The name game

How one word could change your future. The importance of selecting the right name for your business.

What’s in a word?

It doesn’t feature on the syllabus of most graphic design degrees, but naming is an important part of brand creation, and it’s bloody difficult. After putting in all the hard work to create a new product or business idea, many people assume that giving it a name will be the easy part, the icing on the cake. Surely you can just open the dictionary and pick out something that sounds nice? In theory, yes. In reality, it’s highly unlikely.

As anyone who’s ever had to choose a name for a baby (or a dog) will tell you, it’s not as easy as you might think. Admittedly, it’s not as hard as being a parent, but it’s no walk in the park either. After all, that decision, whether it relates to a baby or a business, is going to have implications for a long time afterwards. To the owners of a restaurant, it’s a word they’ll be seeing over their door and adorning their menus for years to come. For users of the internet, that new brand name could soon become part of their everyday vocabulary, and even take on a whole new meaning as a verb. The very fact that you’re reading this means there’s a good chance you’ve already googled or tweeted something today.

A name can describe what your company does, who does it, and even why they do it. It can induce emotion or cause bewilderment. Different approaches are required for different market places, but if it’s done right, a good brand name will create the right first impression and set the tone for everything that follows. So why is it so hard?

1. Suitability Some of the criteria against which a name will be judged are more obvious. You need to ensure a potential name fits the purpose. Does it look right? Does it sound right? Does it need an explanation? Is it memorable? After you’ve considered these more basic superficial questions, you need to think about the bigger picture. If there’s any possibility of your brand travelling overseas, you should check whether your name translates well into other languages. Chevrolet famously launched (or misfired) their ‘Nova’ in Latin America, where the word means ‘doesn’t go’. You might also want to think about how your name will age as trends come and go. Will it require sub-brands? Does it limit future diversification of the brand? The questions are numerous and the answers aren’t always clear.

2. Subjectivity Everyone reacts to words differently, and it’s hard to remain objective during the naming process. Some suggestions for your new footwear brand might be dismissed because they’re inappropriate or just plain crap. Others, however, will be binned solely because they trigger a negative association for one of the naming team. Most parents-to-be will have faced the response ‘you can’t call them that, I knew someone at school with that name and he was a total idiot’. These kind of reactions aren’t logical and don’t help, but they’re extremely hard to avoid.

3. Availability Most start-up businesses or new products will be jostling for attention in well-established market places, and with the world at our finger tips, that market place is often international. So even after you’ve spent two weeks exploring the most unlikely places in search of original ideas, there’s still a frustratingly real possibility that somebody else will have been there before you. Finding a short, memorable (and available) web address is a great place to start, but the only way to be 100% certain of a name’s suitability is a full trademark search.

The road to the perfect name is fraught with holes and traps. Even if you’ve done your job well, you’re still going to find that not everyone agrees with your choice when you reach your final destination. The best names are often the ones that polarise opinions or cause confusion. It certainly didn’t do Virgin or BlackBerry any harm.

You won’t stumble across it straight away, but by applying a process and collaborating effectively, you can avoid too many wasted hours and discover your own ‘Apple’ along the way. Either that, or you can give us a call and we’ll track it down for you.

Extra reading

The stories behind some of the world’s most well known brand names –

The power behind a name –

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