When You Need to Name Your Company


Jason Clark
Jason Clark

on 4/22/2019

Over the years we’ve been tasked to help our clients name their organization, or a product or service line. Names, arguably more than logos, carry quite a bit of emotional weight, and are difficult in many ways to achieve consensus.

Here are a few tips and tricks on your journey to find a perfect name.

Understand your audience

Your target audience has different needs and motivations than you do. Our go-to exercise in understanding audience is to develop Personas. Most Personas are influenced by emotion first, pragmatism second, so appeal to those psychological motivations. Personas are named caricactures of your target audience, designed to develop empathy for a particular type of person that is your audience. In our Branding program, we typically develop 4-6 Personas for a brand.

Develop a concept

Especially when your name must pass through a board, committee, or other business partners, it’s much easier for that team to buy into a concept first.

A good concept consists of appropriate research and branding exercises that culminate in a Concept name, a few headlines or positioning statements, and moodboards that support the Concept. When you love a Concept, it’s much easier to develop names that support the concept.

Terrible names are a part of the process

If you’re brainstorming solo, or with a team, let everything flow onto the whiteboard. Don’t judge any ideas when you’re in the zone. After you’ve exhausted your ideas, you’ll see patterns and themes emerge, and can use a little wordplay to combine them. Understanding what doesn’t work is just as important as what does work.

Names don’t need to be literal

Imagine you know nothing about coffee and walked into a store with a mermaid logo named Starbucks.

Imagine knowing nothing about computers and walking into a store whose logo is a piece of fruit with a bite taken out.

Do you know what “Adidas” even means?

Brands evolve to appeal to a sense of lifestyle and personal motivation. A good brand name rarely corresponds directly to the product. Don’t overthink it!

Trademark sucks

Obtaining a trademark for any name can be even more frustrating than the process for developing a name, which is why I’m putting this first. If you’re in the United States, bookmark the Trademark Electronic Search System database immediately, and use it after any brainstorming session. Most obvious names are trademarked, and I’m going to guess the first few names you develop will be a conflict.

Just go ahead and expect that your first choices are taken.

In closing

There is rarely a “magic name” that solves all problems and makes everyone happy. There are too many egos involved, and it’s easy to tear down what you don’t like, rather than riff on a direction you do like. In our naming projects, we typically develop dozens (or hundreds) of names, and in no case has everyone at the table loved only one. Like anything rewarding, it’s hard work to get to the finish line. A name that sounds simple and natural could have taken months.

Have fun with the process. Have empathy for your audience. Develop a concept, and support the concept. You’ll get there eventually, I promise!

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