As an entrepreneur, one of the toughest decisions you’ll make early on is what to name your brand. Even after you’ve given your business the perfect name, you may struggle with coming up for on-brand names for your service packages, programs, newsletters, tribe/followers, and/or other components of your business. Lucky for you, I have a pretty amazing system for BRANDSTORMING (see, I’m brainstorming names already). But before I share my go-to process with you, I want to share a little story with you that will help illuminate the importance of a good business name…
When my best friend got married, I had the privilege of being her Matron of Honor. The ceremony took place in a small town in Michigan called Petusky. The wedding was beautiful; absolutely perfect. The next day, a group of us were exploring Petusky in the miserable cold that is Northern Michigan in the wintertime. We ducked into an art gallery to escape the cold while we scavenged Yelp for a good place to eat… and that’s when we asked local artist and photographer for a recommendation.
Let’s just say our description of what we were looking for was… well, less than articulate. We explained that we were looking for somewhere to eat that was fresh, delicious, and kind of “hipster” or “yuppie” fare. At first, he recommended a diner… then suggested a steak and potatoes joint. Eventually, it clicked and he said, “Oh! I know where you should go… The Twisted Olive.”
In that one name – The Twisted Olive – we knew that it was Mediterranean cuisine, that it was a quirky and interesting, and with the word twisted, that we probably weren’t looking at your standard fare. That alone – just the name – was enough for us to decide that’s where we should eat.
Here’s the thing about a brand name – it’s a first impression. More often than not, the name of your business is what your potential customers will see before they ever lay eyes on your site or before they know anything about you personally. That’s why it’s SO crucial to choose a name for your product, service, or brand that draws in your audience in from the get go.
Naming your business is a lot like naming your baby. Everyone will have their opinions, but ultimately, you’re the one who has to live with and be happy with your brand name. In that sense, I’ll be the first one to tell you – naming your brand is a very personal choice. That’s why it’s so important to carefully review your choices and find the perfect fit.
So, let’s talk about GOALS for a great name:
- It should be meaningful.
Your business is a serious matter. It’s what you’ve chosen to do with your life and time. It’s how you make money to keep a roof over your head and pizza in your mouth. (Or whatever you eat.) Starting a business is a very personal project, so ideally, your name should hold some importance to you.
- It should be easy to say, spell, and remember.
You want to leave a lasting impression and get your brand stuck in your customers’ minds. In order for your brand to be on their minds, it needs to be easy enough for them to process and remember.
- It should be unique.
The name of your business needs to stand out, so it’s crucial to choose something that captivates interest. If your name is too similar to other brands in your same space, it will make you seem run-of-the-mill rather than special.
- It should be AVAILABLE.
Ideally, your name should be available as a dot-com. But it’s also important to make sure your name (or some version of it) is available on social media sites and is not already trademarked by someone else.
- It should tell viewers something about your brand.
Consider whether someone would understand, even vaguely, what you do if they only knew your business name (with no other context). This doesn’t need to be super specific, like Jim’s Grocery Store. Even names like U-Haul and Home Depot give a hint at their purpose.
- It shouldn’t limit you to a specific niche.
You may expand your offerings or services over time, so it’s best to select a name that can grow with you. It’s fine to focus on a certain niche, but leave the limiting language to your website, which can easily be adjusted to reflect changes over time.
With that in mind… you probably won’t find a name that checks all of these boxes.
Compromise isn’t fun, but sometimes it’s necessary.
(Pin for later!)
Now, I know what you’re thinking…
Why am I taking brand name advice from miss first-name-last-name-dot-com over here?
Soooooo original, Kaye!
Allow me to explain…
There are several different types of brand names, and in certain situations (like mine), it makes sense to use your name as an umbrella brand for your programs, services, or products. But more on that in a second!
Here are the various TYPES of brand names:
New, made up, or combined words.
Yahoo! and FedEx are great examples of major brands who use new or combined words. I’ve also used this style for my own brand, resulting in Brandality (the Brand Archetypes Quiz) and Brandfluency (Archetype Courses).
