It’s quite a process.
Something interesting always happens when going through a list of possible names…
A name is mentioned — a perfectly harmless, perfectly decent name — but you hate it!
Because it reminds you of that one person who was cruel to you in high school, the boss that humiliated you in a past job, that guy who rubbed you the wrong way in college.
Their name is now forever synonymous with their reputation and naming YOUR beloved child that name is just unspeakable.
Picking a brand name is no different…
Here’s what you do to get started:
- Start With Your Reputation
- Your Brand As A Person
- Choosing Your Brand Name
- Brand Name Categories
- Getting Started
- Brand Name Tools
- Avoiding Generic Trademark
- Pick A Name That Will Scale With Your Business
- Picking A Name In The Digital Age
Naming your business and creating a brand name has very little to do with the actual name and has everything to do with crafting a great reputation that will eventually become synonymous with that name.
In Shakespeare’s beloved classic Romeo and Juliet, when Juliet discovers Romeo is a Montague she wrestles with the fact that the Montague name is a brand of foe, but Romeo is working to rebrand their image
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself though, not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O! be some other name:
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet
The Montagues have revealed that a name can be stained by a bad reputation and that is exactly why your brand is actually not your name or logo — it’s your reputation.
So, above all else, focus less on your name and more on building a good reputation.
I doubt anyone sets out to create a bad reputation; however, there’s an old expression “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”
It’s not enough to be well-intentioned if you don’t know why you do what you do, just as it isn’t enough to be a great driver if you don’t have a sense of direction — you’ll still end up lost.
In fact, I consider myself a pretty good driver, but anytime I drive in a new town and I’m not sure where I’m supposed to be going my “good driver” status begins to take a bit of a dive, but let’s keep this between us 😉
I begin to react more to our GPS’s last-minute corrections more than adhering to traffic signs — doing business is like constantly driving in unfamiliar territory.
To have your name remembered for a positive reputation it isn’t enough to simply be well-intentioned, you have to know your mission and values.
Remember, your name becomes synonymous with who you are.
Think about it —
When I say Tiffany…you think elegance.
When I say Rolex… you think timeless and quality
When I say Amazon… you think fast delivery
When I say ASPCA… you think Sarah McLachlan, big puppy dog eyes, and a deep desire to help cuddly animals.
When helping people develop their brand we often ask, “If your brand was a person what would their personality be like? How would you describe them if you were introducing them at a party?”
It may sound strange, but I often imagine how our business would be described if it had a funeral (after all, I feel Benu Creative is the legacy Kelly and I are trying to build together).
I feel the greatest truth about a person comes at their funeral. What people say about you when you’ve passed on reveals how you lived, the impact you had, and how you treated others.
We hope our legacy would be something more like this:
“Here lies Benu Creative, they cared deeply about others, always working to serve them and provide the best of themselves. They will be sorely missed.”
Once you begin to understand how you apply your personality and reputation to your business it’s time for the fun stuff — choosing a name.
So how do you choose a name?
If you’re just starting out, you want to pick a name that will become the banner that your business carries.
Pick a name that:
1) Represents what you do
2) Isn’t limiting
3) Is protectable by trademark
4) Is scalable
5) Will work as a domain name
6) Works with voice search
Consider your mission and values, audience, future products and services, and how memorable and creative the name is when selecting a brand name.
To begin, you can consider a few categories that brand names often fit into.
Brand names come in all shapes and sizes but there are a few categories that you should consider.
First, let’s start with the categories that are easier names to come up with but less creative and not as trademarkable.
These are brand names that describe your products or services.
Toys R Us
This type of brand name is based on a real or fictional person.
Gleaves Swearingen (Law)
This type of brand name is derived from Initials or an abbreviation.
HP (Hewlett Packard)
UPS (United Parcel Service)
KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken)
Next are brand names that are more creative, unique, and more easily trademarkable.
Magic – Spell
When two words are mashed together or a real word with made-up spelling is used and conjures a unique brand name.
Netflix – Internet + Flicks (movies)
Instagram – Instant Camera + Telegram
YouTube – You + Televise Yourself
Google – Misspelling of googol
Suggestive and metaphorical and often mythical, foreign, or imagery heavy, these names evoke a feeling or emotion within the consumer.
Nike – the goddess of victory in Greek mythology
Apple – the tree of knowledge
Patagonia – an exotic country of exploration
Now we get a bit more fancy. These types are completely made-up.
No matter which category you select it takes time to get the right name.
Don’t rush it, it’s better to take the time to get it right rather than realizing later you need to rebrand (which is costly in both time and money).
