The 5 Questions to Ask Yourself When Naming a Company or Product

By Erin Milnes

August 17, 2016

FragezeichenOriginally published by naming expert Beth Gerber

As any good naming specialist will tell you, successful product naming or company naming doesn’t begin with the creative process. It begins with the development of a successful naming strategy. And that involves asking questions, and lots of them. Here are five of the most important ones.

1. What’s essential to the brand?

Business plans change, technologies evolve, competitors proliferate. When product or company naming, it’s important first to clarify what’s at the heart of your brand that will never change. This will be the foundation for your product naming explorations—and all of your other branding initiatives. Consider key benefits and values, as well as the type of personality you want to project. Then hone it down to what’s most essential, your brand DNA, and let your name grow out of that.

  • Household products based on long-term sustainability? Seventh Generation.
  • Pure and gentle skin care? Dove.
  • Nontoxic cleansers that are fun to use? Method.
2. Who are your competitors, and how are they naming their offerings?

Once you’ve determined what product or industry category you want to be competing in (not always a straightforward exercise), survey the competitive landscape to observe naming trends and patterns. 

  • Are competitors’ names mostly descriptive? Then something more evocative and metaphorical could be powerful. (Virgin Airlines and Orange Bank, for instance, were highly disruptive and differentiating names in their respective industries.)
  • Are a lot of the names in your space two-word compounds? Then a one-word name like Amazon or a coined name like Hulu could help you stand out.
  • Is there a word that keeps popping up in your competitors’ names? Stay away from it.
3. Who are your customers?

Keep your customers clearly in mind when company or product naming: their interests, their language, their dreams, and their temperaments. Your customers may include people from many different demographics, but do your best to select a target group and get to know them well.

  • Wired is a perfect name for a magazine for techies, while Fortune is great for the Fortune 500 crowd and its wannabes. Not only do these names speak to the aspirations of these two demographics—they also speak their language.
4. If you’re naming a product, how will it fit into your company’s portfolio?

Besides communicating about the brand at hand, a product name often needs to telegraph its relationship to other brands in a company’s portfolio.

  • Will this product be part of a family of products that are already named according to a particular naming protocol? (For example, auto manufacturers often use alpha or alphanumeric names: Lexus IS, ES, GS, and LS.) If so, then that’s the convention to follow; this isn’t the time to be original.
  • Is this the first product in what you hope will be a family? Then consider what naming convention you might adopt that will allow you to link future product names together, whether structurally or thematically, and be extendable well into the future. (Kyocera’s Lingo, Deco, Tempo all end in “o,” for instance, and Apple’s old operating systems were all named after big cats.)
  • If it’s an ingredient brand or an upgrade to an existing product, you may not want to brand it at all, but simply append the name with some kind of descriptive terminology (as in Kindle, Kindle Oasis, Kindle Oasis Wi-Fi + 3G) so as not to overshadow the parent brand.
5. In what contexts will the name be used?

Asking this question can often unearth naming requirements you’ve overlooked.

  • Will the name appear on a tiny product or be sold through a medium with space limits for product descriptions (such as the Apple Store)? Then there may be a character limit.
  • Will the name be spoken a lot? Then it’s important that it’s intuitive to spell, and its sounds are unambiguous and distinct.
  • Will the name be used in different countries? Then how it will play in those other languages, both in terms of meaning and ease of pronunciation, is relevant.
  • Will the name will have a descriptor (such as Technologies, Apparel, or Foods) to go along with it to tell part of the brand story, or will the name stand alone? This may not only affect the messaging directions you explore, but also the length of the name and even what letters and sounds you use.
  • Will the name be used as a domain name (or part of one)? If so, remember that you won’t have the luxury of capital letters and spacing to make the name crystal clear (as domain names such as teacherstalk.com, whorepresents.com, and penisland.net sadly demonstrate). And if you absolutely positively must have the exact domain name (and often, if you really think about it, you don’t), then get ready for an exhaustive product or company naming exploration, because finding an available domain name that works for you, or buying one that won’t cost you five figures or more, can be really challenging.

These are only a few of the questions to ask before embarking on a company or product naming exercise. Take your time answering them and thinking through what your naming strategy will be. Although a good naming strategy won’t guarantee a good name (there is a place for creativity and linguistic invention, after all), it can go a long way toward getting you there.

As any good naming specialist will tell you, successful product naming or company naming doesn’t begin with the creative process. It begins with the development of a successful naming strategy. And that involves asking questions, and lots of them. These are five of the most important ones.

Need help finding the perfect name for your product, company or service? Catchword is an award-winning naming agency founded in 1998, with offices in California and New York. Contact us to learn more about how we can help.

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