Your brand name ideas should meet these 12 naming criteria.

Developing an interesting and memorable brand name can be a difficult task and often, the sounds and the meaning behind names can be subjective for those hearing them. For this reason, it is useful to take a structured approach when developing a list of brand names for you to present to your colleagues.

Added on:

May 30, 2024

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Naming

Written by:

Ben Stanbury

Developing an interesting and memorable brand name can be a difficult task and often, the sounds and the meaning behind names can be subjective for those hearing them. For this reason, it is useful to take a structured approach when developing a long, and short list of brand names for you to present to your colleagues. 

This article does not instruct you on how to develop a brand naming brief, rather how to assess suggested brand names against specific criteria to help narrow your ideas down into a shortlist.  For notes on developing a brand naming brief, see my article on how to develop an effective naming brief.

The 12 criteria are grouped across four sections and your brand name ideas should be checked in the order the criteria is presented. For help creating a naming brief, and for a copy of the naming criteria sheet, download my Guide to Brand Naming here...

Part one: Inventive Qualities

These first three criteria can be considered foundational benchmarks. Names that clearly lack these qualities will be quickly struck off as you develop your naming shortlist.

Memorable

Can potential names be easily recalled in the minds of your target audience? 

You can use tools like rhyme and alliteration to make your name more memorable in the minds of your audience and keep in mind that shorter names are easier to recall than longer names. 

An example of a brand name that uses alliteration is ‘Kit Kat’; examples of brands that use rhyme include ‘Reeces Pieces’ and ‘Curly Wurly’. 

The food industry, and especially confectioners make great use of rhyme and alliteration to make their products more memorable (no doubt in the minds of children!).

In the March issue of my naming and branding newsletter Notes from the Bureau, I mentioned the Vegetarian Butchers Chicken substitute called ‘What the Cluck’ which is also, undeniably, memorable. It is not for me to speculate whether the Vegetarian Butcher took a gamble that many people will almost utter their product's name under their breath as they go about their daily lives. Still, either way, I feel it was a good, amusing marketing move.  

For more information on this topic, see my blog article about sound symbolism.

Simple

Simplicity will aid memorability, and the best way to illustrate simplicity is to show brand names that are on the other side of this spectrum, those that have unnecessarily convoluted names. 

Examples of this sort of convolution are often found in Professional Services firms, which are often named after their founders, in turn leading to extremely long, bland and forgettable company names (and domain names) that are a jumble of letters. 

One of my favourite examples of a company name that has little immediate recall nor effortlessly rolls of the tongue is the US accounting firm ‘Beers, Hamerman, Cohen and Burger, PC’ which you can find on their equally convoluted domain name www.bhcbcpa.com

Unless your state laws prohibit it, using a ‘trading as’ or ‘doing business as’ company name will open the door to memorability, a more interesting brand name, and ultimately a more interesting brand identity design for your firm, as I did with Canadian CPAs Numerity, and US-based firm Kinline 

Unless your state laws prohibit it, using a ‘trading as’ or ‘doing business as’ company name will open the door to memorability, a more interesting brand name, and ultimately a more interesting brand identity design for your firm

Unique

The approach and construct of your brand name will influence how ‘unique’ your name is. You can look at the concept of uniqueness in two ways; One, is the word entirely made up and abstract (like for example, ice cream brand Haagen Dazs), and two, is the name unique in your industry and among your peers? 

Again going back to professional service firms, simply choosing not to name your company after its founders is a big step in differentiating your firm. How unique your name will be in it’s own right will depend on the construct and approach, and investing in brand naming will certainly steer you in the right direction. 

Part two:  Strategic Qualities

Meaning, imagery and versatility in a brand name can be used to strengthen the association of a brand name with the larger ideas and concepts the brand wishes to be understood for. 

Meaning

When creating a naming brief, an important question I ask is ‘What ideas or concepts do you want your brand to be understood for?’. This question prompts you to explore words and ideas that you want your brand to mean to people or may allude to the reasons why you started your company. 

When creating a naming brief, an important question I ask is ‘What ideas or concepts do you want your brand to be understood for?’. This question prompts you to explore words and ideas that you want your brand to mean to people or may allude to the reasons why you started your company. 

