Read Our Branding Insights

Brand Name: The First Page in Your Story

You’re in line with your friend at Starbucks. You order your drink, give them your name, pay, and scoot politely to the side while your friend does the same. As they’re wrapping up their transaction, your ears perk up a bit.

Did they just get their own name wrong?

After some questioning, you learn that they change (or shorten) their name when ordering because their real one always gets botched. Interesting.

How about your first and last name? Are they tough to spell? Hard to pronounce? Difficult to remember? You may not have had a choice in how you introduce yourself, but fortunately, your brand does.

The Power of Name

Names tell a story, painting a picture of where you come from, and where you’re going. It’s why some soon-to-be parents agonize for months over the perfect one. Even the “I’ll know it when I see them” approach lends a tale to be told. 

Names carry a variety of implicit and explicit associations that set the stage for every other component of your brand story, and telling the right story matters. If your consumer feels “meh”, “eek”, “ugh”, or “huh?” about your brand name, how can you expect them to be excited about what you have to offer?

A good name makes the seemingly abstract feel personal (hence why your parents wouldn’t let you name that stray kitten you brought home in 5th grade). They have the power to create positive and lasting engagement with your audience, own and redefine the conversation in your industry, and help your brand rise above the goods and services you provide in a word or two.

Just think of how many times your brand name will be said or written in your company’s lifetime. It’s easily the most used, longest-lasting investment your business will make. Names help to turn small start-ups into household names, woven into the language of the cultural zeitgeist.

Google. Nike. Uber. Asana. 

Besides generating more dollars than there are specks of dust on Earth, what do these brands have in common? Great names, laddering up to even better stories. 

Google. A number of nearly incomprehensible size.

Nike. Goddess of victory.

Uber. Above, over, across.

Asana. A meditative pose.

The right brand name communicates the essence of your brand before anyone does business with you. It propels itself through the world on its own as a no-cost, self-sustaining PR vehicle. Backed by solid brand positioning, your name opens new doors for your business and bottom line. 

It’s no wonder brands with Google-level staff and budgets got the whole naming thing down pat. Here’s the good news: you can too

So, What Makes a Good Name?

Good naming is always part of a larger strategic process at play, a catalyst in advancing your collective brand meaning. So before we get started, what story are you here to tell? Download our Brand Thinkbook for a head start.

Now that we’ve set the foundation, here are some vetting questions to get you in the right frame of mind:

  1. Is it on brand? Does the name align with your brand’s mission, values, and culture, and your company’s position in the market? 

Example: Apple – Named after the apple that hit Isaac Newton on the head and prompted his theory of gravity, Apple puts big ideas in reach with innovative, human-centric technology.

  1. Is it memorable? A great brand name should be able to differentiate your company from the industry competition. Names with associations to real word attachments create customer delight and make it easier for people to remember. How do you want people to feel when they see it?

Example: Super Evil Megacorp – An imaginative exaggeration of the supervillain archetype from your favorite cartoons, the video game company’s name is a clear indication of their creativity, playfulness, and immersion in the industry.

  1. Does it have depth? Names are like the title of a great story, so make sure the book has pages beyond the cover! The best brand names serve as a launch point for creative visuals, clever messaging, and even new business endeavors.

    Example: Starbucks – Named after the first mate aboard the Pequod in the classic tale, “Moby-Dick,” evoking the seafaring tradition of the early coffee traders. This origin story is also reflected in the brand’s visuals, starting with the Starbucks Siren logo.
  1. Can you look at it/hear it forever? Names that look nice when written and that are fun to say have a greater likelihood to be remembered and shared. Write your ideas on paper and say them out loud. Choose a name that is spelled like it sounds to avoid confusion.

Example: Google – “Googol” means a number of nearly incomprehensible size – alluding to the wealth of knowledge found with the search engine. Google is easy on the eyes and rolls off the tongue. It’s no surprise that it became a globally recognized verb. Want to know more? Google it.

How About a Not-So-Good One?

Bad brand names are like a mismatched relationship. You don’t know it isn’t working until you’re in it. Poorly thought-out names can spell disaster for even the most successful of businesses, with the potential to limit business and creative opportunities, create customer confusion, or fall silent to industry noise. 

Here are a few key mistakes you should avoid when brainstorming your brand’s perfect moniker (generally speaking, of course):

  1. Descriptive, on-the-nose names. Avoid describing your company’s products or services. It’s lackluster, unmemorable, and all but kills your chances of creating any sort of emotional, human connection with your consumer. Your name should inspire wonder, not boredom.

Example: Suzie’s Dog Walking Co.

  1. Hard to spell/pronounce/understand names. Misspellings are excusable on a Starbucks cup. Not as much for a fundamental piece of your brand equity. Say the name out loud and write it as a web address. If you feel you have to explain or excuse the spelling of the name it’s probably not a good one. And while it’s good to get creative in your naming brainstorms, avoid names that are overly jargon-y or industry-exclusive. They’ll alienate your customers. 

Example: Sur La Table (pronounced Sur La Taub. Works in France, a head-scratcher in any non-French speaking country.)

  1. Overly kitschy, forced names. Clever is good. Hokey is not. Sometimes inventing a new word for your name can be the right solution, just be sure it isn’t overly unnatural or contrived. The last reaction you want to provoke when revealing your sparkly new brand name is an eye roll (or worse, nausea).

Example: Perfumania

  1. Trendy names. Here one day, gone the next. It works for an experimental fashion trend, probably not for a brand you’re hoping to grow for generations to come. Don’t risk putting an expiration date on your brand’s relevance.

Example: YOLO Boards

Your brand name may not always be the difference between closing a deal and not, but it could have a significant impact on who your prospect decides – or more likely, remembers – to call in the first place. 

Want a monthly round-up of branding tips like this?

Sign up for our newsletter below.

By Lauren Carr-Gasso Feb 10, 2022
Sharing is Caring

Thank you for reaching out us.

Someone will be in touch very soon.