All about brand naming: Maria Cypher interview with MarkUpgrade

By Erin Milnes

July 12, 2019

Catchword co-founder Maria Cypher shares naming wisdom in an interview this week with Kristina Misic of branding and domain name consultancy MarkUpgrade.

Tapping on her vast experience leading a top naming firm for 20 years, Maria discusses current trends in brand naming, secrets to a successful name, and some Absolutely Nots in naming. Here’s a taste:

Why is picking the right brand name so critically important for a business?

A good name is the foundation for a great brand. It’s the first thing people see (or hear!)—and often leaves the very first taste or impression of an offering for consumers. In the case of a company name, it can also do double the work, setting the tone for the culture (think: Microsoft vs. Google) or even establishing an overarching philosophy or premise (a good example being The Honest Company). Finally, a brand name has to be able to flex with changing times and business strategies. Companies are a bit like people, constantly growing, pivoting, and evolving.

What are some of the trends in naming? Is there a naming trend that you have very strong feelings about?

Today, real-word names, and especially straightforward nouns, are highly desirable. Think of Nest, an iconic name quickly signaling home; Flow, a task-management tool; or Line, a messaging app allowing for direct “lines” of communication. These names remind us of older names like Word (Microsoft’s word processor) in their honesty and clarity and can do a lot of heavy lifting to communicate the brand’s value proposition to key audiences.

A second trend we are seeing, particularly in the retail and restaurant landscapes, is names constructed of two words that utilize the ampersand (for instance, Boll & Branch, a luxury bedding company, or Market & Spruce, a proprietary Stitch Fix brand). These names are popular because they allow for infinite combinations, and in increasingly crowded markets, they make it easier to register the mark. (In fact, this trend is so very hot, Catchword deconstructed its many parts in a piece on our blog.)

As for our own team, we generally avoid naming to trends. But what’s most important is that we build a brand that is aligned with our clients’ P.O.V. and that we have a deep understanding of the marketspace and the target audience, ultimately driving toward the best name given these factors.

What’s the biggest mistake you see companies making regarding naming? Are there common pitfalls you see repeatedly?

Probably the biggest mistake we see at Catchword is companies selecting names that are too limiting or narrow, or that fail to account for growth. Two well-known examples are RadioShack and Dressbarn, both of which have been hampered by semantics and tonality.

We also see a number of other mistakes during the naming process itself. These include

  • Not creating enough name candidates to successfully navigate the many filters the process requires: trademark clearance, linguistic checks, domain availability, human subjectivity, etc. (At Catchword, we typically create well upwards of 1,000 names.)
  • Creating and selecting the kinds of names that won’t clear trademark.
  • Asking people who haven’t been involved in the naming process to evaluate name candidates (oftentimes, these folks don’t “get” the strategic objectives and come to the table with idiosyncratic thoughts that aren’t productive: “That name reminds me of my Aunt Lucy’s dog, who bit me when I was in the 7th grade…”)

Read the full interview.

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