Choosing a brand name is one of the most important business decisions you will make. A brilliant name defines your brand, and it can shape the future of your business. Yet, working out how to name a business or product can be a challenge, so we’ve developed a systematic approach to generating and testing company names.
Getting your name right is important! A brand name sticks around for a very long time. Your business will change, customers will change, and products will change, but the name does not. A brand name is the longest-living artifact of a company.
The name you choose for your brand will become the label by which people understand it. It will contain all of the meaning and experiences that make up your business. So getting it right is essential.
In this post, you will discover a proven, step-by-step process to create an unforgettable brand name and feel confident that you know how to name a business or product. For the complete process with exercises and tools, and everything you’ll need to name your brand, you can also buy a copy of my book, Brand New Name.
What’s in this article:
- Why Brand Naming Is So Hard
- Unlock the Creativity of Your Team to Name Your Brand
- Types of Brand Names
- Brand Naming Process
- Plan: Stage 1
- Naming Sprint: Stage 2
- Select: Stage 3
- Five Characteristics to Test Your Brand Name
- Dealing With Domain Names
Why Brand Naming Is So Hard
The hard part of naming isn’t coming up with interesting words or phrases to name your brand. That’s actually pretty fun and easy. The challenge is finding an available name.
For the first time in human history, we are facing a naming drought. With the growth of apps, small businesses, and global competition, the demand to find and secure relevant brand names is exploding—but so too is the difficulty in creating unique, defendable names.
In December 2013, the last available four-letter .com domain name was registered. From AAAA.com to ZZZZ.com, all 456,976 combinations had been consumed. The three-character .com domains had all been registered by 1997. It won’t be long until all the five-character names have been registered too, which will make figuring out how to name a business based on a short domain very expensive.
Here is where it gets even crazier: The Merriam-Webster dictionary contains 470,000 words. That means less than 0.7% of the .com and .net names are even in the dictionary. People and companies are scooping up names faster than we can invent words.
Naming a company or product is hard because you’re trying to find a word or phrase that hasn’t already been taken.
Without an effective naming process, finding an available name that is right for your brand can be a nightmare. You can spend countless hours brainstorming and combing through the internet looking for available names and still wind up disappointed.
That’s why the book Brand New Name exists. The book provides a proven, step-by-step process to create an unforgettable brand name. It shows you what to do every step of the way, using exercises that generate lots of naming ideas, combined with tools and techniques for testing which names resonate the most.
In this article, I will introduce you to the process to get you started.
How to Name a Business
Types of Brand Names
There’s a lot of flexibility to generate and select the right name for your brand. You can invent a word like Twitter or Kodak, use a descriptive name like PayPal or Toys R Us, or name the brand after the founder like John Deere or J.P. Morgan.
You’ve really got lots of options.
The beauty of naming is it’s immensely creative. You can use real words, take words from stories or history, or create words. There really are no limits when it comes to naming, but there is some logic.
Brand names tend to be grouped within three categories:
- Descriptive Names: In this case, the name indicates what the product, service, or idea is.
- Suggestive Names: Here, the name indicates what the item is like. It’s a nod to what you might get or experience.
- Abstract Names: In this example, the name is an empty vessel, and the brand will breathe life into it and make the word its own.
The construction of names is a bit broader. Brand names tend to originate or be formed in one of five ways:
- Real Words: The word already exists in English or another language. It could be a noun or verb or a word taken from history or literature, like Starbucks.
- Constructed Words: This is when you take parts of real words and push them together to create a new word, like Instagram.
- Invented Words: You can invent a word that is completely distinct to your brand, like Accenture.
- Acronyms: Acronyms use the initial letters of a phrase, often from a Descriptive Name, to create a quick reference to the brand, like IBM (short for International Business Machines).
- Misspelled Words: Drop a vowel or change a consonant, and you can turn common words into names that represent your brand, like Chick-fil-A.
