What’s in a name? Shakespeare said this in 1597, but that doesn’t mean it’s not relevant today. The insight within this quote is that the goal of “naming” things, people, businesses, etc. is to differentiate one from another. When it comes to naming your business or brand, the qualities of a good name include 1) standing out among your competitors 2) being easy to read, write, and say to your specific audience and 3) having a memorable ring to it.
Landing on a name can seem like one of the most challenging steps in the branding process, but it doesn’t need to be. Think about it like this — when a baby is born and subsequently given a name, their name doesn’t define their future personality. In fact, it’s the other way around because as they grow their qualities and characteristics will inevitably give life to their name. Your hard work day-to-day, your humor, kindness, charm, vibrant personality, life experiences, etc. is what makes you who you are, not your name. How does this relate to the branding process? Let’s dig in.
Stand Out Among Your Competitors
There are plenty of ways to differentiate from others. One of the more interesting ways is choosing a name that appears completely irrelevant from what your brand offers as a product or service. Almost everyone on this planet knows the brand Apple and what they sell. Apple has created one of the most successful brands in history, all while courting a name that has absolutely nothing to do with their products. In his book, iWoz, Steve Wozniak explains how they landed on Apple, “We both tried to come up with technical-sounding names that were better, but we couldn’t think of any good ones.” While that sounds very unromantic, I’d say Apple did pretty well for itself just by taking the simple approach. However, the quality of their products, the consistent brand messaging and visuals, the excellent user experience across the board (among other things) is why Apple has become the powerhouse innovator they are today — not because they chose to name their tech company after a fruit.
Another example of a successful brand with a name that doesn’t directly relate to the product is the shoe company Allbirds. These high-quality sneakers are made sustainably from wool, so where do the birds come in? The name Allbirds is simply a celebration of New Zealand, where one of the founders spent a chapter of his life playing soccer for their national team. “It references the fact that the island nation’s first settlers found hardly any mammals when they arrived in a land of “all birds,” Brown says.
Make it Easy for Your Audience
When you’re introducing a new brand into the world, it’s important to consider a name that is easy to read, write and say to your target audience. This “ease-of-use” hastens the process of establishing your brand in its relative market. If your brand name is easy to say, consumers won’t shy away from asking questions about your brand or recommending your brand to their friends. On the other hand, your brand name might be easy to say, but if you’ve decided to alter the spelling of a “recognizable” word, consumers will fumble to discover your brand’s website when typing out the URL (because they don’t know you’re using a K instead of a C or remember the vowels are removed). Changing the spelling helps create a more unique name and to avoid copyright issues, just be mindful to not overdo it or make it too complicated for your target audience.
One example of a brand that decided to launch with a uniquely spelled name is the short-lived DVD-by-mail service called Qwikster, a sub-brand of Netflix. When Netflix decided to branch into the streaming world, they used the Netflix name to represent the online service and they created Qwikster to represent the DVD rental delivery service. In an SNL skit parodying an apology from Netflix over the subject exclaiming, “Did we spell Qwikster in a normal way? No, we didn’t!”. If your name becomes an SNL punchline, something doesn’t work.
The Washington Post sums up their mistake pretty well, “Qwikster is short for ‘Quick, I Want To Come Up With A Stupid Name No One Will Be Able To Spell Or Remember.’ We chose it after long deliberations where we weeded out any name that didn’t sound like a dairyless creamer, illegal download service from the late ’90s or an awful virus that destroys your laptop’s memory.” Ouch. Customers didn’t respond to the breakaway from Netflix, the confusion or the spelling, and Qwikster quickly died.
Despite spelling and pronunciation difficulties for Americans, the Swedish brand Fjällräven absolutely blew up around the world. Fjällräven roughly translates to “The Arctic Fox” in English. This brand name is so distinct, it inherently has the competitive advantage of standing out in the market. However, name aside, it’s the quality, design, range and consistency of the product that helped catapult the brand’s success.
While a name will always be the starting point for creating a brand, it’s important to consider how the resulting brand elements will evolve and support the chosen name. Exploring logo design, messaging, brand colors, etc. in tandem with a name are all just as important and influential to the overall personality of a brand.
Put a Memorable Ring to It
Always easier said than done. In many cases, your name won’t feel like your actual brand name until you’ve said it 100 times or seen the name designed in a logo. This is completely normal. As humans, it’s hard to conceptualize ideas, but visuals and physical acts (like saying the name over and over again) always help the name sink in a little quicker. A few examples of memorable names—Bloomscape, a plant delivery service, is a great example of a brand combining two relevant words to create one unique word that rolls nicely off the tongue.
The founder of Scrub Daddy, another example of a successful and memorable name, was told by a Wharton professor that the name “was terrible and would never sell.” However, the name was personal to founder Aaron Krause, a nickname spawning from his role as the household dishwasher. The name stayed and would later become “Shark Tank’s most successful product to date.” This goes to show that when it comes to name, it’s always better to go with your gut (and p.s. the opinions of others shouldn’t deter you from your dreams).
So, how do you know if your name has a nice ring to it? When choosing a name, make sure to say it out loud and in contextual sentences several times – and maybe have a friend join in for fun too.
Don’t Know Where to Start?
While reading the success stories of major brands helps prompt creativity, it doesn’t help if you’re stuck in a naming cycle with nothing to latch onto. Here are our best tips on how to spark inspiration:
- Do a brain dump. Grab something to write with, something to write on and just go for it! Write down any and all words that come to mind when you think of the project you’re naming. Seeing related words side-by-side can potentially spark a new idea. Go even further and consider combining 2 or 3 words to create a name that’s unique, yet relevant.
- Think about the story. Take time to thoughtfully write out your brand’s story, pulling out key elements and thinking about a name to accurately represent the brand behind it. Having trouble fleshing that story out? No problem at all, that’s actually normal (and one of the many reasons brand agencies like ST8MNT exists). Check our our case study on Otherland Society to see how we met the challenge of not only naming their brand but collaborating to create their brand story.
- Choose a name that resonates with your target audience, even if you’re not absolutely crazy about it. The brand itself (visuals, website, messaging, social media, marketing, all the things) is what makes a good brand, not the name.
Our best advice? Don’t think too hard about it, let us do that for you 😉 and remember — ”That which we call a rose, by any other word would smell as sweet.”