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What’s In a Name?

Names are often the first point of contact between a customer and a brand and is therefore part of the first impression. Beyond that, names stay in the customer’s mind and public consciousness long after several rebranding exercises as the hook which the brain uses to recall the product with which it is associated. Which follows that names are pretty important.

Are there specific steps or guidelines one should take when naming a brand? Does a bad brand name adversely affect a brand?

While a brand name can be arrived at out of serendipity or synchronicity, many times naming companies churn out hundreds of possibilities before a name is chosen. The general advice is to toss out the first one hundred names you come up with, because chances are your company’s competitors have gone through those hundred names too. 98% of the dictionary is registered as a dot.com business. Naming can be hard! Here are some rough guides (as there are always exceptions to the rule):

Your Brand Name Should Be Easy to Read and Write

Keep it simple and easy to pronounce, so that your name is easily recognizable when people talk about it or search for it. It should be as easy as possible to spell, too. Exceptions are Häagen Dazs and Moschino, and most other foreign-sounding brands. Which brings us to the next point:

Your Brand Name Should Be Culturally Sensitive

See the Bodega example given below. In an age of globalization and multiracialism, companies can no longer afford to be ignorant. The names Rolex and Kodak were chosen because they would sound the same in almost any country and language. To make sure your name isn’t a rude word when it is translated into Chinese (like the ridiculed Nissan Bluebird), try here: www.goodcharacters.com

Your Brand Name Should Be Short and Sweet

Preferably as a general rule of thumb not more than four syllables long so that it sticks in your audience’s minds. Long names also breed abbreviations by your consumers, e.g. “Marks and Sparks” for Marks and Spencer. Try making an acronym out of a long name, e.g. Yahoo stands for “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle”.

Your Brand Should Evoke an Idea or Emotion

Your brand name may or may not have anything directly related to your product, but it ought to at least bring to mind what your company stands for. “Apple” was chosen by Steve Jobs after he came back from one of his fruitarian diets because he thought it was “fun, spirited and not intimidating” – like the image of the company. Nike was named for the Roman Goddess of victory, a very apt choice for sports equipment.

Your Brand Name Should Be Unique

In this over populated and hyper-connected era, it’s very difficult to be completely unique, but the more effort put into achieving this, the easier it will be to find the name in a search as well as trademark it and find a usable domain online.

Cautionary Tales – How a Poor Name Can Damage a Brand

Late last year, two former employees from Google coined a start-up company whose product consists of vending machines storing non-perishable sundries as the product in San Francisco. They named their product “Bodega” and drew internet furore for their name within a week, because a “bodega” is a corner convenience store run by Latin immigrants and is a community institution that the company seemed set to replace. The company attracted angry criticism and accusations of being “devious” in its naming and part of the evil moneygrubbing gentrification of the city at the expense of a hardworking yet marginalized though loved part of the community. An apology had to be issued and it remains to be seen whether the company can recover from this negative publicity for the idea to actually take off the ground.

When a popular candy company in the 1970s and early 1980s sold its hit weight-loss sweet under the name Ayds, no one could have predicted that in 1981 the dreaded disease AIDS would tarnish the company’s reputation. The company tried renaming the product to “Diet Ayds” in 1987, but by then it was too little too late and the company vanished into oblivion.

A more fortunate story is the chocolate brand Italo Suisse, named in 1923 but renamed “Isis” in 2013 to reflect the fact that the company no longer had ties with Italy or Switzerland. However, there was a slump in sales after that name change as the time of the renaming coincided with the beheadings of UK and USA citizens by the infamous international terrorist group of the same name. The company then switched to “Libeert” after the family named in 2015 in order to escape the negative connotations associated with the killings, and business returned to normal.

As we have seen, a bad brand name can break a brand. So what goes into a name? There are no hard and fast rules and/or methods for arriving at a name, but the general guidelines given above should help.

Here’s to your new brand name!


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