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Insights What makes a great brand name?

Guy Nicholson
Guy Nicholson
Creative Lead

10 Jan 2023

5 minute read

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Part of my role as Head of Creative and Brand is working with our clients on their brand strategy and identity, which may or may not include naming - and this can be irrespective of whether they are a start-up or established business looking to freshen up or diversify. 

Coming up with a memorable and relevant brand name for a business, or product, can often be the most difficult part of any new branding project. Having a great brand name is absolutely essential to differentiate in an ever more crowded market. I don’t have to tell you that a memorable name (for the right reasons!) will increase customer retention, aid in marketing and increase sales. Anyone remember a little brand named Nike?!

There is always a lot of talk about the brand identity, visual system and strategy, and rightly so, but sometimes this can lead to the name being overlooked as to its importance. Don’t get me wrong though, a unique brand name doesn’t mean anything if it’s not supported by a consistent and authentic brand strategy. And we love strategy here!

Sounds great

Language is something that is used every day. A logo might look visually stimulating, but language and words can create a strong emotional response. It’s often a brand name we hear first rather than its identity and is the initial point of recognition.

It’s a time-consuming process to create a memorable brand name, but it’s time well spent. And the key word here is memorable. Without giving away all my top secrets, I’m going to share with you a few tips I use to consider when creating a name:

  • Memorable: Easy to recall and pronounce
  • Distinctive: Original and different to competitors
  • Authentic: True to the brand and what it stands for
  • Enduring: Has longevity, not just a fad name
  • Defensible: It’s trademarkable

But what does it mean - or does it have to mean anything?

A lasting connection is essential for brand recognition. A name can inspire and motivate customers and clients. 

A brand name doesn’t have to have a clear meaning though. It can be largely made up and still convey the sentiment of the brand. A carefully chosen ‘nonsense’ word can often be a great brand name, fitting with your business and relevant to customers/clients. Names like Twitter, Google, Kodak and Lexus have all become synonymous with brand recognition.

Even if the words which make up your brand name don’t have any clear meaning, a 'meaningless' brand name can still convey a lot. Invented words like Google or Kodak have their own style and personality, creating a recognition which has helped them become synonymous with customers. 

Coming up with a brand name that is purely descriptive of the business will also limit expansion and development. The name is unlikely to be memorable and will just blend into the marketplace. A printing company called SpeedyPrinting, for example, will never become a brand name, as it describes itself and every other printer - and it will never be able to diversify into web development or marketing. Imagine fighting for keyword space for that on Google!

‘Amazon’ didn’t describe an online bookstore either. It evoked an image of scale which Bezos’s company aspired to and made it memorable to its customers. It allowed it to diversify and change with the market and become the powerhouse it is today. 

Not every name will be as stand out as Nike or Coca-Cola, but if it has a consistent strategy behind it, it can achieve stand-out status and resonate with customers.

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A few steps to make it easier

Like branding, following a strategic process helps with naming. Strangely, just getting a group of creative people together in one room isn’t always the best way to go. Sitting down together and just pulling names out of the hat can work if you’re lucky, but having a process tends to be more productive.

1. Start with a naming brief 

Set out what needs to be achieved. Like a brand, what’s its personality, character, purpose and tone of voice? What’s the product/service? Who is their audience?

2. Generate names

Group exercises work, but sometimes going off and brainstorming as individuals and then regrouping to compare notes works well. Sometimes when brainstorming together a little bit of sheep mentality can unconsciously occur, so we like to do a mix of both.

Again, I’m probably giving away too much here but I’m sure you won’t tell anyone?! When coming up with naming concepts we usually try to fit them into the ten core naming frameworks:

  • Origin names
  • Emotive names
  • Descriptive names
  • Acronym names
  • Playful names
  • Invented names
  • Alphanumeric names
  • Compound names
  • Metaphor names
  • Technical names

3. Cut down 

As a group, pull out the ones that fit the brief, that resonate the purpose of the brand. Cut it down to the top 30 and take it from there. 

4. Check them out 

Research the names. Is there another company in the same market with the same/similar name? Does the name mean something different in another language? How could it be abbreviated? (We all know how this worked out for Richard). Look at domain availability and find alternatives for that if the names are not directly available. 

5. Present 

Here we reveal the ideas to our client. It’s unlikely to get sign off on ‘the name’ from the client at this stage, although it has happened before. So here’s where we whittle it down to four or five, where the client can then go away and play with them for a while, whilst we check out the legal position; trademarking etc.

And then, you continue on from there until you find the perfect one. 

Luckily there’s no one size fits all when it comes to a good brand name, or we’d all be the same, but it does mean some hard grafting to get it right. If you really nail it though, it will have a huge effect on your overall brand, marketing and conversions. 

Let us know what you think makes a good brand name, we’d love to hear!

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If you would like to find out more about how we can help you connect strategically, creatively or digitally, then call us or get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.

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