Updated: Jul 19, 2022
I'll be back in 15 minutes when you've done her name.' I didn't know whether to be embarrassed by my friend's frustration or amused by her directness. Either way she was right. These were impatient New Yorkers, yet each time she introduced me to someone we went through the same drill. Irish no Eilish, Eyelash, rhymes with stylish, I've never heard that before (until Billie Eilish:-) and that was before they got to my surname. Memorable - yes. Pause worthy - yes. Simple - NO. Thought provoking - yes. Easy to spell - NO. The only one on Google - yes. Feels good to say, it seems so? But a good business name, probably not Names for businesses work if they tick boxes such as pauseworthy, thought provoking, easy to spell, sound and feel good to say, are easy to say and given I’m a designer, I’ll add, morph themselves into a shapely logo. Nice curves on your name there:-) Can I call you sometime? Guessing the sex of your child is easy, naming it is super hard, everyone (including me) will have an opinion; but it’s time well spent and one's business is a child of sorts. Do you want to elicit a smile, say it again (as above) or sound solid and reliable . Your business name is often akin to a first handshake and it will be most likely be with you for the whole adventure of your business, so how do you that, you ask? You can brainstorm with a group of friends, family, colleagues and randoms. You can use an online name generator. You can take a long drive and record everything that grabs your attention en route. You can thesaurus until you'd prefer to push bamboo under your fingernails. You can meditate and ask your higher self or sleep on it and ask your dreams to deliver. Oh the countless ways!! Or . . . Ask yourself, what do you want your name to communicate? For business, you want to choose a name that resonates with your customers: one that feels good in your heart, makes sense in your head and you’re happy to enter into a long term committed relationship with it knowing you have to unconditionally love and accept it regardless of the unforeseen adventures and challenges you will face together. Names fall under categories, the most common being
founders names (practices - design, consultancy)
Descriptive, conveys user value (leather, massage)
made up names (Google) and then those that are
true randoms like (Accenture).
Do remember that names carry sounds like mantras (mind waves) and each will elicit certain feelings and may also evoke certain imagery. Many brand names we are familiar evoke specific feelings connected with our experience with those brands. Pfizer is a topical one right now, as is Astro Zeneca. Apple and Microsoft, Adidas and Nike. Names like most things only have the meaning we attach to them. And while your name may not immediately articulate your brand values it should be aligned with the values and tone of your business. If you were a fresh food business, Rotten Tomatoes would unlikely work well for you. Yet, it’s contrary nature works very well for the film reviewer. Also just as your business will evolve once it enters the market, the meaning and associations your name creates will also change as the perception of your brand evolves and embeds itself in your customers minds. For instance just say you were to become the next Apple in your category, then, even if your business name was Jack Sh*t it wouldn’t matter because your business will have transcended the literal meaning of its name. Here’s a fun fact: there are a little less than 500k new names registered each year. A new brand needs all the help it can get to claim its 15 minutes of fame, so here are a few things your name will need if you want it to be sticky aka memorable. These questions will help you narrow and refine your choices.
Is it thought provoking? It should set the tone of voice for your business, ground the values and align with your mission. Are you funky, stern, playful, intellectual, irreverent. Does it align with your voice and your values and with those of your clients?
Is it memorable? You want your name to be less like a one night stand and more like ‘forever etched in their memory’. Think Taylor Swift ‘Say you'll remember me standing in a nice dress … staring at the sunset …’ You want that moment when people say your brand name, others chime in like H&M. Simple with a twist that makes them say it again or want to know more, is what you’re after. Immaterial—I love but for most, it's too subtle and needs explaining. I’m material on the other hand gets the thumbs up each time; even from Madonna. It’s no accident many artists are only one or two words—Beyonce, Prince, BillieEilish, U2. And businesses Fortnum & Mason, Liberty House, J.Crew, Selfridges.
Is it simple enough? No one wants to work to recall your name. Can I connect it with something I already know. Kathmandu works well for outdoor gear. To make it descriptive and clear doesn't mean you need more words.
Is it different enough? You don’t want to be Peach if you sell computers. If you’re in condiments, Don Jon isn’t going to cut the mustard. If you’re in footwear Doc Martin’s already have their foot in that market. Check out your competitors and go back to your values. Are you a disruptor, an eco warrior, are you quirky, are you super cool, super straight or just plain magic. What’s unique about what you bring to your market space in how, why and who you are to do it?
Does it roll off my tongue and feel good to say People like saying pleasant or fun words. If your company has a name that sounds off or challenging to say, people won't want to say it. They'll create a subconscious negative association with the word and your business. In the lineage of yoga I practice, there’s the Naad, the science of sound. Every word has a vibration, a unique frequency. When you're trying to make your company name memorable being different, just for the sake of it, is less important than lovely or fun words that your clients want to say and repeat to others. Oreo sounds lickable. Kit Kat has a natural break. Vacuum sounds like it sucks things. Nike has a kick to it. There are accents we love and those that hurt our ears. Choose words your mouth likes the sound of, even if they are made up. And bonus, made up abstract words give you a blank canvas when creating your brand story.
Do I look good in that? And then we come to the designer in me, does your brand name lend itself to ‘you look good in that’. Can its characters create a distinct shapely shape? Do they work together to evoke an image that begins to tell the brand story? Are they tall and lean, curvy and sensual, loud or quiet?
So, are you ready and excited to get started or if you feel dazed like a kangaroo in the headlights, there’s nothing I love more than to play with words, sounds and images. Together we’ll divine a grand brand name that will feel grounded in your gut and dwell rightfully in your heart. A sticky and magnetic name that will do your investment proud as you graduate from brand baby to maturity. Choose well. Choose wisely. Choose wholeheartedly. Always love
Image @Michael Moebius