What are the "golden rules" for naming my business? originally appeared on Quora: The best answer to any question.

Answer by Steven Mason, brand strategist and ideator, on Quora:

This is a summary of the naming process I have developed.

DON'T:

  • Ever use a name generator. Computers don't understand linguistics well enough, let alone branding. A surfeit of names does you neither honor nor good.
  • Vote on names. Naming is not a democratic process. I have seen more horrible names from the "winner" via SurveyMonkey than through any other so-called process. The people voting have no knowledge of linguistics or branding, so what happens? They choose what they personally like, not because it has anything to do with the business, not because anyone will remember it, not because it is evocative.
  • Confuse yourself and your own preferences with those of your target audience. I despise mayonnaise. If I were to name a mayonnaise product according to my personal tastes, I'd call it Nature's Emetic. Not a good idea! The people buying the mayonnaise are aficionados. Substituting your own preferences for those of your target market, demographically and psychographically, can be deadly.
  • Ignore intellectual property. I can't tell you how many people have come to me saying: "I have this name, but I can't use it." You have to check domains. You have to check trademarks (and if you don't understand how trademarks actually work, you won't know how to do this; trademarks apply to different classes and the mere existence of a mark doesn't mean you can't use it). You have to do a Google search on your name just to see what comes up. I know someone who came up with a name for a kids' site (it was legitimate and completely G-rated, although the name was horrible). It turned out the name was used by a pedophile! A simple Google search would have revealed this. If you intend to go global, you may need to check European, Asian, and other databases, too. Or you may have a different name there.
  • Go generic. If I want to name a new plumbing company, Sewer Rats is pretty cool. Quality #1 Plumbing is an absolute failure because it is absolutely generic, unmemorable, unremarkable, unbrandable, etc.

DO:

  • Start out by identifying the attributes that describe your business, product or service. These are the positive attributes. These could be things such as: cool, avant-garde, fast, predictable, wild and crazy, conservative, politically left, politically right, happy, melancholy, uplifting, smart, advanced, retro, sophisticated, chic, everyday, blue-collar, security, enterprise, SMB, etc. Then do the same with negative attributes. These are things you aren't, things you do not want associated with your name. For example, speedy is not an attribute you want associated with brain surgeons. Precise and careful and exacting would be more appropriate. In other words, know what you are and what you are not.
  • Get buy-in on the attributes. This is essential. You'll see why later.
  • Remember, you don't have a name yet. Now what you do is (and here is a bit more of the magic and the imagination -- I do this for a living, but I have a very large vocabulary and broad and deep knowledge of a wide variety of subjects and it's still hard - if you don't, you might still hit the spot, but then again, you might not) you come up with some names that embody the positive attributes and that do not conjure up the negative ones.
  • How do you measure names? By linguistic criteria and branding criteria. Linguistic criteria include: how easy is the name to spell? Does the name include a substring that includes an epithet or an obscenity (happens more often than you think)? How easy is the name to pronounce (phonology)? How quickly can you say the name (if it takes a long time or is difficult, it's a bad name)? The most important branding criterion is evocativeness. If a name is not evocative, it conjures up nothing. It is lifeless, dead. Beyond this criterion, other branding criteria include: how well does the name embody (or not) the attributes? How easily can you use the name in advertising and promotions -- i.e., does it have multiple meanings that you can play on or is it one-dimensional? How memorable is it? There are others, but this will give you an idea.
  • Intellectual property considerations. Discussed elsewhere.

Process:

  • Create a matrix with each potential name in a row. Columns contain each criterion identified above as well as all the positive and negative attributes.
  • Now you have to grade your names. You'll find that, if you've agreed on attributes, this is hard. If you're forming a new bank for conservative retirees, do you think that Mountain's Edge Bank reflects the attribute of low risk? Of course not. If you're creating a new security-based company, should you go all Lynyrd Skynyrd and call it Freebird? Again, not a lot of disagreement should ensue. This avoids someone's saying, "I love Freebird because it's a great name." Here they can acknowledge it's a great name but that it has attributes antithetical to security.
  • Once you've got every name graded for every attribute and every criterion, you could simply use a decision-based scoring system, but I personally don't believe in that. It's fine to generate a weighted score (beyond the scope of this post), but a 90 doesn't necessarily beat an 86. There may be other considerations. I can guarantee, however, than a 90 will beat a 40. The crappy names will sink to the bottom and the good names, if any, will rise to the top.
  • Incidentally, I haven't talked about taglines. They're important, too. Ideally, your name is an evocative brand and your tagline is your precise point of differentiation. A tagline complements a name; it doesn't reiterate it or introduce yet a second brand. That's a disaster.

Finally, a word you should know: portmanteau. That means taking two words and mashing them together. Facebook is a portmanteau. Nike is not.

And finally, finally, you'll probably point out successful companies with crappy names. Of course. They succeeded in spite of them, not because of them. Just as there are successful companies with mediocre products. They succeeded for other reasons, too. There are also failed companies with great names. Even the greatest name doesn't mean you'll succeed if you can't bring your product to market or meet an actual consumer or business need. The smaller and the less well-known you are, the more of a competitive advantage a great name will be to you. You need to create a meme that others can pass around and promote, so that ultimately, you will be remembered and talked about, rather than, "There's this great company/product/whatever, but I just can't remember what they're called!" Don't be that company.

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Published on: Nov 12, 2015