How to name your new brand.

Sticks and stones may break your bones but names will….let’s just stop it right there shall we?

If you’ve ever tried to secure a good name for a new brand, then you’ll know how painful it can be.

Take a few wrong turns and you’ll quickly find yourself neck deep in names that you, your team or your client don’t like or can’t use.

Then finally, after the eleventh round of options gets knocked back, you come to the conclusion that there are in fact, no good names left in the world at all — some other lucky bugger must have just nipped in before you and taken the last one!

But fear not. There is a better way.

Like most things in life, the solution is strategic. When facing the abyss of infinite possibility you must limit your options in order to find the path forward.

While it does change depending on the project and the approach, the following covers most of the typical steps I go through when I’m naming a new brand as part of a wider strategy project.

Get your brand’s strategy done first.

It can be tempting to start thinking about new names straight off the bat. Perhaps you might even have a few good ideas pop into your head early on. However, you must resist the temptation to solve the puzzle until you’ve read the rules. Naming is part of a brand’s strategy. It can influence the perception of your brand in the same way that all other touch points can. So, before you do the name, create the strategy that sits behind it. Do your research, identify your audiences, establish the architecture, define your offering, write your positioning, find the idea that links it all together (or however it is you do brand strategy) — your brain will thank you for it later on when it comes to naming.

Work within the confines of some basic requirements.

To make sure your chosen name won’t fold under questioning, when you think you have a potential option, ask yourself the following. If you get a red cross with any of these, then drop it like a hot potato and move on until the slipper fits.

Is it actually available?

There is nothing worse than finding the perfect name for a new brand, selling it in, getting everyone on board, only to find out you can’t use it because someone else has the trademark (believe me, I’ve been there!). To avoid getting stung, do some hardcore Googling and conduct searches via the trademark tools of whatever regions/countries you need the trademark to cover. Be mindful that different countries will have specific laws that deal with the trademark application and registration process. The bigger the risk of getting it wrong, the more you might want to consider getting some professional advice from trademark experts.

Can I get the URL I want?

In the past, if I couldn’t get the www.‘name of brand’.com URL, then I considered the option null and void. However, as a wider variety of URL suffixes have emerged and become more popular, owning the exact URL isn’t a non-negotiable anymore. Twitch, Nissan, Alphabet…some of the biggest brands in the world don’t own their exact .com domains. Whether it’s by using a different suffix or adding in an extra world, you can find perfectly suitable alternatives. If there is a ‘competing’ similar name out there already, then you might need to work extra hard to make sure your SEO game is on point and your brand’s online presence is top of page for named Google searches. Social media handles should ideally be the same as or very close to the url and make sure they are consistent across platforms.

Is it too long / hard to remember / difficult to say / spell?

Can you remember the name of Elon Musk’s kid? Me neither. X something?

Good brand names are short, simple and stick in your mind.

Does it create the right perceptions?

Your name doesn’t have to say, or even hint, at what you do. If it does, then great, but don’t limit your options to names that will communicate your offering, industry or category — it’s too narrow. Instead, try to see if you can kick start a neurological connection between your name and a preconceived association that the people have with a particular feeling, quality or sentiment that’s aligned to the perceptions you want your brand to create. That can be through the type of word it is, how it sounds when it’s pronounced or the cultural context that surrounds it. This is the hardest part of the entire process, but also the most rewarding and where the real secret to a good name lies.

Start with a wide base.

Strategy done, parameters set… it’s now time to start the search.

The best way to find the one name you want is to go wide and build an expansive foundation of many words to work from as a base.

Here’s how I kick off the process…

When researching, developing and writing your strategy, you will have (hopefully) identified a selection of different words that have some sort of connection to your brand. Some of them might describe your offering or the category you are in, some might relate to your positioning, some might articulate a benefit it brings, an attribute it has or an element of its personality. The first thing I do is to write a list of all these relevant words. Try and get between 8–10.

Next, we build out from each of these starter words by creating spin off lists of other words that are connected in some way or another. Ideally you want between 10–12 spin-off words for each base word.

There are a few tools and techniques I use to help me build out the foundations here:

Word Hippo

Word Hippo is a free tool where you can find synonyms, antonyms and other linguistic associations for any word of your choosing. It’s got a nice simple interface and is great for opening up with new and interesting paths to expand your options. I also use the Dictionary app on my mac — a lot!

Urban Thesaurus

Sometimes you can find cool ideas for names when you look beyond the dictionary definitions and take it to the streets! Urban Thesaurus helps you find slang terms, colloquialisms and vernacular of any word you punch in. Be careful here, sometimes these terms aren’t widely known or are restricted to a certain country or group of people — no cap!

Answer the Public

Answer the Public is a website that collects data based on what people type into search engines all over the world. By entering in a word you can see what people ask about that word online and what other words are commonly connected to it. I use this tool a lot when doing research for my brand strategy projects, but it’s also useful for naming. It’s like holding an upturned glass up to a wall and listening to the internet — kind of. You get the first couple free before needing to pay, so pick wisely.

The key to this part of the process is to let your mind wander as much as it needs to.

Don’t just stick to the words from your original list, take some of the words from the spin off lists and see what new versions pop out of them and so on. It’s like dripping water on a Mogwai — or a Gremlin depending on your progress!

Eventually, I end up with something that looks like the image below. This one is for a brand working in the interior architecture and environmental design industry.

Flex your linguistic creativity

It’s unlikely that any of the words generated so far are going to be viable naming options on their own — they will just be too common — but it has given us a solid base to work from, and ideally one connected to your brand’s wider narrative.

