Thinking of renaming your company? It isn’t a decision to be taken lightly.
A good name can embody the story of your brand in a meaningful, memorable way. A bad name can cause more problems than it solves, leaving customers and employees befuddled.
No pressure though.
In all seriousness, renaming is an exciting, rewarding endeavor—when it’s done correctly. Working with an experienced partner—or at the very least carefully following a proven naming process—will set you up to come out the other side with a set of viable, memorable names to choose from.
Before beginning that process, it’s important to assess whether a rename is the right move for your company. Or if you might be jumping the gun In starting down the renaming path.
There are plenty of very good reasons to rename your company. Let’s take a look at 5 of the best:
1. You’re being legally forced to change your name
This first one is a no-brainer. If another company has sent you a letter asking, or even demanding, your company change its name, it’s probably a good time to start the renaming process.
It’s also a good time to make sure you don’t end up in the same situation again. When selecting a name, it’s imperative to check all common law usages, social media handles, competitor product names, and URLs to make sure it isn’t already being used.
The US Patent and Trademark Office has a highly searchable database that lets you to do an initial scan on your own. But just because a name is already trademarked doesn’t automatically disqualify it. There are several factors that determine whether your new name will be vulnerable to litigation.
To keep yourself and your brand safe, it’s always wise to consult an intellectual property attorney before making your final selections. A lawyer is the best way to ensure your name is truly ownable. They’ll guide you through the process of filing the necessary paperwork and help you protect your name against future threats.
2. You’ve outgrown your name
Say you launched your company 15 years ago with a name that was perfectly suited to your brand. It was aligned with your voice and value propositions so that audiences knew what to expect. Just because your name worked back then doesn’t mean it has withstood all the pivots your company has gone through since.
When Apple originally launched, it was called Apple Computers. In 2007, Steve Jobs announced that “Computers” would be dropped from the brand’s official name. This simple change meant the brand was no longer tied to a single product. It opened the company to offering a range of consumer electronics. Tesla took a similar approach more recently, dropping “Motors” from its name.
Does your brand’s name still speak to its various offerings? Or is it part of an outdated legacy that no longer reflects who you are today? If the latter, renaming can be an effective way to better encompass everything your brand does—or aspires to do in the future.
3. Your name is failing to stand out
There are many reasons names get lost in the sea of competition. While some are too generic, others are too trendy.
Names that include contemporary buzzwords can feel safe—even cool—at the time, but they run the risk of quickly dating a brand. Remember when it seemed like every startup in the early 2010s had a name ending with -ly. For a while this tactic seemed like a good way to grab a clever domain name, but it wasn’t long before the trend felt predictable and cliché.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos almost fell under a similar spell of faddish naming conventions. One of the early names he considered was Relentless (relentless.com still redirects to Amazon.com today). Thankfully, the name was deemed a bit too sinister for the brand’s personality, and the company opted for a moniker reflecting the vast scale of its offerings: that of the largest river on earth. What started with books has expanded to include, well, everything—from A to Z.
Avoid such traps by taking a beat to acknowledge your inherent biases. It’s natural to want a name that’s in line with current trends. But it’s always best to ask yourself how timeless the trend will be. Invite people into your naming process who are capable of thinking big and unconventional. Steer clear of the expected and with any luck your brand will outlive the trend’s themselves.
4. You’re facing an unforeseen public relations disaster
In 2014, a new mobile payment company was taking off. They had the backing of AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. They even had signs printed out that would go in storefronts: “ISIS Welcome Here!” As it turned out Isis Mobile Wallet was an unfortunate name choice.
Who could have predicted that a company named after an ancient Egyptian goddess would soon share its name with the acronym of the world’s most heinous extremist militant group? In response to these unforeseen events, the company was compelled to change their name to SoftCard, the very definition of a lackluster name. Not surprisingly, they’ve since been replaced by Google Wallet.
This PR crisis was completely unforeseeable. Isis Mobile Wallet wasn’t the only company to be so unlucky. A San Diego-based brand called ISIS Pharmaceuticals was one of many others forced to change their names. It just goes to show that sometimes you can do everything right—in naming or any other aspect of business—and the cards still don’t fall your way.
