Whether its startup business, a new product, or even an existing company in need of a fresh moniker, brand naming is a tough proposition.
If you’re reading this article, you may have tried your hand at brand naming or renaming yourself, only to realize it’s a lot harder than it seems.
The good news is that with the right process, finding a great name for your brand doesn’t have to be a painful endeavor.
In what follows, we’ll answer some fundamental questions about brand naming before outlining a proven process for naming a brand in five steps. We’ll even look at some online tools that can make the process a little easier.
- What Is Brand Naming?
- What Makes a Good Brand Name?
- The Brand Naming Process
- Brand Naming Tools
- The Takeaway
What is Brand Naming?
Brand naming is the process of identifying a viable name for a company, product, or service. The brand naming process includes research, brainstorming, and trademark vetting to ensure the name is available from a legal standpoint.
What Makes a Good Brand Name?
It’s one thing to come up with a unique name for your brand, it’s quite another to land on a memorable name that sets you apart from the competition.
So, what makes a good brand name? There are many things that go into an effective brand name. At a minimum, your name should meet the following criteria. A viable name is one 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
Beyond these benchmark requirements, however, there are a number of characteristics that all effective brand names share.
- Distinctiveness: A good brand name should be thoroughly unique within the competitive landscape in which it will live.
- Brevity: The best brand names are short. The shorter the name, the easier it is to spell, say, and remember. It also helps with URL and email length.
- Depth: A good brand name operates on multiple levels. It has a certain profound meaning that is related to the brand’s story and/or positioning.
- Energy: Effective brand names jump off the page. They work their way into your head and bounce around with a kinetic energy that other names lack.
- Sound: Finally, good names have a certain ring to them. They are crisp and bright, rolling off the tongue without much difficulty and falling on the ear with a pleasing resonance.
The Brand Naming Process
On the face of it, coming up with a name seems like an easy enough proposition. There are only so many letters in the English alphabet, after all. And then you sit down to actually do it.
Where to start? What to consider? Why did I think this was going to be easy? Luckily, the business naming process is not a secret act of divination, nor is it a random roll of the dice. It does, however, require some work.
There’s also a considerable risk involved, as if naming a company wasn’t challenging enough on its own. Following a structured process and being diligent in your research and testing are certainly key.
So how do you craft the perfect name? Here are the 5 essential steps you should follow.
Whether your goal is company naming or product naming, the discovery process is vital. Ideally, the naming process should follow a thorough brand research and positioning phase, so the appropriate amount of data and analysis is already in place.
Even if your brand has been recently positioned, however, there’s still plenty to consider during this primary step. Firstly, it’s important to define your brand’s target audiences to ensure you identify a name that resonates with their unique tastes, needs, and goals.
Secondly, it helps to do a competitive brand audit, to get a sense of the types of names that exist in the market landscape. While you want a name that is differentiated, it should still feel at home in your industry.
Next, it’s critical to determine a specific set of criteria on which all key stakeholders can agree. This will make things much smoother down the road, when it’s time to decide between a shortlist of names. A clear checklist of attributes means the decision won’t be down entirely to gut feeling.
Among the most important criteria is deciding which among the various types of brand names will be most suitable for your brand. The naming types available include:
- Descriptive (E*Trade, General Motors, Bank of America)
- Evocative (Nike, Patagonia, Amazon)
- Invented (Exxon, Kodak, Xerox)
- Lexical (Dunkin’ Donuts, Krazy Glue, Krispy Kreme)
- Acronymic (IBM, UPS, BMW)
- Geographical (New York Life, Nantucket Nectars, American Airlines)
- Founder (Ben & Jerry’s, Martha Stewart, Ralph Lauren)
One important thing to keep in mind when developing your criteria is that a great brand name doesn’t try to represent too much. It focuses on the communication of one central idea, instead of trying to be a catchall for everything the organization stands for.
The brainstorming phase is where you gather the raw ideas that will serve as fodder for your name. Inspired by the positioning and business objectives of your organization, and directed by the objective criteria you established in the discovery phase, brainstorming is a collaborative process of ideation.
The brainstorming step isn’t the time to let your imagination be hampered by what might seem to be out of bounds. Think unconventionally and take risks. The criteria defined during the discovery phase will be later used as a guide to determine whether or not an idea is sound.
There are almost as many brainstorming tools and techniques as there are possible names, but some of the most useful include:
- Mind-Mapping Tools
- Glossaries & Lists
- Online Naming Tools
Whether you use post-it notes and free association, spreadsheets, or a good old fashioned Word doc, the goal of brainstorming is to compile a long, long list of raw, unrefined ideas that can be refined in the next step.
