Coming up with a good brand name is trickier than it sounds, but the best place to start is with a thorough understanding of the 7 types of brand names.

Whether you’re naming a new brand or renaming an existing one, we’re here to help. In what follows, we’ll walk through the pros and cons of each naming type, so you can narrow the search for the perfect name.

From Apple to IBM, Google to Calvin Klein, you’ll learn which naming types work best for which types of brands. We’ll also tell you what you can expect from the next step in the process: finding a unique and ownable name for your brand.

CONTENTS

What is a Brand Name?

A brand name is a unique word that identifies a specific company, product, or service, and differentiates it from similar brands within its category.

Brand names are typically registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to protect their equity, and are often accompanied by a logo.

Types of Brand Names

There are many types of brand names. If you’ve done any research into the subject, you’ll know that different agencies and blogs slice and dice the these naming types many different ways.

We work with 7 types of brand names. And while this list is by no means meant to be definitive (there will always be names that could fall in more than one category or defy categorization altogether), it is a useful lens through which to analyze the most popular brand names.

An example of each of the 7 types of brand name

Whichever category it falls in, the type of company name you choose will influence everything from your brand architecture to the types of logos that are right for your brand to the tagline that accompanies it.

As we’ll see in the many examples of brand names below, there are wildly successful businesses behind each naming type, so, in principle, any of these naming types could work for you.

There are, however, some important pros and cons that you’ll want to consider before deciding which type of name is best for your business.

Let’s take a closer look at each type of name, including examples of brand names for each.

There are 7 types of brand names:

1. Descriptive Brand Names

A Whole Foods Market sign is an example of descriptive brand name
Descriptive names are those that explicitly convey the product or service offered by a company.

The advantage of a descriptive brand name is that it leaves no question as to what kind of business you’re in. A descriptive name clearly communicates your brand category and/or core competency.

And while descriptive names can feel somewhat unremarkable, plenty of brands have been able to turn the tables on otherwise hum-drum names by leaning into their ordinariness. Look no further than the examples below for proof.

The downside of a descriptive brand name is that it can hamstring your business as you grow and look to diversify. While they are functional and utilitarian for a specific offering, descriptive business names don’t leave a lot of room for creativity or interpretation.

Descriptive names can also be difficult to trademark since they rely on common words or phrases. We’ll see why this can present a challenge a little later in this post.

Descriptive brand name examples include:

  • Toys R Us
  • E*Trade
  • General Motors
  • YouSendIt
  • The Weather Channel
  • Hotels.com
  • Bank of America
  • The Body Shop
  • Whole Foods
  • Holiday Inn
  • The Container Store
  • Vitamin Water
  • Booking.com

2. Evocative Brand Names

The Amazon logo appears on a mobile phone as an example of an evocative brand name
On the other end of the creative spectrum from descriptive names are evocative names. Evocative names use metaphor and allusion to evoke a brand’s positioning and personality.

Some of the best brand names are evocative names. This is because evocative names help you tell a powerful brand story about an idea that’s bigger than just the products or services you sell.

Their uniqueness means that evocative business names are generally easier to trademark than descriptive names (although, it’s getting harder and harder to find an existing word that isn’t already trademarked in a given industry.)

One of the few downsides with an evocative name is that it requires a bit of imagination to see connection between the name and business behind it. For this reason, it can sometimes be challenging to get leadership buy-in on an evocative name.

This is just one of the many reasons why it’s so important to set expectations and establish stakeholder alignment at the outset of any naming project.

Evocative brand name examples include:

  • Nike
  • Patagonia
  • Amazon
  • Virgin
  • Monocle
  • Apple
  • Greyhound
  • Lush
  • Uber
  • Dove
  • Cascade
  • Brisk
  • Bounce

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3. Invented Brand Names

A sign at Google headquarters is an example of the invented brand name type
The best part about brand names is that if you can’t find the perfect word, you can always make one up. Invented names are coined words you won’t find in any dictionary.

Invented names offer the broadest creative latitude when naming your company or product. But that doesn’t mean a good invented name is easy to conjure.

Inventing a name that sounds like a real word (as opposed to unintelligible gibberish) and has some semblance of meaning can be tough. This is why most invented names evolve from common root origins (Latin or Greek), are actually portmanteaus (a combination of two or more words), or are intentional misspellings that leverage the meaning of an existing word.

