Before you do anything with your business, you need a name. I’m sharing my process for creating a brand name so you can check that box and get started building the business of your dreams!
Naming is HARD, y’all!
It’s one of the harder things I’ve ever been tasked to do for clients because it requires so much creativity for this tiny, simple output. With the last naming project, I put in countless hours to present them with 10 words. It can be really challenging, but there are also plenty of techniques that you can learn to make it a lot easier or at least make the process a little more straightforward.
Remember: one word will never capture everything you want to say about your brand, so don’t expect it to! Don’t put that pressure on yourself! But it’s great if it does have some meaning behind it or a cool story; that always helps.
Types of Names
First, we’re going to talk through some of the different types of names because you’ve probably never thought about how names are created, even though you see them around you all of the time.
Eponymous AKA Named After the Founder
So, pretty straightforward, you name your company after yourself. There’s nothing wrong with keeping it simple, especially if you want that more personal feel to your brand or if you just like your name. Obviously, my company is called Liz Murray strategy. Originally, I wanted to position myself as a personal brand as in just me, Liz, but there’s already a known blogger named Liz Murray. So, I added “Strategy” on the end and called it a day!
You see this in huge brands like Disney. Walt Disney named his company after himself, and it’s become part of the common nomenclature as both a company and entity.
Literal AKA Saying What You Do
I like to call this technique literal, as it’s naming your business using words that literally describe what you do. We see this in brands like American Airlines, Toys R Us, or Pizza Hut. Their name spells out exactly what you get from them. The good thing about that is there’s no confusion, and they can be pretty simple to come up with. The downside is they may not be as memorable because they can be a little generic. These days, with so many businesses out there, it also may be harder to find an available literal name.
Think KFC, BMW, UPS. An acronym can be based on anything from people’s names or something literal like Kentucky Friend Chicken. If you’re looking to use a long-winded name, then you may want to consider using an acronym along with it.
Also thought as the metaphorical or descriptive technique, this is when you use a real word that is kind of related to what your business does, but it’s not a literal interpretation of it. It could even be something aspirational. There might be a metaphor in there, and you are associating your brand with this word’s meaning and positive connotation.
Super famous examples of this are Apple and Nike. Nike, named after the Greek goddess of victory, took all that’s associated with the goddess and tied it to their brand. Steve Jobs says he picked Apple because apples are “fun, spirited, and not intimidating.” There’s also the skincare brand Bliss, with its obvious positive connotations, and the luggage brand Away (a great brand I’ve referenced before), who wanted to associate their brand with that feeling of getting away.
This is when you take two related (or unrelated) words or ideas and put them together. This can be a great way to develop a name that doesn’t already exist but is also simple and easy to remember. Great examples of this are Facebook, Red Bull, Blue Apron, or Salt and Straw. The ladder being part of the common hipstery “this and this” trend as it’s a great way to combine two words you want to associate together. Whether they’re unrelated or well-connected, but you get to create something new.
This technique requires a little more skill and creativity. It generally requires utilizing a pun, putting a unique spin on a common phrase, or combining two words that aren’t normally combined to create something new (AKA a portmanteau).
Some examples include Travelocity, Groupon, and Kleenex: Travelocity is just travel and velocity combined, Groupon being group and coupon, and then Kleenex brings that idea of clean to the front and adds the suffix “ex.”
In my experience, play-on-words names are often the hardest to come up with because they have to be clever. However, they give you a great opportunity to incorporate lots of meaning into a simple, memorable word – if you can come up with them.
Use a Different Language (but tbh I don’t recommend it)
This is where you find a word that you want to express but say it in a different language. This can very, VERY easily veer into cultural appropriation, so I try to stay away from these as much as possible. I just don’t think it’s a necessary approach. Take Kim Kardashian’s shapewear brand, Skims. If you didn’t know, initially, the brand was called Kimono, a Japanese word with a lot of meaning associated with it. There was so much controversy of her trying to take ownership of this word as a non-Japanese person (not to mention, it has nothing to do with shapewear). Frankly, it was a terrible move on her part.
