How to name a company

How to name a company

This sounds like an easy task, but is actually incredibly difficult. This post aims to give a few guidelines on what constitutes a good name. Knowing these won’t make the task any easier, but may save you some headaches down the track.

A good source of info on how to name a company is The 22 immutable laws of branding by Al Ries and Laura Ries. Some of the things they highlight include:

  • Avoid overly generic words. These are common words with many synonyms – basically anything you’ll find in the dictionary. The problem is that they don’t sound unique and it’s easy for competitors to come up with similar names. Examples of overly generic names include Just for Men and Network Associates. Try remembering and not confusing Nature’s Best, Nature’s Secret and Nature’s Purest – or being different if you’re one of these companies. Some companies have recognised the error of their ways and changed from generic to unique. These include Telecom Australia to Telstra and National Biscuit Company to Nabisco.
  • Ries and Ries suggest taking a regular word that suggests the category the company is in and using it slightly out of context, such as Blockbuster Video and Staples (office supplies).
  • Keep the name short. Typing PriceWaterhouseCoopers.com is a nightmare.
  • Alliteration improves memorability of a name. Alliteration is repeated sounds, such as Coca Cola, Blockbuster, Volvo and Weight W
  • Don’t use words/names that are hard to spell or say. A few years ago Dahlsens hardware ran radio advertising campaigns teaching their tradie customers how to spell their name. This is not money well spent! Mixing numbers and words, eg 3com will result in similar issues.
  • Around 10% of the population have some form of dyslexia. Don’t lose them.

Luxury brands can be a valid exception to the last rule, as a name that requires a bit of effort to come to terms with can be good in this context.

A meaningless name that suggests the qualities of the brand can work very well. A great example is Häagen Dazs. The company was founded in The Bronx and given a completely made-up name in order to sound Danish – the Danes are renowned for their dairy. This name wouldn’t work if they were selling online.

Do not feel that the name must state what the company stands for – think of all the successful fashion and auto brands with meaningless names. Volvo never became The Safe Car Company. Few great brands have names which state anything specific about what the company stands for, albeit some give a hint. By way of example, Interbrand’s 10 most valuable brands are Apple, Google, Coca Cola, IBM, Microsoft, GE, McDonalds, Samsung, Intel and Toyota.

Some people will advocate a name that includes or states what the company does in order to get higher up Google’s search rankings. While search rankings are important, if you’re being driven by this one element of search engine optimisation in your naming, you’re taking a short-term view, and probably also ignoring a bunch of other marketing fundamentals.

Naming is hard and you’ll be stuck with the name, so it’s worth putting the effort in upfront. Also bear in mind the nature of a startup: it will probably morph and change over time, so a name that locks you into a narrow category could cause headaches down the track.

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