Choosing a viable name for your business, your product, a company service, or a peripheral product like a company app can set you apart in a busy marketplace. A name is just one element of your brand, but it can serve as a significant player in the development and the flourishing of your brand.
I never set out to include “naming” in my list of services, but I discovered during the many years of implementing branding for both entrepreneurs and established companies, that I have a knack for name development.
So, What Qualities are Found in a Good Name?
Depending on what you are naming: a business, a product, an app, all of these will have different naming criteria. But regardless, there are attributes that make up a good name. The main role of a name is to perform a duty, once these functional objectives are met it is the characteristics of a given name that will make it blossom and stand out in the marketplace.
Duties and Characteristics:
1. Functional. In the most primary sense a name is there to serve, be useful. A name should broaden your brand, not inhibit. Avoid names that are too long, hard to pronounce, and difficult to spell.
2. Meaningful. A name should tell the story of your company. A name is more than a label, put it to work for you and make it expressive.
3. Engaging. A name should capture the senses. A good name engages the audience by moving to the next level of creating a visual picture, a smell, a taste, a feeling, that reflects positively on your company. As you develop your brand, this engagement will become stronger through brand visibility, but an engaging name can also catapult your brand forward in early business development.
4. Unique. Stand out in the crowd, don’t be afraid to make your name distinct. If there is one piece of advice I would encourage is to not let fear get in the way of your brand, and this includes naming. Playing it safe with “Acme, Inc.” is not going to help you stand out in the crowd. But, don’t be so unique that the name loses function (the primary objective). Avoid “creative” or improper spellings, like using a ‘k’ for Kreamery for example. “Creative” spelling is not clever, it’s just wrong.
5. Simple. Make it easy to understand. Be judicious. A simple, compact name is going to help in all aspects of: implementing your branding, the design of your service mark, your website domain name, and assist overall brand recognition.
Testing a Name
A name must pass both a visual test and an audio test. Sound and rhythm are your friends.
1. Visual: Write the name down on a piece of paper, give it to a few test subjects, and see how easy or difficult the name is to articulate and read without being guided.
2. Audio: Test saying the name and ask others to spell it. Then, test the rhythm. A good rhythm is a valuable characteristic.
The Web Domain
The ‘perfect scenario’:
1. your domain name matches your company name exactly
2. you are able to register the .com extension
3. you are also able to register the .net, .org, and .info extensions to keep others from using your name.
This is not always feasible, and in a few rare cases, the ‘perfect scenario’ not agreeable. An example of an exception would be that your company or product name is very long, and you are able to find a compact, simplified domain name that would represent your company well. This is a common situation with companies that established their name prior to the web. When I am helping a client develop a name, my target goal is the ‘perfect scenario’ listed above. The foundation set in early brand development will make the next branding steps that much easier and trouble-free.
Because of this, I work on establishing the domain name while simultaneously developing a name. Domain names can be bought and sold in a blink of an eye. So, the $10 to register it for a year, even during the exploratory phase of name development, is worth it. The risk of loosing the ideal name is too great.
Choosing a Name that is in Tune with the Times
What was an acceptable and effective name in say the 1960′s is not necessarily true of what will be powerful today. Society changes, new generations emerge. Like all elements of your brand, your name needs to represent both stability and forward thinking to compete. Though branding needs to stand the test of time, it needs to grow with the culture.
Companies Evolve. What Warrants a Name Change?
There are many reasons to change a name. It could be that your company has branched out to a different set of products or services, it could be for legal reasons, it could be that you are entering foreign markets where your original name would be difficult or conflicting, it could be you realize that the initial branding choice has been unsuccessful and restricting. Even though a name change is a serious brand modification and should not be taken lightly, there is no harm in examining the benefits of a name change.
A few examples of major companies who have gone through a name change:
1. Kentucky Fried Chicken established in 1956 becomes KFC in the 1990′s. There is speculation on why this name change happened: the removal of the word “Kentucky”, due to licensing fees by the state of Kentucky, the word “fried” to avoid the unhealthy connection, or “chicken” because of livestock practices. Regardless, the new name change and new branding has been very successful, giving the company a boost.
2. The 1976 company Apple Computer, Inc. evolved beyond their initial product offerings, becoming Apple, Inc. in 2007. A subtle but important distinction.
3. Google was initially created in 1996, under the name BackRub, dubbed after the search engines ability to do back link analysis. As founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin evolved the technology, they renamed it Google, Inc. in 1998. This name change was a very wise move, don’t you think?
Once You Choose A Name
Once you have a short list of possible names, the first step is to see if any other company is using them. If your refinement process included a web domain name search in conjunction with developing your name, and the .com is available, chances are that no one else is using it.
Companies can have similar names if you are in unrelated industries, but ask yourself if “sharing” a name with any company regardless of the industry is really desirable.
Trademark Search and Registration
My services end at the creative development of a name, and I leave it to the experts in trademark law to assist clients in the legal filings of trademarks and service marks. You may or may not need legal council to establish the basics to secure your name. Simply registering your business name with your state maybe all you need to establish “first use.”
To learn more about the trademark search and registration process, a great place to start is with the US Patent and Trademark Office.
If I could encourage one thing in naming, it is to release fear and take the risk on what may seem like a possibly radical name. This can be a challenge. The desire to be unique, but fear of doing something so distinctive that no one has done before takes courage. Don’t let fear stop you. Go with your gut. Embrace individuality, and you will be rewarded in the marketplace.
A good name should assist and become a player in your branding. As Robert Browning said, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp” and so should your name.