In many ways, naming your brand is just like naming a person. A name is what introduces someone to the world – it’s the title that will be with them through every endeavor they take on in life.
At the same time, naming a brand is even harder than naming a person. A person can become whoever they want to be, while a company has a defined goal from the start and its name is the foundation of its entire brand identity. Choosing a brand name can be much more challenging.
Let’s stop here to revisit the first (and only) rule when it comes to naming your brand: it has to be legal. In layman’s terms, you can’t infringe on anyone else’s brand name, and it’s a good idea to make sure no one can infringe on yours. Speaking to an intellectual property lawyer is the most foolproof way to protect yourself from any legal trouble down the road, but there are other, less costly ways to ensure your name is unique in the marketplace. Here at Oblique Design, we start by scouring the web for any red flags when we search for the name itself, and then we search it with any and all key industry words. Even when we are confident we have a unique brand name, we run it by our fellow WBENC member and trusted intellectual property lawyer, Lisa Dunner and her team at Dunner Law, just to be sure.
There are a few distinct categories of brand names. We’ll name just a few to give examples. When you sit down with your branding company these name archetypes will hopefully help you define the kind of name you want for your company, you can also ignore them all and start from scratch! Naming is an art, not a science, after all.
The Legacy Name
Behind every brand is a story. Even if that story seems vanilla, no brand just “happens.” Where and why your brand started are the very foundation of who you are, so why not start the naming process there? Charles Schwab (yes, he’s a person), Larabar, Nordstrom, Seattle’s Best Coffee, L.L. Bean and Boston Market all capture their legacy in their name, and it’s a badge that won’t wear with time. Meaningful? Check. Unlikely to offend? Check. Easily unique in the marketplace (read: easy to protect)? Check. On the downside, they can be less captivating, so it takes more branding and advertising to make the name come alive.
The Obvious Name
If telling the market what you do is your priority, then an obvious name is a no fuss solution. If you are a smoothie shop, then naming your store “The Smoothie Shop” guarantees no one will ever be confused about what you do. However, there are two very strong reasons that there aren’t many brands out there with this type of name. First, it’s extremely hard to protect or defend in a lawsuit. After all, you can’t protect the word “smoothie.” Second, if you ever want to venture into other areas of business, your name can easily become confusing. If “The Smoothie Shop” wants to start serving salads, it will be difficult to attract the salad market.
The Clever Name
The Clever name is your answer to the downsides of the obvious name. When you still want people to know exactly what you do, a play on your goods or services can make for an effective name. By taking an obvious name and putting a spin on it, you make your name more unique (again, read: protectable). Many brands do this; Bed Bath and Beyond, Burger King and Steak-n-Shake are great examples. The truth is, any brand strives for a name that says what they do. The hard part is making it unique and ownable.
The Out-Of-Left-Field Name
To find this name, you may find yourself speaking in gibberish or exploring exotic species of birds. We all are scrambling to find this name; the name that will have people saying, “how on earth did they think of that?” Welcome to Google, Yahoo, Nike, Adidas and Twitter. They are words you’ve never heard of, perhaps never existed before and have seemingly nothing to do with their respective brands. These names are unique, extremely protectable, and can be easier for your branding firm to work with, as you’re starting with a word that seems to have no meaning.. The truth, however, is that there is usually some meaning behind these names, and they didn’t come out of thin air. Apple, for example, seems to have no relevant meaning to the computers they sell. But, it is said that Steve Jobs came up with the name after visiting a macintosh apple farm in Washington, and felt the name was “trustworthy and non-intimidating.” The out-of-left field name is the gold standard of brand naming, but it has to be done in a way that won’t leave your audience offended, excluded or confused.
The Timeless Name
The good news is that you don’t have to worry about choosing a name that’s timeless – at least for right now. Timeless names take years to come to fruition and they live on, sometimes longer than their brands do. Timeless names develop as the brand builds recognition, familiarity, trust and reputation. They are the names of a brand that’s grown into itself, and the only effort that takes is to bring the brand to life and give it staying power (cake, right?) Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Ford, AT&T, Warner Brothers, and many other brands started in the archetypes above, and after years of life, crossed into the branding-elite, “Timeless” name category.
Let’s not try to hide it: while deciding on your brand name, you may feel like a parent flipping through baby name books or find yourself learning a new language because seemingly every English word is taken. But, to avoid pulling ALL of your hair out (you still might lose some), it’s important to sit down and truly discover who your brand is first. You should know your brand as if it is your oldest friend, and only then can you hone in on what kind of name it should embody. When a name is right, it will feel like that was its name all along.
If you’re struggling with any aspect of a branding (or rebranding) effort, get in touch. Our Colorado branding agency team has helped companies of all sizes define and create branding and collateral; they’re ready to help.