20 Jun That’s my name. And don’t you forget it.
We’ve all had to name something at one point or another. A pet. Maybe a child. A new venture.
Names are funny – when they’re right, it’s hard to imagine something or someone being called anything else. We tend to grow into or grow accustomed to a name until we can’t imagine them being something different.
Here at Natie Branding Agency, naming companies, products or services are a large part of what we do. It’s one of the foundational elements of a brand. One of the most important brand elements there are. (No s**t, Sherlock.)
While many agencies out there tend to shy away from them because it’s so hard to nail one good name that pleases so many decision-makers within an organization, we actually really love naming assignments because they’re a unique challenge and they’re so critical.
The right name for a product or a business can’t just be imposed; like every aspect of a great brand, it should arise out of the unique characteristics of the thing being named.
Here’s an excellent example from opposite ends of the personality spectrum (yes, brands have personalities!): Apple and Microsoft.
Both are great names because they perfectly summarize their products’ approach to the work they do. Apple is a little unexpected — fun, relatable, and every day. As Jobs said about the name of his company, he liked Apple because it was “fun, spirited.”
Microsoft, on the other hand, is all business. A little boring, completely unimaginative, but efficient. Microprocessors and software. It gets the job done.
Here are some from our own archives of brands delivered at Natie.
There’s JUSTT. Their name stems from the justice and simplicity they deliver as they bring fairness to the sometimes unfair world of chargebacks.
There’s also Allseated’s exVo which was inspired by the world of conference expos – except they offer a virtual experience and now, with the Metaverse, so much more.
Lastly, there’s Sweet Victory, a revolutionary gum that, when chewed, keeps sugar cravings at bay, enabling you to beat the sugar demons knocking on your door.
See? Unique characteristics.
Of course, names should follow some form of a brand strategy process that helps determine the authenticity of the product, service or company; how they’re different; and which target audience is in their crosshairs.
Suffice it to say, it’s no easy feat to come up with a great name.
With that in mind, here are a few guidelines to consider the next time you have to come up with a name for a brand.
1. Don’t stop at one. Or ten.
Make a long list of options. You’ll be living with this name for a long time, so take the time to get it right. Don’t just go with the first good thing you think of – try to beat it. Here at natie, it’s not unusual for us to have a list of a hundred names for a given assignment. We cull them way down and present maybe fifteen to thirty to a client, but only with volume can you be certain of adequately exploring all the different avenues that a naming assignment has to offer.
2. Make it easy to spell
This is especially applicable to made-up names. You don’t realize how often you’re asked to spell a company name until you’re spelling it every time you talk to someone on the phone. It gets pretty annoying to have to spell something that’s long and complicated multiple times every day. So if you’re making up a word for your name, keep it short and phonetically simple. Think L-Y-F-T. That’s a good name.
3. Have a sound business reason for it
Your name should reflect on some level or in some way something important about your company or product — what it does, how it works, your corporate mission — anything, as long as there is some type of reason for it. That’s why you go through a brand strategy process – best if the name answers it. Of course, many companies succeed with names that are completely abstract and apropos of nothing in particular about the company. But they are the exceptions, and you never get to hear about the ones that fail.
By definition, we’re talking about new companies here (complete rebrands of existing companies being very unusual, Meta and Altria notwithstanding), and you want to give yourself every advantage possible and every likelihood to succeed. So treat your name as an opportunity to say something about what you’re naming.
4. Don’t forget the URL
This one is a reflection of the era we live in. If you’re naming a new business or anything else that will need a website, check the availability of your proposed name as a URL. For everyday, known words, it’s likely that you will find your name is unavailable, at least as far as .com domains go. In that case, you have a few options: come up with a new name that’s a word you invent (if you really want your web address to be [name].com); change the domain to something other than a .com — there is .net, .io, .co… many options; or keep the name but make it part of a phrase, like get[name].com or [name]solutions, something like that.
In short, remember to consider the URL implications of your name and check to see what’s available and what you can live with.
5. Think of your customers…
Put yourself in their shoes and think about your name — will it be meaningful for them? You like it, which is a great first step, but will they? A name you love may not resonate with your audience, so run it by people who are in your target and see what they think. But not too many! Literally a handful. See point number 6!
6. …But don’t show it to e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e you know and their cousin
The best way to come up with a bland, forgettable (or worse) name is by sharing it with too many people and trying to respond to everyone’s feedback. If you want the opinions of more than just customers and people in your target, limit it to a really small group of people whose creative judgment you trust. And even if someone isn’t feeling it, that’s ok. This is a barometer check. No one can please everyone all the time. That’s why coming up with a name everyone likes is practically impossible!
7. Make it memorable
Considering how many names, brands, words, concepts, etc. we’re all presented with on a daily basis, it’s pretty crucial that your name is one people in your target audience will remember. A name that makes sense, that stands out, that is unique to you – that isn’t impossible to pronounce or too “out there” or so complicated that people won’t remember it.
8. Legalities with a capital L
Folks, there’s simply no avoiding this. When naming your company or product, if you are going to trademark or copyright the name, you have to check with legal counsel. You don’t want to face a lawsuit. There are certain criteria where it’s OK to use an existing name, like if it’s not in the same category or same industry. Trademarks are registered by category. So a fast food restaurant can be named Cosmos, and so can an electric bike company, and a make-up company.
The more you look around, you’ll start to see certain words and names are used a lot. That’s fine, and sometimes unavoidable. So remember to select the name you really like, that feels right, but always always check with legal counsel before going forward. It’s not on the agency to determine this for you – or yourselves (no offence). A trademark lawyer is the way to go, and then you can decide for yourself based on their risk assessment.
There are plenty more guidelines but, to me, these are the basics. I hope they help.
(People always ask me about where Natie came from so before you do – it’s my name spelled backward. Nothing too crazy – and the URL www.natie.com happened to be available over 20 years ago. It’s served us well – you could say that, for us, it’s been a knock-out.)