Understanding the anatomy of a name will give you an advantage in the naming process because it can expand your horizons. Download our free ebook, The Anatomy of a Name.
Unlock the Creativity of Your Team to Name Your Brand
Companies typically name things in one of three ways:
- Do it themselves
- Hire an agency
- Try crowdsourcing services
Each option can work, but I think there’s a better way: it’s in the power of your team.
Companies engage advertising agencies and naming consultants because they believe someone else is more creative or better equipped for naming. The reality is different. In your organization, there is immense creative potential. You are creative. Your team is creative. Use that!
Teams generate more breakthrough ideas for two reasons:
First, volume leads to originality. The more naming ideas you can generate, the more likely you’ll find one name that is truly brilliant.
Second, ideas build off other ideas. It’s the process of molding, pushing, and adding to an idea that makes it transformative. A core benefit of working with a team is that you get to feed on the creativity and ideas of your colleagues. One idea can lead to another, and that takes you down a different direction, and then two random ideas collide, and eventually, you land on something truly original.
With a team, you benefit from a multiplier effect. This can be true with you and one other person, or you can scale Brand New Name to include everyone in your organization. By getting more people involved, you have an opportunity to generate hundreds, if not thousands, of potentially great names.
Brand Naming Process
Naming isn’t a black art or a secretive, high-stakes activity. It’s a process, and that’s what makes Brand New Name effective. With clear exercises, daily quotas, and a structured timeline, you and your team will never feel lost or struggle about what to do next.
Brand New Name works in three steps:
- Plan: Assemble a Sprint Team and develop a Naming Strategy.
- Sprint: Over five days you and your Sprint Team will generate lots of potential names for your brand.
- Select: Test and select the right name for your brand.
Stage 1: Plan
A Naming Strategy doesn’t contain the full strategy for what your brand will become. Rather, it provides guidelines for what it will take to create an unforgettable name.
Look at your Naming Strategy in three parts:
- Strategic Fit: In clear, concise language define what you are naming and how the name should perform.
- Namescape: Analyze the competitive landscape to identify naming trends and strategies to make your brand stand out.
- Market: Define your target market by understanding who your brand will serve and what they expect.
Stage 2: Naming Sprint
Ideas are additive. By naming every day for five days, you will increase your odds of finding an unforgettable brand name.
One of the misconceptions of many naming projects is you can find a great name in a half-day or full-day workshop. You may get lucky, but often it’s a letdown and you’re forced to compromise.
By working on naming for 5 days you allow ideas to percolate and develop. You get beyond the obvious and start to actually get creative. By days 4 and 5 you are starting to generate ideas that are really unique and interesting.
Brand New Name provides exercises for you to run a 5-Day Naming Sprint.
Here are a few brainstorming tips:
- Set a quota: Challenge yourself to generate 5 good names a day for 5 days. By pushing yourself to a quota each day you’ll be more likely to find a great name.
- Create lists: Create lists and keep track of every name, word, or phrase you create — no matter how insignificant they may appear to be. Pick a word or phrase and start riffing on it. Try to generate 20 more ideas from the first one. Ideas are additive. So keep track of all your ideas so you can go back to them to generate more ideas.
- Google isn’t cheating: Embrace shortcuts and tools wherever you can. I always have the internet handy when I am naming.
- Make it a discipline. There’s no way around it: naming is work. You have to set aside deliberate time every day to hit your Daily Quota. If you leave it to chance, you’re going to be disappointed.
Stage 3: Select
Choosing a brand name is one of the most important business decisions. You want to get it right because the name is going to stick around for a very long time.
It’s a myth to think, “I’ll know it when I see it.” Brand New Name takes the guesswork out of name selection.
Using a set of exercises and tools, you will shortlist, evaluate, test, and select the right name for your brand:
- Eliminate the Non-Starters: Before you get into testing and selection, the first step is to eliminate all the names you cannot use. Any name that is trademarked or used by a competitor is a non-starter. Don’t think about them. Don’t mourn them. Just mark them as taken and move on.