Case in point, when I named US CPA firm Kinline, founder Alex Pietrasiuk spoke of the legacy his late father left. Alex’s father James ran an accounting firm and Alex found himself pursuing the same career and felt he had inherited his father's strong work ethic. The ideas of family, lineage, history and inherited traits were themes that strongly resonated with Alex, and formed a personal reason de’ etre behind what would ultimately become the company name. It became a brand name and visual identity that Alex felt he could lean into. 

Visual

If your brand name can evoke some visual imagery, this can often be expressed well in a logo design and other elements of your brand identity. Although not essential, it is certainly a bonus.

When I named Nikki Masons; gardening company ‘Little Wild’ we discussed Nikki's holistic approach to gardening and her love of rewilding and encouraging nature to thrive unbridled in small urban environments. 

As a name, ‘Little Wild’ was well received, and stood out in a somewhat unimaginative industry space dominated by ‘men with mowers’. The name of course lent itself to visual imagery, and for the logo we removed the letter ‘i’ in Little, allowing the ‘W’ in Wild to ‘grow’ up and into the space where the letter i would have been.

Versatile

A name should allow for future brand development and growth, so unless you are niching specifically, be careful that your proposed brand name does not pigeonhole you.

For example, Fastsigns was originally a company producing outdoor signage for businesses, but now offers a range of services that the name doesn't suggest, (or it may struggle to rank for). FASTSIGNS would not be the first choice of company for someone looking for content creation, for example, although their website assures ‘FASTSIGNS is more than just a sign company – we are a provider of business communication solutions’. See also the case of Pizza Hut changing their name to Pasta Hut (or not as the case may be) in an effort to assure their increasingly health-conscious customer base that they do, in fact, offer healthier alternatives.  

Brand name versatility can also be leveraged around the themes of the name and other marketing activities. You can often find examples of brands using more inventive names for things such as blogs, newsletters, products and membership levels. For example, when Twitter was Twitter, they had Tweets, and the dating app Bumble has a blog called ‘The Buzz’.  

When I named my agency ‘The Identity Bureau’, (and developed its colour schemes, strapline and fonts) I wanted the name and visual identity to suggest an agency that had people at its core, was consultative, approachable and research-based in its approach to branding. Furthermore, I purposefully favoured slightly archaic brand language to match the imagery of the word bureau. Readers are invited to receive ‘News Briefings dispatched your inbox’ instead of ‘get your newsletter’, my blog is called ‘Notes from the Bureau, my website footer is labelled ‘footnote’ and my short stories are ‘filed under fiction’. 

Part three: Cultural qualities

This section looks at potential issues and negative connotations around slang words, and can be a good opportunity to pause and sense check within the process to see if the potential name is fit for use.

Low negative association

The size of this task will vary depending on whether you’re developing a company, product or service that will have a global reach, or if you are just naming a brand that will exist solely in your country, or for a group of customers that generally share a common first language. 

Low negative association means, could the word or words you are choosing for your brand name have a slang, rude or derogatory meaning? 

Car brands have famously fallen foul of this over the years. Some are urban myths; the reason the Vauxhall Nova did not sell well in Spain is not because ‘Nova’ translates ‘not go’ (it doesn’t quite) but because, rather blandly, the car was never offered for sale there.

However the Mazda Laputa did not go down well with Spanish audiences, given the meaning of the word Puta, and neither did the Mitsubishi Pajero, given the slang meaning of the word Pajero. I’ll leave you to click the links in your own time, but suffice it to say Urban Dictionary is a good place to carry out your cautionary checks, (and that website should be considered NSFW (Not Safe for Work)).

Fit for the audience

At this point, you may wish to pause to check the names you are putting forward are a good fit for the intended audience (and not just resonating with company owners and directors). This requires some detachment, and I advise you to exercise the same diligence when you’re developing your brand identity; your brand should be designed to appeal to the target audience, and not to pander to the whims and likes of the directors. 

Make sure you’re not using colloquialisms that will be meaningless to those outside your county or state, and make sure your brand language isn’t dated or immediately ages you (thus potentially ostracising a segment of your audience). 

Fit for intended use

Again, this is a good point to take a pause and sense check on any intended names you are shortlisting. Purposeful differentiation when naming can be good when trying to stand out, but depending on your industry you should exercise some caution if straying too far from the accepted path of convention. Referring back to ‘Meaning’ in the Strategic Qualities section will be helpful here, and if there is meaning attached to the choice of brand name this should by and large, keep you on track, and anchor your name in the area ‘fit for intended use’.

