Lisa Merriam

Choosing a Brand Name

Choosing a brand name is an early and difficult step when starting a company or creating a brand. Getting hung up on all the wrong issues can turn a tough task into an impossible one.

“I’ll know it when I see it”

Without defining your standard for a good name at the outset, you can easily find yourself frustrated when your naming team comes up with many ideas that are off the mark. You will be lost when it comes to evaluating name candidates and making a decision.

“Let’s vote on our favorites”

Likeability is poor criteria for a name. Chances are you’ll like names that are wrong for a number of strategic reasons. For one thing, likeability is strongly linked with familiarity. A likable name is not going to stand out.

“I want a name like ____”

When someone says they want a name like Microsoft or Intel, it’s time to cringe. Looking for a name that is similar to one that already exists defeats the purpose of branding, that is creating a distinctive identity. Stay away from name clichés in your category. Telecommunications companies should not have names that have “tele” or “com” in them.

“The name has to define us”

That challenge puts too much weight on a single word. Meaning in a name isn’t an instant proposition. Meaning is built carefully over time. Ebay is now synonymous with online auctions, but that meaning is not inherent in the name. It was built over time. The company had the wisdom to choose the name with the potential to become iconic. Ebay, with its strange pig-Latin sound is exponentially better than the original generic name for the service: “Auction Web”. Purely descriptive names are hard to turn into brands. That is why is a powerhouse and is nothing.

“I heard the name has to be memorable”

Naming consultants blather on about criteria for a good name and spell-able. The problem is, these criteria aren’t easy to evaluate. You simply can’t tell by looking. Memorability and spellability require expensive research time (at least to test memorability). Being very different isn’t necessarily memorable. Asking people to repeat back name candidates after an interval of time means nothing-they’ve been given no other supporting communication. Memorability (see article) is created over time and must be measured over time. Similarly, spell-ability isn’t something you can determine with just a look. A short name isn’t always easier to spell than a long one. How many people spell Tommy Hilfiger as Tommy Hilfinger? Again, you’ll have to test.

More naming resources for choosing a brand name:

Naming How-To:

Naming Mistakes
Six Factors for a Memorable and Motivating Name
History of Best Known Brands
Styles and Types of Brands
Choosing a Name
Try a Recycled Name
Web 2.0 Naming Considerations
What is Brand Architecture
Approaches to Brand Architecture
Brand Architecture and Business Strategy

Companies and Products:

MSNBC vs. and The Bigger Naming Problem
Macy’s Blunder with Marshall Field’s Name Change
Banks and the Name Game from Bank Marketing Magazine
AIG Name Change to AIU
Breaking Up the Motorola Brand
Google’s Speedbook Disaster
Renaming a Small Business
Proxios CEO Talks About Renaming Process
Naming a Green Sportswear Company
Unintentionally Funny Names-BARF
Unintentionally Funny Names-Putzmeister
Unintentionally Funny Names-Bimbo
Renaming a $2 Billion IPG Agency
Renaming Iraqi Freedom
Selected Naming Portfolio