Here’s where we get down to brass tacks. Where the result of the brainstorming phase is a collection of concepts, the refinement phase is where a list of actual possible names is generated.
Your first list should be a long one. Using the ideas generated in the brainstorming phase, each name in your long list should at least generally fit the objective criteria established in the discovery phase.
Once a long list is created, the process of whittling begins, and the objective criteria become more instructive. When deliberating over whether a name should make the cut, it can be useful to put the name in hypothetical contextual situations.
You can begin preliminary testing in this phase. If a name is on the bubble (or if it seems too good to be true), do a quick Google search to see what pops up. Things to watch out for include whether a company within your vertical already owns the name and whether the name is directly associated with any negative press or connotations.
The outcome of the refinement phase should be a shortlist of names that are viable candidates insofar as they meet the predetermined objective criteria and don’t raise any immediate red flags.
Testing is the vetting process of each of the names on your shortlist. In the testing phase, we look at qualitative factors, like how marketable a name is, how it looks aesthetically, its relevance, whether or not it embodies brand voice, and its ability to differentiate a brand from its competition.
The less qualitative side of the testing phase is screening for legal viability and potential trademark issues. Trademark availability can be among the most challenging obstacles facing a brand name these days. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has a useful online search system that allows you see if a name is already trademarked.
Legally, a name has to prove that it does not cause confusion among consumers when put up against other brands, and that it does not dilute the marketplace by confiscating an existing brand’s equity.
Names should be reviewed and approved by intellectual property attorneys before any action is taken. The availability of URLs and social media channels should be assessed as well.
The final selection of a name can be a difficult proposition. But the above process is designed to make it as straightforward as possible, illuminating the relative value in each of the names on your shortlist.
In the end, choosing a name does involve a bit of gut feeling. You should know intuitively which of your shortlisted names feels right, and best aligns with your brand personality.
To protect your brand from trademark infringement you’ll want to seek the help of an attorney. When dealing with the complexities of trademark law, it’s always best to have professional help on your side. Often legal availability is the deciding factor between two or three of your top contenders.
One important thing to keep in mind is that there is no name out there that’s going to please everyone. There will always be naysayers, both inside and outside your organization. But as long as you haven’t skipped steps in the process, even the most cynical of detractors will usually come around, once the name begins to come to life in your new brand.
The launch of a new name can be either terrifyingly uncertain or confidently thrilling. Usually it’s a little bit of both. Taking the process one step at a time and making sure to lay the necessary groundwork are the key to finding a name that will support the future success of your business.
Brand Naming Tools
Need a little help with the naming process? As with most things in business these days, there’s an app for that. Quite a few of them, in fact.
The effectiveness of artificial intelligence in developing good names is still a little hit and miss, but that doesn’t mean it can’t help with the process.
The following naming tools can help add some options to your list of naming candidates, or inspire original ideas of your own.
Namelix uses AI to generate hundreds of naming options based on the keywords you provide and the parameters you select. The more specific you are with your keywords, the more relevant your naming options will be. Using several APIs and to generate refined algorithms, Namelix is among the best tools for a long list of mostly invented naming options.
Sure, many of the results in Namelix end up sounding more like gibberish than world-class brand names, but there are always a few interesting contenders in the bunch. It even provides hypothetical visual identities for each option.
Brandroot is a unique generator of brand names that lets you kill two birds with one stone. Enter a keyword not only will you get dozens of potential brand names, each of them already has the corresponding website address attached, which you can buy with just a few clicks.
Some names are listed at a premium and have higher price tags than others. Select your price point before your search to avoid being shown names outside your budget. When you purchase a brand name and URL, you also get the logo design that comes with it.
Naminum’s online name generator will take your chosen keyword and create dozens of iterations of the word. Like Namelix, Naminum’s results always include many words that are simply too inscrutable to be viable names, but if you sift through the results, you can find some gems.
When working with Naminum, it helps to keep your keyword as short as possible. Clicking on each option will tell you if the .com is available for purchase. You may need to click a few times before finding an available domain name.
No one said naming was easy. From creative limitations to trademark conflicts to domain name availability, there is no shortage of roadblocks on the path to finding a great name. But following the steps outlined above will help you uncover a name that can serve as the foundation for a world-class brand.
The good news is, if you still can’t come up with a name that fits your various criteria, you can always turn to a professional. As with many things in branding, hiring a qualified branding agency can save you a lot of time, effort, and money in the long run.