This post is for all you name-it-yourselfers out there: you sole proprietors, partnerships, small businesses, and zero-budget nonprofits.
Let’s assume that, on your own or with the help of a pal or two, you’ve come up with a few business names that you think are pretty good. But you’re not absolutely certain—and you’re so exhausted by the creative effort you can’t tell which name to choose.
So you do what comes naturally. You start asking around.
“Take a look at these names,” you say to your sister-in-law as she’s dropping off the kids at your house. “Are any of them any good?”
“Which name do you like best?” you ask your golf buddies over beers at the clubhouse. “Don’t hold back!”
“I’m starting a business but I can’t reveal anything about it yet,” you tell your dog-walker. “Just let me know what you think of these five names.”
Finally, you ring my doorbell and ask my opinion. And I give it to you straight: Stop. Right. Now. Stop asking your friends whether they like your names.
Why? Because the answers you’ll hear will be irrelevant at best and depressing at worst.
It’s the equivalent of asking a bunch of acquaintances, “Do these jeans make me look fat?” It’s (a) the wrong question, to which (b) there is no right answer.
Suppose your sister-in-law says, “Ugh, they’re all stupid—gotta run”? Suppose your golf buddies agree unanimously that one name is far superior to all the others—and it’s the name you like the least? And why are you asking your dog-walker’s opinion, anyway?
I have better suggestions.
My first suggestion—more like an unconditional demand, actually—is to return to the comprehensive, carefully researched naming brief that you wrote before you started dreaming up names. (You did write that naming brief, didn’t you? Excellent.)
Here’s a little refresher about using a naming brief to evaluate names:
As important as the naming brief is for the creative-exploration phase, it's equally important during the next phase: name evaluation. It isn't sufficient to say you like or don't like a name; those are subjective, unsupported responses. It's far more constructive to say that a name matches or fails to match the objectives in the naming brief. (And if a name does match your objectives and criteria and you still reject it, you'll need to ask yourself whether the objectives and criteria have changed.)
If you’ve done your homework properly, you may have your answer right there.
But you’re human. You just can’t resist sharing. So here’s my second suggestion.
Create an advisory board—a small group of friends, colleagues, or consultants whom you can trust to give you thoughtful, professional advice. Gather the advisors together and do not ask them the following question:
“Which name do you like best?”
Never. Ever. Banish it from your vocabulary.
“Like” is subjective and, frankly, useless: You want an effective and distinctive name, not a “likable” one. Besides, “likable” names tend to be bland, familiar, and unmemorable. “Virgin” was not a “likable” name for an airline. (Inexperienced pilots?) “Banana Republic” was detested by a vocal minority during the years I worked there; we’d get letters every week from customers accusing us of supporting (or mocking) puppet regimes in Central America.
So forget “Which name do you like?” Instead, try these tactics:
- Tell the group your naming objectives and criteria. (Just refer to your naming brief.)
- Show each name on a piece of paper and ask your advisors how they would pronounce it. Listen for consistent stumbles and errors.
- Alternatively, say each name aloud and then ask the advisors to write it on a piece of paper. Look for consistent misspellings.
- Ask whether any of the names has any negative or inappropriate connotations—street slang, another local business with a similar name, a confusing sound, and so on.
- If you plan to do business with people who aren’t native English speakers, it’s a good idea to include non-native speakers in your group. Ask whether they hear anything that could be a problem in their native language(s).
- Remind the group of your naming objectives and criteria. Yes, you’re repeating yourself.
- Finally, ask the group which names most closely meet those objectives and criteria, and which ones fall short.
When you’re finished, you should have some useful, objective feedback.
I also suggest you check Urban Dictionary to make sure your name isn’t the latest synonym for, say, excrement (but remember that anyone can contribute to Urban Dictionary, and its entries aren’t necessarily authoritative). Do a Google search (don’t forget to look for alternate spellings and misspellings) and a USPTO search. Anything negative come up? Let’s hope not.
Finally, I recommend that you watch this six-minute Catchword video about using a focus group for brand names. A focus group is a grander, more expensive version of asking your sister-in-law and your golf buddies for their opinion, but similar principles apply. In the video, Catchword’s Laurel Sutton lays out the ground rules: what to ask, what not to ask (she and I are in total agreement here), and how to evaluate what you hear. In the end, says Laurel, “as long as the name doesn’t have commonly shared negative associations and it adequately reflects your brand promise, it doesn’t have to win any popularity contests.” Hear, hear.
UPDATE: Still stumped for a name? Check out my naming service for smaller businesses, which provides professional feedback for a ridiculously low flat fee.