We know from experience.
Often times entrepreneurs say that if they had known what it took to start a business they would likely have been too scared to try.
This could not be more true.
Benu Creative originally began as Shields Art Studios, which was a company I started in college to publish my comic Mythed Opportunity.
Instead of taking the time to consider our direction we made the mistake of just turning the old business into the new one assuming the name would still work for what work we were entering into.
However, we soon found that most of our traffic was coming from people searching for art studios and galleries.
In fact, while we were already gaining a decent reception in our community, our name showcased more about our intentions than our actual mission.
We intended to produce quality work (to the level of a digital artist), but this said very little about why.
So we returned to the drawing board and decided to rebrand.
We realized we were more than artists doing quality work, we wanted to impact people’s lives.
We decided to focus our brand on our mission so we started there.
The Shields Art logo was a phoenix and we knew we wanted to keep that since it stayed true to our mission and values as a symbol of renewal, but finding the name to match was tricky.
We tried Lumination Works or Lumination Creative because we liked the idea of bringing light to the world, but that felt too similar to Illumination Studios and we couldn’t let you think Minions were working on your branding now, could we.
While we would have liked to keep the family name, Shields (ie Shields Digital or Shields Creative), without context we felt people might think of security software.
Kelly mentioned she really liked word mashups like Be-loved, Be-Hance, and Be-Spoke. She especially liked Beloved because it originated from “to be loved.”
After months and numerous conversations, it hit us while we were riding in the car on the way back home — Be-New (Benu was used to make the word more visually symmetrical and easier to copyright, and as an added bonus the Bennu or Benu is the Egyptian Phoenix).
This is not to say our name is perfect, and with what we’ve learned you’ll see it doesn’t pass every test, but that’s okay.
The main thing is that the name fits the reputation you are trying to craft.
For us, renewal, whether that in the spirit of what we do or the spirit of who we are as people means that our name is about as perfect as we could get.
If you truly are stuck or just need some inspiration to get you started you could use Name Generators.
Tools like Namelix can help generate a business name (and see it in a branding style), but your business really is your baby, and would you use a name generator to name your baby?
Once you’ve found a name you think might fit you’ll want to ensure it is available and can be trademarked.
First, use Namechk to know which domain (website) names and social media handles are available.
Then, use the USPTO’s TESS database to do an initial trademark search and consult a trademark attorney to ensure you can safely and legally use your name without running into issues in the future.
You don’t necessarily need to trademark your name right away, test it out first, but you do need to make sure you aren’t using someone else’s name who is in the same industry as yours
We can’t stress enough why a brand is more than a name.
If a business doesn’t focus on its mission and valuesto establish a strong reputation they risk having their name lose all meaning and becoming a generic term rather than a brand.
Now and again a brand’s service or product can become too generic and instead of the reputation the brand has established, the name of the product or service becomes synonymous with all those in the industry that have a similar product or service.
Some examples of this are:
Generally speaking, if a brand name can be used as a verb or to describe all similar products in the same industry it is generic.
You may wonder why this is so detrimental.
Well, consider that if you call any tissue a Kleenex you are suggesting there is no real difference, no real inherent value associated with the Kleenex brand, thus no reason to choose them over any other tissue product.
When you are trying to get people to choose you over your competitor this is essentially the killing stroke to establishing dominance in the industry.
The best way to avoid this is to ensure you are again focused on your brand’s reputation, the unique value you provide, and a strong identity.
Continue to build a relationship with your audience so they think of you or your company rather than just your product or service as what you are and what you do.
If you’ve written your Business Plan then you’ve probably set goals for your business.
As you look forward ask yourself where your business will be in a year, five years, or ten years.
Will your business name work as you expand into new products and services?
Perhaps you begin your business selling pies, but you plan to be a full-service bakery in a year or two.
Ma’s Best Pies isn’t going to cut it when you expand.
What happens if the industry changes the name for what you do?
For example, when the automobile first hit the market it wasn’t called a car or automobile; it was called the horseless carriage.
Imagine if you had called your business Derby Horseless Carriages?
Clever right? No! Your business would’ve never made it past the starting line.
Be aware of your goals when picking your name and how the industry is evolving as you pick your name.
There are two things to consider when picking a name: 1) how people search for you online 2) how voice search is changing the ways in which we search.
When picking a brand name you’ll want to ensure that it works as a domain name as well.
Remember when picking a name it will eventually be associated with a website and so you’ll want to ensure that you consider how easy it will be to remember, say, and type in a search.
