Your Name is Meaningless

“We’re not telling anyone” is a common phrase for expectant couples not wanting to reveal the name of their soon-to-be bundle of joy until he or she is born. There’s a reason for this. It’s easy to criticize a name with no associations other than those already in the listener’s head, but when that name is tied to an actual person we instantly have a context to put it in. The name “Keaton,” for instance becomes “My Son, Keaton” once he is born. After we’ve met Keaton the person, the name will forever live in that context and, of course, we couldn’t imagine him any other way.

When it comes to a business, the naming process isn’t all that different. A name or tagline relies heavily on the context in which we put it. Through supporting visuals and messaging, we give that name meaning. Ultimately our goal is to have consumers relate to a brand as they would a person. Nike would no sooner like to be called “Athletic Footwear Corporation” than Dave from accounting would like his name to be “Suburban Father Of Two Who Works With Numbers.” It’s not a name’s job to tell everyone the whole story, that’s too much heavy lifting.

So how do we decide on a name? Well, that starts with the brand infrastructure. Once we know who we are and what story we are going to tell, we can begin to choose or create the words that will accurately reflect our brand image.

The first consideration when choosing the words that make up a name or tagline is “baggage.” What kind of associations, good or bad, do the word(s) have both within and without the context of your brand? Are they familiar or relatable without being overused? Are they too insider? How could they be misconstrued, or misunderstood? What will you do in your messaging to make sure they come across as you intend?

You also have to consider the memorability of the words you choose. Will this name stick? Is this tagline different enough, particularly within the realm of your product or service to stand out and get noticed? Does the association feel fresh when used in conjunction with your product or service?

The third consideration is what we like to refer to around the agency as the “Bar Call.” How does this name sound when you say it out loud? How does it roll off the tongue? Is it easy to say? Fun to say? Does the sound that comes out match the personality of your brand? Conversely, how does it read in your head without the benefit of hearing a verbal message? Could it be mispronounced or unpronounceable? Sometimes saying the name out loud, using it in context, and thinking of it in various applications can tell you whether it will ultimately work or not.

Finally, let’s not forget that a name must be trademarked, which means about 70% or more of what we think will be a great name is already taken. It’s very tempting in this instance, to fall back on the standby compound word, Latin or Greek phrase, or industry specific jargon. While these types of names have become ubiquitous, particularly in the corporate world, I would urge clients not to fall into this trap. A name should be relatable, fresh, and memorable. No consumer wants to try to relate to somebody called TechniCorp. My apologies to the actual TechniCorp – remember how I said 70% of your name ideas will be taken already?

Ultimately your name will be one of the first things people know about your company, and it’s an opportunity to make a great first impression. But just as little Keaton will find out when he grows up, it’s not the entire impression. A great name is a starting point – where you take it from there is up to you.