How To Name Your Business - A Naming Process

Struggling to find a name that works for your company? You're not alone. Naming a company is hard. 

If you can't think of a name, this will help. What I'm about to show you is the system I use for naming a business. Notice I said system right? That's because without a process, choosing a name for your business will take way longer than it should. 

I use a naming system based on 7 key brand naming rules to find a name that works. These rules help me quickly narrow down the field so I don't waste time going around and around in circles on options that just aren't going to work. The key here is to avoid paralysis by analysis and instead get outside your head with rules to help you move on. 

This is also really good when you have a couple of partners and you've come to a stalemate. Using this framework will give you a system to measure the different names. 

Step 1. Brainstorm a list

Get out a pen and paper, text file, Google doc or whatever you are comfortable with and start  writing down words.

Write out what the company does, who it's for, any unique story lines, any kind of quality that you can think of to describe the product or service. Write what the feeling is that the product should convey. Then write synonyms to each of these. 

Step 2. Use mind mapping

One tool I use to come up with synonyms is the visual thesaurus. It will give you a kind of interactive mind map. This will give you new word associations and connections. 

Once you do this, your list should start to grow pretty quickly. 

You are trying to unearth any kind of nugget or insight about the company while getting at the heart of what the company does. 

I'll use a recent project of mine as an example: 

The Tailory is an NYC startup custom tailor/fashion stylist

Tip: It might seem obvious that a tailor might end up with the name The Tailory. But don't discard a name just because it's descriptive or obvious. Sometimes you can go through the entire process and come back to the very first name you had originally written down. And that's OK. You are guaranteed to learn something about your brand along the way. Often you'll find something that might not work for your business name, but fits as a tagline or elsewhere in your messaging. So it's worth going through the process.

For the Tailory example, it started with the word "tailor", naturally. From tailor, a connection to fashion was made. From fashion to style. And on and on. More and more words were discovered on each of my mind maps. When you run out of paths to go down, jump to the next word on your original list. 

Step 3. Look for connections

Go through each word and see where it takes you. You'l find things that connect back to your company in a unique way. For example: 

The word "style" ended up being the germ for what later became the tagline Own Your Style

Here's another interesting connection I came across:

One of the words I originally wrote down was "Clothe". Which goes back to the "what does this product or service do?" question I asked myself at the beginning of the process. Get down to a really basic understanding of what the product or service does. In this case, The Tailory clothes people.

One of the nodes from "clothe" was "habilitate", which means "to provide with clothes or put clothes on" - not what I was expecting it to mean, but you can see how these connections can spark new ways to look at the problem. You'll find all kinds of interesting nuggets like this. 

From habilitate I made the connection to rehab. And from rehab, to the name Rehab Room; the place where you go to rehabilitate your wardrobe. 

Rehab Room ended up being one of the names presented to my client. 

At this point all I'm doing is trying to make connections and derive meaning from these words to create or distill a brand story from.

Step 4. Measure your results

Once I had narrowed it down about 12-15 names, I then measured the names against these 7 naming rules:

7 key rules for naming your company

So you've narrowed it down to about 10-12 names. Things should go pretty quickly now. Go down the list one by one and and see how each name stacks up.  

1. Is it Memorable?

Is it easy to remember? Generally, shorter names are better but that's not always the case. Alliteration (think American Apparel, Range Rover, TedTalks, Rehab Room, etc.) is a good tool to enhance memorability. 

2. Does it Mean Something?

Is there meaning that can be derived from the name? Can you tell a story based on the name? Think of the Rehab Room example from earlier - plenty of meaning in that name.

3. Is it Different? 

Does it grab your attention? Does it jump out at you as something different? Sometimes a scary name is a good one. Does it stand out in a crowd? Does it sound like a competing brand?

4. Does it fit the product?

Some names just feel right. Snapple and Schweppes both are fun to say and capture the energy and freshness of those products. 

5. Is it Easy to Say? 

Can you pronounce it and spell it easily. If not, you'll probably want to move on. 

6. Can you Own it?

Can you purchase the domaine and trademark it. This rule is based solely on practicality and will disqualify a name pretty quickly, however just because a .com is not available, don't automatically disqualify the name if it's a really good name. Domaine names can be bought later. Still, if it's close between two names, this could be the deciding factor. 

7. Will it Allow you to Grow? 

Is it flexible enough to change with you if your offering changes? IBM no longer sales international business machines. Businesses change over time. It's worth thinking about the future.


Step 5. Make your decision!

Once you've gone through the 7 principles, you should be down to 2-3 viable names. Now is the time to make a decision. At this point, any of the three will probably work well. My advice, if it's close and you're just not sure which to pick, is to go with the one that is the most evocative choice vs. playing it safe. If it scares you a little bit, that's probably a good thing.


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Been struggling to name your company? I want to hear from you. Tell me: 

What has been the hardest thing about naming your business?

Leave your answers in the comments below