Ten Tips for Creating Great Brand Names

By Beth Gerber

May 16, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-07-12 at 9.18.28 AMNaming your new company or product in-house? Fasten your seat belts. While we’d all love to believe the cocktail napkin or Scrabble tiles myth about name creation, great brand names are usually born out of a lengthy, sweaty process of careful strategizing, plodding research, methodical creative exploration, and oh yes, inspiration.

So for all the newbies out there, here are 10 tips for bolstering your name creation process and upping your chances of developing a wide range of interesting names to choose from.

1) Have a theme party
Round up some of the people at your company who are most deeply involved with the new brand to brainstorm about what themes (aka messaging directions) you want to explore in name creation. Start with what makes your brand unique that’s relevant to your audience. Is speed one of your product’s main virtues? Does your company define itself by its ability to create rapport with clients? Tease out the different strengths and attitudes that define your brand. Then decide which are the most fundamental to your brand—and compelling to your customers.

2) Use/utilize/employ your thesaurus
Once you’ve developed your themes, start building out vocabulary around each one. For instance, if one of your themes was “speed,” a cluster of words that’s thematically related could include fast, quick, whiz, velocity, vroom…and so on. Here’s where a thesaurus will come in handy, steering you both to synonyms and related words. You should wind up with a wealth of thematically-related vocabulary to source for name creation.

3) Set the mood
Sometimes pictures can spark your imagination and take you to unexpected naming places. For each of your themes, create a montage of images on poster board, using material culled from magazines or the web. Is “speed” a sports car whizzing by? Skaters charging across the ice? A sprinter leaving her competitors in the dust? Superman on the fly? You can use all of these images, and more, to create mood boards to inspire name ideas.

4) Mine metaphors
Likening your product or company to something else, especially something concrete and tangible, is a powerful naming tool for conveying a key message. For instance, Corning Willow Glass and Corning Lotus Glass are evocative metaphorical names: one for an extremely flexible glass and the other for an extremely pure glass.

5) Play around
Take liberties with the words in your thematic vocabulary lists. Create names by combining two words (like Livescribe or ProteinSimple). Or joining words with word parts or single letters (like McBistro or vSafe). Try smushing words together (like Sprize, a blend of surprise and prize). Take out a letter or two (as in Brillian, Daptiv and Zillio.) Misspell a word phonetically to create a homonym (like Vudu or Boku.) Or add a prefix or a suffix. Have some fun!

6) Go phrase-y
A phrase-based name is a time-honored naming tool for standing out in a space and attracting attention. And while common phrases work well, so can made-up phrases. Consider Gear6, North of Nine, Citizens of Humanity and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! (Ok, that last name’s a sentence, not a phrase, but you get the idea.)

7) Ride piggyback
If a bunch of people in your company are working on your naming project, sharing and piggybacking off each other’s ideas is a great way to boost everyone’s efforts. Sometimes a group brainstorming session is a useful structure for this. But if getting everyone in the same room (or even on the same phone call) is impractical, you can still piggyback. Just ask each person to share some of their favorite ideas as they go along, so everyone can be inspired by them. Because so many people do their best creative work in private, this tactic is often even more effective than group brainstorming.

8) Travel to foreign languages
In name creation, sometimes another language can provide just the right personality for your brand name. For instance, French projects a certain feminine elegance (C’elle), while Italian suggests liveliness and style. Swahili has a musical, friendly tonality (Kijiji), and Latin is the mother of all formality (Constellis)…..Comprendo?

8) It’s ok to be punny
For a light touch and a friendly brand name, don’t overlook puns and other forms of wordplay. If done well, such clever names will engage your audience and draw them into your brand story. The book chain Book Passage, the voice-control mobile app Jukevox, and the educational program Great EdVentures are good examples of wordplay that work because both meanings (the evoked one and the literal one) tie into the brand’s identity. A word of warning, though. Gratuitous puns that don’t have that dual tie-in aren’t nearly as effective, and can border on the cheesy. Pita Pan, for instance, is the name of a Middle Eastern eatery, but it doesn’t say much about what makes this restaurant special.

9) Amp up the alliteration
It’s amazing how much more intuitive and memorable a little alliteration can make a name. BestBuy, ClearCurve, Jamba Juice, Rancher’s Reserve, Palm Pre: they’ve all got it going on.

10) Make it rhyme time
Sound is every bit as important as semantics when it comes to name creation.
That’s why brand names that rhyme can be so “sticky.” Think Vudu. Lean Cuisine. StubHub. Shake ‘n Bake. The symmetry and melody of such names make them easier to remember—and harder to forget.

So there you have it. 10 tips that should help you create names that will do you—and your brand—proud. For more ideas, check out our naming guide. And may the best name win!

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