What we need to do now is apply some additional creative exploration techniques that will help us find that little bit of extra zest to turn one of these words into a viable option for our brand’s new name.

No matter how awful your potential names get, never ever delete them. Sometimes something that is painfully bad can become surprisingly good with a little nip/tuck in the right places.

Here are the techniques I apply to my base words.

Additions.

First up I explore ways that we can manipulate a word by adding a prefix or suffix to its root. This is a really effective way of adding an extra element of meaning to a word whilst also serving to make the name more unique by clashing unusual combinations, thus increasing the likelihood of it being available for you to use. Prefixes and suffixes often have that natural association in a person’s conscious that you can latch onto and help create the perceptions you want.

This PDF on Quia is the most extensive list I’ve found online. I use this a lot and often go back to it if I hit a dead end.

Work your way through these by adding them to the words from your lists to see if you can create something that catches your eye.

Terminology.

To expand my options beyond my own limited vocabulary, I often look for ideas within terminology from specific industries, specialist topics or niche fields of study. Whether it’s medical, mechanical or astrological, physics, religion, literature or philosophy — go somewhere where the language is new and uncommon and see what you can find. This is where I usually disappear into a Wikipedia hole for a good few hours. Occasionally I surface from the deep with something awesome, although most of the time I’m splashing around in the baby pool with armbands on.

Rhyming.

Rhyming is a great way to add creativity and originality to some of your words and seeing what it comes up. I like to use Rhyme Zone as it gives you all the rhyming words across all the different amounts of syllables. I might even watch a few rap battles for inspiration, but that could also be because I just like watching rap battles.

Split, Splice, Meld and Merge.

Often good names are born when two stand-alone words come together, or when you break a bit off one word and fuse it with another to form a new one. Take the words you’ve got and cut them, split them, dice them and mix them to see what you can come up with. I like to look for opportunities to harness rhyming and/or alliteration here as it can make a name work phonetically or give it that little bit of extra oomph to an idea.

Alternative Spellings.

Often you can retain all or some of the meaning of a word but change the way it’s spelt to make it more original, or to align it more with the perceptions you want your brand to create. Change, remove or double up on certain letters, spell the sounds instead of the words, have a play just see what happens. Be careful not to go to far here and think carefully before jumping on trends like removing vowels etc, as this can date quite quickly and oftn bcme hrd to dcphr! This can also a grey area when it comes to trademarking. Even if it appears your name is available, it can be contested by others based on ‘similar’ spelling. Law is an art form not a science, so they tell me.

Idioms, Phrases and Sayings.

I always see what shorthand idioms, phrases and sayings there are about some of the words I’ve got on my list. It’s another way of adding an extra layer to make your name more unique, whilst still keeping it connected to real human language that people will recognise. I use this Idiom’s tool a lot but I’m also a big fan of putting in ‘phrases/idioms about x’ and doing a Google image search. You can get some interesting avenues opening up here, although also a lot of cheesy, motivational, Instagram pics and Ghandi quotes in the mix too.

Translations.

Another good path to explore is seeing what happens when you translate words into other languages. This can be especially effective if the translated word retains a degree of relevance, that’s why I tend to focus more on the Latin derived languages, although often there are really cool words to be found if you dig a bit deeper.

Finally….do all of the above.

These pathways of creative exploration aren’t linear. Try and combine two or more of these techniques and see what you get. Spell an idiom differently, rhyme a translated word, add a prefix to the end of a word and a suffix to the start or see what slang phrases there are in other languages.

Good ideas are often well hidden, so you’ve got to push yourself to the limits here. Siphon out the grit and get to the gold.

Validate, then present with conviction.

If you land on a name you like, stay calm. Remember, it’s only good if you can actually use it. So run it through the checklist I mentioned above, even if sometimes you’re too scared to look incase it’s already taken (this happens a lot!)

When it comes to presenting, either to a client, business partners or your colleagues, make sure you go about it in the right way.

Always present face to face, reiterate the wider brand strategy, walk them through the process of exploration and only ever present three options (present your favourite one first). Never pepper spray people with reels and reels of options. It opens it up too much, and 95% of them are likely to be sub par or problematic.

In the presentation I also like to show the three options alongside the proposed URLs and provide a few examples of how the new name would be communicated across brand touch points — some written, some spoken — eg how you’d introduce the name on the phone, how it looks and sounds in an email address, how it fits in with some other parts of the brand’s messaging etc. It helps everyone put some practicalities around it.

That’s it.

All you need to do now is sit back and cross your fingers that one of your names hits all the the marks….because those were actually the last three good names left in the world!

Thanks for reading.

Hit me up for Qs/chats/collabs or check out some of my other blog posts on brand, brand strategy and design in my profile.

Cheers

Richie

--

--

--

An independent brand strategist based in Melbourne.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

SEO Classes to Increase Web Presence

Did you know YOU — yes YOU — are in multiple pyramid schemes — right now!

This 1 and only barrier could be stopping you from making your personal brand

How to choose a digital agency

How to get over 300 FREE Backlinks in under one hour

The Latest Digital Marketing News: 10 January 2019

Amazon Advertising Reports: Performance Data

Designing a brand for Indian Skin

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Richie Meldrum

Richie Meldrum

An independent brand strategist based in Melbourne.

More from Medium

How I Fight My Demons.

2021 was for the first time when? Major World Events in 2021

Ask additional headcounts for the right reasons

Upgrading MBC to MBS (Monster Battle Souls)