If you’ve followed this series of articles you should be on your way to creating a strong brand. If you’ve missed the previous articles you can read them here, here, here and here. Now that we’ve done an in-depth introduction to what you need to put in place and how you should go about creating them, it’s time to get into more detail and give you some guides on how to do things. This week we will look at how you can choose a name for your product or startup.

Naming is one of the top things requested by startups when they come to us for help. It’s definitely one of the most important elements of your brand and one that is sometimes neglected. Your name gives people the first taste of what they should expect from you and an introduction to your story. It can set the tone of what is going to come and show that you are different.

Of course finding a name can be as easy as a walk to the park (where you get the great idea) or as difficult as a fight (of which I’ve seen plenty). The truth is that there is no secret formula to finding a good name but there are some points that can lead you down the right path. Here’s a list of tips that I’ve found to be helpful when we work with new brands.

Make it unique

A unique name is one of the most valuable assets for your brand. It makes it easy to find a domain name and stand out from your competition. Finding a word or combination of words that hasn’t been used before is almost impossible so be creative. Create your own words, mash-up words and abbreviate to see where it gets you.

Avoid generics

To put it simply, generic names suck. They lack any personality and have the same brand value as generic drugs. They do the job well and we can move on when a cheaper alternative appears. Think about it, are you loyal to a brand with a generic name? We buy books from Amazon, well designed gadgets from Apple and furniture from IKEA. When you come to think of it, most popular brands don’t have a generic name.

To avoid confusion I don’t mean that you shouldn’t use a common word in a different context. Apple might be a generic name for an apple picking and distribution company, but it was a hell of a unique and innovative name in the 70s when they were going against companies like Digital Equipment Corp.

Make it simple

In the book Yes! 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion, I found scientific proof of this great advice that I’ve been giving. Simplicity in a name can make it appear more valuable. Your name needs to be easy to read, pronounce and remember. People will feel more positive and trust you because they can pronounce your company’s or product’s name.

Here are some ways to keep it simple:

  • Easy spelling. Avoid difficult spelling and make sure it’s spelled the same way it’s pronounced. People will find out about you via word of mouth, so it’s essential to have a name that is easy to spread. Even if you don’t rely on people typing your domain to get to you, they will need to search somewhere to find you.
  • Keep it short. The shorter it is, the easier it will be for your users to remember it.
  • Repeat letters. The less letters you use, the easier it will be to remember.
  • Don’t mix letters and numbers. Stick to one or the other, a combination is difficult to remember and spell.
  • Flow. A name that flows is easy to remember. That’s how jingles got us to buy stuff in the 80s and 90s. Find a name that sounds good and flows easily in conversation.

What letter to start with

There are some letters that work better than others. Guy Kawasaki recommends that you pick a letter from the top of the alphabet so you are listed higher in directories and events. In Yes!, they found that if you are creating a name for a mass-market product or service you should avoid starting with letters like Z, X and Q as they are very uncommon.

Use any resource you can get

Coming up with a name requires a lot of brain power and creative sparks. Arm yourself with a dictionary, a thesaurus, open up wikipedia, get some novels and start exploring. Start making connections and exploring possibilities. Try google translate to look at other languages and make sure that the names you find are not offensive for other cultures.

Get team and external input

Involving your team can be a good idea if done right. You don’t want to end up in paralysis over disagreement for a name. Your aim is to get as much input as possible and then pitch the names to the team to see how they react. Getting some external input, like advisors, can also help you identify the winning name.

Let it be

Creativity is a strange beast. It almost never comes when you need it. The best name will almost never come during a long brainstorm or group exercise. It will probably come while you are taking a shower, riding your bike or mowing the lawn. The best way to get useful results from this subconscious work is by following these steps:

  1. Gather all the information about your brand and what you stand for. Really identify what people should remember you about.
  2. Start exploring ideas, values and principles. Identify their connections and find ways that they have been represented in the past.
  3. Start coming up with names. Don’t worry about their viability, just produce anything that comes to mind.
  4. Work on 2 and 3 continuously until you reach a point that nothing else comes out.
  5. Let it be for a few days so the subconcious can do its work. You should then reach that Eureka moment with a great name.

I know this approach is not scientific, but trust me it works.

On domain names

I will close this list with an important point on domain names. Getting a .com domain is sometimes impossible and that’s one of the reasons why you should come up with a unique and new name. Another thing to consider is how often people will type your domain in the address bar. If you are creating a mobile app or an “offline” product, then a .com might be less important. It’s always good to own a .com domain but sometimes focusing on your local area, or identifying how people find you can bring some very good names back into the discussion.

Never forget that your name is about you. It will introduce people to why you are so different and what they should expect. It should give a glimpse of your core value but it doesn’t have to describe exactly what you do. People don’t trust descriptions, they trust names that they can rely on.

If you’ve had problems finding a name or have something more to add then let me know in the comments.

Image Credit: Giant Ginkgo