How To Choose A Company Name

Whether people see it on your website, on your badge at a trade show, or your business card, your company name makes a vital first impression.

I wrote this article to show you how to come up with awesome company name and have fun doing it.

Creating names is not a science, yet naming firms spout ridiculous jargon about it:

“Verbal identity screening”, “rigorous methodologies”, or “computational linguistics”.

Others try to invent names using math.

But customers don’t fall in love with brand names created by scientific processes, linguistic voodoo, or mangling the alphabet.

Those kind of names don’t resonate with us, because they don’t make emotional connections.

The most powerful business names connect with people because they are based on familiar words.

In this article, I will show you simple techniques that will turn heads, generate buss, and spark sales.

Before we jump into brainstorming name ideas, you’ll learn how to objectively evaluate names using the SMILE & SCRATCH test.

This is basically a checklist based on philosophy that a name should make you SMILE instead of SCRATCH your head.

The 5 Qualities of A Good Name (SMILE):

  1. Suggestive – evokes something about your brand
  2. Meaningful – resonates with your audience
  3. Imagery – is visually evocative to aid in memory
  4. Legs – lends itself to a theme for extended mileage
  5. Emotional – moves people

The 7 Common Naming Mistakes (SCRATCH):

  1. Spelling challenged – look like a typo
  2. Copycat – is similar to competitors’ names
  3. Restrictive – limits future growth
  4. Annoying – is forced to frustrates customers
  5. Tame – is flat, descriptive, uninspired
  6. Curse of Knowledge – makes sense only to insiders
  7. Hard to pronounce – is not obvious or is unapproachable

This filter is kind of a no-brainer, right?

You can use this filter to evaluate you company name ideas.

Yet you’d be surprised how many names fail this test.

So let’s get right into it.


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Naming Brief Template PDF


The 5 Qualities of A Good Name

We enjoy names that surprise us, entertain us, and make us feel smart because we get them.

Names that makes as smile are infectious.

They’re the ones we talk about, tweet, and repeat because we like other people to smile, too.

Imagine if before people were even customers of your, they loved your company simply because they loved the name.

That’s the power of a names that makes people smile and that’s the acronym behind the 5 qualities of an effective name.

So let’s talk about each of those qualities in more detail.

1. Suggestive

A name can’t be expected to say everything, but it should suggest something about your brand.

Not in a descriptive way, but in a metaphorical way, such as Amazon.

The name Amazon suggest enormous.

Jeff Bezos chose this name because it conjured up images of the world’s largest river.

Amazon - suggestive name

And he envisioned his company being unfathomably large.

While Amazon.com started as an online bookseller in 1994, the company expanded rapidly into other ares.

Now, no matter what they do or sell in the future, the name Amazon will always fit.

A suggestive name can be inspired by your brand’s personality.

Simply jot down a few adjectives that describe the personality of your brand (as if it was a person).

Then you can use those words to spark your name ideas in the brainstorming phase.

Other suggestive names include: Kickstarter, FitBit, Tropicana.

2. Meaningful

It’s important to make sure your name is meaningful to potential customers, not just you.

This is because most of the time when people encounter your name, you won’t be there to explain it to them.

The name Yelp means “cry for help”.

It’s better to have a meaningful name that people can remember, than a meaningless name that they can type in five keystrokes.

Yelp - meaningful nameDo NOT name your company after yourself.

While it may evoke warm thoughts to your friends and family, your personal name is meaningless to your potential customers.

Your name evokes absolutely nothing about your business, expertise, or brand personality.

And if you’re like me (Arek Dvornechuck), your name is hard to spell, hard to pronounce, and hard for people to remember.

Consider also what would happen if you decide to sell your company in the future and your name is attached to it.

Other meaningful names: Kryptonite (bike locks), Breakthrough (mental health), Repel (insect repellent).

3. Imagery

Names that can bring pictures to your mind can be easily remembered.

Wouldn’t you love to have a company name that would be so embedded in people’s memories that they could recall it years later?

Timberland name evokes images of hiking in a mossy evergreen forest.

That’s the power of a visually evocative name – it brings vivid pictures to aid in memory.

Timberland - imagery name

No matter of what your product or service is, there’s no excuse to not have a company name with imagery.

People will remember your name instantly because it has such strong associations with things that they can picture in their mind.

So name your company something that conjures up images – give them something to latch on to.

When people can visualize your name with a picture, it’s much easier for them to remember than some unfamiliar word or acronym.

