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A Great Name Tells You More Than Just What the Company Does

When naming something, it is human nature to want to describe what you are naming. This is, of course, the most direct route to relevance.

Many historic and well-known companies have names that describe what they do or make. For example: International Business Machines, Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing and Kentucky Fried Chicken. While these descriptive names may have brought comfort to those who did the naming, the names were short lived. All three of the mentioned examples have now turned to acronyms: IBM, 3M and KFC.

Related: Good Companies Make You Think. Great Companies Make You Feel.

Instead of considering names that simply describe the brand, find ways to creatively think about how a brand behaves. A relevant name can convey a brand’s engaging personality, express something interesting about the product or service, or it can be geared toward the intended audience and relate to cultural contexts.

Take, for example, Puma. It’s a name that symbolizes the idea of strength and speed. This helps connect the audience with these symbolic ideas rather than with a brand name that only evokes shoes.

Brands that only communicate functional benefits using descriptive names miss an opportunity to develop a stronger bond with customers. A strong, insightful name tells a story that metaphorically relates to the product or company.

To get past the desire for a descriptive name and step into a creative zone, here are some suggestions to get through the pain of relevance:

1. Consider names that are suggestive of what the brand does or its philosophy instead of attempting to describe exactly what the brand will do.

2. Look at modern brand names and consider them first as words, and then as brand names. How does “Apple” describe computer hardware, music or cell phones? 

Related: Here's Everything That Can Go Wrong Naming Your Startup and How to Avoid It All

3. Add an appropriate descriptor after the brand name to make it feel more natural and comfortable in the early stages of using the name. For example, “Apple Computers.” Then, when the brand grows up, the descriptor can be dropped.

4. Say the name to people to get their reaction. Are they curious, offended, confused, intrigued? If they are left with a desire to know more, the brand name is on the right track. If they are bored, confused or offended, the name may require more thought.

When stepping into the creative zone, keep in mind that a great name does more than communicate what the thing is or even convey its personality. It sets the foundation for the customer relationship, establishes leadership and separates the business from the competition. Naming is both the art and science of knowing the origin and esoteric meanings of words, the emotional reactions to certain sounds and the visual expression of a name.

If, in the end, it’s still a struggle to find a brand name with a suggestive or even arbitrary name, remember that a brand changes over time and as it takes on new attributes, whatever name is chosen, it will eventually fit with how the brand evolves over time.

Related: The Quick and Dirty on Marketing, Advertising and Branding