9 tips for coming up with a name that doesn't suck
What's in a name? That's a complicated question. Would a well-loved brand by any other name not be as sweet? Some very successful brands are built atop boring, bad or poorly-thought-out names — suggesting that a name is not everything. It's not. However, a name does serve as the verbal and visual basis of your brand identity. It's how you answer the phone. It's how most people will search for you — the vast majority of your search traffic will come from people searching for your company name or a variation thereof.
A name won't necessarily make or break your business, but a well-conceived name can make an intimate connection with your audience, effectively convey your brand ethos and start your business off on the right foot. You want your brand to be loved, remembered and shared — a great company name will help you get there.
“I'm gonna live forever.
Baby, remember my name.
Remember, remember, remember, remember”
— Irene Cara, Fame
When it's time to come up with a name for your company, you owe it to yourself to follow a proven process, do your homework, collaborate, vet your options and make the best decision for your brand. Following are some high-level tips we've picked up over the years and a peek into the Toolbox corporate naming process. Enjoy.
1. The naming process is magical, but not mysterious
More than any other element of brand identity, the act of coming up with a company name often happens outside the context of a typical brand development process.
Unlike a logo, website or tradeshow booth, a company or product name can manifest itself instantly. A name can come from anywhere or anyone at any time. When the perfect name becomes clear, it's magic — but getting there should be no mystery. Following a proven process managed by an objective, outside party is the surest way to arrive at the best name for your brand.
2. Know it before you name it
Trying to come up with a name before you have your business or product figured out will only result in wasted time and frustration. Naming can't be an exercise in figuring out who you are — it should be the natural culmination of all the work you've done building and preparing to launch your business. Before starting the naming process, be sure to document and reach team consensus on at least a first draft of the following:
- Mission, vision and values statements
- Unique selling proposition
- Competitive analysis
- Buyer personas
3. Be objective
You're going to like your ideas best. It's okay. It's natural. We all do it — me especially. Knowing that, it's hard to go into the naming process objectively.
The important thing to keep in mind is that naming is not a contest. It's not about whose name wins. It's about coming up with a ton of names, narrowing them down through a controlled objective process, vetting the top candidates and ultimately deciding on the name that best embodies your brand.
The naming process is personal, inclusive and a whole lot of fun. When the entire team is engaged and involved, the results are far better than any one person could accomplish, you have full buy-in from your team and the results speak for themselves.
The Toolbox Creative naming process fosters an environment where each member of the client team and the Toolbox team is involved in generating name ideas. Our process counters the natural individual bias toward preferring our own ideas in favor of an open, collaborative process. All parties feel a sense of ownership toward the name, regardless of who or where it came from.
When we launch a new brand name, we are often asked, "Who came up with your name?" At that point, it's hard for us to even remember. It's the process that's important.
The delightfully double-meaning Hot Corner Concepts.
Hot Corner Concepts is a great example of full engagement in the naming process. Toolbox worked with the owners of Austin's, Enzio's and the Moot House restaurants to rename their parent company.
During the process of vetting top name candidates at one of the restaurants, a server came out of the kitchen with a tray of food and proclaimed, "Hot corner!" to alert coworkers. Magic moment. We had our name. It works not only as an industry inside term, but also to describe their locations —three of their restaurants were at or near the busiest intersection in town.
4. The naming process is inclusive, but not democratic
As you enter into the naming process, it's critical to draw a line between inclusion and democracy. Engaging your entire team does not mean abdicating your authority. As the business owner, your perspective is strongest, most informed and most important. Ultimately the decision on naming, as with all big branding decisions, is yours. That doesn't mean you should work independently of your team (alone or with an agency). Rather, your team of key influencers can serve as a critical part of the process. Soliciting their input and involvement at each stage of the naming process will predispose them to feel ownership of the end product.
That being said, naming should never be a democratic process. Don't collect votes and select the name with the most votes. That process results in a winner that is everyone's second or third choice — something safe you can all live with. Your name should be fresh, bold and may initially be challenging to some on your team. Some will embrace it right away and some will grow to love it as your brand story matures. As long as the team is engaged in the process, they'll be on board.
5. Name for your audience
Knowing your audience on a heart, mind and gut level is critical to effective naming. Visualize the real people who might use your product. Identify their emotional triggers and map out how they make buying decisions. How will your brand make their lives easier? How can your name speak specifically to their pain points? How will it differentiate you from your competitors?
