A name is foundational to a brand’s identity. It’s one of the first elements customers interact with when encountering your company before they even have a chance to test your product or service. That means the name you choose will need to immediately have an impact — one that lets your audience mentally link your company to certain experiences, feelings, or ideas.
While it’s often a challenging process, a successful company, brand, or product naming can help position your company for future growth and success. Whether you’re renaming an existing concept or creating something entirely new, Big Human’s naming process will help you get started on the right foot. Let’s take a look.
Get a sense of the types of names that exist in the market landscape and sort through all of potential questions that pop up. Does it stand out in a sea of competitors? Will users be able to easily recall it? Is it easy to remember or is it worth remembering? Is it simple enough to say out loud and spell on paper? Is it too similar to another name in the competition?
Gemini was the perfect name for New York’s first Bitcoin exchange. The brand had to straddle the tech and banking worlds, and needed a name that had both ambition and stature. And, as a bonus, the astrological reference nods to the twin founders.
Your name’s meaning should be related to the brand’s story and/or positioning, and speak to what the organization does and why it exists. Does the name have a serious, important, or useful quality or purpose? Does it have a deeper meaning? Does the definition match the brand’s mission, values, or offerings?
Subdial is a mobile app we incubated at Big Human. It provides first-responder alternatives for incidents involving mental health, domestic disturbances, non-urgent crimes, homelessness, and more. Subdial was one of the first name ideas we had and it stuck. The name hints at the app’s core function: giving users alternatives, or substitutes, to dial when they need help.
Web and product design accessibility refers to making a website or app functional for as many people as possible. That applies to naming, too. (Learn more by reading our three-part Web Accessibility series.) Your brand name should be simple to spell when heard and simple to say when read. The best brand names are usually short since they’re easier to spell, say, and remember. It also helps with URL and email length.
When CoProcure came to Big Human for a rebrand, we saw how its original name was a little hard to pronounce. After a few workshops, we settled on Pavilion, a name that’s already in our vocabulary, making it easier to spell, too.
Will it be able to grow with the brand? Is there anything that it limits? Can the name be used for various future possibilities? Does it allude to the company’s long-term potential without boxing it into a limited vision?
The NYC Food Assistance Collaborative was looking for a way to both enhance customer service and improve data collection in emergency food, so we built Plentiful, a free reservation system for food pantries in New York City. When naming Plentiful, we went with a direction that was true to the benefit, not the problem.
Aligning with the brand strategy, we like to explore and ideate a series of options for new names that make sense when it comes to brand personality, messaging, and positioning.
Self-discovery comes first, so take the time to assess your current position in the market and understand your unique value proposition. Brand pillars should always be considered in the naming process. They often manifest as personality characteristics, which should be expressed at every customer touchpoint — beginning, first and foremost, with the name itself.
It’s also important to know your customers and the ways you can reach them. Perform user research, conduct surveys, and hold focus groups to learn more about your intended audience. Social media analysis can be another way to gain insights as you develop a plan for brand positioning. If you’re working on startup branding, you might not have many customers (yet). In that case, it might help to build a persona for the ideal customer you are trying to reach.
You need to know what you’re up against, too. Identify the brands in your industry and conduct a competitor analysis. What products do they offer that compete with yours? What do they do well? Where are they coming up short? What position do they hold in the market? What are some ways you can differentiate your brand? You don’t want to copy the brand positioning strategy of your competition, but there is value in studying it. It can help you find gaps in the market or marketing channels that offer a lot of value. It can also help you identify current trends or predict market shifts that might come in the near future.
Ideate name options internally and engage in workshops. Quantity is your friend here. The key to getting a quality name is generating a lot of names — good, bad, and ugly. Consider it a game of wordplay where there are no rules. Make a list of buzzwords and phrases that resonate with you. Can you change the meaning of a pun? Or can you combine a couple words to create something entirely new? Conduct a naming workshop where pre-populated themes, idea threads, and word fragments are included for inspiration. Every client interaction is an opportunity for us to narrow our scope and advance engagement.
Refine and analyze the shortlist. Our common practice is to settle on three to five top choices to be passed off for review. From those, we’ll need to pick one to proceed to the subsequent phases. You may need to do several rounds of voting to narrow down your list. Run through a grading rubric to check for context, connotations, example use cases, and domain and social media availability. How “objectively good” is the name? Is it memorable? Is it easy to pronounce? How well does the name exude the brand pillars?
It’s important to make decisions rooted in strategy. Even if you already have a name picked out, compare it to your brand’s messaging and voice to ensure it’s still a good fit.
Remember to do research to make sure the name you like is free from competition and other brand equity. The best way to do this is to have legal counsel review your name. Legally, a name has to prove that it does not cause confusion among consumers when put up against other brands, and that it does not dilute the marketplace by confiscating an existing brand’s equity.
A strong online presence is vital for your business, so do a domain search, too. Make sure to also check social media just in case there are already Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts with the name.
Trademarking a name isn’t always necessary for startups, but Big Human does perform competitive searches to ensure the short list of name options is clear within the client’s industry.
If you’re interested in trademarking your name, here are a couple of things to add to your to do list:
Check the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (USTPO). If you’re planning to register your business in the U.S., you’ll want to verify that your title isn’t already taken. If your brand name is similar to another that already exists, this may open you up to legal complications. If you’re not sure, consult with a lawyer just in case.
Thinking about going global? Check with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), if your brand name is trademarked outside the U.S.
You’ll want to ensure your name change happens in one smooth reveal to avoid having multiple names in the marketplace, which creates confusion. You may also want to leverage the rename as a marketing opportunity; a name change is a great way to engage with customers and re-energize relationships. But the message should be more than just “we changed our name.” Give your audience a story; share what your new name means and what inspired it.
Looking to name your startup, rename your company, or develop a naming system for a subset of products or services? Feel free to reach out. Our strategists can take you through our research-based naming process.