- Shortlist: It would be nice to test and validate every name you generate, but who has time for that? And frankly, you can see with a quick glance that some names are much better than others. Try to reduce your remaining list of names to a shortlist of three to ten candidates that you want to test. If you’re working on your own, pick the names that resonate the most with you. Look for names that fit your Naming Strategy, that are interesting or surprising, or that scare you or make you smile. An emotional reaction may be an indication that you’re onto something brilliant.
- Market Testing: See how your names perform in the real world. Get in front of your customers and users and see which names they like the most. See how they respond and which names they remember a few days later.
You don’t have to choose a name today, but don’t wait too long either. Give yourself a deadline to make the final decision.
If you rush things, you may end up making a compromise. On the other extreme, taking too long is equally unacceptable. Without a deadline, days and weeks can slip by with no decision made. The longer you delay, the longer it takes to bring your brand into the world.
In business, time is money. That sounds cliché, but don’t you want to get past naming so you can start brand building?
Five Characteristics to Test Your Brand Name
Do a quick assessment of your brand names, and consider each by five characteristics:
- Distinctive: How does the name stand out amongst the competition?
- Sound: Say the name out loud. How does it sound? Is it easy to say? Is it poetic?
- Stickiness: Is the name easy to remember? How many times do you have to hear it before you remember it?
- Expression: Does the name demonstrate what your brand is all about? Does it fit your brand’s personality?
- Appearance: What does the word look like in print? Does it look as good as it sounds?
A brilliant brand name will excel in all five characteristics.
Dealing With Domain Names
Finding an available .com domain name is very difficult unless you are working with invented words.
Even finding domain names for uniquely constructed words can be extremely challenging. It’s almost easier to assume that all the good .com domain names have been registered, but that doesn’t mean that all the domain names are being used. The key question: Does your brand require a domain name?
If you’re naming a company, you can guarantee a domain is required. With a product or service, you may have a bit more latitude and may not need a domain name. It all depends on how you will market and promote the brand.
Domain names are important but don’t break the bank on one. I can think of dozens of better ways to spend your money before you buy a fancy .com, and you won’t be alone.
Lots of startups use adjusted domain names before they buy the expensive .com. For example, Twitter launched with twttr.com and Dropbox used getdropbox.com.
A .com is not as valuable as it once was. Today, the only places you see a URL is on a business card or sign. Most of the time we are interacting with a brand through Google, a web browser, or voice search. You search the company name, not the URL.
Breathe Life into Your Brand
The best part of choosing a brand name is you get to breathe life into it.
Initially, your brand name may feel a little awkward. You’re not used to it yet. This is common, but it passes quickly.
The more you use the name, the more you will like it. It will grow on you. And it will grow on your customers.
With every customer interaction and every step you take, you enhance your brand. And with time, the name will be brimming with meaning and experiences that will make it unforgettable.
Brand Naming Takes Patience
The biggest obstacle to selecting a brilliant name for your brand is time. Many companies aren’t willing to put in the time or resources necessary to choose a name that will empower their brand. This is a mistake.
If you’re going to build a Sticky Brand, do it right.
The project management triangle argues quality is derived from two of three criteria:
If you don’t have the time or the resources to invest in the naming process it’s going to cost you. This is when you need to hire a naming agency and set aside a substantial budget to acquire domain names. The agency brings forward the resources necessary to get the job done.
If you don’t have the cash you’re going to have to invest the time and resources to find and test a brilliant name. That’s how I named LEAPJob and Sticky Branding. They were both DIY projects because I didn’t have thousands of dollars to hire additional resources.
The best course of action is to give your team the time and space they need to explore and test names. Ninety days is a good time frame. This doesn’t mean your full-time job is to generate and test names. Rather budget an hour a day to work the process. Investing the time to get it right can make all the difference in the world. A brilliant brand name can set the foundation for your business to be a leader in its category.