Invented names are usually easy trademark, but the more unique they are, the more time and money you will need to spend to create a meaningful brand story around them.

As we can see below, however, there is no shortage of brands that have built monumental brand equity around a thoroughly distinctive invented name.

Invented brand name examples include:

  • Exxon
  • Kodak
  • Xerox
  • Verizon
  • Adidas
  • Google
  • Pixar
  • Rolex
  • Zapier
  • Spotify
  • Lyft
  • Flickr
  • Tumblr

4. Lexical Brand Names

A woman holds a box of Krispy Kremes in an example of invented brand names
Lexical names rely on wordplay for effect. Puns, phrases, compound words, alliteration, onomatopoeia, and intentional misspellings are all styles of this popular naming type.

Lexical names are often clever. Some would argue they’re too clever.

As you can see in the examples below, this naming type has been used to great effect by consumer brands in industries like snack food, pet supplies, and restaurants. It’s a style well-suited for playful brands in fun-loving spaces.

When it comes to corporate branding, you won’t find many serious B2B brands whose names fall into the lexical category. This is a great example of knowing which naming type is best suited for the brand you’re looking to build and the competitive landscape in which you operate.

Lexical brand names also risk feeling a bit dated, regardless of which industry they’re in. Unless you can come up with a world-class pun that’s never been used before, today’s customer is more likely to roll their eyes than open their wallets when encountering a lexical brand name in the modern market.

Lexical brand name examples include:

  • Dunkin’ Donuts
  • Krazy Glue
  • Sizzler Steakhouse
  • Krispy Kreme
  • Froot Loops
  • Dribbble
  • Laffy Taffy
  • Whiskas
  • Mello Yello
  • Cheez Whiz
  • Hubba Bubba

5. Acronymic Brand Names

The BMW logo on the hood of a car is a classic acronymic brand name
If there’s one naming convention that has come to signify large, national corporations, it is the acronym. From AT&T to IBM, the combination of uppercase letters signifying a longer business name has always had a certain heft behind it.

But there are obvious challenges with an acronymic brand name. A combination of letters does not, in and of itself, have the same meaning as the words it signifies. It can reference those words, but only if your audience knows what they are. (How many people stopped on the street could actually tell you what the letters AT&T or IBM stand for?)

Instead, acronyms often work in the same way that invented names do. Whatever meaning they have is the result of years of branding and marketing, not of the words (or letters) themselves.

Over their decades in existence, brands like BMW and CVS have invested millions of dollars in both brand positioning and brand design to imbue these letters with trust and credibility.

A startup these days would be hard-pressed to come up with a good reason to go with an acronymic brand name, though. As a rule, acronyms are difficult for audiences to remember and even harder for attorneys to trademark.

Acronymic brand name examples include:

  • IBM
  • BP
  • UPS
  • BMW
  • MTV
  • GEICO
  • HP
  • H&M
  • MTV
  • P&G
  • AT&T
  • CVS
  • BBC

6. Geographical Brand Names

An American Airlines airplane in flight illustrates the geographic brand name type
New York Life, Nantucket Nectars, Canada Dry—sometimes brands are inextricably tied to the cities where they were born or the regions they want to evoke.

Geographical names infuse a brand with all the cultural, natural, or historical associations of its namesake. Names like Klondike and Outback conjure the adventure of the wilderness, while names like Hawaiian Punch and Florida’s Natural evoke lush and lackadaisical warmer climes.

Often, geographical names are behind companies that started locally but have since made it big. This is one of the biggest detractors of this naming type.

After all, if you name your brand after the city or state where you’re located, what happens when you want to expand into other markets? Outgrowing the region where you started is one of the most common signs it’s time to rebrand your business.

A geographical name in your industry has also likely already been done. Put a city or a state name in front of a product or service and you’re almost certain to find an existing brand. California Tan? Already exists. Portland Automotive? Been done. Miami Subs? Yup.

Geographical brand name examples include:

  • New York Life
  • Nantucket Nectars
  • American Airlines
  • Arizona Tea
  • California Pizza Kitchen
  • Kentucky Fried Chicken
  • Florida’s Natural
  • Canada Dry
  • Hawaiian Punch
  • Klondike
  • Arizona Tile
  • Sierra Nevada
  • Brooklyn Brewery

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7. Founder Brand Names

The Ford logo on a pickup truck grill illustrates the founder naming type
Finally, whether for reasons of heritage or hubris, there will always be brands named for the people who started them.

