What's in a Name?

Possibly your entire image. Before you rush to get your product on the market, take the time to choose the right name.
Magazine Contributor
6 min read

This story appears in the October 1999 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Think about the last time you named a child or a pet. For several days--maybe months--you focused on finding the perfect name. While watching TV or reading, you noted characters' names. When a movie was over, you scanned the credits. In the shower, you said the names aloud to hear what they sounded like. A great deal of effort was devoted to the task because you knew you'd have to live with your decision for years to come. The task of choosing the name for your company and products can be just as excruciating.

A company name is important for many reasons. It's the first thing a consumer comes in contact with; and as you probably know, first impressions count. A name is also the single most visible attribute of your company or product. It's the cornerstone of all advertising, printed on all company materials and packaging. A good name portrays a personality, stands out in a crowd and is memorable.

On the flip side, a bad name isn't the end of the world. There are many companies and products with less than exciting names. But a name that's hard to spell, pronounce or remember will require advertising expenditures to educate and explain your business to the consumer. For example, Toys "R" Us is a great name because it tells the consumer exactly what it is. Few advertising dollars are needed to educate prospects because everyone instantly knows what the company sells. By contrast, companies such as IBM and Sony have spent millions creating a brand name that is now recognized and understood.

"A name is the cornerstone for branding," says Todd Hart, president of Focus2, a Dallas design firm specializing in branding and graphic design. "The right name can go a long way in creating the desired corporate image." Take Rolls Royce, for example. It's a round, full-bodied name that simply sounds luxurious--perfect for the company's product. If the company's name had been Wheelybird or Omnicars, it would have been more difficult for consumers to buy the high-class image the company desired.

You Name It

So where do you start when choosing a name for your new invention or business? Experts agree, the first step is to make a list of your competitors' names. Then look for any industry trends on the list. For example, firms that provide legal, accounting or advertising services have a long tradition of using the founders' last names. The name you're looking for should be unique. That said, don't try to be so different that your product is exceedingly difficult to identify. For example, a toothpaste called Whoop-De-Do stands out, but it could turn off potential customers because it doesn't have any connection to toothpaste.

The next step is to decide what type of image you want your company or product to project--for example, humorous, hip or professional. This is important to determine before choosing a name. For example, the name Yahoo! projects the image of a friendly, hip company with a fun atmosphere--exactly what the owners wanted. Lucent Technologies communicates that the company has clarity of thought in technology--again, precisely the message the company wants to deliver. There is incredible value in a name that projects the right image.

Get the Ideas Flowing

Now comes the brainstorming. Your goal: to come up with at least 100 names to choose from. To accomplish this, enlist the help of a few creative people with strong insight. Some places to look for inspiration include a thesaurus, dictionaries or a book of Latin and Greek root words.

After about a week, all the potential names should be pooled, and the process of reducing the list to 10 names or fewer can begin. Names that are long or hard to pronounce should be eliminated quickly. Next, look at the names. Are they visually appealing? A memorable name should have interesting letters--think letters that would score high on a Scrabble board.

Martyn Tipping, director of verbal branding and naming for Landor Associates, a branding and design consultancy in New York City, strongly recommends a linguistic and cultural test be done on all potential names. "If you're looking to do business internationally, it's imperative that your name be devoid of any negative cultural connotations," he says. One of the most famous examples of this was Chevrolet's misguided introduction of its Nova model into Mexico--no va means "doesn't go" in Spanish.

The final step is to print out each name on its own page. Make the name at least 2 inches high and use a simple block font. One by one, discuss each name; don't display all the names at once. And don't fall into the trap of preferring one name simply because you liked the methodology behind it. Your customer doesn't care, so you shouldn't either. Gut instinct and intuition are the most important factors. Ask yourself whether the name is distinctive or if it could be used by others outside the industry. If it's the latter, let it go. Next, ask yourself if you would be upset or dissatisfied if any of the names were chosen over the others. If the answer is yes, remove the names you feel are not satisfying.

Net Check

If you plan to create a Web site and use your product or company name as the domain name, be sure to check whether it's available for use. To find out, visit www.register.comand go through the steps listed there. Don't be discouraged if your name is taken, however. Many people register names in the hopes of selling them for a profit. Your name could be available for the right price.

Final Thoughts

There are millions of names in the marketplace, some good and some bad. Coming up with a catchy name can greatly help you in the long run. Names that are distinctive, memorable and positive can go a long way to promote your company or product. So take the time and effort to go through the exercise of finding a great name--and watch the payoff roll in.

Tomima Edmark, the woman famous for her Topsy Tail invention has now turned her creative talents to the competitive retail arena of intimate apparel, HerRoom and HisRoom.

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