What’s in a name?

Martin Devlin
Victor Hernandez

So what makes a good company or service name?

There was a time in a pre-internet age when for some, an important consideration in naming a company or service was based on where the name would appear alphabetically in a printed phonebook or business directory. An early pre-curser of today’s internet search rankings.

Things have moved on since, but for many new businesses or services struggling to establish their place in increasingly crowded and competitive environments, some decisions still appear to be made on fairly arbitrary criteria.

One of the highest ambitions for any brand must be for the name to become part of everyday language. Few have achieved this quite as well as Hoover, their brand name being used to describe the action whichever brand one happens to be using. Sorry James!

What are the common traits of a good brand name?
Today there are some common traits amongst names that are considered to be successful, beyond the reputation of the company or organisation they represent.

We sum up the ‘must have’  traits for a successful name as ‘Short, Sticky, Emotional.

And this is why:

Short names are easier to read and are recognised more quickly. This lends itself to the name achieving the next trait.

These are names that are easy to remember and easier to recall. They can also be spread quicker and further because they are easier to say. For example if someone promoted supporting the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or going for a job at International Business Machines you’d be hard pushed to remember the name correctly let alone pass it on in conversation with someone else.

It is far easier to remember RSPCA or IBM and to pass it on in spoken dialogue.

     “I support the RSPCA, they’re a great organisation, you should support them too”

     “IBM have a recruitment drive on at the moment, you should give them a call”

Linking a short name to an unusual word or idea can make it register and stick more readily in the minds of your potential customers or supporters. Names like Snapchat, WhatsApp, Youtube and Dropbox have achieved stickiness with the name.

People naturally latch on to and remember stories. Stories that elicit an emotional response are more engaging and connect with people more effectively.

How hard can it be?
So what are the challenges when choosing a new name?

Often the first major hurdle is not so much picking the right name, but on being able to register it as an internet domain name (URL).

With the increasing move to digital platforms as a primary channel of communication, digital naming constraints are having an impact on brand recognition and engagement.

Overcoming this digital hurdle can obscure objective judgement about whether the name chosen is a good one or not as different variants of a potentially good name are squeezed or manipulated to fit the requirements or availability in digital channels.

Often, the focus on ensuring that the new name meets other important criteria shifts from having the right name, to snagging increasingly elusive digital addresses on an ever widening range of digital channels. An additional challenge faced here is of maintaining consistency of the name within the digital address structure across the multiple channels.

For the not-for-profit sector the problem is less acute, however with over 166,000 charities registered in the UK[1], naming a new charity or service often requires some out-of-the-box thinking to find a unique and registrable[2] name that is also: relevant, appealing and memorable.

Is anything taboo in naming?
There are some restrictions to what can successfully be registered as a business name and there are some requirements that have to be met when using certain words.

It is prudent to know what these are from the relevant registering body and to filter your shortlist to ensure all options are potentially registrable. When registering a name with Companies House in the UK, you will need evidence that you have permission or the right to use for example;

  • any name of a famous person or character
  • the name of a famous or copyrighted work such as a book, a piece of music or a piece of art

[1]  Taken from www.gov.uk 2018 statistics

[2]  proposed names for charities need to be checked with The Charity Commission and Companies House as there are constraints around the use of non-English words, use of famous names, use of words they class as ‘sensitive’.

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