Winning the Name Game

A good idea. A new product. A game-changer. A brand. But what should you name it? A tricky question and often a tough nut to crack. But have no fear. Here’s our guide to better naming processes.

Your name is crucial to your identity. It is how we distinguish ourselves verbally from others. The same goes for brands. A name reflects an identity. Over time, it can reflect fortune and fame, but can also quickly lose its esteem. When it comes to identities, logos often take centre stage, but usually, you say a brand’s name more often than you see its logo.

Your brand name is a fundamental part of your brand identity. However, choosing the right one can be quite tricky. It takes time, and rarely, it’s a home run right away. Ideally, it should be a name you’re proud of for a long time.

Preferably, you get it right the first time (although there might come a time when it is required that you change your name). That, of course, puts a lot of pressure on your shoulders. But changing your name, or shortening it, comes with both risks and rewards. A new name signals a clean slate which can be helpful at times. Still, the old name is often imprinted in people’s minds, and they might still call you by the old name.

Naming a Brand or a Product

Naming a brand or a product is not the same thing. You can have many products under one brand. Also, naming a brand has other criteria than naming a product. There is a difference when saying Coca-Cola or Coca-Cola Zero, or LEGO vs Lego Nexo Knights. But they should be connected on some level because your brand is your product, and your product is your brand.

Let your brand guide your product naming. For example, when we worked for Aqua d’Or on naming a new range, Sparkles, we wanted the new product line to reflect the positive energy of the brand.

Four Types of Names

First, let us just say that these categories are not definitive. Some names fit into more categories than others. Nevertheless, the groups are a great starting point when coming up with a name for your brand or product. Use them for brainstorming and see what works best for your brand and target audience. And think about the pros and cons of the four before you jump to the Latin dictionary or go with the Greek god.

Associative

What feelings and thoughts should come to mind when thinking of your brand? E.g., French dairy brand Danone Fjørd makes skyr inspired by Scandinavian heritage. So they chose a name inspired by the majestic and dramatic Nordic fjords, emphasising the link to nature and the linguistic characteristics.

Another example of how a brand name can associate positive feelings is the diaper brand Pampers. By expanding on the verb, they signal that their product is for those who want to spoil their babies. Same goes for Innocent drinks and Naturli’ foods.

An associative brand name can quickly inspire visual ideas and can help drive innovation and growth from the name itself. However, it also requires that your audience is on the same page as you. And you risk the link to the business and its products can appear vague.

Descriptive (suggestive)

It is what it is. Burger King describes how they flip burgers on the bbq from their fast-food throne. Another example is the world-famous Danish whisky distillery, Stauning Whisky. With just two words, they tell us what they do and where they do it. Simple Feast, Whole Foods, Lakrids by Bülow, WetWipe and One&Only Hotels are other examples of this.

A sub-category is suggestive brand names. It hints at what the company does. Before Dunkin’ rebranded and shortened its name, the former name, Dunkin’ Donuts, focused on the dipping of the doughnut into the coffee. Danish kombucha brewer, Læsk, also has a very suggestive name. Being Danish for “thirst-quenching”, Læsk emphasises the refreshing sensation rather than the health benefits. Energizer, Nespresso, Orangina, and Uniqlo fit in here as well.

The ease and simplicity of a descriptive name make it appealing, but it can also become limiting in its potential commonality when building a brand strategically and even visually.

Abstract

A name is merely the meaning you attribute to it. This philosophy can lead to innovative names that make no sense in themselves but have a phonetic or imaginative quality. Xerox is an excellent example of this. The name even made it into our daily vocabulary, often replacing a word like photocopying. Another example is Rolex. The goal was to create a name that was easy to pronounce in any language and short enough to fit on the face of a watch. Many names are abstract at first, but we fill them with meaning over time. Google, Apple, Jeep, and so on. O, and Everland too for that matter.

When your name is an empty vessel, you have the freedom to shape people’s perception. The downside is it takes time and resources to create. But you can gain a unique place in people’s hearts and minds, and everyday language.

Abbreviations

When you want to keep it short and sweet, abbreviations are a great way to do it. H&M is pronounced faster, and the same goes for KFC. For the fast-food chain, this was also an intelligent move that respected their heritage while downplaying the connection to unhealthy food. And we see abbreviations all the time, often without noticing. Adidas, BMW, IBM and REMA 1000 to name but a few.

Abbreviations can tell a big story in a few letters. For example, Japanese ASICS has summed up the Latin phrase “anima sana in corpore sano” (a healthy mind in a healthy body) in their name, which at the same time reflects their brand essence.

While abbreviations might be clever, they can also seem constructed and distanced. For this to work, it requires a great understanding of language and a creative mindset.

Nailing the Name

So, you’ve got a new brand or a new product that you would like to name? You might already have a bunch of ideas, which is great! Start by writing those down. Empty your head, and then do the same with your friends and family. Once you have a long list of potential candidates, it is time to vet them. Do they reflect the brand you’re trying to build? Are they fit for growth and scale? You might also want to check the market, domain suppliers, Google and the legal department because it might already be trademarked elsewhere.

Think of how you want people to perceive your brand. The answer to that will help you determine your brand or product name. Or perhaps you already have a brand (and business) strategy in place; then, you are far better suited to make the optimal choice. Then you’ve got a proper understanding of what emotions you want to trigger in people.

You might have to kill some darlings when settling on a name because you have to choose a name that resonates with your audience rather than yourself. Whatever you are naming, it should instil positive emotions in your target persona. Simply because we purchase with our hearts. And it should also be on-brand. This is why it is also a good idea to start visualising the name once you’ve only got a handful of candidates left.

Hopefully, you find consolation in the fact that the best name is rarely love at first sight. But when you do find it, use it and nurture it, and you’ll see how much brand-power a great name can possess. That is how you’ll win the name game, and make no mistake. On the open market, everything is a popularity contest. Heck, if you do it right, you might even end up naming an entire category like Kleenex, Whirlpool, Nutella or Post-its.

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