Naming Your Brand – Find the Approach That Works for You
At ZeBrand, we believe your vision deserves to be seen and realized. In this content series, we help you use brand as a tool to power up your business and jumpstart your growth.
Welcome to Part 3 of A to Ze of Brand Building -- 'Naming Your Brand or Business'. (Read Part 2 here if you missed it!)
How do you distill what you stand for in just a few words? What does it take to be remembered for decades to come?
Today, let's delve into the art and science of naming.
Over time, even the most iconic brands can undergo drastic changes -- their products transform and evolve, their advertising takes on a different tone, or they might reposition themselves to become more premium or more accessible. However, there’s one brand element that embodies so much value and resonance that, if not for a monumental reason, remains intact: a brand’s name.
So what makes a good name, and how can you come up with one?
Many people think that a ‘perfect’ name exists: Born through a burst of inspiration and recognized by all as brilliant from the moment it's uttered. But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, this perception is what makes naming so frustrating for businesses. Phil Knight, the co-founder of Nike, famously didn’t warm up to the name Nike when he first heard it. He only went on to trademark it because they ran out of time to come up with better options.
The truth about naming is that it’s as much about strategy and science as it is about creativity and art. Good names serve a specific function: It will enable your brand and your vision to be communicated, desired and remembered.
By communicated, it must embody something of the brand’s essence. The name Sprite, for example, channels the meaning of the root word ‘spright’—meaning ‘full of energy’.
By desired, it must draw people in and address their needs, as does the soap brand Lush—a short, evocative name that already gets you feeling the bubbles.
And lastly, by 'remembered', it means people have no problem bringing it to mind—easy to spell, easy to pronounce, and sticky.
So, how do we generate these names?
The first step is to pinpoint what kind of name you need for your brand. Again, it’s your vision and brand positioning that determines what the best naming approach is for your specific needs. Here’s an overview of different naming approaches and how they differ. Remember, these types aren’t mutually exclusive, and they all exist on a spectrum:
Eponymous names are, simply, names of real people. Today, eponymous names immediately lend an air of prestige, history, and provenance. Think about watch brands such as Cartier or Tissot, alcohol brands like Johnnie Walker, or appliance manufacturers like Westinghouse. These names exude experience and heritage, so much so that some brands have even been known to create fictional characters just to channel the power of an eponymous name.
A descriptive name is as straightforward as possible to convey a product’s purpose or function. Think of names like Bank of America, General Electric or Royal Mail. Descriptive names are often used when the value of your product is easy enough to understand. These types of names also work better when you have fewer competitors or are the first to move into a category. A good example of this is Snapchat—its name is the most concise user manual in the world!
Traditionally, descriptive names can be quite dry. But in a new economy where we’re using transformative technologies to reimagine products and services, names too can be familiar yet new and exciting. This might mean changing descriptive words ever so slightly to make them more ownable. You could simply change a single letter, as the ride-sharing platform Lyft did, or repurpose a noun into a persona, such as Viber, or into a verb, like Spotify.
Evocative names don’t necessarily describe the product but still suggest its function or value. Sometimes this involves using a word with a pre-existing meaning in a new way. In the traditionally dry category of component manufacturers, Intel sets the right tone with a savvy name that simply speaks to faster computing power. Amazon, named after the planet’s most diverse collection of flora and fauna, was a perfect name to showcase the breadth of what the service has to offer. You can also experiment with combining different words to create desired meanings. Take Airbnb: ‘Air’ speaks to our peer-to-peer, cloud-based economy, while ‘bnb’ evokes trusty beds and breakfasts, which adds a degree of comfort and humanity.
It might be tempting to name your product something completely random. After all, Google did it, right? But Google was derived from ‘Googol’ -- the mathematical term for ten to the power of 100. Names like TiVo, Tiktok, and Adidas may also seem equally abstract, but they’re just as deliberate: TiVo has origins in ‘TV’, TikTok is an onomatopoeia to connote the brevity of the content on the platform, and Adidas is short for Adi Dassler, one of the company’s founders. However seemingly random, use your name as an opportunity to communicate with purpose.
Acronyms may also seem like an easy shortcut to a name. But remember, if you want to be understood, desired and remembered, you must make it easy for your potential customers to do so. PS4? AoL? M&S? These acronyms may be recognizable to us, but only after significant investment and decades of existence. If you’re starting a new brand, it’s best to stay away from acronyms as much as possible as they’re more difficult to remember, unless you’re 100% sure your product can speak for itself—which is a rare case indeed.
Now that you know the approaches, it’s time to come up with actual names. Unlike the wise-saying, the trick with naming is to aim for quantity first, then narrow down. Have your teammates generate short bursts of names individually, then come together to share and review as a group. Use these as inspiration to do another round, and just keep going. Build on each other’s ideas and get inventive. Is there another way to express the same idea?
By the end of your session, you’ll have generated hundreds of names. This is when you can start whittling the list down. Individually choose your top twenty names, then reconvene to discuss where your lists overlap and why. Evaluate them on both their emotional pull as well as practical considerations, like whether they’re easy to spell and remember. Then narrow those down to the top 7~10. Then 3~5. Be careful not to fall in love with any one particular name—always have a few in consideration for the trademarking process in case some don’t make it through.
Again, remember that there’s no such thing as a perfect name. The right name is the one that communicates your brand’s value, makes your company desired, and is easily remembered by others.
A to Ze of Brand Building is a 10-part series about all things branding, with an eye to using branding to engage your customers and grow your business. Continue on to Part 4: Building a Strong Brand Culture.