Naming a company

Stock Image from stockxpert

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.


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:


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.