If one of your New Year’s resolutions is naming – or renaming – a company, a product, an organization, or a process, I’m here to help. Yes, you could hire me to do the job. Or you could do it yourself by following these guidelines.
As trademark lawyers love to remind us, distinctiveness is a paramount goal of brand naming. A name doesn’t need to be original – consider Dove deodorant and Dove chocolate — but it does need to stand out in its category.
But can a name ever be too distinctive – too much of an outlier to connect with its intended audience?
I recently spoke with a business owner via Clarity, the expert-advice service, who wanted my opinion on a name that was distinctive in the extreme. This person, a graphic designer in the Pacific Northwest, was dissatisfied with her current business name, which combines her initials with “design.” She’d come up with a new name and, she told me in an introductory email, had already bought a couple of domains associated with it. The name she wanted my opinion on: MOZZAFIATO.
It sounded distinctive, all right. It also sounded like nothing I’d ever heard of. Google Translate told me mozzafiato is an Italian word meaning “breathtaking,” which is nice but not helpful. How was this name going to help the designer grow her business?
I frequently talk with company founders and executives who need a new name but don’t have the budget for professional naming services. Because I believe that everyone deserves an effective, appealing name, I do my best to show them how to tackle the challenge on their own. Sometimes that leads to a phone call – I use the Clarity service – during which I direct the do-it-yourselfer to my evergreen post on how to write a naming brief, the essential first step of any naming process.
Earlier this week I spoke via Clarity, an expert-advice service, with a CEO who was considering changing his company’s decade-old name. He told me he didn’t have the budget for professional naming services, so he and his business partner, both tech guys, had attempted to come up with a new name themselves. After 12 (!) months of brainstorming, they finally had a couple of candidates. One name, the CEO told me, was a great description of their product. The other name described what their customers wanted. They’d already bought a bunch of domains – some for more than $1,000 – related to both names.
I kept silent, but I heaved a private sigh. Within five minutes, my caller had mentioned the two troublesome D-words of naming: describe and domain. One of those words can doom a branding project; the other is almost always a distraction.
I’d hoped to hear a different D-word, the one that matters: distinctiveness. But my caller admitted he hadn’t known it was a factor in brand development.
That CEO is far from the only client I’ve worked with who has focused, misguidedly, on descriptive names and “available” domains and neglected (or been unaware of) distinctiveness. It’s such a common oversight that I wanted to take some time to talk about it.
I’m working with a client who wants to change his startup’s name, in part because the company’s focus has shifted. But he cited another, equally important reason for a name change: the current name isn’t inspiring. It lacks an emotional charge.
My mission: to develop a set of names that meet this “more emotion” objective while also being appropriate, authentic, memorable, and legally available. Here’s how I’m approaching the challenge. Feel free to borrow these suggestions for your own naming project.
Spend even five minutes searching for business-naming help and you’ll discover a lot of self-proclaimed experts dispensing free advice. In many cases, those “experts” are entrepreneurs themselves with one or two naming experiences to their credit—unlike professional name developers (me, for example) who’ve named hundreds of companies and products. As a result, much popular advice is of limited value (“Use a name generator”) or utterly untethered from reality (“Allow one day for the naming process”).
Now is the time to set the record straight. Here are five naming non-rules you can happily disregard:
There’s lots of advice out there for creating company and product names. (Some of that advice is available righthereon this blog.) It’s much harder to find out what to do after you’ve developed and vetted that list of names. How should you reveal your top name candidates to your co-founders, the executive team, or the board of directors? How best to persuade and guide your audience toward making or endorsing a decision? How to respond if someone says, “I dunno … I just don’t like it”?
In my experience, this can be the toughest stage of the naming challenge. Here are five tips for making your case.
Bob Mankoff is the cartoon editor of the New Yorker, which means that, among his many other duties, he judges the magazine’s weekly caption contest. Since the contest went weekly in 2004, readers have submitted more than two million entries. Inevitably, Mankoff has pondered why some captions succeed and others fail. And in one chapter of his new memoir/history How About Never—Is Never Good for You?*, published earlier this year, he shares his advice about how to beat the odds.
Here’s the thing: the advice doesn’t apply only to cartoon fans and contest hobbyists. To my surprise and delight, I found that it’s highly pertinent to my own discipline of name development.