(Part of my Naming 101 series.)
A couple of years ago I published a post about naming objectives: what a name should or must communicate. Naming objectives are a key element of your written naming brief, and one of the foundations on which names are developed.
There’s another important foundation: naming criteria.* If objectives are about meaning, criteria are about everything else that goes into a name: spelling, sound, legal requirements, web addresses.
Here’s a checklist for your own naming criteria:
Language. Do you prefer – or insist on – English words, or words that are easily pronounced in English? What other languages do your clients/customers/partners use? Does the name need to appeal to them? (To all of them?) Do you have good reason to be interested in words from the vocabularies, say, Finnish or Urdu or Maori? A skilled name developer will have access to resources in multiple languages (including conlangs, if that’s your fancy), and can help you find names that meet this very specific criterion.
“Real” vs. coined. Does your new name have to be a word that can be found in a standard dictionary? What about an interesting obsolete English word (like, uh, “fritinancy”)? What about a newly compounded word made up of recognizable parts, like BlusterFarm? (I have no idea what BlusterFarm might name; I assumed I’d plucked it out of thin air, but of course it already exists, if not in a commercial context.) And even further afield: What’s your tolerance for word blends like Verizon (from veritable and horizon) or Accenture (from accent and future)? For misspelled words like Google (from googol) or Flickr? For completely coined words with no inherent meaning in any language – the hardest names of all to create and to market? (The classic example is Kodak.)
Sounds. I’m working on a whole post on sound symbolism in naming, but for now I’ll just plant the concept that certain phonemes (sounds or sound blends) can suggest size, speed, heft, and other properties. Moreover, some sounds are challenging to pronounce for some languages’ native speakers. If sound matters to you, include your sonic preferences in your naming brief.
Letters. Do you have a naming convention that requires the name of this product series, for example, to start with the letter Q? Do you want to avoid names that start with Z because three of your top competitors have Z names? A preference for certain letters – and, conversely, an antipathy to certain other letters – can be highly subjective and arbitrary, so check your biases.
Legal. Do you require a trademark? The answer is often “yes,” but not always. Product features don’t always require trademark protection; nor do, say, giving levels for a fundraising campaign. But company and product names should probably be protected, and should at a bare minimum be thoroughly screened. To do that, you’ll need to identify in which international classes your company or product does business. (And by “does business,” I mean, “does business now,” not in some wished-for utopian future.) Start with a guide like this one from Nolo, although you’ll no doubt want to engage an experienced trademark lawyer to help you with screening and filing. (The way in which a trademark registration is written is, to put it mildly, very important to your business’s legal health.)
Partial list of trademark classes, via Nolo. The first 34 are for goods; the rest are for services. Figuring out where you fit isn’t always as easy as you’d like it to be.
Domain. Too many business owners start here, when in fact it belongs at the bottom of your checklist. Yes, securing a domain is a necessity, but it’s far less important than defining your brand and legally owning a name. That said, determine what kind of domain you prefer, and which domain extensions you’ll consider: .com only? .biz? .co? If you’re a nonprofit, you’ll probably want .org, but if you aren’t, how about one of the newer, more distinctive gTLDs (generic top-level domains) and ccTLDs (country code top-level domains), of which there are hundreds to choose from, including .art, .here, .green, .how, .sky, and .vote. (They cost more to register than the original TLDs, but you may decide that the extra $50 or $100 a year is a worthwhile expenditure.) How adventurous you get with your domain depends on your brand personality. And to define your brand personality, you’ll need to refer back to your naming objectives.
Still have questions? I’m available for brief phone consultations via Clarity.fm.
* I borrowed “objectives” and “criteria” from one of my name-development mentors, the late and much-missed Nan Budinger.