Naming a Company is More Involved Than You Think

Frank & Oak and Alex & Ani are representative of the naming trend that has been making unimpressive waves for a while. You’ve probably heard about people naming their companies after their kids, after themselves, or after words they made up, and while there are plenty of name generators that will do the “hard work” for you, naming is really about communicating the “fire” of your brand in a pithy phrase or word. And it’s not just namingRenaming yourself can be difficult, and while some companies (Blackberry, Google, and Nike) are infinitely better because of their name change, we think it’s smart to take it slow and review the names of people who came before you. Here’s what’s in the naming process and why you might want to leave it to the experts.  

Fit In or Stand Out

That’s the question. Company names like “The Boring Company,” “Brandless” or “The Worst Tours,” stand out because they’re anti-names. An anti-name can sometimes work, but only if it advances your mission. It wouldn’t make sense for a tech company to call itself “Techless,” and it wouldn’t be smart for a tomato sauce company to call itself “Soup” unless there’s a really good reason. Think deeply about your brand, your mission, and whether you want to fit in or stand out. Usually, standing out is what we go for, but sometimes fitting in makes sense, especially if you’re in a sector that values practicality over creativity. 

Competitive Research

How are the competitors naming their companies? Create charts to identify the naming categories that companies use and see how you can position your brand to either fit in or stand out. There are many ways to categories names, but we’ve broken down some of the most popular name types. 

Invented Name (Odeo, Celera, Etsy, Kodak) 

Real Words  (Slack, Five Guys, Pioneer Corporation, Quark) 

Foreign Words (Vox, Samsung, AltaVista, Atari) 

Practical Names (Google Maps, Valero Energy Corporation, RSA Security, Kia Motors)

Blended Names (Salesforce, FireFox, Facebok, AmBev, AMKOR, Instagram, Basecamp, Comcast, Evernote) 

Mythological Names (Nike, Kalev, Olympus)

Founder Names (Disney,  Kate Spade, Boeing, Akai, Dell, Ben & Jerry’s) 

See how people in your industry are naming their companies. Are most of them founder names? Would a blended name help you stand out? Use what you know to position yourself in a different category than the competition. Or, if you want to fit in, snuggle yourself between the competition (but make sure your product or service really is that different).

Don’t Let People Make Fun of You 

We’ll save you from the horror stories, but remember that some of the worst naming mistakes come from being culturally insensitive or appropriative. While there aren’t any hard-and-fast rules, we’re going to say that choosing a name in a language you don’t speak is probably a bad idea, choosing a name that could be misconstrued or taken out of context is likely a no-no, and choosing a name that makes fun or defames someone else is borderline illegal. 

Even powerhouses like Nokia have experienced their fair share of embarrassment, like when they came out with “Lumia,” which means “prostitute” in Spanish slang. (“Mental Floss“). Before you put your money where your mouth is, you should talk to some people who might have some things to say about where your mouth is. In other words, talk to a lawyer, check to make sure your name won’t be misconstrued, and make sure that it doesn’t already mean something inappropriate in another language. If you want your company to grow globally, this is the best way to protect that your name will make the right kind of waves. 

The Delphi Method is a great way to figure out if your idea works across a wide range of people. The urban dictionary will give you some insight on how people might use your company name, or whether there’s any slang definitions already attached to it. 

Don’t Fall In Love

Make sure the name you love is the one you can actually claim. App Annie and Brands of the World can help you see what’s already in use. Name Mesh will help you tweak and combine names to find the best ones, and TESS will allow you to see what names have active trademarks. You’re going to want to consult a trademark lawyer before you get into it. Trust us. 

Don’t Market it to Death

“We don’t recommend market research for naming,” adds Steve Manning, 40, managing director. “You’ve really got to figure that if you’re trusting the future of your brand to a bunch of people [in a focus group] who are willing to give up their time for $45 and a stale sandwich, you’re in trouble.” (How to Make a Name for Yourself, Fast Company)


Don’t Go Into War 

Don’t choose a name you can’t have. Make sure there are no legal issues with taking a certain name. See if it’s trademarked or registered, see if any businesses are operating with your desired name, and see if the domain is available. Then consult with a legal expert to make sure everything is ready to go. 

Don’t Let it Go Wrong 

Entrepreneurs make the following mistakes time and time again:

* Choosing an obscure domain name like GET[business] Users are going to be frustrated when they type in your business name and find someone else. Or worse, they’re not going to be able to get emails to you because they’re sending it to the wrong address. 

* Choosing a name that’s already registered. There are plenty of trademark infringement cases that might scare you, but if it doesn’t scare you, let us propose another tactic. Choosing a company name that already exists might sound interesting, but it can cause a boatload of problems. In addition to simply confusing customers, it can lead to an array of legal problems that won’t do you any good.

* Choosing a name that people can’t pronounce. It can be tempting to choose a made of name with vowels missing, but what happens when the whole world agrees on the wrong pronunciation of your name?

 So go ahead, once you have your name, we’ll call you by it. So make it memorable. 


    Natalie Franke 02/01/2018

    This is such a good post! I’ve named a few businesses over the years and this advice is SPOT ON!


    • admin 04/03/2018

      Thanks so much, Natalie! We’re glad you enjoyed the post.


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