How to create a strong brand name

image showing the brand name 'Allbirds' and in small typography attributes that make a great name

By Nine Blaess | 04:50 min

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    A strong brand name is one of the most valuable brand assets. It is the aspect of your brand that most people are most likely to remember.

    I get it. When you start a business, you neither have the time nor the resources for a lengthy naming process. But a bad name can be costly down the track, while a strong brand name can speed up your brand-building process.

    That’s why your brand name should be strong from day one. Changing the name later can be tricky and costly.

    For this reason, you should consider hiring an expert to guide you through the naming process. If you want to do it yourself, this article explains how to create a strong brand name for your business.

    Characteristics of a strong brand name

    A strong brand name should meet the following criteria[1]:

    • The name is different.
    • The name is appropriate and triggers emotions.
    • The name is available.
    • The name is short.
    • The name is easy to spell and pronounce.
    • The name is easy to visualise.
    • The name works across multiple languages.

    Let’s look at each one of these aspects.

    The name is different.

    A good brand name is unique. It should differ enough from other brand names— especially from your competitors—to avoid confusion.

    The name is appropriate and triggers emotions.

    An appropriate brand name is tailored to the industry and personality of the brand. Ideally, it also triggers emotions. Avoid a name that is too descriptive. It could sound generic, confuse your customers or hinder the future growth of the brand. 

    Happy Socks, for example, limits itself to the production of socks. What about their underwear?

    The name is available.

    Your brand name should be available for trademarking. Also be sure to check the availability of URLs and social media handles before you decide on a name. These can be challenging to secure.

    The name is short.

    A good brand name shouldn’t have more than four syllables. Otherwise, customers might forget it or get lazy and invent—possibly damaging—abbreviations.

    The name is easy to spell and pronounce

    A simple name is more likely to be shared. Simplicity also reduces the risk for people to misspell or misunderstand the brand name.

    The name is easy to visualise.

    Marketing Expert David Ogilvy, the founder of Ogilvy, talks about an idea that that has legs. He means that a name should easily translate into designs and communication campaigns.

    An example of a legged name is Twitter. Although the name Twitter is fictional, the company couldn’t have used another symbol than a bird. And who doesn’t know what a tweet is?

    It works across multiple languages.

    In today’s connected world, most brands reach an international audience. It has never been more crucial that a brand name works across the globe. Research the meaning of the name in different languages to avoid pitfalls.

    Take Mercedes-Benz, for example. They entered the Chinese market under the name Bensi which means “rush to die”.

    Six types of brand names

    Knowing your options will help you to create your strong brand name. We can classify most existing brand names into six categories:

    • Founder’s name
    • Descriptive name
    • Metaphoric name
    • Arbitrary name
    • Altered name
    • Acronym and Invented name

    Founder’s name

    The name of the company’s founder, often their last name, is used as a brand name, such as Ford or Zeiss.

    Founder’s names are usually unique and easy to trademark. But founder’s names bear the risk that any press that follows the founder also follows the brand itself. A famous example is Lance Armstrong’s doping scandal.

    Founder names can be perceived as old-fashioned and may not sound very emotional.

    Descriptive name

    Descriptive names indicate what the company does, e.g. Facebook or Kickstarter.

    They convey the purpose of a brand well. Therefore, the marketing budget for customer education may be lower. However, URLs and social media handle with a descriptive name may be hard to get hold of, and you risk sounding generic and lacking emotion.

    Metaphoric name

    Metaphoric names describe the feel of a brand by referring to something else with similar attributes, such as Puma.

    Metaphoric brand names can sound creative and refreshing. But they can also be misleading and make it difficult to find them on Google.

    Arbitrary name

    Arbitrary brand names are words that have no obvious brand connection, such as Apple or Nike.

    Like metaphoric brand names, arbitrary brand names can sound creative and refreshing. However, it can be challenging to educate customers about the name and remove associations with the original word. Arbitrary brand names can also mislead, which makes them difficult to find on Google.

    Altered name

    Altered brand names are fictional names based on actual words, such as Spotify.

    Altered names can be easy to trademark and usually transport the brand spirit well. But watch out for customers misspelling the name. This makes it harder for them to find you.

    Acronym and Invented name

    Invented brand names are made-up words, such as Kodak.

    Invented names can result in strong brand names that can end up standing for an entire category, such as Kleenex or Velcro. They are usually easy to trademark. However, they can initially confuse customers. It may be a challenge to educate people on your name.

    Seven steps to create your brand name

    Before establishing a strong brand name for your company, it helps to define a strategic foundation for your brand. Find answers to questions like:

    • What makes your company different?
    • What do you want to be known for? 
    • Whom do you want to help?
    • What’s your brand personality? 

    With a foundation in place, your naming process will become a lot easier.

    1. Brainstorm names for each of the above categories. Don’t try to limit yourself. Don’t overthink. Just write everything down that comes to mind.
    2. Narrow the list down until you have 5-10 names left.
    3. Perform a quick search to see which of the names are available as URLs and social media handles. If a name you like is unavailable, you can be creative with it. Try other domains (brandname.love) or weare[brand name].com etc.
    4. Ask a few people how they feel about the names you came up with. But be careful when interpreting their feedback. A new name has yet to grow its meaning. When the Nike founder decided on the name Nike, this is what he initially had to say[2]:

    I don’t love it, but maybe it will grow on me.

    —Phil Knight
    1. If you are not convinced, go back to the brainstorming phase. You can even try combining existing words to create new ones.
    2. Don’t forget to research the names in various languages.
    3. Once you are happy with a name, you can contact a trademark lawyer to find out if you can register the name.

    You did it! With your new brand name in place, you can now think about the visual identity to bring your brand to life. 

    If you need advice at any stage of your branding journey, I’d be glad to help.

    References

    [1] Adapted from Marty Neumeier’s classification. He defines a strong brand name as the following: differentiated, brief, appropriate, easy to spell, satisfying to pronounce, suitable for “brand play” and legally defensible. For reference and examples read his blog post: “Strong vs. weak names”.

    [2] Phil Knights, founder of Nike, in his memoir Shoe Dog, Simon & Schuster (2016)

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