It is an interesting, complicated, and marvelous time to be a woman. And, likewise, it is an interesting, complicated, and marvelous time to be naming brands catering exclusively to women.
Those tasked with choosing a name for a product or company geared toward women have a lot to consider. Should they lean into traditional definitions of femininity, à la Miss Sixty or Victoria's Secret? Or is it more compelling to avoid traditional notions of femininity and create fiercely feminine names like Nasty Girl—a fashion brand name that predates the Pussyhat Project but reverberates with the same raw and raucous "girl power"?
Or perhaps it's best to avoid either extreme by developing a name that just hints at the feminine—an approach successfully demonstrated by the active wear brand Oiselle.
So... what are some considerations for naming a female-focused brand?
What are you naming?
Before beginning any naming process or making a name selection, carefully consider not only the market but also the type of product or company being named.
For example, the beer brewery name "High Heel Brewing" was a misstep, because gender has nothing inherently to do with beer. On the other hand, the name LUNA works quite well as an energy bar, because in this case gender is relevant: The bars were designed with women's nutritional needs in mind. That is a value proposition, and giving the name a feminine slant therefore makes sense.
The same holds true for Stella Rising, a name River + Wolf developed for a marketing and media agency for spirited, high-growth consumer brands and service companies. Andrea Van Dam, the company's CEO says, "We went from Women's Marketing to Stella Rising, a name that is human-centric, not gender-restrictive. As a female name, Stella plays to the fact that we're a women-led company with a passion for beauty. But ["stella"], as the Latin word for star...positions us as the agency for rising star brands of all kinds."
What makes a name 'feminine'?
Once it's been decided to reference femininity, it is worth exploring the ways that can be done.
One way is to use words or terms obviously associated with females, as is the case with brands like Prima Donna (lingerie) and She Knows (editorial platform).
Another way is through referencing something associated with women, but less directly so. LUNA bars embrace this approach: Traditionally, the moon has been a feminine symbol.
The Riveter, a Seattle coworking space for women, also takes that subtle approach. The name evokes World War II feminist icon Rosie the Riveter, who called on women to keep the US economy strong by working in factories to supply the front lines.
How does it sound?
Meaning aside, the sound of the name can also reference the feminine. Linguists have studied trends in the types of names most commonly assigned to males and females.
Names that start with "soft" phonemes—sounds that are formed with the tongue and lips rather than the vibrating vocal chords, like the F in Fiona vs. the A in Adam—are more often assigned to girls than to boys.
Linguists have also discovered that words that sound airy and delicate are perceived as feminine, as are words that end in vowels, like Sephora.
Let's unpack a few feminine brand names
To further explore what makes a name "feminine," let's take a look at some examples in the activewear and yoga clothing space.
- Overtly female: Lululemon, Sweaty Betty, Soul Flower, Pink Lotus
- Subtly female: JoyLab*, Oiselle, Athleta, Alala
The names in the first group employ a few tactics to convey femininity. Some use words like "flower," "pink," and "lotus"—words etched in our collective consciousness as female. Others get at the feminine through the use of a female proper name—though it is interesting to note that "Sweaty Betty" is a far cry from "Betty Crocker."
The names in the second group resonate as female-focused names, but they do so in a way less obvious than those in the first. Oiselle is a French word for bird, which in turn alludes to "that feeling of weightlessness that most athletes know and love," according to the brand's website. Alala is named after a Greek goddess whose name signifies a battle cry: a brilliant way to convey femininity and strength. Athleta and Alala also sound feminine because each ends in an "a" vowel, as we previously noted.
There is another approach for the name of a female-focused brand—to completely avoid any reference to women, whether overt or subtle. This approach has been successfully taken by activewear/yoga-clothing brands like Free People, Ripple, and Outdoor Voices.
It is also the approach used by Flamingo, a woman's razor and shaving-supply brand. As explained on the Flamingo website, the name "is a nod to the one-legged pose you make in the shower when you are shaving your legs." Skin Laundry, a laser-and-light facial clinic that caters primarily to women, also avoids the ultrafeminine name types common in the spa and aesthetic skincare industry.
The big benefit in using a genderless name is that there is less chance for a misstep, considering how easy it is to offend or misrepresent part of your audience in today's increasingly gender-neutral and gender-sensitive society.
* * *
Should a brand name embrace feminine attributes? One thing is clear: The days of "shrink it and pink it" are over. Any use of feminine attributes—in the name, design, or messaging—must be done thoughtfully.
Moreover, if a name is chosen that telegraphs women's strength, power, and intellect, the business it represents had better embody those ideals, too, in both its policies and its practices. Otherwise, the name is no less a form of pandering than the "shrink it and pink it" approach of the past.
*Name created by River + Wolf