The founder brand tradition stretches back to the earliest brands as well. The era when Fords tooled every street and Kellogg’s sat atop every breakfast table was one where few brands weren’t named for their founders.

These days, founder-based names may not be as common, but there is still no shortage of familial brand names–from the shelves of your local supermarket to the doors of your nearest legal office. Think Martha Stewart, Ralph Lauren, and Ben & Jerry’s.

On the upside, founder names are definitely easy to trademark. They can also be distinctive if positioned correctly, and even leverage the existing brand equity of celebrity or influencer.

At the end of the day, though, founder names, like invented names or acronymic names, usually require some marketing investment to build a strong brand around.

Unless the founder is not just a celebrity, but a celebrity closely tied to the central offering of the brand, the value proposition behind the name will not be immediately clear.

This makes founder names a less-than-ideal starting point for a compelling brand narrative that will transcend channels and touchpoints.

Founder brand name examples include:

  • Kellogg’s
  • Ford
  • Ben & Jerry’s
  • Martha Stewart
  • Ralph Lauren
  • Mrs. Fields
  • Calvin Klein
  • Heineken
  • Lipton
  • Ben & Jerry’s
  • Illy
  • Barilla
  • Colgate
  • Nestlé

What to Expect When Naming Your Brand

A team works together in a conference room to define a brand name
Regardless of which brand name type you choose, you’re bound to realize the same thing: naming a brand is harder than it sounds! But while naming is one of the trickiest parts of branding, it can also be among the most rewarding.

Why is naming such a sticky wicket? Because, while there are thousands of great brand name ideas out there, almost all of them are already trademarked. This can make naming or renaming a brand a frustrating journey. But if you have the right tools, a little patience, and a good team whose aligned around the criteria and expectations of your search, it’s a journey that’s well worth taking

There are a few important criteria that should inform the search for any company name. A good name is one that:

  • Evokes your brand positioning
  • Embodies your brand personality
  • Conveys one or more brand benefits
  • Avoids negative or stigmatized concepts
  • Has an available trademark
  • Has an available URL

That’s quite a few boxes are to check when you’re vetting potential names. That’s why it’s so important to keep your expectations realistic. You should start with the assumption that the perfect brand name doesn’t exist (or if it does, it’s already been trademarked).

This isn’t to say that you won’t come up with an amazing name for your brand. But going into the process thinking that there is a name out there that is going to meet every criterion and make every member of your team happy is only going to result in disappointment.

The Harvard Law Review released a study a few years ago titled Are We Running Out of Trademarks? which found that more than 70% of common English words have already been trademarked.

The good news is, a name itself will never make or break your brand’s performance. A quick survey of the Fortune 500 will show you there’s a lot more to a successful brand than just a name.

Google, Slack, and Lululemon are all pretty silly names taken out of context. But that obviously didn’t stop these companies from building monumentally successful brands around them.

Here’s the truth:

A good name will never make a lousy company better, but a great company can make even the worst name seem genius.

Another important thing to keep in mind in the naming process is that the full potential of any name is impossible to envision without the context of a complete brand experience. At the end of the day, your name will not exist in a vacuum. It will be accompanied by a logo, a color scheme, photography, messaging, etc.

So, keep an open mind when searching for your name. A calculated risk on an unconventional name can open up all sorts of opportunities to differentiate your brand. The best brand name is the one that inspires you (and everyone in your organization) to do great things.

Just trust that with a strong verbal and visual identity and a memorable brand experience, a good branding agency can build a world-class brand around (almost) any name you choose.

The Takeaway

There’s no shortage of reasons to rename your company. And while the types of brand names are limited, the list of possible names is endless. If you haven’t yet realized this, you will when you get down to the business of brainstorming brand name ideas.

Each type of name has its own pros and cons, and some will always be more effective than others. Whatever type of name you decide to pursue, it’s important to define expectations at the outset of your naming project.

Naming or renaming a company, after all, is more challenging than many people realize. It’s often best left in the capable hands of a branding agency. But whether you or your branding partner takes it on, naming is a worthwhile endeavor.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in October 2015 and has been updated with additional insights.

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A prolific blogger, speaker, and columnist, Brian has two decades of experience in design and branding. He’s written for publications including Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc. Magazine, Fast Company, HuffPost, and Brand Quarterly.