A great name can play an important role for a brand. While the brand name isn’t a substitute for the reputation that comes with a good product or service, it can help it stand out in a competitive market.
A memorable brand name that resonates with consumers sets a powerful stage. The brand name is the container of meaning. It’s how people will talk about it. The process of finding a name is simply called naming. This is the naming process we follow at Make it Clear.
Editor’s note: Previously published in 2016 this article has been updated for 2021.
Step 1: Outline what the name should represent
It’s important to establish a clear idea of what your name needs to communicate. Start by describing the thing that you are naming, the following questions are a good starting point
- Is it a company, a product or a service?
- What makes it unique?
- What do you want it to be best known for?
Once you have a clear understanding of what your name should represent, the next step is to map your competition. This will help understanding of the landscape where your brand will exist.
- Which names are taken?
- Which ones are good?
- How is the audience responding to them?
Now it is time to put pen to paper.
Step 2: Make a list
Starting with a blank page can be daunting. A great place to start is by dividing your list by name categories. You can have as many categories as you like, but we normally use four: descriptive, suggestive, abstract and legacy.
- Descriptive: names that describe what the company does like Snapchat, PayPal, DirecTV, Playstation and Toys R Us.
- Suggestive: they set an evocative mood for the brand like Apple, Sky, O2, Red Bull and Uber.
- Abstract: these are made up words that have a strong memorable sound and have the potential to gain new meaning which include brands like Google, Skype, Kodak, Yahoo and Rolex.
- Legacy: these include founder’s names, nicknames and organisation acronyms that may already be in use, even if not officially, such as Ferrari, Chanel, Adidas, IBM and H&M.
Step 3: Generating names
Once you have your categories, it’s time to start generating ideas. When creating your list we recommend:
- Keep them short
- Easy to memorize
- Easy to say in any language
We find that the best ideas come from collaborative effort. Bring people on board whose opinions you trust, but make sure they will offer different points of view. Put your categories into a collaborative document where everyone on the team can write down their ideas. Add everything that you come up with, at this stage it’s important to explore every possibility without second guessing any of them. To support this activity we suggest: Looking up synonyms and analogies, searching for interesting words, writing as many word combinations as possible, including syllables that add meaning, creating acronyms.
Step 4: Shortlist
It’s now time to shortlist your names. We suggest that you print out the list and gather the team to evaluate. You will find that some names will look very similar and through this process some new combinations may also appear. Let everyone pick their favourite names and veto the bad ones. Once this process is done, you will have culled quite a few weak names. Then let the team have another go at discarding. Pretty soon you will be left with just a few favourite ones, you should aim to leave at least 5 names per category.
Step 5: Background check
Now you have your short list of 20 names, it’s time to find out if they are viable. Do a search to see if they already exist, if they already exist in your sector they are certainly not an option. This will most likely reduce your shortlist down even further. You should also research the names in case they have a negative connotation in other cultures or languages. Finally, you need to check if the domain is available. If you have the budget to buy a taken domain, this is a good option. If you don’t, you can either think creatively about domain choices, or go back to the drawing board on the name. Keep editing your list until you have only one or two names left per category.
Step 6: Presenting
When presenting, print out your final names in a large clear font such as Helvetica. That way you can test if they are visually attractive, without attaching any branding to them. The client might discard a perfectly good name because they don’t like the style you chose for it. Take the time to explain the rationale behind each concept and how you arrived at it.
Hopefully one of your presented names will resonate with the client. If not, you can always go back and recover names you had discarded at an earlier stage, or go through the whole process again.
Remember that picking a name is a big decision for a brand. Be patient and open-minded; this process is likely to take some time.
Read about how we created a brand identity for Cambridge University Press’ new platform Open Engage.
Check out how we gave our own brand identity and website a refresh for 2020.
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