Coming up with compelling names for products, services, blogs, and headlines is arduous, time-consuming work. What you name your product is one of the most important things you do.
Contrary to popular belief, choosing a name for your product or business is NOT the first step of starting a business. If you've spent more than a few days trying to think of the perfect name, as many budding entrepreneurs do, but you still don't have a validated idea, a quality product, a marketing plan, and a reliable supplier, then you should focus your time on those things instead.
However, if you are at the stage where it is time to name your product or business, then it is easy to be overwhelmed and confused by the many options available to you. Do you name it after yourself? Do you make up a word? Do you try to be clever or make a pun out of it?
Consider these ideas when choosing the name for your baby, I mean product or business:
10) NO Trends or Piggybacking
Trends show not to use trends in your names
Let's start our list of what to do, by starting with what NOT to do. Here is the short list:
Trends: Trends and fads such as hit songs, hit TV shows, or even funny memes are often discussed by everyday people. This makes it easy to consider incorporating one of these things into your name since the fad is so clever and cute and everyone will love it forever (i.e. Gangnam Style).
While it's always hard to imagine at the time, remember that trends/fads inevitably fade away over time, and now, even overnight. Don't base your name on something that is guaranteed to be uncool soon.
Piggybacking: Probably the absolute laziest mistake you can make when choosing your name is simply piggybacking off of the name of a successful "competitor". This means naming your operating system "Doors" to rival Windows, or your restaurant Burger Queen.
In addition to being just flat out visibly lazy, no one will think it's cute, clever, or appealing. On top of all that, you will deservedly face some kind of lawsuit, depending on how lazy you were.
The danger in working with trends is extrapolation. Many companies jump to conclusions about how far a trend will go.
Al Ries and Jack Trout
The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing
9) Word Play
Back to the things you should do, there are many simple ways to play with words to create a potential product or business name. Here are a few:
Alliteration: Allow me to take you back to high school English class for a sec. Alliterations are phrases where the words start with the same letter. "Peter Piper" and his story are a good example, although you will want to keep your name down to a few words maximum.
Rhymes: While rhymes may seem somewhat childish, that doesn't change the fact that they work and they're memorable. That's why most people still call any hand-held radios "walkie talkies" to this day.
Portmanteau: A portmanteau is simply a combination or words that fit together. Some popular examples would include brunch (breakfast + lunch) or spork (spoon + fork).
Those listed so far are some of the more popular examples, but there are many more ways to incorporate word-play into your name. Some more include homonyms (same pronunciation, but spelled differently), and oxymorons (opposites) such as "Daily special" or "Plastic glasses".
For an extended list of all your word-play options, check them out here.
8) Consider Your Audience
Play the crowd
B2B vs. B2C: Before you get carried away choosing a clever name, you must take into account if you are selling primarily to other businesses or directly to customers. Consider your desired message.
While many names can work fine for both, riskier names tend to work better selling direct to customers, and somewhat safer names tend to work better when selling to other businesses.
Target Market Demographic: Whether you like it or not, a toy product name such as "Pink Unicorn" will do much better if your products are aimed at little girls. Obviously, that is an extreme example but you will want to consider your target market's gender, age, and more.
Once you have those details, you can consider incorporating things that they can relate to, or that they commonly like, into your product or business name.
7) Word Twists
Similar to the word-play tactics listed above, word twists involve other tactics, such as:
Extra Letters: This option is straightforward enough. It also may be more of a spelling issue than a naming issue. Once you choose the perfect name, consider adding an extra letter. Some examples include media site Digg, and the micro-task site Fiverr.
Intentional misspellings: These include reputation site Klout and Toys R Us (tear).
Word-mash: With many of the single-word names being taken at this point, you can always "mash" two words together such as Facebook or YouTube. You can even combine word-play options such as how Chic-Fil-A includes misspellings as well as word-mashing.
You can even shorten mashed words like FedEx (federal + express) or Groupon (group + coupon).
