Naming a business is tough. I’ve conjured up thousands of business names, product names, non-profit names and even names for corporate marketing initiatives. Here’s one thing I’ve learned:
Naming a baby is much easier than naming a business.
First of all, with baby names there are only two people who have a say in the decision. Just mom and dad. It’s a simple democratic process where the wife always has veto power over anything the husband comes up with.
When you’re naming a business or a new product you have to build consensus and get buy-in from many people.
Sometimes there are even committees involved, which usually lead to winning names like “Poolife” for a swimming pool cleaning company.
Not only that, you have to get it approved by the lawyers. There aren’t any trademark laws protecting children’s names. You’re free to call your son Sam, even if there are seven other Sams in your neighborhood.
Doesn’t work that way in the business world. There are hordes of lawyers who do nothing but trademark application work and even more important, trademark enforcement. So if your product name even sounds like something that’s already out there, you’re in trouble.
Case in point: There was a little coffee shop in the small town of Astoria, Oregon that got sued by Starbucks for trademark infringement. It was called Sambucks. And that’s just domestic trademarks. If you’re an ecommerce company shipping product all over the world, you need international trademark protection.
I had one company that thought they had their naming nailed down before they even called. We spent six months developing the brand strategy and brand identity around that name, only to find out they hadn’t gone through the necessary legal steps to protect it.
Back to the drawing board.
When you’re naming a baby you can simply choose one from a baby naming website. With company names, you have to rule out every name that’s ever been used before and start entirely from scratch. You can’t even go through the family tree and choose some obscure middle name, like you can with a child.
And then there’s the whole translation issue.
Face it, you probably don’t care what your company name means in Hungarian. But there are dozens of stories of product names like the Chevy Nova, which didn’t translate real well. (In Spanish, Nova means “does not go.”)
If you’re doing business globally, your naming project just got astronomically harder.
And here’s an important distinction: your child’s livelihood doesn’t depend on people remembering his or her name.
Sure, unfortunate names like Major Slaughter, Ima Nut or Moon Unit might cause a lifetime of grief, but they won’t make or break the poor kid’s career. In business, it’s hard to overcome a really bad brand name.
Most business owners who are trying to come up with a brand name think they can do it themselves. After all, they named their children successfully. How hard can it be? Just pull up an online brand name generator.
But brand names are a lot harder than children’s names. The do-it-yourself approach usually results in one of three types of lame names:
• Overly clever, pun-filled names like The Hairport or The Family Hairloom. Har har.
• Totally boring, literal names like the Third Street Coffee House… With a name like that, there’s no way you’re going to get anything more than mediocre coffee in a mediocre location.
• Names that backfire completely when applied to internet URLs: Need a therapist? Try www.therapistfinder.com. Need some good art, go to www.speedofart.com. Looking for a nice pen? www.penisland.com.
A good name can be costly, but not nearly as costly as blunders like that.
So save yourself a lot of time, money and frustration by hiring a branding firm to help from the very beginning. You need a team, not just a designer… a wordsmith AND a graphic designer AND a good trademark attorney.
You should also find a firm that has a formal business naming process, because there’s a lot more to consider than just what you “like” or don’t like. When you follow a disciplined process it becomes much more than just a naming exercise.
It’s strategic planning.
Choosing the right name often forces people to make critical strategy decisions. So the first thing to consider is your market niche… Does the potential name fit your niche? Expand your niche? Or maybe narrow your niche is a positive way.
Think about pronunciation… how the name sounds when you say it out loud. Get input from a designer to assess how the name will look in type. Long names don’t work as well on a bottle.
Think long and hard about the connotations of the word. What do people associate with it? Does it translate? Is it confusing?
Then there’s the sticky-ness factor. Is the name unique and memorable enough to stick in people’s heads? Google is a good example… no one knew what it meant at first, but it ranked high on the stickiness index.
When you delve into all those criteria, a fundamentally subjective process becomes a little more objective.
Your name is the foundation of your brand. So if your business IS your baby, get started right with a memorable name. Call BNBranding for affordable help with your brand name and identity. Or check out this post for more info.
Here are a few of the brand names we’ve created from scratch: PointsWest for a resort development on the west side of Bend on the edge of the Deschutes National Forest. “Sit Down Dinners” for a family-style personal chef service. “Aspire” for a smoking cessation program. Widgi Creek for a golf club. (No one knows what Widgi refers to, but they sure remember it.) Eathos for a new brand of vegetarian frozen dinners. Tavo Valera for a residential community. The list goes on. The well is deep.
Here are a few other examples of names, both good and bad:
• Federal Express decided to shorten its name, and became Fed Ex. A smart move, considering that’s what everyone called them anyway. Besides, repainting all their jets with the new shorter logo saved the company millions year in fuel costs alone.
• Dress Barn??? How many women will admit to shopping there, much less bring herds of friends in? Tough to be a brand ambassador for a place called the Dress Barn.
• Drug companies spend billions every year on names, yet they come up with some of the worst: “Nasalcom” for an inhaled antihistamine. Sounds like a rat poison that works when they sniff it. “Vagistat” for a yeast infection medicine. “Cutivate” for a skin condition medicine. “Aspercreme” for an ointment that doesn’t even have any aspirin in it. “Idebenone” for neurological disorders. The list is long.
Viagra, on the other hand, is a great drug name. It says virility and vitality and conjures romantic images of Niagra falls.