1 Origin names
Springing from the factual or invented history of an organisation, they employ the names of significant people or places associated with the brand.
A person’s name infers a personal guarantee of quality. It inextricably ties a brand to the person’s capabilities, skill, knowledge, and reputation. With place names, the perception of the location confers similar associations upon the organisation bearing its name.
Both can add history and gravitas, as well as provide a narrative backstory to support the brand in the future.
• Aston Martin
However, unless the originator becomes recognised as an innovator, both can be seen as quite traditional and conservative. Unless the person or place is well known or publicised, such names don’t immediately identify a brand’s product or service offer. If the reputation of the individual or location becomes tarnished somehow, then the association may no longer be meaningful or positive.
2 Descriptive names
The benefit of a descriptive name is that it quickly and concisely describes the product or service provided, making it easy for potential consumers or clients to understand what is on offer. This feature can be helpful for new entrants into established markets or for entrants into new markets where customer knowledge is limited.
• Toys R Us
• We Buy Any Car
• Lean Cuisine
• On The Market
The downside is that descriptive names can be more difficult to trademark, especially if they use a widely recognised word or phrase. Also, finding an acceptable domain name can become a thankless task. Descriptive names can also limit the ability of your brand to stretch into new market sectors or develop new service offers.
3 Abbreviations, acronyms & initialisms
These names are usually born out of business or brand names that started as examples of the Origin or Descriptive genres. Perhaps the original was too long, or the contraction became common parlance and was officially adopted. Their brevity is usually an asset, and they often form the foundation of a widely recognised logo.
• The AA
Unfortunately, to the uninitiated, they are devoid of meaning and emotion. It is not so bad when a well-established and renowned company adopts a shortened version of its name, but it can make life more difficult than necessary when launching a new brand.
4 Invented & compound names
Compound names take two or more critical aspects of a product or service and splice syllables from each word together to create a new word that is either descriptive or evocative of the brand. Invented names also attempt to conjure something about the nature or history of the brands they represent. They can both also be phonetically or graphically arresting or powerful.
The advantage of an invented or compound name is that you are more likely to be able to register it and find a domain name; you also create something unique, concise, and memorable for your potential customers.
On the flip side, invented or compound names can start as relatively empty vessels with little or no meaning for your audience. Mass education becomes a fundamental quest for the company, and this takes time and resources to achieve.
5 Metaphorical names
Metaphorical names use association to symbolise, suggest, or highlight a brand’s experience, positioning, or distinctive competitive advantage. They allow you to express an idea by conjuring the image of something else that appeals to and engages your audience. Metaphorical names can be the foundation stones of a coherent brand narrative, creating interest, intrigue and inspiring further investigation.
The issue with a metaphorical name is that your audience might not initially understand the symbolism. It also becomes incumbent upon the organisation to deliver a promise or service that lives up to the association’s expectations. Because metaphors make effective brand names, many of the more commonly associated or appropriate metaphors for any given sector will likely have already been registered.
6 Arbitrary names
An arbitrary name may seem to have no direct reference to a company’s operations, products, services, or history – but there is often a tenuous link or backstory that can become part of the brand narrative. It grabs an audience’s attention by flying in the face of expectation, challenging potential customers to think again and look afresh at what is on offer – especially useful for new entrants to an established sector.
The lack of association can be a weakness as well as a strength. Without context, potential customers may remain in the dark about the product or service that you offer. The brand owner will need to invest time and money to establish the association. Also, arbitrary names can lack initial gravitas. They might be seen as playful or flippant until they become well-known.
7 Emotive names
Rather than alluding to physical, tangible characteristics or origin stories, emotive names communicate how a product or service might make a customer feel. They articulate the intangible benefits of interacting with the brand. Stimulating an emotional connection is a powerful draw to a potential client. It demonstrates an acute awareness of a customer’s needs beyond the purely perfunctory or functional.
• Happy Eggs
One of the problems with emotive names is that many emotions are negative. So, unless a brand is deliberately provocative or can counter the negativity in the way that ‘No Fear’ does, many emotions are not particularly attractive. Also, because the words are commonplace, they are difficult to own and register without an additional descriptor e.g. Triumph Motorcycles and Triumph Underwear.
Planning for success
Brand naming is notoriously tricky and subjective. The good ones are all taken, right? And what if it must travel globally? Surely that complicates things further? Here are six important lessons we’ve learned:
1. Allot enough time
It always takes longer than expected. Eight weeks is a good minimum.
2. Start with a clear brief
• What are we naming?
• How is the name going to be used?
• What do your competitors do?
• Is there a sector vernacular?
• Do we adopt or challenge the accepted norm?
• Does it need to form part of a wider nomenclature?
• Who is the intended audience, and how do we want them to react?
• When does it need to be launched?
3. Choose your stakeholders carefully
Who do you want to be involved in the process: decision-makers, influencers, and employee champions from across your lines of service? A variety of opinions and perspectives is better, but more people means consensus will be harder to achieve. Or do you bring different groups in at different stages of development?
4. Make assessment easy and consistent
Ensure there are shared metrics and mechanisms in place to mitigate personal subjective bias and increase subject-focused objectivity. Everyone needs to think about what is best for the brand instead of just what they like the most.
5. Keep your options open
It can be soul-destroying if you have your heart set on a single option – only to realise that it won’t pass muster on a domain name search or legal trademark check. Always have a plan B and C. Some flexibility around domain name suffixes and being willing to add a salutation, qualifier or descriptor to your prospective domain name will make your life much easier. Or be willing to pay for a premium domain if one is available.
6. A majority approval is good enough
Total consensus is perfection. It happens sometimes, but expecting perfect unanimity will, at best, slow a project down and, at worst, be entirely futile. Remember, acceptance always increases with use, so though it might feel strange to start with, within a few weeks, it will feel like it’s always been this way.