Purposeful differentiation when naming can be good when trying to stand out, but depending on your industry you should exercise some caution if straying too far from the accepted path of convention. Referring back to ‘Meaning’ in the Strategic Qualities section will be helpful here, and if there is meaning attached to the choice of brand name this should by and large, keep you on track, and anchor your name in the area ‘fit for intended use’.

In industries where the need to demonstrate expertise (such as professional service firms) is required, humour, for example, may not be ideal. However, humour can be used as a great differentiator, such as Bigg Ass Fans, (commercial and industrial air flow systems)  The Boring Company (Elon Musk’s tunnelling company) and, as per last month's newsletter the aforementioned ‘What the Cluck’ tofu based Chicken Alternative by the Vegetarian Butcher. 

Part Four: Technical Qualities

The last section in the order of criteria is Technical qualities which covers domain name checking, social media options, and finally, legal checks. 

As I discuss in my Brand Naming Workshop, it is important to develop larger quantities of names (a long list) in order to arrive at quality (a short list). When you generate brand name ideas at the very beginning there are no ‘bad names’ but we must go through many names to arrive at a select few that pass muster on this list of criteria. 

Domain names

It is very important not to look at domain name availability until you have assessed names, using the criteria list to whittle them down to a select few. Looking at domain name availability early on will stifle your creative efforts and negatively affect your ability to select a name based on memorability and audience appeal. Instead, you will fall into the trap of selling for a name you can shoehorn into an available domain.

When you do come to selecting a domain name, don't get hung up on .com availability. There are far better alternatives these days, and besides, all easily pronounceable single-word .com domain names have been taken, so domain name selection requires some creative thinking. 

I advise making use of Top Level Domains (TLDs) as a good way of bring some creativity to domain name selection allowing you to get something fitting. TLD are the alternative ending to .com (e.g. www.yourbrandname.com). According to some sources, there are over 1500 TLDs that have been registered, although not all countries and domain name providers will offer the full selection. 

I recommend the domain name provider Squarespace (for its simple ease of integration with Google Workspace) to pursue and select your TLD should you wish to use one. Their current listing includes just under 400 viable options (although some will have restrictions. For more information on their TLD offerings see this page… 

So, for example, if you are an accountancy firm you can have .accountants, if you are a charity you can have .charity, a branding agency can have .agency, a clothing company can have .clothing. This opens up a world of creative domain name ideas for your brand.

Other workarounds for getting a great domain name include: 

Prefixes Using prefixes such as  ‘we are’, ‘get’ or ‘the’ e.g www.wearebrandname.com or www.thebrandname.com

Hyphens Hyphens are an acceptable way to leverage a specific name into a domain if you need to. For example, www.brand-name.com if www.brandname.com is taken (but tread cautiously for obvious reasons). 

Suffixes Try using the product or description before the .com. For example, a wine bar called ‘Scenarios’ may suffix with ‘bar’ as in with www.scenariosbar.com, and a pub may suffix with ‘pub’ as in www.thekingsheadpub.com 

TLDs, prefixes, hyphens and suffixes can be used in inventive ways to land on a domain name that will often work in your favour, and lead to creative solutions around the lack of availability of a .com domain. 

On a personal note, I find that firms that adopt TLDs well can appear more forward-thinking, and their domain tends to be shorter and looks and reads well.

Social Media handles

It can be frustrating when your chosen social media handle is unavailable, but if you search for these after you have decided on how to approach your domain name this will give you some more flexibility. Use tools like Namecheckr to help you do this quickly. 

Legally Available

This is the last port of call on your naming criteria. Once you have revised your long list down to four of five agreed names (with suitable domains, and social handles), it is time to submit them to legal professionals for final checking. Professional legal searches will look for trademark issues around your proposed names (which will need consideration because even if you're not considering trademarking the name yourself, you may still want to avoid using a name that is already trademarked). 

Your legal team will advise on how ‘safe’ it would be to proceed with a name, depending on which of the 45 UK trademark classes you will be operating under, and whether you want to trademark a name yourself.  You can read more about the UK trademark classes in this blog by the law firm Harper James here.  Be prepared to have a few of your chosen names rejected on a legal basis, and then take your remaining ‘safe’ names and present them to your colleagues.



You can read more about how to present potential brand names to your colleagues in my guide to brand naming here.  You can read more articles about brand naming on my blog ‘Notes from the Bureau’ here, and you can book your one-on-one naming workshop with me for £149 via the booking page here

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