More examples of names with imagery: Range Rover (SUVs), Target (mass merchandiser),  Irish Spring (soap).

4. Legs

To get the most out of your name, strive for name with mileage your can build your brand around.

Names with legs provide endless wordplay and verbal branding opportunities.

Nestle has created a brand architecture that plays off the first syllable “nes”.

A strong theme can be extended to many elements of a brand like: taglines, job titles, company award names, conference rooms etc.

Nestle - legs name

When you launch a product, you can’t look into your crystal ball and know what the future holds.

But developing a naming theme early on can help you tremendously down the road.

Apple has done this well with the iMac, iPhone, iPad, iTouch, iCloud etc.

If your name doesn’t have a theme you can still extend it through the personality of the brand, as Ben&Jerry’s has done: Cherry Garcia, Chunky Monkey, Liz Lemon, Chubby Hubby.

5. Emotional

A recent Fast Company article revealed that 50% of every buying decision is driven by emotion.

That’s the power of a name that makes an emotional connection.

I’m not surprised because it’s hard to resist a love-at-first-sight names like: Fat Bastards, 7 Deadly Sins, Educated Guess etc.

Pedigree - emotional name

More examples of emotional names: Obsession (fragrance), Snuggle (fabric softener), Club Monaco (clothing).

Now, let’s talk about the opposite – names that make you scratch your head.


The 7 Common Naming Mistakes

When you’re starting with a blank slate, don’t curse your name with any disadvantages.

Every time you have to help people spell, pronounce, and understand your name, you’re essentially apologizing for it, which devalues your company.

Unique spelling, nonsensical words and unfamiliar expressions may differentiate you, but just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s good.

There’s a terribly misguided belief that unique equals creative, which equals great.

For a glimpse at seriously strange you need to look no further than the annual winners of TechCrunch Disrupt.

A breeding ground of awesome startups with not-so-awesome names.

As you already know, the SMILE & SCRATCH name evaluation test is based on philosophy:

A name should make you smile instead of scratch your head.

A good way to remember this is “If it makes you scratch your head, scratch it off your list”.

So let’s talk about what does the acronym SCRATCH stand for.

1. Spelling challenged

If you have to spell your name out loud for people, Siri doesn’t get it, or it looks like a typo, it’s a mistake.

Spelling your company name in a non-intuitive way isn’t clever, it’s lazy.

Sure, it’s tempting to spell your name creatively, so that you can nab an available domain name.

But spelling-challenged will forever frustrate your customers, embarrass your employees and annoy journalists.

Häagen-Dazs - Spelling-challenged name

Having to spell your email address once would be exasperating.

But how many times in the life of your business will you have to spell your email address or URL for someone?

Don’t get cute with number either.

While it may work in texting and clever license plates, embedding numbers in a company name looks cutesy and unprofessional.

When you use numbers in your name you will 4ever have 2 spell it out.

For example: car2go – your goals is to have a name that you can say proudly, just like it sounds.

The true test to see if a name is spelling challenged is to see and hear how voice recognition software like Siri spells it.

2. Copycat

Hijacking another company’s original idea isn’t good for your business reputation or for building trust with your customers.

Copycat names are lazy, lack originality and blatantly ride on a competitor’s coattails.

Plus, because you could cause customer confusion you open yourself to trademark infringement, which can be very costly.

Pinkberry - Copycat name

Another example of copycatted name is Twitter, I think we can all agree that names like Jabber, Chatter, Yammer were inspired by the name Twitter.

While those three names might not be cause for trademark infringement, they’re not winning any award for originality.

Other copycat trends to avoid:

  • ____ Daddy
  • ____ Monkey
  • ____ Rocket
  • iAnything
  • any fruit (apple and blackberry is enogh)
  • cloud (it’s overused)
  • the double-O

3. Restrictive

Don’t get locked into a name that you may outgrow down the road.

A restrictive name will simply lock you in and limit your growth.

Plan ahead, and choose a name that will be a wide enough umbrella to cover your future products and service offerings.

Canadian Tire - restrictive name

Also remember to not use the same name for you company and product.

It can be confusing and shortsighted to name your company and product the same thing.

Although you may have only one product now, think about all the future products you will launch under your company name.

You company name should be an “umbrella name” that’s wide enough to accommodate any product name under it.

If you’re launching a product and company simultaneously, I suggest you name your product first.

You can expect your customers to remember only one name, so make it what they’re actually buying.

