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Practical Advice for Naming Your Brand

There are few things more challenging throughout the branding process than naming a business or product. It takes condensing a mountain of information into a few words that perfectly capture a brand that accurately encompasses who you are, and meanwhile acts as the first impression your brand will hold onto forever. It’s the thing that needs to stick right away, because if it doesn’t, it will leave you starting at a disadvantage. Daunting, right?

One of the most important steps is choosing a name. And when it comes to this decision, some brands are lucky enough to have a great name that naturally makes sense. Occasionally, using a creator’s name, a city reference, or a piece of industry lingo appropriately falls into your lap and perfectly fits the bill. That’s great. Congratulations, if that’s the case.

But, a majority of the time, once a product or brand starts to take shape, finding the perfect name can pose a more significant challenge.

While honing in on your name, there are a few factors worth considering to help you find the one that best suits you.

Clever names lose novelty.

A pun or gimmicky name may feel fun, but can easily grow tired for both you and potential customers. The fried chicken restaurant named “Fry Me to The Moon,” or dog groomer called “Indiana Bones” might seem playful at first, but will likely grow old fast as the novelty wears off. Instead, choose a name you can grow with: one that represents you in the way you want to be seen, and gives at least some insight into what you’re offering.

Your name should be smart. It should also be fun, if that’s what you’re after. But, don’t let getting caught up in cleverness distract from what you do.

Practicality should be a guide, not an obstacle.

When you start from scratch with naming, it can be tempting to go the route of simply choosing what’s available based on domains and social handles. Those are important factors to consider, but availability shouldn’t dictate your name.

If you settle on a name you love, and the obvious domain or handle has already been claimed, use this “setback” as an opportunity for creativity. Harley Davidson’s stock ticker symbol, for example, is ‘HOG’ because Home Depot already had the obvious choice of ‘HD’. Not only is this perfectly brand appropriate, it demands more attention thanks to a touch of well placed creativity. Move a little outside the box when necessary and make implementing the right name a priority.

Brainstorm. A lot.

Word association is a fantastic exercise for naming purposes. You’ll often find that even simply writing about your brand will open up your naming possibilities.

Ask yourself “What does my brand do/create?” and write down every word you can think of around those ideas. Then visit the thesaurus (or anagram tool, or translating service) to see what else appears. You may be surprised by what comes out of the exercise.

Trends die. Good names stick around.

You probably have a “designer” friend on social media who started something called “Rosemary & Birch” or some other combination of flowers and woodland animals with an ampersand dividing them. This is not a bad brand name. But it is a trendy, mostly meaningless one. It does not give potential customers any insight to what you do, can be easily ignored in a sea of sameness, and does no work on behalf of your brand to attract business.

While it’s okay to choose a name that fits with popular culture, consider how well the name will age. Not only is it unlikely to be the best name for you, it will date your brand with all the other trend followers that started brands around the same time. Picking a name solely for its trend value will drag you down and cause you to stand out less in the long term.

Say what your brand does. Or don’t. But, maybe.

This ambiguous piece of advice has a point. There’s no magic formula for naming your brand. Sometimes, the no frills dive bar on First Avenue should just be called the “First Avenue Pub.” Sometimes, calling it “Dr. McManimum’s Drink Emporium” will work better. There’s a different fit for everyone, which is why the experimentation and exploration phase of naming is so important. What matters most is giving your brand a name that is memorable, helps tell your story, and remains relevant as your business grows.

Brand naming in action.

My agency helped name JumpSpark, a Jewish teen group previously called “The Atlanta Jewish Teen Initiative.” Obviously, the original name is not a bad one. It defines who this group is for, their affiliation, and gives you a quick idea of who they are without the need for explanation. But for a Jewish teen organization aimed at getting adolescents involved in the community and excited about their faith and culture, “Atlanta Jewish Teen Initiative” was a mouthful that wouldn’t exactly bring the young folks in droves.

To start the naming process, we spent time with program leaders and participants, went through a branding workshop with them, and brainstormed together — both separately as an agency and in collaboration with our client.

Finally landing on the name JumpSpark took a significant amount of time and work, but it clicked almost instantly as an obvious fit once we found it. A “jump spark” is defined as “a spark produced by the jumping of electricity across a gap.” It’s a connection. A conduit for something much larger. And that’s exactly what the organization does — linking Jewish teens with their community, and filling in gaps that can spread opportunities to grow.

“JumpSpark” is a successful name for a few reasons:

-It’s short and punchy: a nice departure from the clunky previous name.

-It’s easy to remember and will stick with people after hearing it.

-It has a story that connects to what the brand does, and can be quickly explained if asked.

-It’s smart without going over anyone’s head and clever without relying on a puns or gimmicks.

Your ideal name is unique to your business, and the goal is to find one you can stand behind with confidence. Give yourself time to explore and sit with your options. Experiment. Share and test it out with others. Go outside of the box. Don’t hitch your wagon to what others are doing. Make it unique, but definitive. And finally, it may sound corny, but have fun.

This is your brand. It’s going to grow and evolve with you and should be something you truly love. Take time to enjoy and embrace the process even if it feels long and arduous. You and your brand will appreciate the effort in the long run.