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Carol Avenant
How to Name your brand / company (Article 3 in the series)
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How do you generate a name for your new brand/product/service? Where do you start? What criteria should you consider? What are the watch-outs? What makes a good name? (Marketing Mix January 2010)

What's in a name?

The first thing you learn about a person is their name. While we rarely get to choose our own, the attributes and characteristics of a name stay connected with the person for life.

In branding, naming means business. Get it wrong and you are faced with a constant struggle to convey the desired images of your brand. Get it right and you have a great springboard to start building brand equity.

Where do you start?

The name must represent what your brand/company stands for and create positive perceptions when consumers and employees interact with it.

1. Do a competitor audit to assess their names, logos, use of colour, pay-off lines and target markets to identify any naming conventions, e.g. banking names are mostly conservative and institutional to establish credibility and trust, as well as to help ensure you have a name that is distinctive.

2. Draw up a checklist/criteria of attributes the name needs to represent, emotions it needs to evoke and the personality it needs to portray before you start.

Generic criteria one should consider are:

  • How well does it relate to your positioning or who you are?
  • Does it help to convey the benefits of the brand/company?
  • Is it relevant and credible to consumers?
  • Is it memorable?
  • Is it unique and distinctive from your competitors?
  • Are quick associations positive?
  • Is it easy to read/pronounce?
  • Is it available as a trademark?
  • Is the name or variant thereof available as a domain?
  • It should not be insulting or have derogatory associations in other languages

3. Name generation

Now it's time to get creative. If possible, get a group together, agree on the criteria and start brainstorming names. It helps if one person can facilitate the process and write all the names up on a flipchart, otherwise, have lots of post-it notes and each write down your ideas and pop them up on a flipchart or pin board.

Start by downloading any names you already have thought of. Then do a few creative exercise to help you think differently, e.g. what would someone else (eg Google, Nike or Virgin) call your company or brand if they were naming it? What colour or animal do you associate with your brand/company?

When you are done generating names, allow everyone to choose up to five favourite names. Create a list of everyone's favourites, rank and rate them against your agreed criteria, and choose your overall top three favourites.

Now you need to check trademark and domain availability - these may indicate that some of your names are not available to use, but hopefully one of them will tick all the boxes, otherwise you will need to go back to your longer list of names and reconsider if there are any others that are suitable or that you can adapt (eg join two words together) to be suitable.

What are the watch-outs of naming?

  1. Don't try to find a name that everyone likes, it is impossible. Find one that appeals to your market.
  2. Don't try too hard to be different. You will only end up confusing your consumers.
  3. Don't treat naming as an afterthought. Naming is only the beginning of a long journey.
  4. Don't play it safe. You shouldn't be too comfortable with the name.
  5. Continually check legal availability of the strongest names throughout the process. Nothing is worse when everyone is sold on a name and it is not available as a trademark or web domain.
  6. A name is part of your verbal identity, not the whole. Don't ignore creating a distinct language for communicating your brand story.

Naming is a highly subjective and challenging process; and you may want to enlist the services of a branding agency to help guide you through the process. 

Once you have chosen a name for your brand/company, you need to design how it will appear as part of your brand identity. Look out for this column next month for tips on how to manage this next stage.


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