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18 Strategies and Tools for Naming Your Business or Product

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Naming. Doesn't matter what you're naming—your product, your business, your Web site or heck, even your child (which happens to be my current project), your choice is important. Below, you'll find a flock of ideas, strategies, and tools to make your name discovery a little easier.

Through researching and writing this article, I tried to make name discovery a point-by-point affair. I've also noticed that most, if not all, of the articles and reports I've read over the years do the same. Start here, end there, do this and don't do that.

Lemme tell you, though, that it's not nearly that cut and dry. The process of naming is anything but linear.

There is NO chronological set of events that promise to lead you to naming perfection.

There is NO set of naming principles you must adhere to.


Sure, there are certain guidelines and ideas that are good to keep in mind, but I promise you that there's an exception to every rule. (Successfully branded, wildly popular—and, by all standards, bad—names abound.)

The process of naming also has its idiosyncrasies. Sometimes you'll set out to name a new product and the perfect name will be hanging there, right out in front of you, just waiting to be snatched out of thin air. Other times, you'll mull for days, agonizing over the details of your product, entering in hundreds or thousands of options to your registrar with nothing sounding "just" right.

So, given the interesting and often inconsistent nature of naming, I've decided to divide this article into "considerations." That is, instead of giving you a chronological chart of action points from which you'll undoubtedly stray, or assigning you a set of naming commandments that are anything but set in stone, I've outlined a collection of methods, ideas and strategies that you should simply consider.

(You'll find the more basic ideas in the beginning with more meaty stuff following.) So, let's get the fast ones out of the way first…

Consider this: The basic stuff

  1. Be easy to pronounce and spell.
  2. Make it memorable.
  3. Don't pigeonhole yourself (being too specific in the naming of your company or product [example: Dave's 256k Flash Drives Inc. or Portland Flooring Inc.] can hinder growth later).
  4. Go easy on the numbers.
  5. Don't use names that could have a negative connotation in other languages (Baka Software Inc. sounds OK in the US, but won't fly in Japan).
  6. Stay away from negative connotations.
  7. Make sure your name doesn't alienate any group (race, religion, etc.)
  8. Search for existing trademarks on potential names.
  9. Make sure that the domain is available or purchasable in the aftermarket. Use your favorite registrar or use a bulk domain checker (I've outlined one below).

Consider this: Domain availability

Domain availability is possibly the biggest hang-up to ever happen to naming. Sure, you can come up with great potential names, but can you come up with great potential domains that are available?

I won't spend much time on this because it's pretty simple. If you're creating a name for a product or business that will require a .com, be patient, keep trying, and you'll start to get a feel for names that are more likely to be available than others. I've also listed some tools below that will help immensely with this.

Consider this: Focused brainstorming

Every book out there prescribes brainstorming. However, instead of just sitting back and trying to come up with ANY words that describe your business, focus your brainstorming to answering a set of questions.

Answer each by making as long of a list or words and phrases as you possibly can. Remember, the longer and more abstract your list, the better off you'll be. So go wild...

  • What does your product do?
  • What does your industry do, what's its purpose?
  • What is your product's benefit to the consumer?
  • What will happen for them?
  • What will they get?
  • What are the "ingredients" that go into your product or service?
  • How are you different from the competition?
  • What makes you unique?
  • What's the lingo in your industry? What are the expressions that are unique to your offering and business?

Add your own to the list, as you see fit.

Consider this: Synonym search

It's pretty simple, really. Take every one of the words you brainstormed above and plug them into a thesaurus, like Thesaurus.com (thesaurus.reference.com). Run through each entry, keeping the words you like, trashing the ones you don't. Put these into a new list, paying attention to name possibilities.

Consider this: Word combining + a cool name-combining tool

After you've done some focused brainstorming and/or a synonym search, try word combining. Pop ALL of your words into a word combiner like My Tool (www.my-tool.com/word-domain/word-picker/), tweak its settings to reflect what you want it to show, and combine.

Depending on how many words you put into the system, you may get a massive list returned to you. To weed through them quickly, you can then hit the button at the bottom and check each domain for availability.

Consider this: Name and word lists to get your juices flowing

Plenty of great product, company, and Web site names have their roots in other, irrelevant names. Look up "list of ______" in Google and you'll get more than you can handle:

  • Geologic periods
  • Fruit or food names
  • Types of dinosaurs
  • Kinds of rocks
  • Latin or Greek roots
  • Place names
  • Historical figure names
  • Zoological names
  • Botanical names
  • Math or Engineering terms
  • Astronomical terms
  • Animal, fish, or bug names

Think about this abstractly also. If your product is new and unique, what foods or plants have fresh connotations? And so on.

Consider this: Punning and plays on words

I just tried a new beer recently specifically because of its name. It was called Tricerahops, a double IPA made by Ninkasi Brewery. Quite a beer, incidentally. But check out how you can create a name like that.

Cruise your focused brainstorm and synonym lists for words that describe/define your product. In this beer example, we might find hops—one of the main ingredients in beer. Then, we can look through lists of animals, foods, places, etc and see if we get any good combinations, where the words fit seamlessly. In this case, they chose the dinosaur name "Triceratops" and simply changed one letter. Here's an even easier way of doing it…

Consider this: Groovy word tool

Use this More Words tool (www.morewords.com) and search for any words that contain ____ . You can search for anything—search for words that contain "top," or words that have a double "e." Virtually any sound or letter combo you want to find in a word, this site will do it for you.

Consider this: Meaningful or not?

(Example: Dave's Rocket Repair Inc. has meaning, Simble Inc. does not.)

Some say creating a name with built-in meaning is a must—new companies or products need to seem familiar and safe. Others say non-meaningful names are the best— the name is completely yours, free of meaning (which you can then define); plus, newly coined word names connote innovation.