Also, as voice search with becomes more and more utilized you want to ensure your name isn’t going to confuse Alexa, Siri, or Cortana.
To test this try typing your business name into Google Translate and have it read it out to you.
How does it sound?
Was it pronounced correctly?
Now speak it to Google Translate.
Was Google able to pick it up correctly and with ease?
If not, you may want to rethink it.
Remember your brand is more than just a name, it’s a reputation with your customers.
As you pick your name think about your goals, values, and the kind of company you want to become.
You can pick a name that represents what you do, doesn’t limit you as you grow or as the industry changes, and that you can trademark it.
Juliet may have asked what’s in a name, but it’s because the Montagues had soiled their reputation with the Capulets.
When done right your customers will recognize that, while your brand by any other name could smell just as sweet, its reputation is so strong that even the name evokes a beautiful aroma in their minds, and your name will become unforgettable.
So what do you want to name your baby now?!
Need help choosing the perfect brand name? We’ll guide you through the process.
Because we definitely want to avoid this:
Need help picking your Brand Name?
I’d Like to Hear from You
Which brand name type does your business name fall under? Or what’s one question you have about brand names? Either way, I’d love to hear what you have to share so leave me comment below and let’s chat.
Brand Name FAQs
How do I come up with a brand name?
When choosing a brand name it’s crucial that you focus on the reputation and personality you wish to convey to your audience. Start with your mission and values. Then make sure your name 1) Represents what you do 2) Isn’t limiting 3) Is protectable by trademark 4) Is scalable 5) Will work as a domain name 6) Works with voice search.
How do I build brand name recognition?
It is important to remember your brand is not your name or logo — it’s your reputation. Brand name recognition is something you build up to, but it starts with knowing your mission and values. Remember a name can be stained by a bad reputation. Therefore, if you are truly living out your mission and values you will establish a positive association with your brand name. Imagine your brand as a person and ask yourself what the personality of the brand is. Then test to see if that personality fits with your mission and values.
How can I ensure my brand name will fit my business as it grows?
Ensure you pick a name that can scale with your business.
Be aware of your goals and how the industry is evolving as you pick your name.
Ensure that it works as a domain name.
Consider how easy it will be to remember, say, and type in a search.
Ensure your name isn’t going to confuse voice search devices such as Alexa, Siri, or Cortana.
How can I ensure my brand name will work with Voice Search?
To test if your brand name will work with voice search devices try typing your business name into Google Translate and have it read it out to you. Then speak it to Google Translate to see if Google can pick it up easily and accurately. If not, you may want to rethink it.
What are some types of brand names?
There are six types of brand names. Categories that are easier names to come up with but less creative and not as trademarkable are Descriptive, Founder, and Acronym. Next are brand names that are more creative, unique, and more easily trademarkable, which are Magic-Spell, Evocative, and Fabricated.
What is a Descriptive brand name?
Descriptive brand names are those that describe products or services.
Examples: Toys R Us, Kitchenaid, General Motors, Southwest Airlines
What is a Founder brand name?
Examples: Martha Stewart, Walt Disney, Gleaves Swearingen (Law), Andrews-Cooper (Engineering)
What is an Acronym brand name?
Examples: HP (Hewlett Packard), UPS (United Parcel Service), KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken)
What is a Magic-Spell brand name?
Examples: Netflix – Internet + Flicks (movies), Instagram – Instant + Photos, YouTube – You + Televise Yourself, Google – Misspelling of googol
What is an Evocative brand name?
Examples: Nike – the goddess of victory in Greek mythology, Apple – the tree of knowledge, Patagonia – an exotic country of exploration.
What is a Fabricated brand name?
Examples: Kodak, Exxon, Häagen-Dazs, Sony
How can I test my brand name to make sure it's effective?
What is a Proprietary Eponym (Generic Trademark)?
How can I avoid Generic brand name (Proprietary Eponym/Generic Trademark)?
If a business doesn’t focus on its mission and values to establish a strong reputation it risks having its name lose all meaning and becoming a generic term rather than a brand. To avoid this ensure you are focused on your brand’s reputation, the unique value you provide, and a strong identity. Continue to build a relationship with your audience so they think of you or your company rather than just your product or service as what you are and what you do.
Why is a generic trademark so bad?
What are some tools/Resources to help create a brand name?
Benu Creative can help guide and consult you to help you avoid pitfalls and ensure you pick a name that’s right for your business.
Namelix can help generate a business name.
Namechk can help you find which domain (website) names and social media handles are available.
USPTO’s TESS database will allow you to do an initial trademark search, but always make sure to consult with a trademark attorney.