If you have existing clients, engage them in the process. Ask them for adjectives that describe how they feel about your business. Get to the heart of why they love you.
Immuno Boosto — daily immune support supplement for fido
Immuno Boosto, the latest in Fidobiotics' line of daily probiotic supplements for dogs, is a great example of naming for your audience. Fidobiotics customers are college-educated women with disposable income. They're big believers in probiotics and want their pooches to have the same health benefits as the rest of their family.
We developed a product name that speaks clearly to what the product does while conveying the deliciously fun and funny brand attitude. You know it's medicine, but your dog thinks it's a treat. Boom.
6. Look for inspiration in strange places
When naming a software company, the last place you want to look for inspiration is to other software companies. Know the competition and be mindful of other players in your space, but seek inspiration elsewhere: history, nature, language, sports, fine art. Do your research and move on to other things.
Like you, inspiration doesn't work nine to five. Ideas often come most freely when you're not working so hard to birth them. Go for a walk, take in a ball game, listen to live music. I do my best thinking in the shower, when my brain's on autopilot. When you follow the process and you're in the right mindset, you'll be amazed how the ideas flow.
The Give 10 Initiative's annual Give 10 Grand Gala invite
Toolbox worked with The Bohemian Foundation to develop the name, logo and brand assets for their initiative to inspire giving in Larimer County. The centerpiece of the initiative was a gala event celebrating philanthropists who donate to the tune of $10K+ a year.
With creative license, the name draws inspiration from math and finance, illustrating the exponential power of philanthropy.
7. Don't expect your name to do everything
Your name (or logo, for that matter) can't possibly say everything there is to say about your brand. Rather, your name should be memorable, engaging and create a sense of identity. Think of your name as a conversation starter. It should elicit curiosity and serve as a lead-in to your brand story.
8. Be master of your domain
Web identity is a critical part of any brand identity. When deciding on a new company or product name, the good news is you have an opportunity to think of a name you can secure as a web domain. The challenge is you need a name that's available as a web domain.
Be prepared to come up with some great names, only to discover the website is already taken. It happens during every naming process and it will happen during yours. You still may be able to secure the domain if it's owned by a squatter and you're willing to negotiate payment. Alternately, your web address can be an expansion of your company name — but that's less than ideal.
Purchasing your name as a domain is separate from registering, trademarking and protecting it as a business name. See tip 9 below.
The need to own your domain inspires more creative thinking in the naming process. We like that challenge. For a startup franchise that turned the classic golf country club "shoe room" into a mobile cart experience, we created Ace MacClean, a legendary character to serve as the face and name of the brand. The name was simple enough to remember but unique enough to register and protect.
Ace MacClean — it's about improving your game as much as it is cleaning your gear
9. Be sure to have protection
Once you have a few top candidates for names, you'll want to make sure you can legally protect it. Search the US Patent and Trademark office to see if anyone is currently protecting the name. Then work with a trademark attorney to move toward protecting your name. For Fort Collins trademark attorneys, we recommend Luke Santangelo and Kevin Houchin. Those guys know their stuff and earn their money. You definitely want to take steps to protect your name before investing further in a logo, website, signage and other brand collateral.
The Fort Collins brewing industry alone is rife with examples of businesses who've had to (or chose to) change their names rather than entering expensive legal battles.
Zwei Bruder changed to Zwei Brewing because a brewery named Two Brothers called into play the little-used foreign language extension of their trademark. Absolute Threshold Brewing changed to Intersect Brewing because of some vodka company. Despite properly securing trademark protection, Horsetooth Brewing changed their name to Pateros Creek after being challenged by a local restaurant with a Horsetooth-related beer name. They made the tough but practical decision to spend their money on growing their business rather than mounting an expensive legal defense.
Protecting your name does not always protect you from challenges
Make a name for yourself
Naming your company is something many entrepreneurs only get to do once. make the most of it. It should be a fun, challenging and exhilarating process. Like exercise, if it's too painful, you're doing it wrong. Find the right partner to guide you through the process, stick to the process, do your homework, stay objective, engage the entire team, think about your audience, stay inspired and have fun — a great company name will form a solid foundation from which to tell your brand story.
About Toolbox Creative:
Toolbox Creative offers a powerful engine to grow technology brands and take on the big players in the field. We help innovative technology companies look and sound as good as they truly are, increasing brand equity, boosting media buzz and making the most of marketing dollars.