While these names should describe your business in some way, don’t go too basic or risk being forgotten. Rather than an uninspired name like Joe’s Crab Shack (sorry, Joe), find middle ground like these brands: Land Rover, The Discovery Channel, and Pampers. These are all names that are (even loosely) related to what they do or offer, and are very memorable.
Real words (but seemingly unrelated).
In some cases, companies opt to name their business after a real word that isn’t directly related to what they do or sell. Perfect examples of this would be Apple computers or Caterpillar construction equipment.
Named after people.
For some brands, being named after a founder or public figure makes most sense. Take me, for example! Since what I’m selling is my mind, my genius, my skillset – I am the goods. For that reason, KayePutnam.com works well as my overall brand name, with more interesting names (like In Demand Brand) for my offerings and services. Other examples of this brand name type include Johnson & Johnson and Nordstrom.
IMPORTANT: If your name is difficult to pronounce, spell, or remember, modify it to be simpler. Great examples of this are Regina Anaejionu of ByRegina.com and Sarah Morgan of XOSarah.com. It’s also NOT a good idea to name your business after yourself (or anyone) if you intend to one day sell it.
Although several major brands rock an acronym – H&M, BMW, IBM, MTV – I wouldn’t personally recommend this for small businesses. It is often unclear what the acronym stands for and can be easy to jumble or forget.
As a psychology-driven brand strategist, I can’t help but take neuromarketing into consideration when choosing a name. As humans, our brains like patterns. Lots of different patterns.
Here are a few patterns that you’ll begin to notice over and over again in branding…
Alliteration is “the occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words.” You’ll catch lots of brands using this style.
Coca-Cola. Dunkin Donuts. LuLu Lemon. Best Buy.
I’ve also used this pattern in my naming my “Brand New Brand” course.
While not nearly as prevalent as alliterative names, rhyming brand names are also common. Big brands like StubHub, 7 Eleven, and Piggly Wiggly have turned their sing-songy names into household names.
My podcast (and method for building brands) features a rhyming name – In Demand Brand.
Modified Puns, Clichés, or Common Phrases
We recognize puns, clichés, and common phrases easily because we’ve grown accustomed to hearing and seeing them over time. We remember them! So when brands use elements of these, modified to fit their needs, it sticks with us. Ash Ambirge of The Middle Finger Project created a course on emotional writing called The Six Appeal Process. Her subtle play on sex appeal piqued the interest of her audience!
Word + Word
This simple structure draws the eye and allows for a ton of creativity. You can convey many things with these two words. Take for example, Stop & Shop. In just 3 syllables, you know that it’s a store and that it’ll probably be quick, as implied by the word stop. Then there are brands like Crate and Barrel, who opt for words that create more imagery or subtly suggest their offerings.
Now that you’ve set goals and recognize the different types and patterns of brand names, let’s put this method to the test!
What needs a name? It can be anything from your business itself to an event or conference, webinar, podcast, app, newsletter, or a collective name for your followers. Whatever you choose to name, use the worksheet below to drum up ideas!
Before you TOTALLY get your heart set on one name, I recommend doing a little elimination with your good friend Google. You’ll want to search to be sure it isn’t already in use, unavailable as a site or social media handle, and not yet trademarked. You’ll probably find that some of your favorites are already taken, but with any luck, you’ll still have amazing options to choose from at the end.
Ready to kick-off your brandstorming? Download the *free* worksheet to get started!
I can’t wait to hear how this experiment goes! Come back and leave a comment with your winning name and a bit about your business. I’d love to see what you come up with! (It’s gonna be GENIUS!)
Quite an interesting read! I am also in the brand naming business, working for EatMyWords as an intern. I would really take your points here and apply them in my job. Thank you so much.
Thanks so much for the insight
So much goes into this. thanks for sharing some light. I’ve had a brand name for 10 years and starting a new venture way different. I want to make this count.
Hi there, thanks alot for all your useful advices. I am a entrepreneur who is launching soon my own High Quality Home made food products fusing with creative recipes, working with female artisans from various regions of my country and targetting international markets. I have already a brand namle but i am not convinced neither do my futur potential customers overseas.
Thank you ! This is so fun, but so challenging! You helped a ton already and I’m on my way to figuring it out.