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Seven Tips for Creating a Company Name That Tells a Compelling Story

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A good company name doesn't have to tell customers exactly what you do. Names that hinge on a compelling narrative are often far more powerful. So approach your naming needs with the following tips in mind, and your brainstorming will be much more likely to yield a robust list of captivating names.

1. Know Thyself

Levi's, Peet's, Hewlett-Packard, and Disney are all names that allude to the history of the companies through their founders. They seek to start conversations centered on the company's origin story.

Highlighting the vision and influence of your company's founders builds an air of trust and relatability among customers. However, this strategy limits options and says little about your company's mission or positioning.

To dive into subtler naming territory, examine your founders' interests and common values. Consider the software company Asana, which refers to a restorative pose in yoga—a meaningful practice of the company's founders.

Sometimes the greatest names come from within a company.

2. ¿Cómo Se Llama?

At a namer's right hand is the thesaurus, but at a namer's left are English-paired dictionaries of many foreign languages.

Although a name could be taken from any language, Swahili and Hawaiian are worth listing because they have regular, pronounceable word constructions. Many successful companies have built a unique tone with foreign names, such as the online payment service Boku (from the French "beaucoup," meaning "much" or "many") or the tomato sauce Prego (Italian for "please").

Such names, when chosen well, can pique interest in your company and make customers ask what language your name comes from or what it means. Those questions are not signs of confusion; they are signs that your company's name has captured customers' curiosity.

3. In Touch With Nature

Humans' innate fascination with the natural world makes it a great place to look for names packed with story and emotion. Nature provides great messaging fodder in the form of purity, goodness, ruggedness, climate (cold or hot), or even a down-home quality.

Amazon, for example, evokes wildness, wonder, and large scale much more effectively than a name like Bargainland would. And whether the name Apple is meant to evoke freshness, Isaac Newton, Adam and Eve, or education, the name starts a conversation. Burt's Bees pays homage to the founder's bee colonies, which he cultivated to make honey and candles to sell at farmers markets, later producing a full line of natural products and sharing his love of nature with customers.

Nature names can serve to set your company apart from the competition and bring your message down to earth.

4. Location (Location, Location)

Like nature, the names of places and the planet's physical features are a great place to look for naming inspiration. Cisco (from San Francisco) and Fujifilm (named after Mt. Fuji, in Japan) are companies that looked to geography in the naming process.

Geographical names connect you to a community and can evoke a variety of emotions. A mountain name is majestic while a city name is cosmopolitan. And what do you think of when you hear Chevy Tahoe? Timbuk2? Yukon?

Taking a good look at a map is a worthwhile step in any naming journey, but keep in mind that geographically descriptive names are not trademarkable unless customers specifically associate the term with your products or services.

5. Know It, You're a Poet!

A good metaphor, when used strategically as a name, can speak volumes. Vudu (a name we created at Catchword) delivers online movie and TV content. Derived from "voodoo," the name aptly conveys the magical qualities of the delivery mechanism, high definition, and surround sound—in just four letters! Other great metaphorical names are Amazon Kindle and Ford Mustang.

Metaphorical names stand for something larger than themselves, and they work for companies that want to do the same.

6. Your Inner Goddess

Mythology and religion are humanity's standbys. Virtually every culture has a collection of symbolic stories full of explanations for life's great mysteries. Those stories are also full of great name ideas.

Nike is named after the Greek Goddess of victory, and Oracle is named after the Oracle of Delphi. From Egyptian to Inuit and Norse to Navajo, there are countless stories to pore over.

A word of advice: mythology is a well-trodden area of naming, so dive deeper than the names of characters to find fresh and exciting naming inspiration.

7. Celebrity Shout-Outs

We pay homage to the great achievers of the world by naming things after them. Sometimes we get lucky and the great achievers have nice names.

Consider electric car company Tesla. When Elon Musk decided to name the company after the great inventor Nikola Tesla, he weaved a story of innovation and divergence into his cars.

Who was the first person to summit Mt. Everest? Who discovered bacteria? The answers might just be great names. Just remember to honor only those who are no longer with us; and, even then, exercise caution, because some names are licensed and otherwise protected by the estates of the deceased.

* * *

Too often, companies want a name that will encapsulate their entire business philosophy. Besides the obvious truth that doing so is impossible, names that try to say too much often end up saying nothing at all.

Deep-naming is the art of choosing a specific message and generating an extensive list of names to convey it in countless different ways (we usually create over 2,000 names for a naming project). The deeper your company's name and its message, the more you stand out from the competition. The tips in this article are avenues that can lead you there.

A deep name makes your customers ask, "Where did your name come from?"—a question you can then answer with a compelling story.

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Mark Skoultchi is a partner at Catchword, a full-service naming company founded in 1998, with offices in the San Francisco Bay area and New York City. Contact Mark at 212-472-8936.

LinkedIn: Mark Skoultchi

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  • by Victoria Ipri Wed Mar 18, 2015 via web

    Great advice, Mark! Best naming book I've ever read: Alexandra Watkins' "Hello, My Name is Awesome". I've used it principles over and over, and now I can add your expert guidance to my knowledge base too.

  • by adPRO-Debbie Wed Mar 18, 2015 via web

    Great article. I'm currently trying to find a name for a candy store and this has given me some new things to think about.

  • by Victoria Ipri Wed Mar 18, 2015 via web

    Debbie @ AdPro- like Sweet Stuff, The Sweet Life or Sticky Fingers? Coming up with candy store names is so much fun:)

  • by Stanton Wed Mar 18, 2015 via web

    Certainly some good ideas for the brain storming process, but I disagree with your "Vudu" example (#5). Alternatively spelling, or intentionally misspelling (ex. Flickr), something leaves too much room for consumer confusion. Upon hearing about "Vudu" I'd take to my phone and type in "Voodoo" or "Flicker" b/c that's the word/spelling in most American lexicons...and without good/expensive SEO you'll likely fail that customer experience.

    Additionally, one thing I think people often forget to factor in before falling in love with a name is availability. Is your name available for the digital taking (e.g. web domains and the like)? I pity all First Banks of the world. A quick search of "first bank" will show you all of the overly creative ways they have to set up their web domains and social media handles. I think you can see where I'm going on this one.

    Good luck fellow entrepreneurs!

  • by adPRO-Debbie Wed Mar 18, 2015 via web

    @ Victoria Thanks for the name ideas. I put them on the list! And just as Staton noted... I'll check to see if they are available as a .com . I will also check to see if they can be trademarked. We were told names like Candy Cafe could not be trade marked because they were to generic. There's so much to think about. But I love naming things so it's better than a house full of animals. LOL

  • by skimonkey Wed Mar 18, 2015 via web

    Some good ideas here to start the naming process. I recently read another guide that takes naming to the next level:

  • by James Heynes Thu Aug 6, 2015 via web

    Nice read! Naming a business is so much harder than I excpected. I am currently in the process to name my new smoothie bar, can't seem to find the right name. I came across Frozen Lemons today (, a website that develops company name ideas based on your business idea. Can't tell yet if I am satisfied but I am definitely excited to receive the name ideas. Maybe a tip for some people here.

  • by Jenny Fri Sep 4, 2015 via web

    Great article Mark!

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