The principles of naming are the same the first time you name a business and the 30th time. The rules don't change, but you change. You learn what is important in branding a new business and choosing a name, over time.
Very few first-time founders realize how intimately connected things like brand positioning, brand personality, knowing your customers, and knowing the naming norms of your industry (whether or not you lean into them), are to choosing a great brand name. Even if you're a marketing genius in other ways, naming your first business is a nerve-wracking process.
To help first-time founders put their best foot forward, and hopefully avoid learning lessons on brand naming the hard way, I've put together some tips and tricks I've picked up both from naming my own businesses and helping to name many, many more with my company Squadhelp.
1. Leave Perfectionism at the Door
The first thing I like to tell first-time founders is that there is no such thing as a perfect name. Inexperienced and enthusiastic new business owners tend to be perfectionists when it comes to their startups. After all, this is their baby and their first baby at that!
Many founders want to get everything absolutely right. And in a way, that's a really smart instinct. You should be triple-checking business plans, expenditure calculations, job candidates, etc. But at a certain point, you have to have realistic expectations, or else you would be waiting forever for "a name that does it all".
A descriptive name won't also drive massive curiosity. A classic name won't also be modern and unexpected. For example, Dollar Shave Club and PayPal are awesome names, but they don't surprise you like Slack or Urban Decay. SquattyPotty and MailChimp are fantastic and fun names, but they, of course, don't have the high-end feel of Blackstone or Liberty Mutual.
Remember, that naming is only the first touch for your brand. You have many other opportunities to deepen your message and expand your story. It's unlikely, for example, that Jeff Bezos thought Amazon was a perfect name. It's a great name. Memorable, easy to say and spell, has a concrete connection to his brand without any awkward double meanings. But is it perfect? No way-- and Amazon's success wasn't riding only on their name. They also disrupted an industry and capitalized on that. The name just had to start the brand dialogue, not finish it.
2. Know Your Industry
This one seems obvious at first, but let's break down what it means. Of course, you know your industry in that you know what sector your new business belongs to. But do you know the names of all your competition? If not, make a list. Which ones do you like? Can you tell why they're aligning with you?
From this point, you can work backward to complete the industry puzzle (but feel free to use Google here, too) and outline naming conventions for businesses like yours. For example, for a long time tech companies have been using compound words and misspellings.
If you run a tech company, maybe this is where you start. But what about other industries? Well, if you aren't sure you can work it out by taking a look at that list of leading industry names you made.
Here are the most common naming forms, though there are many more if you want a full overview:
3. Decide Whether you Want to Fit in or Stand Out
Once you've worked out the naming conventions of your industry, you need to determine whether you want to lean into them or play against them. It's easiest to lean in, of course, clearly indicating to your customer base exactly what you do, and what to expect from your brand. Playing against type, though, allows you to stand out. For example, having the only "This and That" name in your specific e-commerce sector makes you super memorable.
If you're struggling at this point, you can also enlist the help of a powerful business name generator as a springboard for creativity. You can input your industry, as well as some keywords or concepts that sum up your brand, and you'll get a ton of name suggestions that you should be able to work from. A name generator doesn't have to be the endpoint of your naming journey, it can simply fire up your imagination, or solidify your idea of industry norms before you move on to narrowing names down. Overall, you can roll the 'fit in' or 'stand out' decision into brainstorming. Come up with a few ideas for both, and then go from there.
4. Brainstorming Tips
That brainstorming stage we just talked about? It's kind of the heart of the whole thing. There are a huge number of ways to go about brainstorming, but my first tip is not to come from a place of nervousness or embarrassment. You're trying to open yourself (and your team) up to creativity, and anxiety kills creativity pretty quickly.
I always advise brand founders to come up with a list of building blocks for their brand initially. This is a collection of words and phrases-- maybe ten to fifteen of them-- that relate to your brand, products, vision and ethos. From there, you can move on to using Google, a thesaurus, or even free association to build ideas and sentences and concepts that might lead to a name.
Don't forget to return to the list of name types above to find patterns for how to combine the amazing words you create within your brainstorming process. The same words approached using different patterns can result in a very different brand tone.
The first time you go through the naming process, it can be a long slog. Don't let that get you down, and don't get lost in the minutiae of it all. Brainstorming is a loose, freewheeling process. Allow that to happen, and soon you'll have a killer shortlist of names for your brand new, first-ever, world changing business venture. Congratulations-- it's the start of something huge. And yet the work, I'm afraid, has only just begun.