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It's a Shame You Chose That Name: The Six Biggest Naming Mistakes

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Naming your new company or product is a huge opportunity. Get it right, and you could put your brand on the map, generate buzz, and spark interest among customers. Get it wrong, and you might render your brand invisible—or call attention to it for all the wrong reasons.

Yet, because name creation is more art than science, and a highly personal process to boot, it's very, very easy to get it wrong. (Just look around at the marketplace.)

So what are some of the pitfalls to watch out for when naming your brand? As naming consultants, we've noticed that most of the self-sabotaging behaviors boil down to six all-too-human tendencies.

1. Wanting to be like everyone else

It's human nature. You see a something that's working, and you want to copy it. A well-known brand name sounds solid and credible. But remember, that's often because the brand has become solid and credible over time and with a lot of marketing dollars behind it. (Do you think the name Google sounded solid and credible in the beginning? Or Yahoo?)


Besides, it doesn't matter how much your competitor's name has helped them to rise to the top, because one of your brand name's primary jobs is to convey that your brand is different from the competition. So resist the urge to copy your competitors in style, tone, or construction during name creation.

2. Forgetting what's important to your customers

Before you start naming, make sure you've honed your brand positioning so you're crystal clear about what your audience is looking for (even if they might not know it yet), and also about the most important and distinctive way your brand meets that need or desire.

You might be absolutely thrilled by how reliable your new airplane fleet is, but if your customers are craving a fresh, stylish experience, don't use your brand name to convey something that's irrelevant to them (even if it's personally important to you).

If Virgin America had been named "Fidelia," for instance, it might never have gotten off the ground.

3. Trying to say everything

A good brand name is an entry point, not a prospectus. Like clever flirting, you create interest by beckoning your audience into your world, not by telling them everything. So focus on the message that's most likely to capture their attention. Once you have their ear, you can fill them in on the rest, through packaging, advertising, your Web copy, and so on.

Can you feel the difference in impact between a name like Cheapbooksonline.com and Amazon? One name evokes vastness and power—and curiosity. The other name gives you all the details, but it sounds completely generic and forgettable.

4. Fearing the provocative

Yes, at times it's a good idea to choose a bland name that doesn't attract a lot of attention to itself. (Case in point: Philip Morris Companies was convicted of covering up the dangers of smoking and decided to rename itself Altria.)

But those instances are few and far between. In most cases, an edgy name that's different from the pack and attracts attention is far "safer" than a safe one. Remember, the biggest risk is being ignored, not being reviled. Just ask Lady Gaga.

5. Courting trends

Dropped letters, weirdly juxtaposed concepts, hip slang, "in" suffixes—naming trends come and go. What's hot in brand naming one decade can be ho-hum the next. The very nature of fashion is that it's constantly changing.

And though it's OK to splurge on a trendy sweater that may languish in your closet five years from now, your name, like the company or product it represents, will hopefully be around for a long, long time. So choose a name that you'll be able to utter with pride in the decades to come.

Naming trends may change, but the magic of a well-chosen word (or words) is likely to remain the same.

6. Not catching spelling and pronunciation issues

When you're deep into a name-creation project, it's easy to lose perspective and forget how your name is likely to appear to someone who's coming to it fresh. (Like your customers.)

So take the time to review your choices after some time has passed. Your public has absolutely no interest in figuring out how to spell or pronounce a difficult brand name. (Or in pondering wordplay that isn't immediately intuitive, for that matter.) They're busy people. Unless your brand name is easy to read and say, they're likely to skip right over it. Or worse, misinterpret it.

Do you think that most people realized that penisland.net was a site for pens?

* * *

Now it's worth noting that a truly great product or company can rise to the top even if its name falls into one or more of those traps. But why handicap yourself? Spend the time and effort to create a noteworthy brand name (or hire a naming expert who can), and you'll be so much farther ahead.

The right brand name is a gift that keeps on giving: communicating your brand's promise, generating conversations with your customers, inspiring allegiance both internally and among your audiences. It's a golden opportunity. Don't waste it.


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Laurel Sutton is a linguistics expert and principal at Catchword, a full-service naming company founded in 1998. For more information, contact Laurel at 510-628-0080 x105.

LinkedIn: Laurel Sutton

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Comments

  • by Chuck Kent Wed Aug 14, 2013 via web

    Good post. I would just prioritize #2 as #1

  • by Leon Palmer Wed Aug 14, 2013 via web

    #7 - Not checking to see if the name you choose has already been registered as a domain name, especially if it is being used by someone offering similar services.

  • by Ashleigh Wed Aug 14, 2013 via web

    The rash of businesses name iSomething after the iPhone came out is just terrible. It makes me not want to buy from companies that can't come up with something more creative than that. It's even worse when the 'i' has nothing to do with their business type.

  • by Cara McDonald Wed Aug 14, 2013 via web

    Reminds me of the movie, That Thing You Do. The band originally called itself the Oneders (pronounced Wonders), but people kept calling them the O-needers. Don't be cute with your spelling, go for the Wonders, straight out. How wonderful!

  • by Erin O'Donnell Thu Aug 15, 2013 via web

    To No. 6, I would add a subsection: Scour the web -- especially its dark places -- for double meanings of particular terms. I considered a blog name with the word "amateur" in it. Sounded innocent enough. Until a close friend pointed out my idea was already a porn term. Whoops.

    I will be laughing about "penisland" all day.

  • by Gracious Store Sat Aug 17, 2013 via web

    Choosing a good brand name is important, it is a way you communicate what your brand stands for to your customers and prospects

  • by Susan Lawson-Dawson Thu Aug 22, 2013 via web

    It should be penisland.net. The URL in the article really IS what you'd expect from the name - which I guess proves the article's point in a way. Just wish I would have realized it before I sent it to my whole office :) Not sure I'll live this "piece of advice" down for a while.

  • by Vahe, MarketingProfs Thu Aug 22, 2013 via web

    Susan, thanks for pointing that out! (Well, that was embarrassing...) The correction's been made.

  • by A K Sun Aug 25, 2013 via web

    This is a completely false statement, "Philip Morris Companies was convicted of covering up the dangers of smoking." While the sentiment may be true, the facts are not.

  • by John Antonios Wed Sep 18, 2013 via web

    I loved the post.
    I would add a very important element in choosing a brand name and that is how it crosses borders ... some names have a negative meaning in other languages ... So checking wether the brand name chosen is "universally" accepted is also important for a brand the plans to be a global one - but then again, with the internet, whether you like it or not your brand is scene across the globe!

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