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Insight: developing a good name


There are lots of great articles out there about naming, including my all time favourite - My Son Adolf. As we're currently working on a new naming project, we thought we'd share some of the things we've learned whilst developing the names for Amba, Arqiva, Big White Wall, Corus, Carillion, Fixxa and Zeamu Music, amongst others.

The principles of naming apply to anything you are trying to find a name for - place, company, hotel, product, service offer. The criteria may vary but you still have to try to find a name that is relevant, unique and ownable.

Categories or type
The first thing to do is to try to decide what 'type' of name you want. Broadly speaking, names fall into a few basic categories. The category you choose has a direct impact on the marketing spend required to build recognition. If you choose an 'empty vessel' that doesn't mean anything, you will have to invest more heavily to imbue the name with meaning. Choosing a name that 'does what it says on the tin' is an easy win if you want people to immediately know what the product or service offer is and requires a far smaller budget.

Category choices:

  • Descriptive - Instagram, SnapChat, FaceBook

  • Proper names - Ford, Goldman Sachs, Sainsbury's

  • Abbreviations - IBM, KLM

  • Alpha Numeric - 3M, O2

  • Abstract - Google, Accenture

  • Empty Vessel - Orange, Apple

  • Compound - EverythingEverywhere (EE), AllOfUs

Judgement criteria

Defining the 'right' name is infamously subjective, as anyone with children (or a dog) will know. Naming is one of the hardest elements of a brand to get right. Names mean different things to different people. They evoke sentiment, imagery, ideas, prejudices - the list goes on. It is difficult to be objective about a name, but objective you must be! So at the start of any naming project - be it company, product, place - we recommend defining a clear set of judgement criteria. This will help a team to collectively arrive at a solution that is not driven by emotion but rather is relevant for the product/company being named.

Below are some questions that are worth considering:

  • Is it distinctive, memorable and differentiating?

  • Can you rationalise it?

  • Is it easy to read and pronounce correctly (including by people who’s first language may not be English)?

  • Is it easy to understand (including by people whose first language may not be English)?

  • Does it mean something else (rude!) elsewhere (in another country or language)?

  • Is it relevant to and appropriate for the organisational aims?

  • Is it reflective of the brand proposition?

  • Will it allow for future growth and diversification?

  • Is it something your team and partners can say/sell with confidence and pride (without feeling embarrassed)?

  • Does it describe a functional attribute or does it capture something more intangible - does it have a spirit?

Legal questions
Arriving at a name that ticks the criteria boxes and is universally accepted by the key decision makers is hard enough. But that is the just first step in a long journey. Once you have a shortlist of acceptable names, the legal process then kicks in. This is what will ultimately dictate whether you can or can't have a name. Some key considerations include:

  • Can we trademark and register the name - is it 'ownable' and 'defendable' in one or more of the trademark classifications? There are currently 45 trademark classes for all types of product, service, company. You will need to ensure that whatever product or service you are offering, your name is trademarkable in that specific category(s). A good trademark lawyer will be able to advise you on this.

  • Does the abbreviated ‘brand name’ form a logical part of the longer legal entity - i.e. 'Shell' for 'Shell Transport and Trading’?

  • How will it be abbreviated by the stock market?

  • Does it sound similar to any other brand that operates in similar sectors?

  • Is there a url available that makes sense (remember that all 'real' names have been registered by someone somewhere, so a logical compound url is the most preferable solution). Social media also dictates that you must have a relevant Twitter/Snapchat/Instagram handle, Facebook page etc.

Lastly, remember that names are not always instant hits. Like favourite items of clothing, sometimes they just take a little while to get used to. Phil Knight did not like the name 'Nike' when it was first proposed. Fortunately for all of us, his preference, 'Dimension Six' wouldn't fit on the back of his first shipment of running shoes.

If you would like to find out more, please let us know:

simon case