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Ivan's picture

Naming a company

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Many asked for help naming their companies in the creativebits forums, so I though to write a post about this subject. While naming is not part of graphic design, it is certainly a sister profession and I'm sure you've been asked to do such an exercise during your career.

If you're not a designer or branding specialist and you're about to open a business or launch a product/service I would not recommend you to try naming it at the kitchen table for real. Ideally you would need to hire a naming company or a branding agency who also does naming to do it professionally for you. You can try it for fun though.

If you are a designer with strong language skills and a good understanding of marketing you can try naming a company yourself. It is a whole science and can not be covered in one blog post, but I will try to give a few pointers on how to approach this problem.

A company name is probably the most important element of an identity, so it is important to spend time on it. No wonder we are not only naming products, but we even name people when marketing their talents. The US F1 driver Scott Speed comes to mind. A good name can position you instantly. It gives a clue about the product or service you offer and its differentiating qualities.

On the other hand any name can be built with sufficient time and good marketing, into something strong and meaningful. Many big brand names if taken out of context seem silly. Think of Dell or Google. But with time these names acquired new meaning and demand respect. Even hard to pronounce acronyms and long names can be successful. Think of KPMG or the agency Duval Guillaume for example.

Does this mean you shouldn't care about the name? Not at all. A good name helps kick-start a business and one should not lose the opportunity to use this tool to build the brand right from the beginning.

So, how do you come up with a good name? Usually it's done in 3 phases. First we identify the needs and write the brief. Then, we go into the creative naming phase and finally we make a selection from potential names based on many different criteria.

Brief

In the first stage we need to identify exactly what the name should say to the audience.

The best way to find out what the name should stand for is to talk to the owner. If you're naming your own company you're in luck.

You need to find out what are the owner's dreams in respect to his company. Where does he want to take his company eventually. You should allow for growth of the company with your name. If you're too specific with your name it can limit future expansion possibilities.

Identify the target audience and how the company speaks to them. This will give you a tone of voice that fits the company.

You can use this identity questionnaire for a deeper interview.

Research the competition for trends and to avoid similarities.

Creative naming

In this stage you can take many different avenues to generate ideas. One way is to follow this crazy long list to come up with many ideas.

Another way is to come up with names that answer these questions:

  • Describe your product a in one word or two. Examples: Citibank, General Electric (GE), Volkswagen
  • High-tech words. Examples: Creative, iPhone, Intel
  • Combine two words. Examples: creativebits, Logitech, Microsoft
  • Come up with a fun name. Examples: 3 Drunk Monkeys, Coca-Cola, Yahoo!,
  • Be inspired by the company's history. Examples: Leo Burnett, McDonald's, Hewlett-Packard, Pfizer
  • Do an acronym. Examples: IBM, HSBC, UPS
  • Write fantasy names that somehow link to the product. Examples: Pepsi, Motorola, VISA, Caterpillar
  • Do a metaphor. Examples: Nike, Apple, Amazon, Oracle
  • Random names with .com domain availability. Use this tool: http://www.domain-generator.net/

Selection

You must have at least 50-100 or even more names written down. How do you find the one? Follow these selection criterias and you should have your potential names narrowed down to half a dozen or less for the final legal check.

  1. Do a rough selection. Scratch out about one third of the names from the list, that are definitely not going to work. This is a very emotional selection process, so whatever feels wrong should be taken out.
  2. Is the name hard to say or write? Scratch them out too.
  3. Try using it in a sentence. Does it work? If not — out.
  4. Does it relate to the product or service on hand? If not take them out.
  5. Is there a negative association with the name? If so, delete.
  6. Get rid of all the names that are too close to the competitors' names.
  7. Is it easy to remember? Does it work internationally? Can you verbalize it? If the answer is no to at least two out of the three questions, strike the name out.
  8. Check for .com domain availability. If available it's a plus. If not see if .org, .net or your country code fits to your business. Use the check domain widget to quickly see the domain availability. Green means you're in luck. Orange means you need to either spend money or delete the name from the list.
  9. Finally check if legally you can register the name.

Sometimes the selection process generates more names. Feel free to add and delete names in your list at any part of the process. Once you have a few names you're happy with — register them (.com domains go fast). Let them stay with you for a few days. Let them ripe in your head. Go with the one you feel is the best.