5. You’ve expanded beyond your geography
In 1946, a radio repair shop was founded under the name Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo. The company went on to create Japan’s first transistor radio in 1955 and the first transistor television in the world five years after that. Amidst its growing success, Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo decided they needed a name that was no longer tied to the Japanese capitol.
After researching names that Americans could easily pronounce, Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo’s young founders landed on Sony, a combination of the Latin word for sound, sonus, and the American diminutive “sonny,” which they hoped would suggest “a fledgling company of young people who made up for in energy what they lacked in size.”
Tom’s of Maine, New York Life, Nantucket Nectars, Arizona Tile—there are certain instances where a brand is able to expand beyond its original geography and take the name with it. Geographical names are imbued with the character and history of their location after all, and can be integral to a brand’s story.
But more often than not, names like these limit a brand’s scope and credibility. It’s difficult to position your company as a national or international player if your name suggests that you specialize in regional offerings. As your company grows, a broader name allows you to connect more deeply with new customers in new markets.
…And 3 Reasons NOT to Rename
For all the reasons a company should consider renaming itself, there are at least as many reasons it shouldn’t.
The following are a few scenarios we see all the time where a name change is not advisable:
1. You don’t have internal buy-in
To be successful, a name change needs to be supported by those at the top. At the very least, the majority of your senior leadership team should be on board. Names carry a lot of sentimental value, especially for founders and owners. If you don’t have consensus on the need for a new name, going through the renaming process can wind up being a wasted endeavor.
If you’re hoping to convince one or more members of the C-suite that a new name is needed, it’s best to have a team of key partners who believe in your vision for a better brand. Do your research and make a compelling argument for a new name. Any of the reasons listed above are a good place to start.
Naming is hard enough when leadership goes into the project convinced of its value. Trying to navigate the renaming process with decision-makers who are unconvinced is like trying to run a marathon with a tractor tire tied to your waist. You can give it a shot, but you probably won’t make it to the finish line.
2. You’re simply bored with your current name
We get it. Working within the same brand year after year can get tiresome. It’s easy to lose sight of the inspiration you once found in its name. But is it the name itself that’s really the problem? Or is it the brand surrounding it?
If it’s the latter, what you might need instead of a rename is a rebrand—or simply a brand refresh. You’d be amazed at how much a repositioning initiative can reinvigorate a seemingly lackluster brand name.
Just because you’re bored with your brand’s name doesn’t mean your customers are. One thing to carefully consider when thinking about a rename is the brand equity you stand to lose. For as impactful as a rename can be, sometimes a rebrand is the better course of action, in the interest of preserving brand loyalty.
3. You have unrealistic expectations
If there’s one thing that’s critical to the success of a renaming project, it’s a realistic set of expectations. As tempting as it is to believe otherwise, that I’ll-know-it-when-I-see-it perfect name simply does not exist. Or if it does, it’s already been trademarked by another company. Love at first sight almost never happens when it comes to naming.
A recent study by the Harvard Law Review titled “Are We Running Out of Trademarks?” found that more than 70% of English words in common usage are already trademarked. Trying to find a meaningful, trademarkable name with a domain name to match is even harder.
As difficult as it is to find a good name, it’s not impossible. Not yet anyway. You just have to be open-minded to the recommendations your agency brings to the table. You’ll never be able to appreciate the full potential of a name the first time you hear it or see it, out of context and with no existing brand story behind it.
Google, Microsoft, Walmart—the vast majority of brand names on the Fortune 500 list would sound like terrible ideas if you were to hear them for the first time. But with positioning, identity, and a history of performance, every one of these names evokes a powerful brand. The bottom line: name alone does not make a company great.
What’s in a name? Plenty. Embarking on a name change is no small thing. There’s no shortage of reasons you should rename your company. (And at least as many reasons you shouldn’t). If at the end of the day, the reasons to rename outweigh those not to, congratulations! You’ve got an exciting—if sometimes arduous—journey ahead. It’s well worth the effort, though. When the time is right, and the resources are in place, nothing can reinvigorate a flagging brand quite like a new name. Just remember to keep an open mind and, most importantly, trust the process.