Your Brand Name is Everything… and Nothing

I love naming things. Some of my most satisfying work involves naming projects for clients who are either developing or repositioning their corporate brand or products.  

I think it goes back to my family. We research our ancestry, hang up old portraits and muse often about our mysterious forebearers. When new babies enter the fold, we consult the family tree in search of “good names” that haven’t been overused. Bottom line? I grew up hearing a lot of perspectives on naming.  

Dad was opposed to repeating names too much, yet our extended family proudly sported names that to this day require numerals. Dad felt if you were a Junior or a Trip, it was unoriginal – and confusing to the public. He also worried that repetition imbued the progeny with baggage that could be hard to shake – or live up to.  

I remember my mom wrinkling her nose if a trendy name was suggested. Her refrain: “That might be limiting for a future career as president or CEO.” Better to choose something that would stand the test of time and project authority, she thought. 

Melodious Matters

Then there’s the cadence conundrum. How does the first name sound alongside the middle name and surname? Do they roll off the tongue or do they feel imbalanced? Will people know how to spell it? Or will they confuse it with something similar?   

Turns out, these are the same considerations companies should think about when they embark on corporate branding. The name you choose is everything. It’s the first impression that opens the door to your brand story. It’s also nothing – an empty vessel until you back it up with personality, principles and repeated behaviors. 

Just like naming a child, your brand name can be inspired by many things: 

  • Something related to the company’s heritage: IBM Watson, for example, was named after the company founder, Thomas J. Watson. Pepperidge Farm came from the founder’s country home, dotted by pepper trees, where she baked a high-nutrition bread for a sickly son and his doctor said she should open a bakeshop. 
  • Aspirational qualities you want to embed: Amazon became Amazon because Jeff Bezos wanted a name beginning with an “A” that reflected something big. 
  • Something evocative or metaphorical: Ford Explorer comes to mind. 
  • Even something made-up: Pinterest” (a mash-up of “pin board” and “interest) and Altoids (Derived from “alt,” the Latin word for change) are examples.  

Naming Checklist

When you’re thinking about a new name for a company, process or product, it’s helpful to refer to this checklist:  

  • Distinction: Does it stand out from competitors? Or does it follow a trend that diminishes its power? Startups are “nameifying”– think Spotify, Shopify, etc.  way too much these days, IMHO. 
  • Brevity: Is it short enough to be memorable and work with others in the brand family? 
  • Relevance: Does it relate in some way to the brand’s position or aspirations? For example, one of our clients aims to usher in a new era for the trucking industry, so we landed on the name Variant to reflect that.  
  • Spell-ability and speak-ability: Is it easy to spell and pronounce? Studies show that hard-to-pronounce brands can be passed over, much like menu items with esoteric names.
  • Likeability and connectivity: Does the name recall a positive association?  
  • Extendibility: Can you build on the name through a variety of creative executions? 
  • Protectability: Can it be trademarked with an aligned URL? 

Turns out, there’s a lot to consider with naming, but none of it matters if you don’t build a brand foundation and brand story to support your special name.  In the end, even the cleverest name is nothing until you fill it with purpose, personality and principles to stand by.