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Compiling Your Brainstorming Results into Real Business Names Here's one way to take all your business name ideas and narrow your options to something workable.

By Brad Flowers

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The following excerpt is from Brad Flowers's The Naming Book. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

One of the best ways to generate lists of possible names is to assign them to categories that you can narrow down later. Sorting by category ensures you'll have some diversity in name types and styles to choose from.

If you've already done some brainstorming, you'll have a rich source of material for this exercise. But don't limit yourself to your existing brainstormed ideas. Inevitably, new words will come to mind as you work through the following categories.

The first category is real words. This is most people's default category and will likely be the easiest to fill. You know lots of real words, so naturally they come to mind first.

Real-word names can work well for many types of businesses. They tend to be familiar and have associated meaning from the start. If you're starting a company and want it to feel established, this could be a good way to go. Because the words are familiar, your company will seem familiar, too.

But familiarity is also the downside of real-word names. Words that are too familiar will drift into the background because they're too common to be memorable. Also, if you wish to trademark your name, familiar words are often an issue. But not all real words are familiar — there are plenty of great, uncommon real words out there.

Using real names as an example, here's how the category exercise works: To get some real-word names on your list, first start with any brainstormed list of words you created. Could any of them stand on their own as single-word names? Do any catch your eye? Are there any obvious winners? Here are a few examples of real-word names to use as references:

  • Apple
  • Kindle
  • Oracle
  • Pandora
  • Puma
  • Twitter

Don't worry if the meaning of the word seems too vague to signify your business. Many real-word names will need a modifier until the company is large enough to be known by one word. For example, some of the most common real-word company names started out with modifiers: Apple Computer, Giant Bicycles and Viking Range, for example. When they were founded, all of them needed an additional descriptor. Now they're all commonly referred to by a single, real-word name: Apple, Giant and Viking. You have time to grow into your name, too.

When you're creating your list, don't think too much about your criteria. Just look for something interesting. Here's one of my sample lists:

  • blueprints
  • drafting table
  • ruler
  • hard hat
  • boots
  • hammer
  • nails
  • steel
  • dirt
  • backhoe
  • exhaust
  • noise

If I were naming a branding company from this list, I would pull out "hard hat." I think that has some potential. I'd also pull out "backhoe" because I like the alliteration with "branding." At this point, I'd have no idea if they meet all my branding criteria or if there are a thousand other companies by those names, but that doesn't matter right now. Write down five to 10 words that stand out as possible names here.

More Categories to Consider

Real words are sometimes great conceptually but too generic in practice. One way to get the full benefit of a real word is to translate it into a foreign language. Foreign language words is a rich category that works well for many types of businesses. And, no, you don't need to be fluent in multiple languages. Again, you can use your brainstorming lists and an online language translator to build up a list of foreign language names to consider.

An additional way to use your real words as building blocks is to create compound names, our next category. Facebook is a good example. Both root words (face and book) are too generic to be a name on their own, but together they create something unique that's easy to say and remember and sounds great. Sometimes combining a common word you like with another word can make magic.

That said, a compound you like might be too long or complicated, such as PlantFactory. But you can use those awkward compounds to create blended names, the next category. These names work similarly to compound names. Instead of the words sitting next to each other (as in Facebook), however, they overlap and share a syllable. For example, the end of "pin" can overlap with the beginning of "interest." Put them together, and you have a new word: Pinterest. This is a great blend because the word itself describes the core purpose of the platform: It exists so you can "pin" up things that interest you and show them to others.

During any brainstorming you did, you may have unearthed some phrases. Those get their own category, too. Phrase names range from the ultra-generic, like Bob's Car Wash, to the more eccentric, like 7 For All Mankind.

The category that will require the most work is made-up names. You can start with words on your brainstorming list, but these names require some tinkering. The good news is, you don't have to invent a new word from scratch. You can take words and start changing them until the end result is different enough to be unrecognizable. Can you imagine starting with Hype and changing things until you get to Skype?

The last category is people and place names. This category is pretty straightforward. These names are so common they can be a little bland. However, like anything else, with a little creativity, you can use this category to your advantage. Start thinking about the people and places associated with your company.

As you go through the above categories, give yourself at least 20 minutes with each category and do the same thing each time: Write down five to 10 words, either from a brainstormed list of ideas or as you're in the middle of this exercise, that fit each category. At the end of this step, you'll have 30 potential names.

Brad Flowers

Founder of Bullhorn Creative

Brad Flowers co-founded Bullhorn, an agency that builds confident brands with language and design. Brad leads naming and language generation at Bullhorn. He has a degree in English literature, which he finds more useful than he expected.

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