irish Water, Vodafone, Burger King, Snapchat. It's often chosen by new brands who wish to engage an audience quickly, especially where initial marketing funds are limited. Being so prescriptive, it doesn’t allow for much creativity or ‘brand-stretch’.
Invented Names – Kodak, Aviva, Sony, Ikea, Pantene. These can be the most effective name types if your marketing pockets are deep enough. Because of their originality, they’re instantly identified without needing to share the audience ‘mind-space’. There’s no confusion about whom you’re referring to when you mention names like Häagen-Dazs, Xerox or Netflix.
Compound Names – PayPal, Weetabix, Sudocrem, Instagram, FedEx. – This is a very good way of employing a descriptive name which also has a completely unique sound.
Acronym Names – e.g. IBM, GE, DHL, KFC These kinds of names were popular when modern branding was in its infancy. Some multi-word brand names were simply shortened for convenience by their customers (e.g. Kentucky Fried Chicken, Joseph Cyril Bamford, etc.). The brands had been around for a long time, were usually very large and well known, and the renaming was done by the customer, not the company itself.
Subsequently, businesses mistakenly launched new brands under the acronym style, serving only to confuse their target audience, as they had no idea what the actual brand was.
As a new brand, stay away from the acronym. It’s probably the least effective naming style, as it lacks identity, meaning and personality. If your customers decide to award you an acronym, great. Otherwise, avoid.
Founder Brand Names – e.g. Smith’s Toys, Guinness, McDonald's, Dolce & Gabbana, Ford - This was a popular way of naming companies in the early 1900s. Today, it is mostly used by the construction industry, fashion brands and smaller retailers.
Geographical Names – Kerrygold, Canada Life, American Express. These kinds of names are usually employed to imply the brand is the ‘official’ or ‘main provider’ within the specific named geographical area. This type of naming can be restrictive when expanding to overseas markets.
Tech-fun Names - Yahoo!, Google, Apple, Shazam, Spotify. The tech industry has taken a different route where names are often action-oriented, nonsensical or simply have nothing to do with the corporate, product or service brand. As these brands usually have huge marketing budgets, they can easily gain rapid acceptance.
Misspelt Words Names – You know the ones….. They spell You as U. Express as Xpress. Coffee as Coffi. They drop the vowels to be different. No. No. No. No. No. Never. Ever.
Choosing the perfect name for your brand isn’t easy, and it’s always wise to have a number of sources to call upon at the generation stage. If you are struggling, it's always advisable to bring in professionals where the budget allows. Remember, there are no hard and fast rules to naming a new brand, but following the advice above will get you to the perfect name faster. As the brand owner, you must live with this name for a long time, so make sure you are happy and certain it represents who you are and what you stand for.
If you’re still reading this piece, stop! Go to work on your brand.