Naming a new business or product is foundational to the development of a brand identity, but too often business owners select a name randomly, lightly, or by intuition without investing the time, effort, or due diligence the task merits.
The name creation process can and should be fun and creative, but it should also be informed by brand strategy and many practical considerations.
The Name Development Process
There is no magic formula or highly technical procedure to coming up with a good name; it is really just a matter of in-depth brainstorming, albeit with a little structure.
Start with a whiteboard, spreadsheet, a big piece of paper, or even a blank wall and lots of post-it notes—basically any large analog or digital surface—and divide it into three columns. Label each column so it correlates with one of the three major name types:
- Descriptive Names—These are names that explicitly or near-explicitly indicate the nature of a business or product. They may also be derived from the name of a founder or owner. (e.g., Instagram, SoulCycle, Wegmans)
- Experiential Names—These are conceptual names that convey something about the feeling, vibe, or values of the brand or business they represent. (e.g., Apple, Sweetgreen, Midas)
- Invented name—These are made-up words constructed to have meaning and connect back to the brand. (e.g., Sephora, Twitter, Google)
From there, start brainstorming possibilities for each name type. Here are some questions to get you started:
- What is the origin story of your business? Who were the key players and events?
- What problem, challenge, or need sparked the idea for your business?
- How would you describe the feeling or vibe your business evokes (or aspires to evoke)? What things, places, or people evoke similar feelings or vibes?
- Where or from whom do you draw inspiration?
- What is your business’s mission or greater purpose?
- What values are important to your business?
Write down anything you think of that has even a little bit of potential. Think literally and poetically. Consult a dictionary and a thesaurus. Look to history for inspiration. Build off of the ideas you generate with related words and concepts to generate new ideas. Don’t edit yourself just yet; that can come later. And don’t expect to strike gold immediately. Give yourself plenty of time to walk away from and return to the brainstorming process.
Things to Keep in Mind When Developing a Business Name
As you’re brainstorming name concepts, and certainly before you make a final decision, there are certain considerations to be made:
Identify your core audience, and make sure your name is appealing to them.
Sure, other people might be customers of your business or users of your product, but if you try to come up with a name that resonates with everyone, you risk a name so generic or milk toast that it resonates with no one.
Make sure your audience can spell it and pronounce it.
A good name should be easy to say and type out from memory, so people can find you in browser searches and on maps and social.
Consider all possible bastardizations.
Despite your best efforts, someone somewhere will mispronounce your name, either unintentionally or on purpose to be funny. Before you commit, make sure your name can’t easily be turned into something offensive or manipulated to poke fun at your business. And unless your name is super succinct, think about whether you can live with the shorthand variations people might naturally gravitate toward.
Connect it to your story.
It can be tempting to slap a cool word or phrase on your business and call it a name, but it will have more resonance and brand impact if it relates on some level to what your business is and/or what is stands for. Customers will ask where the name came from, and when they do, it’s best to have an answer other than “we liked the way it sounded.”
Take a minute to consider historical and cultural context.
Certain words represent concepts and ideas that are offensive in certain contexts. Don’t be that brand.
Do a trademark search, and work an attorney.
Once you’ve whittled down your options, and before you get too attached to any name, perform a cursory trademark search to ensure the name hasn’t been registered in your industry. Cross any off the list that present obvious conflicts. And once you’ve arrived at what you think is a final name, consult a lawyer to cover all your bases.