This is a post I originally wrote for How to Split an Atom, Steve Spalding’s fine blog about the intersection of technology and society. With his permission, I’m republishing it here with a few updates and modifications.
I’ve been naming products and companies since—well, let’s just say my first assignment was pre-Web. I’ve seen naming trends come and go, but some things never change. Like these common blunders, pitfalls, and wrong turns on the nomenclature trail:
- Mistaking your mission statement for a creative brief. Yes, you want to dominate your market. Sure, you’re cool and innovative. Guess what? Your competitors say the same things. We’ll need more and different information—way different—to develop your name, because your name needs to express something unique about your business. An experienced naming consultant will ask you questions that reveal what’s really distinctive and important. (Want to know what goes into an effective naming brief? Read this.)
- Expecting an overnight sensation. Want a memorable, trademarkable name next week? Let’s do a reality check. Interviews, brand analysis, creative work, domain checking: they all take time. So does the back-and-forth with you and your team. And the trademark lawyers need time to weigh in, too. Figure on five to eight weeks from start to successful finish.
- Delegating the assignment to an engineer. That is, unless you really, really want a name like “XQ326.” No doubt s/he’s brilliant, but most likely even your smartest engineer doesn’t shine at etymology, phonetics, cross-cultural semantics, and all the other factors that go into creating meaningful names.
- Cutting corners. Allow me to put this as succinctly as possible: good naming ain’t cheap. If you’re hoping to scrimp on your naming project—if you think you can get a great name, fast, for $129.99—consider how many times, and in how many places, your name will appear. Think about how valuable that exposure is. Then think about how silly you’ll look if the name is unpronounceable or means something unspeakable in one of your target markets. Bonus tip: There’s a lot of room between $129.99 and those six-figure naming fees the big branding agencies charge.
- Looking for love in all the wrong places. Aha! moments are as rare in naming as they are in romance. Instead of a love match, you should be going for an arranged marriage: a name with a good background and excellent prospects. Passion fades. Find an honest, suitable name and soon enough find yourself deeply in love. Trust me. (For more about this, read my 2010 post “Forget About Love.”)
- Focus-grouping to death. Getting to yes with your management team is a good thing. Sending the top 50 names to your entire address book isn’t. You’ll be awash in opinions, half of them snarky and the other half too subjective or uninformed to be useful. Here’s something else professional naming consultants are good at: helping you evaluate names and make decisions. Bonus tip: On the other hand, don’t leave anyone out of the decision process who has the power to cast a no vote.
- Picking a name “because it was available.” Of course you want to secure a presence on the Web. But believe it or not, domain registration is actually the easy part of naming. Here’s the key point: a URL, no matter how weirdly spelled, is not a brand. And it isn’t your story. Even if you have to buy a “taken” domain, you may not have to spend a lot of money to do so. So here’s my advice: Instead of torturing the language to arrive at an “available” .com domain, concentrate on your brand story and on trademark issues. And let us—your hard-working, experienced, language-savvy naming consultants—find you a domain that fits.
That’s the bad news about corporate and product naming. The good news? With the right leadership, the creative process can be fun, stimulating, enlightening, and productive. And a whole lot less costly than a naming mistake.