Why naming a business is harder than naming a baby: A step by step guide to creating a powerful business name
Someone once told me naming your business is almost as hard as naming your own baby. It’s something we’d tell clients all the time in agencies I used to work for, to prepare them for the challenge that was coming. I always wondered if it was really true. Then I had two babies and started my own business within the space of a few years. So now I can say with authority… naming a business definitely is harder than naming a baby!
Finding the right business name is by far the most challenging part of the branding process, and usually stretches out timelines. You need something unique. But you also need to be able to secure a URL and social media handles. And it has to match the positioning, personality and story of your business. Oh, and then you need to find an option that does all of that AND is a name your stakeholders can all agree on.
Those are tricky waters, but with the right process and mindset it can be a really exciting time in your business journey. To help you navigate through, I’m going to show you the approach used by agencies to create a powerful business name.
1. Start with a naming brief
A brief ensures all stakeholders are clear on the objective from the start. If you don’t do this you’ll find that the goalposts shifting during the process, frustrating everyone.
For your brief, think about…
- What feeling, emotion of brand personality should it invoke? Professional and serious, quirky, fun, abstract? Ideally you will have already developed your brand positioning, so you know how you’re defining and distinguishing your business before this step.
- What potential does the business have for the future? Be careful not to choose something too descriptive as it will limit the ability for your business to pivot and shift in the future.
- Are there themes or areas you want your name to represent? As a starting point, think about the story you want to communicate and the values your business stands for.
- Are there words you do not want in your name?
- Do you have a preference for the number of words that comprise your name?
- What style of name would you prefer:
- Real Words (Apple, Amazon, Target)
- Compound Words (Netflix, SnapChat, DoorDash)
- Phrases (Park’n’Ride, Pay as You Go, After Pay)
- Blends (Instagram, Skype, Camelbak)
- Made-up Words (Kodak, Lego, Sondo)
- Acronyms (ANZ, BP, BMW)
- Misspelled Words (Reddit, Play-Doh, TikTok)
Here’s an example of the brief we started with to name Sondo.
Sondo name brief
– One word (ideally)
– Should embody our purpose but not sound preachy
– Shouldn’t be literal
– Easy to remember and pronounce
– No acronyms
– Not based on the founders
– Should sound professional or have a smart sound to it rather than being comical
– Shouldn’t be boring
– Interesting and engaging
– Would be great to link to a story
– Not misspelt
– Shouldn’t sound green or eco friendly
2. What are the names of your competitors?
Steer clear of anything that sounds like a competitor. You want your name to be distinctive, unique and memorable. Do your research now to avoid problems in the future.
3. Define your target audience
Hopefully you’ve already done this. If not, now is the time to get specific about your target audience and develop some personas of your ideal customer. Then ask “what kind of name will resonate with them?”.
4. Brainstorm and ideation
You’re ready to start the fun part. In this step, generate as many names as you can and let the ideas flow. One idea usually sparks another, so write them all down. Don’t discount an idea yet; record it.
Brainstorming can be overwhelming, because there seem limitless different directions you could go. So here’s a tip: start by writing “themes” or “categories” you want to explore. Make a slide or blank page for each theme, with the theme name written at the top. Then use those themes as the prompts or launch pads for your brainstorming.
Here are some themes and territories we started with for Sondo…
And remember to think outside the box. Provided it meets your brief, you don’t have to limit yourself to everyday English words. Research relevant words in other languages, names from myths or ancient stories, scientific or technical terms, metaphors, symbols (something that can stand for a word you are trying to convey).
There a lots of free online tools that will help you brainstorm:
- Use crowdsourcing sites like www.namingforce.com to generate more ideas. For US$200 you can generate over 300 names. Be sure to start with a detailed brief and guide the naming community everyday with feedback to get the most out of this approach.
5. Generate a long list of names that could work
After brainstorming, you’ll hopefully have hundreds of names scribbled down. Some you’ll love, some you may cringe at. Now select any that may work for your business, and paste them into a long list. Don’t be afraid to have more than 100 names at this step.
Again, it’s probably helpful to group them by themes, to help give you focus as you start to judge them.
6. Refine that down to a medium list
Once you have your long list agreed, put it down. Go for a walk. Have some coffee. Watch 10 hours of Epic Sax Guy.
Come back with fresh eyes, and distil your list to no more than 20 names for further analysis and checking.
Record the following against each name:
- Why it works for your brand
- Pros and cons
- URL and social media availability
- Business name availability through ASIC
If you have a business partner you will need to do this collaboratively.
A note on URL and Social Media availability: It is getting harder and harder and harder to find available URLs and Social Media handles. Don’t let this put you off a potential winning name. Think about other approaches to your name that you could use in a domain. If sondo.com and sondo.com.au are taken, what about wearesondo.com or sondodesign.com?
7. Boil it down to a shortlist and get feedback
Once you’ve finalised your medium list, guess what’s next? That’s right, distill it one more time! Narrow the list down to 3-5 names.
Once you have your shortlist, give yourself time to mull it over. Let these final contenders settle in your subconscious and see which ones keep popping back into your thoughts.
Test them within a select number of people in your organisation, your industry and/or your target market. Give them context on the type of business it will be and see what reaction you get. But here’s an important piece of advice: avoid asking too many people. Everyone will have an opinion. And it’s impossible to please everyone. Canvassing too widely risks confusing yourself, getting a weak choice designed by committee and possibly alienating some of your team.
Here’s a few last tricks to help you find your winner:
- Say the names out loud as a pretend introduction and see how they sound: “Hello my name is Gemma from Sondo.”
- Think about the story you will tell if someone asks what your name means. Here’s our story and why we chose Sondo. (write a short article about this)
- Make sure it is easy to spell, memorable and stands out
Remember, there are always going to be people who disagree with your choice (usually friends and family). But if it aligns with your business, your target market and your brand story, stick to your guns.
8. Register your winning name
Once you’ve chosen a name, register it with ASIC, buy the domain name, and nab your social media handles on all channels. In some cases you may need to pay for a lawyer to conduct a thorough trademark search.
Your name will grow with your brand
Just like a baby’s name, your business name is just a starting point for your brand to grow from. We never know what our babies will be like as they grow and their personality gives meaning to their name. For your business, you’ll build layers of personality and meaning around your brand as you go. But a powerful name ensures those layers are growing from an inspiring start, that will give your brand drive for the long-term future.
Need a name for your business or product?
We can handle the whole process for you. Or, for advice or feedback, book a 90 min Spark Bar coaching session.