A quick primer on naming

Recently I was asked by a friend, already well down the road to naming her company, about the key things to consider in the late stages of a naming process.  I sent her this quick email:

“Note that you should also apply these considerations to your tagline, if you are working on one.

First a quote that I always keep in mind, from the world of products but applicable to naming any kind of brand.

‘In the process of branded product development, the selection of a name can be the most creative and the most critical aspect of the process.  If your brand name is distinctive and memorable, it can and will make the difference in winning at the shelf.  It can and will make a major contribution to the longevity of the overall concept.  It can and will make your advertising dollars work harder, and it will create more attention and provide more value to your consumer.’

Carol L. Bernick, Chairman, Alberto-Culver


Brand position

Does the proposed name convey the uniqueness of your offering?  If not, stop (stop!).  If your name does not speak to what makes you different, throw it out or work it into something that does.


Brand character

Does the proposed name accurately give voice to the character of the brand it represents?  For example, if some of your brand characteristics are fun-loving, approachable, convenient, and modern, your name should voice these attributes and not evoke conservative, responsible, complex and traditional.



Is the name easy for your target audience to remember?  If they hear it at a cocktail party, will they remember it well enough to Google once home?

-Two or more levels of meaning will be helpful in this regard.  My favourite name on this score:  Ho-Lee-Chow

-Shorter is usually better:  one, two or three syllables will make your name easier to remember.

-Spelling and pronunciation should be easy.


Keep your options open

Unless you are using your own name in the brand name, it is very difficult to come up with a name which is *not* already in use by someone else.  Principally for this reason, it will help if you do not get too emotionally attached to a single choice.  My advice is to have three names on your shortlist that you can live with.

It is also not uncommon to lose names at the linguistics and legal stages.  We lost Truis as a potential name for a retirement home company because it sounds like a word that means “pig” and can be used as an insult in French.  I once discarded Spa Toi from a shortlist because a number of women thought of a certain euphemism when confronted by “Toi” (pronounced Twa).  This latter case demonstrates the value of doing checks for inappropriate meanings in English (discussed further below).


Conflict checks to do

*Competitive check – who if anyone is using all or part of your name?  (by “all” I mean, for example, Andris and Associates; by “part,” I mean Andris).  Will someone be confused when looking for you, for example online?  Will your creativity or judgement be questioned if your firm chooses the same name as someone else, even if they are not in the same business and/or geography?

*Linguistics check – first, ask friends and contacts whether they see any negative associations with the name in English.  This may not be necessary if you are using your own name in the name.  Then retain a firm that specializes in such checks in other languages to check the name against a set of those.

*Pre-legal check – you can get a pretty good idea of impending legal conflicts by doing your own Google searches, as well as on the Canadian Trademark Database:  http://www.ic.gc.ca/app/opic-cipo/trdmrks/srch/tmSrch.do?lang=eng

*Legal check – do this only after linguistics…if something is offensive or inappropriate, you are not going to use it even if the legal check comes back positive (i.e. you are free to use the name).  In a legal check, a lawyer will give you an opinion on your likely success if you are sued for trademark infringement.  There is no 100% chance of success, so you will have to make a judgement call as to the level of risk you are willing to take.  Lawyers are inherently conservative, so they will lowball your chance of success.  There are various levels of legal check you can undertake, and commensurate pricing.

Note that actually registering your name as a trademark is a separate process to undertake after your final name decision.

*Domain check – do not be especially concerned if you cannot get your exact brand name in a domain.  You can always manipulate the domain name; www.revera.com was gone, for example, so our client picked www.reveraliving.com.  Dot-coms are generally considered to be the preferred extension, unless you want to position your brand explicitly as Canadian by using a .ca.  That said, while a .ca is generally not optimal, it may be an acceptable choice if you cannot manage to manipulate your brand name (or even your tagline or key message/campaign message) into a .com domain.”

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