Commenting on this Blog entry is closed.

victorsmelo's picture
1 pencil

Well, can I tell about a recent experience about "naming a company"?
OK. ;D
So, I am an advertising student and a design lover ;D. On my last college paper my group and i had to create a fictional ad agency. We had to look for a name, logo, taxes, the kind of agency, the agency structure and all that stuff that you must to do/know/have to start a new business. Then we finally choose the name "wedoo" and the point-of-sale marketing as the kind of business. About the name, yes, we combined the two words WE+DO and added an "O" just for the name not sounds so obvious ;P. And finally, my "ad group" took the second place in the contest about the best papers, just because a difference of 0,5pts. haha. My old group called "übercom" (a contracted form of übercomunication) took the first place =/ but thats OK, we can't win always.

PS: I was the one who gave the ideas for both ad agencies like name, logo, colors and identify :D

Ivan's picture

Congrats for your second place! It's a good name for an agency imho.

geoff's picture
118 pencils

übercom doesn't seem very creative. You guys should have won.

spigot's picture
190 pencils

Thanks for the overview on naming a business. I know when I named my business it took a lot of pondering and emotion. When narrowing down the names there's just so many little things to think about...

Some of my favorite business names very subtly describe the business. Minneapolis ad agency Periscope comes to mind.

http://spigotdesign.com

designisgood's picture
29 pencils

For our current company, Icona, which was the joining of two separate design/development companies, we must have spent countless hours batting goofy and decent names around, polling everyone we could think of for feedback. In the end, after even going so 'low' as to use an online web2.0 name generator (which sucks btw) someone said "lets just make sure we have a cool icona eh!" which resulted in a pause, a laugh and the Eureka of 'Icona' (pronounced icona-ahhh).

We do this for clients all the time, but as usual when it came to our own stuff, the guidelines we try to stick by went out the window and nothing was ever good enough.

Balancing the 'uniqueness factor; of the name, the ability to find a suitable domain, and even taking into consideration how that name or brand translates into other languages is key. But, in the end, some clients just pick shitty names because, as we all know, many clients are just plain clueless. :P

icona.ca | vp & art director | mac snob | fun guy

Rick's picture
75 pencils

About Cogmill for a company specializing in social branding?

Regards, Rick

Creative_NRG's picture
483 pencils

It's certainly short and easy to remember.

Are you working toward a reference to a 'cog' as in a wheel or 'cogent' which refers to "convincing, compelling, impressive"...

The name has a very strong 'industrial, cog in a machine' association to me.

Rick's picture
75 pencils

See, the name was one I came up with a long time ago and have always liked/wanted to use. I accidentally started my own business, and while I'm not actively looking for clients as word of mouth is keeping me busy with 0 advertising, I may want to grow and I think establishing a clear and relevant corporate identity will be vital in promoting that growth.

Cog was meant to be a gear...that object that drives motion and ultimately change, a mill being the place that produces such action.

While that could make it very easy to develop a corporate theme, I'm not so sure it's reflective of me as an individual or what it is I do as a whole (social media strategy development, community building and outreach, and campaign management).

I'm a naturally outgoing person and as my tag line suggests (Engaging People), having an approachable, fun, aesthetic vibe is important. I love the name but as you said, it has a strong industrial connotation and the last thing I'd want to be perceived as is a cold, mechanical entity.

Thoughts?

zepner508's picture
1 pencil

i wasn't specifically trying to think of a name for my personal consulting entity, but one day i found an old phone of mine and looked through the notes and saw the url BetterInteractive.com. thinking it was a site i was supposed to look at but forgot i went to the url - empty. went to the registrar and bought it. to this day i still love it. cuz it's Better. i think it conveys a size bigger than my entity and people think they recognize it all the time. to me, that says it works. i've never done any user studies on it or anything, but if you have some comments about it, whether good or bad, let me know.

macgirvin's picture
1 pencil

Another good tool for coming up with company name suggestions (and also checking domain availability) is namethingy.com

zukker's picture
1 pencil

Another great tool for coming up with names and also verify that they don't contain any bad words in different languages, check domains, layout etc. is GlobalNaming.com

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