6) Keep it Short
There are many reasons to keep your name short such as memorability, pronouncability, and domain name considerations. In addition to using short words, you could also incorporate:
Acronyms: Acronyms shorten names by replacing words with their first letters, as in NASA or CVS. This usually involves "inventing" a new word so remember that your prospects can't be expected to understand what your acronym stands for, and may even scare them away. 3-letter names are the least clear, and stay away from name initials if possible.
Numbers: While some companies go so far as to just name their companies a number (such as ad agencies), it is better for most companies and products to use a number and a word. This is because numbers in themselves are not nearly as memorable a word and number combo.
The shorter your name, the larger you can make it in your marketing materials
Jay Conrad Levinson
5) Purpose and Benefits
One popular and effective naming strategy is to start with your value proposition, selling promise, or general purpose as a product or company. For example Play-it-Again Sports and The Rug Doctor tell you their product's purpose and benefit right away.
This is a great way to bake your marketing directly into your name and kill 2 birds with 1 stone. You can also take the opportunity to immediately display what makes your product/business different. This really helps since you wouldn't necessarily need to rely on a tagline to explain what you do.
The benefits don't have to be exact as in "Speedy Delivery Services", but they can also reference an ideal outcome. A great example is how Puma (indirectly) represents speed for a sports brand.
4) Claim a Word
Technically an intentional misspelling
While many of the shorter words seem to be taken, there is still plenty of room and words for you claim as your own. While popular examples include Apple, Tide, and Crest, keep in mind that a common trade-off for this short and convenient strategy is that the word likely won't relate to your product.
As you can see, plenty of successful companies and brands choose somewhat random words so the normal rules don't always apply. I would still advise against piggybacking off a competitor though.
You will also likely want to think ahead in terms of logos and color schemes. For example, if you're 100% sure your brand color will be green, then maybe don't name it "Banana" or "Cardboard". Your name will likely affect your logo/mascot as Chili's and Apple have little room for logo leeway.
You can also claim a phrase or pair of words as with American Apparel or Banana Boat.
3) Irrelevant Non-Word
If claiming a real word as your own isn't quite your thing, you can literally invent a new word. Some examples include Xerox, Sony, and Velcro, and your options are somewhat endless. Keep in mind that people should be able to pronounce it, and closely spell it into google after hearing it just once.
Advantages to this include "word" availability, domain availability, unique branding, potential memorability, no limits on colors or logos, and creative license. While exceptions always exist, I'd still advise against making it too long (more than 10 letters) or not easily pronounceable.
Neologizing: giving some key concept a new name in order to spark interest.
2) Founder and Origin
The easiest way to name a business is the one that often comes to mind first which is to name it after the founder or some part of the origin story. Examples (even if fictional) include Wendy's, Bayer, Boeing, Fisher Price, Ferrari, and Gillette, as well as many more, and just about every law firm.
Name on the Door: While this naming strategy is the first that comes to mind for most people, it is the strategy you must be the most careful with. For example, if your name is "on the door", then many prospects will want to speak directly with you when they have a question or problem. This will matter much more to you if and/or when you begin to hire employees.
Potential Future Sale: Another seemingly distant problem is the potentiality of selling your business in the future. Even if you love your product or business and you think you will never want to leave it, the truth is that people naturally change over time and there is a good chance you will want to move on from your business in the future at some point. Your name on the door can complicate that.
1) More Naming Strategies
While we've covered the most popular naming strategies so far, there are a few honorable mentions to serve as possibilities for your idea. Here are a few last strategies to consider:
Location: While "California Plumbers" or something similar may seem great when you're small, consider the fact that your business may want to grow nationwide or more one day. Then again, you could intentionally include a location such as in "California Tanning" for beach-association purposes.
Features: Assuming your product is near its final form, you can look to it for naming ideas. Maybe your sandpaper company can be "Smooth and Grainy" or something like that.
Foreign Word: Fair warning, some people may find you slightly more cultured or fancy, but others will assume you're imported or expensive and avoid you all together.
Online Name Generators: If all of these ideas aren't good enough for you, there are now many online name generator sites that can help you mix and match a ton of words for potential ideas. A few of these tools include Anadea, Oberlo, BNG, Shopify, and NameMesh.