Do you need a brand name? Are you kicking off the process of naming or renaming your company? Before you embark on any naming endeavor, it’s important to understand the types of brand names that are available.
Starting with a clear understanding of brand name types is a great way to narrow the search for that perfect company name.
You’ve seen each of these types of brand names before—from Apple to IBM, Google to Calvin Klein—but below, we break down the pros and cons of each type, so you can more easily generate a list of brand name ideas for your business.
We’ll also tell you what you can expect from the next step in the process: zeroing in on a unique and ownable name for your brand.
What is a Brand Name?
A brand name 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, and the truth is, different agencies and blogs slice and dice the these naming types many different ways.
We’ll be walking you through 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.
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 there’s no perfect formula to finding the best brand name.
There are, however, some important pros and cons that come along with each brand name type that you’ll want to consider before deciding which is best for your business.
Let’s take a closer look at the various naming types, including examples of brand names for each.
There are 7 types of brand names:
1. Descriptive Brand Names
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 core competency.
And while descriptive names can feel somewhat unremarkable, plenty of brands have been able to turn the tables on their intrinsically 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
- General Motors
- The Weather Channel
- Bank of America
- The Body Shop
- Whole Foods
- Holiday Inn
- The Container Store
- Vitamin Water
2. Evocative Brand Names
On the other end of the creative spectrum from descriptive names are evocative names. Evocative names use suggestion and metaphor to bring to mind brand positioning and/or brand experience.
Some of the best brand names are evocative names because they enable a company to tell a powerful brand story about an idea that’s bigger than just the products or services they sell.
Their originality 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.)
As with any creative concept, it can sometimes be challenging to get leadership buy-in on an evocative name because they require some imagination to unpack. That’s why it’s so important to define expectations and establish stakeholder alignment at the outset of any naming project.
Evocative brand name examples include:
3. Invented Brand Names
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 etymological fabrications that are nothing if not unique.
Because the search for an invented name isn’t confined to a finite set of existing words, this naming type offers the broadest creative territory when naming your company or product. But that doesn’t mean a good invented name is easy to create.
Conjuring an invented name that sounds like a real word and has some semblance of meaning can be tough sledding. 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 a breeze to 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:
4. Lexical Brand Names
Lexical names rely on wordplay for their memorability. Puns, phrases, compound words, alliteration, onomatopoeia, intentional misspellings, and foreign words are all styles of this popular naming type.
Lexical names are often clever—sometimes too clever—and get their impact from pairing words for linguistic effect.
As we can see in the examples, 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
- Laffy Taffy
- Mello Yello
- Cheez Whiz
- Hubba Bubba
5. Acronymic Brand Names
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 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 usually take function as essentially invented names. Whatever meaning they have is the result of years of branding and marketing, not of the words they signify.
A startup these days would be hard-pressed to come up with a great reason to name their company with an acronym, though. As a rule, acronyms are difficult for audiences to remember and even harder for attorneys to trademark.
Acronymic brand name examples include:
6. Geographical Brand Names
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 embody.
Geographical names infuse a brand with all the cultural, natural, and 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 unspoiled beaches and lush groves of orange trees.
Often, geographical names are tied to companies that once catered to a geographically limited audience 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 entity. 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
- Arizona Tile
- Sierra Nevada
- Brooklyn Brewery
7. Founder Brand Names
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 quite as common, but there is still no shortage of familial names on the shelves of your local stores and 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, however, 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:
- Ben & Jerry’s
- Martha Stewart
- Ralph Lauren
- Mrs. Fields
- Calvin Klein
- Ben & Jerry’s
What to Expect When Naming Your Brand
Regardless of which brand name type you choose, you’re bound to realize the same thing: naming a brand is a challenging endeavor. Naming is one of the hardest parts of branding. It can also be among the most rewarding.
The fact is, there are thousands of great brand name ideas out there—but 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. Your goal will be to find a name that is:
- Aligned with brand positioning
- Embodies brand personality
- Embodies one (or more) brand benefits
- Avoids negative or stigmatized concepts
- Has an available trademark
- Has an available URL
These are a lot of boxes to check when ruling out potential contenders. That’s why it’s 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 all of your team happy is only going to result in disappointment.
The Harvard Law Review did a study recently 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, names in and of themselves are never the be-all end-all of a strong brand. A brand audit of any of the world’s top brands will reveal that there is a lot more to a strong 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 remarkably successful brands around them. A great name will never make a lousy company better, but a great company can make even the worst name seem genius.
The fact is, the full potential of any name is difficult, if not impossible, to envision out of context. Names, after all, do not exist in a vacuum. They require a comprehensive brand experience to fully come to life.
So, keep an open mind when searching for your name. A calculated risk on an unconventional name can open up all sorts of opportunities when it comes to competitive differentiation and lasting brand loyalty.
At the end of the day, the best brand name is the one that inspires you (and everyone in your organization) to do great things.
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.