"What's in a name?" — how to name your brand

Naming your brand is tough, and doing it properly is even tougher. Read on for some tips on how best to approach brand naming.

Brand naming is a tightrope act between objectivity and subjectivity. Whether you're naming a fintech startup, a secret bar, or an independent fashion house, it's an exciting moment because it can feel as daunting as it is thrilling. 

"What if I get it wrong?"
"What if people don't get it?"
"How does the name Apple even work anyway?"

We've found that the brand naming process can feel so incapacitating because people mostly subscribe to two beliefs: 

  • Brand names are permanent
  • The success of my business rests on this name

The good news (yay!) is that both those statements aren't entirely true. Of course, you want to distill all that you are or could be into one succinct name. However, trying to factor in every goal and facet of your business can inhibit the creative process.

Ensuring your bank account ends in six zeros is dependent not only on the name, but what its conveying and how well it facilitates its own marketing efforts. And although the decision mustn't be taken lightly, companies do rebrand/rename to align with new visions or after outgrowing old identities. 

Ever heard of...


Blue Ribbon Sports?

How about Burbn?

After shaking that fear of 'getting it wrong', you're in the right mind space to start coming up with an idea... so, where to start?

Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

How to create brand names?
Well, you'll want to ask yourself a few questions to help you proceed productively and efficiently. 

  • Who, What, Where, When, Why?

Stop us if you've heard those ones before...

The brand naming process should almost always come after you have worked out your brand strategy. You should understand your purpose, your vision, how you're going to get there, who you're targeting etc. 
Without this crucial information, you will be playing a game of 'pin the tail on the invisible donkey' (it's not as fun as it sounds.) You need to identify what the name is trying to achieve.

  • Steer away from steering groups! 

While it's important to take on overall thoughts both from testing groups and internal teams, you must have a nominated decision-maker(s). You'll never have a name that pleases everybody, so your decision-maker must fully understand the objectives and context of the brand name. If brand naming is left to the lowest common denominator, you'll be left with selecting only the 'safe' names. 

  • Give the project a secret codename. 

Select any word, no matter how relevant or irrelevant — it can be Project Kombucha... it could be Project Meatloaf... it might be Project Floppy Disk... but ultimately it doesn't matter. The purpose of this is to ensure that nobody gets attached (read: blinkered) to any name that may skew their ability to ideate or think without bias.

The Process
Make sure you're well-stocked with Jaffa Cakes and locked in for the ride. Blue-sky thinking is your best friend here — using objectives/key messaging as anchors, you'll want to generate as many ideas as possible. This is a quantity-over-quality-type exercise at this point, so let your creativity flow because decision time will come later. 

The names you come up with can be as crazy or functional as you wish, although it's likely they will fall into one of four key naming conventions if you're going for something more than just your founder's names.

Explains what your company does.
Example: British Telecom. (now known as BT, but you get the idea.)
Positives: Straight forward and explanatory. Strong for single product/service brands or those that are transactional rather than relationship-driven. 
Negatives: Generic, forgettable and highly contested for marketing — both in attention and AdSpend. Can lock you into a particular category or positioning; British Telecom rebranded to BT in order to escape being seen merely as the 'provider' of telecoms, and allowed people to build a relationship with the facilitator for 'good times' e.g BT Sport.

Creates a semiotic or symbolic inference of company
Example: O2 (The 'essential' mobile network, a breath of fresh air)
Positives: Easily accepted by C-suite, seems a good balance between imaginative and functional. Suggests an experience to the consumer rather than simply presenting a service.
Negatives: Is both generic because of its day-to-day use and likely to be overused/existing in other industries. The attractive symbolism makes the trademark process a lot harder. e.g Explorer & Safari are both types of SUV and web browser. 

Names created of either a melodic ring or compound of words.
Example: Vodafone (Voice, Data, Phone)
Positives: Unique, easily trademarked and holds very little preconception. Has high emotional and marketing potential to build on.
Negatives: Requires a strong brand strategy and Launch Plan. Will require a larger marketing budget/effort to 'stick'. Abstract idea is often hard to get accepted at board level. 

B.R.A.N.D. (Because Really Assertive Names Differentiate)
Example: EE
Positives: Can seem professional or established. Is a vessel for other messages (EE = Everything Everywhere). Can become memorable with the right marketing.
Negatives: Works better for existing businesses than new. Without the right execution, can be lost in a sea of other letters. KFC, XYZ, WTF?

Photo by David Lezcano on Unsplash

But... I still haven't got my perfect name?
We hear you. Unfortunately, it's not as simple as 4+6=10. Creativity isn't something that can be taught, and these things take time. What you can do though is set yourself up in the best atmosphere to come up with an inspired name that is more likely to both stick AND stand the test of time. 

We help companies create names, adjust names (it's more common than you think), and realise their brand identities. Book in for a free consultation with a brand specialist — together, we'll sift through ideas and find clarity.


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