Considering the more than 6.7 million trademark applications to date, versus the mere 171,476 words in the English language, you’ll have to be careful.
7 min read
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Choosing a great name for your company is much trickier than most founders first believe. The best brand names wander into our subconscious, unnoticed. They assimilate smoothly into different parts of our lives and take on real meanings, whether you're talking about jumping into an Uber, going on a Tinder date or Whatsapping a friend.
Those names don’t just sneak into our sentences; they stick in our minds, and roll off the tips of our tongues.
Still, there is more to a great name than its just being memorable. A great name needs to be solid, and offer the right foundation for a company to build upon. As if this weren't enough, a frequently overlooked factor is the fact that the perfect name needs to be available.
In the early 1900s, you could choose just about any name without running into problems, but considering that there have been 6.7 million trademark applications over the last three decades, modern companies really need to think outside of the box to find names which not only stick, but won’t end up initiating a dreaded cease-and-desist letter.
So, how can companies find a name that makes their brand explode, rather than their brains?
1. Know your audience.
To avoid choosing a name that bombs, brands should start on the right foot, by first identifying what they want their name to represent about their brand.
Starting with a clear idea of exactly what message you want to send, and whom you want your brand to resonate with will help you first choose a style (preeminent, playful, pragmatic, modern, intriguing, powerful) which will be the north star through the sometimes windy road to choosing a brand name.
For example, if you are selling consumer-based products, and your target consumers are millennials, or generations Y or Z, you will have a bit more flexibility to think outside the box, with intriguing names like Urban Decay or playful names like Squatty Potty. However, if you are a corporate company aiming for baby boomers, you'd be smart to choose something more classic, like Stone Eagle Advisors or Zenith Capital.
Once you have a clear idea of who your target audiences are, and then what you want your brand name to convey to these people, you can then choose a brand name style which encompasses these answers. Then create a one- or two-sentence project statement to keep your naming efforts laser focused. Here are some examples:
Our company needs something that’s modern and really shows that we’re on top of all the best things in the market.
We need an elegant name that immediately sounds like a high-end women’s fashion brand.
2. Start with the right foundation.
The next step is to come up with the different ideas and images to convey in your name which are inherently linked to your brand. Instead of focusing on the descriptive element — i.e., what you sell — focus on expressing one or two other core concepts that are essential to your brand, culture and values.
For example, if you are a food-delivery startup, your ideas could convey images of healthy living, ethically sourced products or great customer service and quick delivery time.
Zappos, one of today’s ecommerce success stories, whirled up a modern name which depicts speed but also has a connection to the Spanish word for shoes, zapatos.
While experimentation will figure in, at this early stage of the process, you'll find that less is definitely more. Instead of starting off with a white board resembling that unforgettable scene from A Beautiful Mind, hone your ideas down to three to six of the words or themes that are most essential to your brand.
3. Know the danger zones
Once you and your staff have your style, themes and purpose clear in your heads, it’s time to get out the lab coats — and lots of coffee — and really start experimenting. But before trying out different names, you should know which areas to avoid. With so many trademarks out there, the freedom to use almost any particular English word is becoming slim. The common danger zones are:
Single English words
Power words — like force, united, omni, icon
Symbolic words – like bridge, spring, sage, rocket
But just because you can’t use one stand-alone word doesn’t mean you can’t combine these words into something original. Types of names that have been attached to powerful brands have included:
Transmutations — Zappos, Zumba
This and that — Haute and Bold, Crate & Barrel
Compounds — SnapChat, WordPress
Visual Story — Ice Mountain, Red Bull
Blends — Groupon, Instagram
While compounds and transmutations are great, we always recommend that name-shoppers say the words out loud o make sure they stay within the following three guidelines:
Is the name easy to say? It should roll off the tongue, rather than twist it.
Is the name easy to hear? Consumers should be able to hear your brand name, then quickly tap it into Google to find you.
Is the name easy to spell? Simple misspellings such as Flickr, Xero and Lyft are much easier to trademark, but if they are hard to spell, problems could result.
4. Harness the collective genius, and weirdness!
Considering the more than 6.7 million trademark applications to date, and the fact that there are only 171,476 words in the English language, choosing a great new name which is awesome, and available, requires creativity. Generally, we have found that brands that harness the collective genius of the crowd hit the jackpot more quickly. Find a team that can help you try out some different brand name types for size. Here are some results:
Transmutations, like Spotify, Bloomio, Grammarly. In recent years, transmutations — a real word with an added suffix — have exploded in popularity. Starting with your list of obvious keywords, themes and ideas, get out your thesaurus, think of slang and use horizontal thinking strategies.
Then come up with a second, more creative and unique list of words based around the same themes. For companies looking for a more modern touch, the suffixes io, -a, ify, ity, and ya, are your best bets. For companies aiming for a more classic, sophisticated air, classic suffixes like eus or ian may be more suitable.
Compounds, like SnapChat, YouTube, WordPress, Facebook. Compounds offer a relatively simple, but effective means of finding names which have not already been trademarked. These tactics can allow for some really powerful sounding names, which sound like global brands rather than mom and pop stores. Think: DigitalFuel or GrowthQuest. The only limits are your imagination.
This and that names. Think Hall & Oates. Doubling up can create some killer combos that simply might not work on their own. Generally, the best this and that names do not use descriptive elements related to actual products, or services. Thus, we are unlikely to see the next big accessories company brand itself Zippers & Leathers, or Patches & Purses.
Later down the line, when your creative geniuses have created a shortlist of potential brand names made from transformations, compounds and this and that combos, you should bring impartial judges on board to help you choose the best of the bunch.
Find a diverse group, preferably people in the same demographic as your target market. Then present them with a shortlist of four to seven names that meet your initial criteria. At this stage, it is important not to overshare or influence their decisions. Simply ask which brand your judges would be most interested in learning more about, and which name best aligns with your core principles. You may be surprised with the results!
If you follow these tips, you and your team should be able to come up with a kick-ass brand name that will capture attention, stick in people’s minds and stand the test of time.
Remember: When it comes to naming a brand, fortune favors the brave!
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