More examples of restrictive names: 99¢ Only Stores (it outgrew the price), 24-Hour Fitness (some locations are not open 24 hours), Fast Signs (and its tagline “More than fast. More than signs.”)

4. Annoying

Annoying of course is subjective, but if you think about your company name from a customer’s point of view, you can avoid causing frustration.

If your name appears forced, random, or grammatically incorrect – it’s annoying.

If you invent a new word for you name, be careful that it doesn’t sound unnatural.

Toys R Us - annoying name

Mashing two words together or mixing up a bunch of letters to form a new word rarely appears or sounds smooth.

Some natural and organic brands that use this technique end up with names that sound like they are full of chemicals (e.g. Activia, Envigia).

Simply adding or dropping a vowel or two at the end of a real word or word root is the laziest way to coin a name and almost always sounds forced (e.g. Innova, Natura, Portfolia, and Evolva).

Exceptions would be Nautica and Expedia – these are pretty names that sound like real words and are no-brainers to spell.

Also be careful with grammatically challenged names, they are unprofessional and a hge turnoff to customers and sets bad example for children.

The most known example would be probably Toys “R” Us, which in seven short letters manages to violate at least three basic rules of English.

5. Tame

Tame means flat, descriptive and uninspired.

They don’t challenge, excite, or mentally stimulate us.

Descriptive names are boring because they require so little imagination.

While descriptive names say exactly what your product or company is, they reveal nothing about the personality of your brand.

Kmart - tame name

You just sound like everyone else, making your name indistinguishable from competitors and therefore exposing your lack of creativity.

Nowhere is this more relevant today than cloud services: Cloud2b, Cloud 2.0, Cloud 365, Cloud One, Cloud Web etc.

And because they’re so predictable, chances are that those names have already been taken, making is difficult to get them trademarked.

Descriptive names only make sense if your customers are trying to find information quickly, and you are offering multiple choices e.g. FedEx Priority Overnight, FedEx International Next Flight and FedEx Ground.

More examples of tame names: DocuSign (electronic signatures), Kmart (mass merchandiser), AcuPOLL (research).

6. Curse of Knowledge

No one is more of an expert on the company you are naming that you.

But when communicating with potential customers who are unfamiliar with your world, insider knowledge can become a curse.

We can’t unlearn what we know, so we find extremely difficult to think like a newbie.

We talk in acronyms, internal shorthand, code words and industry jargon – all of which sounds like a foreign language to outsiders.

Don’t alienate potential customers!

 

Eukanuba - Curse of knowledge name

According to Wikipedia, the curse of knowledge is described as “a cognitive bias to which better-informed people find it extremely difficult to think about problems from the perspective of lesser-informed people.

This essentially means that when we know something, it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it.

As a result, we become bad communicators of our own ideas.

7. Hard to Pronounce

Hard to pronounce, not obvious, unapproachable names are just like shooting yourself in the foot.

Most of the European fashion labels are challenging to pronounce: Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Givenchy.

Most Americans don’t want to make fools of themselves trying to pronounce foreign names.

I also heard many Americans mispronounce the omnipresent coffee chain as Preat-A-Manager.

Pret A Manger - Hard to pronounce name

These names are fine and easy to pronounce in their countries of origin.

Names derived from foreign languages are unapproachable simply because most Americans don’t know how to pronounce them.

People don’t want to make fools of themselves trying to pronounce these foreign names.

Another thing is to do not spell or design your name with all capital letter because people will be confused by the pronunciation

Example: TCHO chocolate – is this supposed to e short for “Techno” or is the “T” silent? – We will never Tknow.


Conclusions

Naming a company is probably the first step in the branding process, but brainstorming names doesn’t have to be hard.

In fact, it is a blast when you know the secret to coming up with great ideas.

You will have much more success finding your company name if you follow these guidelines.

So use the SMILE & SCRATCH technique to evaluate your name ideas, rather than trying to randomly choose the best names.

Check my free naming brief tool, which is simply a Google form that spits out your brief in PDF.

It consist of all the important questions that need to answered in order to prepare you for an effective brainstorming session.

Also check my two other articles about naming:

Want to learn how run naming workshops for yourself or your clients? – check my Premium Naming Guide.

Hungry for more knowledge? – check the original book.

"Hello, My Name Is Awesome: How to Create Brand Names That Stick" by Alexandra Watkins.This article was written based on the book “Hello, My Name Is Awesome: How to Create Brand Names That Stick” by Alexandra Watkins.