Whatever void you hope to fill with a new product or service, you need a name. Otherwise there’s no way to pitch it, fund it, hype it, or even write home about it. Sure, you can put it off for a while and find some filler: Tom’s Thing or Project Pogo or Idea 7 or Disruption Opportunity or ‘Music App’. After all, before Yahoo, there was Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web. Before Google there was Backrub.
Maybe you’ve already started the naming process and your lawyer has broken the news that Advance, Connect, Element, Fusion, Pivot and Thrive aren’t available. Definitely the case if you’re developing technology and filing for a trademark in International Class 009 that governs the names of all electronics, software, devices apps, and so much more.
Anyone who has been through the naming wringer knows there are a lot of reasons not to pick a name. Everyone’s a critic with an opinion. Partners disagree. Each name you propose is met with rival riffs and counter suggestions. The possibilities pile up, heads swim, wheels begin to spin, mud flies, and before you know it—as progress is made everywhere else—you’re as far from a final name as you’ve ever been.
So, whether you strike out to handle the naming conundrum yourself, or if you’ve engaged a chipper freelancer, or even an established naming agency, what you need to consider and control concerns either production or process.
Production: how to make a name
Keep it simple
Don’t exhaust yourself before you get started. It’s hard to describe what you can’t yet imagine. Commit to looking at many, many names, but don’t worry about starting with the perfect brief. If a name is intriguing, chances are it’s a good candidate.
Take your time
While a deadline can be your best friend, good naming requires some time. Find enough breathing room to explore, discover, and support a big idea. Rather than a tactical project task, your name is a key strategic asset – one that will outlast every business correction and marketing campaign. Treat the naming process with respect.
Mix it up
Life is full of surprises. Look at your opportunity from unexpected angles. Change your perspective. Develop and consider names that are initially uncomfortable. For example, having a name that clearly cues a category or suggests a benefit can be the right or wrong approach. It really depends. Allow yourself to play with language and get some attention. The names that make the most difference are not flat overly conceptual, but rather sing songs of their own making: Reddit, Burning Man, Big Green Egg, Slack, Y Combinator, Twitch, Oculus Rift, and The Onion.
Send a signal
Send a strong signal rather than a weak message. Regardless of the name, many things will need to be explained: products, services, prices, initiatives, investments, suites, bundles, tiers, partnerships, markets, terms, conditions and all the rest. No name can tell the whole story. The best you can hope for is a name that makes a lasting impression and creates the right kind of expectations in your audience. So, go hunting for sounds, symbols and surprise – anything that feels special.
Process: how to pick the name
Getting everyone involved in the naming process might feel like the right thing to do, but it’s not. Opinions will vary and inevitably lead to indecision, over-caution and paralysis. Review the assignment with stakeholders, but review names with decision makers. You don’t need consensus. You need a final answer.
Follow your instincts
Great names don’t grow from grids, comparing names based on a dozen characteristics. You’ll end up average. Avoid checking boxes to pick the winner. Let your nose lead you, your eyes return to standouts, and your ears vibrate to silent frequencies. Your name sets the tone. So open yourself up and do it with feeling.
You have to be willing to let a good name go. Even your favorite. Establishing the viability of each name candidate on your short list is the most misunderstood part of the process – as well as the part that often has the greatest impact on the outcome. Trademark availability can ruin your best-laid plans. Add in language checks (so you don’t cause an unwanted stir in Greek, Mandarin or Urdu) and any top-level domain (TLD) considerations and the name you grow to love over the coming years may well be the name your lawyers allow you to use today. The key here is to identify obstacles that cannot be overcome and, once you’ve done so, move along to the next candidate, all the wiser. Many names will work and serve you well.
There’s not much sense in calling your company Only Buttons if you might add zippers. The last thing you want to do is limit the future potential of a new entity. Expect surprises. Don’t box yourself in. Everyone worries about first exposure to a name. The real question is whether your name can stand the test of time and remain pliant and purposeful to employees and customers alike when repeated for the millionth time. Great names add wind to the sails, while weak names require extra rowing from everyone.
Count on context
When you come right down to it, people are receptive to new ideas. We accept and understand our surroundings. The new name fits in simply because it shows up. Big launches from top brands are subject to increased scrutiny and criticized at the outset, but even those furors fade quickly. When your name becomes your brand—supported visually, explained verbally, introduced with a handshake and a business card— the world will welcome your start-up.
Set yourself apart
Be brave. The names we celebrate after the fact are the groundbreakers, trailblazers and trendsetters. Pretending to be in on the success after the fact is easy. ‘Of course I knew it all along…’ But trailblazers begin as outsiders. Supporting something different long before launch is much harder to do. Yet that’s what has to happen. The next big idea needs a champion. The confidence to move first is often rewarded in naming, just as it is in business.
By Christian Turner, global director of naming at brand strategy firm Siegel+Gale