The jury, as they say, is out. Some things to keep in mind though:

Newly coined words CAN convey meaning. The most championed of these may be Acura, which was formed from the morpheme "Acu" and finishing with suffix "ra." Acu as a root connotes accuracy or precision, which fits nicely for a luxury car line.

The creator of the Acura name (Ira Bachrach of NameLabs) is purported to have a list of thousands of combinable morphemes. I, as of yet, have not found such a list. If you happen to run across one, I'd love to see it. : )

Consider this: A truly killer naming tool

Word Lab (www.wordlab.com) and specifically this page: Word Lab Tools (www.wordlab.com/tools/t_index.cfm).

This Web site I consider to be one of the single most powerful naming tools out there. With an absolutely massive list of company names, a morpheme name creator, name builder, and so on, this site is the juggernaut of idea generators. Every time I'm naming something new, I use this site.

Consider this: Metaphorical naming (some powerful stuff)

I call it metaphorical or lateral naming; but no matter what you call it, it's a branch from the focused brainstorm, and often the coolest names come from this method. It'll take a more creative, abstract frame of mind, so whatever you need to do to break out of your linear comfort zone, do it.

So, after you've changed into your tie dye and stared at your Led Zeppelin poster for a while, grab your focused brainstorm. Here we're going to center on the question "What does your product, business or industry do?" You're going to sequentially take each of the words and phrases you came up with, and come up with other things in life that do these things too.

Let me repeat (or rewrite, as it were) that. You're going to take what your business does, and come up with other things in life that do the same thing. Make a list of everything you come up with. Here is an example:

I have a software company, and our newest product's function is to copy files (pretty high-tech, I know). So I ask, "What else in life copies things?"

A copier—too logical.
A cell—might work, but a little "out there."
A mime—A HA!
Why not call the new software product... Mime.

Here's another:

My marketing company helps its clients voices get heard above the competition's. So, what else gets voices heard or makes things louder?

A bullhorn.
A volume dial.
An Amplifier—A HA!
Why not call the company Amplify Interactive (happens to be a real company here in Portland). Volume Media wouldn't be bad, either.

Consider this: Misspellings

Misspellings of commonly used words can get you in familiarity's proverbial backdoor. Example—netflix.com. It's familiar, short, and you instantly know what they do. Though, if looking for an available domain, you'll have to use some fancy combinations because common misspellings are already registered.

Consider this: Industry lingo

Each industry has its lingo, and you may have noticed that many taglines come from such lingo... or, more distinctly, from words and expressions that are used by your consumers.

For example, I've just developed the perfect fish hook. It never, and I mean never, lets a fish go. A common expression in fishing when you feel a fish take your bait is "Fish on." This great expression, combined with something else, might make a nice tagline for my fail-safe hook. How about "Fish on ... never off."

Consider this: Ask your friends, but...

Ask your friends' opinions, but take them with a grain of salt. First of all, your pool of test subjects is probably pretty small, leaving your results (ratio of yays to nays) with little accuracy.

Second, consider whether your friends are in your target market. If they're not, they may not "get" a name that might be perfect for your market.

Finally, people in general side with what's familiar. Finding your Web site, seeing an advertisement, or having a friend suggest your product can have the unique ability of making your product's name sound good. The name or names that you ask your friends to grade won't have the benefit of such an advantage.

Consider this: How is the competition named? What are the trends?

I've made the mistake (like an idiot, I might add) of not checking my competition first, before creating a name, only to find out the name I created is just like a competitor's. Time wasted.

Now, my general rule is to find out how my competitors are naming themselves and simply be different. Stepping out of the box is always a bit of a gamble, so make sure you're different in what will be seen as a positive way.

Consider this: Name rhyming

Rhymed names are memorable and can work, as long as they're not too cute or overboard. Rhyme Zone (www.rhymezone.com) is fantastic for finding words that rhyme. More Words can also be good for this.

Consider this: Web 2.0 name generators

I'll be honest, they're generally crap. I've used this one, Web 2.0 Name Generator (benjamin.hu/w2namegen.php), but found that, for the most part, they return relatively useless gibberish.

If you have a few extra minutes, though, try popping some of your synonyms into the interface and see what it comes up with. At the very least, it might give you some ideas and get your wheels turning.

Consider this: Don't put too much stock in your name

They're certainly important, but naming can also be over-emphasized. There are plenty of highly successful businesses and products out there with bad names. So, take your naming, like your friends' opinions, with a grain of salt. And, as with everything, the more you stress about obtaining perfection, the less likely you'll come up with that killer name that seamlessly fits your offering.


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Scott Trimble is an account manager at Clear Channel Outdoor and former managing partner of Halfagain LLC (www.halfagain.com), a Portland, Oregon-based marketing software producer.

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Comments

  • by Sourav Thu Feb 28, 2008 via web

    One of the best article I have read in my entire life...very focussed and with loads of information and guides......

    Outstanding........I really appreciate the effort.......

  • by Matthew Mon Feb 23, 2009 via web

    A good list of morphemes is available, searchable, and alphabetized, with 2600 morphemes and growing, at http://www.cognatarium.com/cognatarium/.

  • by Riddhi Mon Sep 14, 2009 via web

    A very specific article .

  • by Akhil S Menon Tue Dec 29, 2009 via web

    greaattt!!

  • by Ignite Mon Feb 22, 2010 via web

    Just about to start a re-brand on a General Contracting company. This article is one of the BEST i've read on the topic of naming. Thank you Scott...great job.

  • by My name is Marcus Mon Jan 2, 2012 via web

    Consider this too: what does the name mean in all other languages? what pictures and domains are returned in SERPS? http://www.globalnaming.com helps you with htis stuff, nice.

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