So, be very careful if you’re using foreign languages to name your company, especially if they have no personal ties to your product, service, you, your origins, and if you don’t speak the language.
There are some common examples where it worked out. Like Zappos, the shoe company plays on the Spanish word for shoe “Zapato.” This is a healthier way to approach this as it’s based on a term associated with what the business actually does. Another example is Hulu, which is based on two Chinese words, one meaning gourd, and had a similar naming process to Apple. The owner chose it based on its association (according to Wikipedia, that is).
Again, while I don’t recommend this technique, there are better ways to approach it, like Zappos.
Invented Names AKA Make It Up!
Just as it sounds, this is when you create a new word that doesn’t exist at all. We see this everywhere from huge name brands like Adidas, Pixar, and Exxon – there are tons of them. The great thing about this technique is that you don’t have to worry about it being already taken, which is a huge challenge these days.
You also have the opportunity to become known completely for what you do and potentially have your name become the verb for doing something. Like how people say they’re going to google something when they mean look it up; Google created a whole new word in our lexicon (and our dictionary)!
One of the best ways to approach this technique is by looking at word stems or word roots. In English, many of the words we use every day are often a combination of pieces of different words or stems from other languages, whether that’s Latin, Greek, French, Germanic, or what have you. Those little pieces of a word have a lot of meaning so, you can combine them in different ways that don’t already exist to create your own words.
Let’s look at an example of this with “extraterrestrial”:
“ex” is a word root for out
“terre” means world
“ial” means of or pertaining to
So, extraterrestrial directly means pertaining to something that is out of this world. And we generally use it to refer to aliens; they’re out of this world.
That’s how word roots work in English, and it’s how you can put different word pieces together to create your own new words.
The Naming Process
Now that we’ve gone over name types let’s get into the naming process!
Step 1: Research
My process always starts with research. I dig in going down rabbit holes of Wikipedia, Wiktionary, tons of articles, countless tabs open; you name it.
You want to start your research by looking into concepts related to your brand. Let’s use a coffee company as an example.
Now, what you’re looking for in your research is a creative angle. So you could research coffee, its history, its origins, scientific names for it, a society who cultivated it, etc. Maybe your path goes down the etymology of the word “coffee.” You leapfrog from one point to another to find that exciting word, angle, or idea that you can bring in to either relate to your name or base a name off of.
Now, you don’t want to just focus on the word “coffee” here. It’s important to think about the feelings you want your name to express. If you want your brand to feel cozy and provide comfort to your customers, I would also suggest researching words, feelings, and concepts related to what you’re trying to invoke. Make sense? Explore a handful of ideas, that way, you’ll end up with a lot of possibilities to incorporate back into your brand.
I also suggest getting into word roots and the history behind the words that you’re exploring. It’s also great to look into idioms or common words or phrases that incorporate that word.
Don’t rush it! Take your time in this process because you don’t know where it’s going to lead you! You may end up with a super awesome idea that never would’ve occurred to you without this process. Plus, you can add a lot of rich meaning this way!
Step 2: Make A Word Bank
My second step is to create word lists. So based on all this research, I start creating a list of words, parts of words, and/or word fragments that I like. Maybe they sound good, or they have a cool meaning. I then might be able to incorporate them either in combination or standing alone into a name. My go-to ways are:
- Making a running list with word stems and word roots
- Using flashcards so I can easily mix and match with everything in front of me
Essentially, what you’re going for is a word bank to more easily brainstorm off of.
Step 3: Come Up with as Many Ideas as Possible!
Using your research and word bank, start piecing things together, riffing off them, and brainstorming different ways to create names. Most of them will suck, and that’s okay. Write down those shitty ones, too! Don’t edit yourself in this process, don’t worry about whether they’re good or taken; just create as many ideas as possible! You’re looking for quantity here because that quantity is going to lead you to quality!
Whether you want to incorporate all of these techniques or not, I think one of the essential parts of the naming process is just coming up with as many ideas as you can.
For my last project, I had over 300 (both good and not-so-good, don’t worry!) names that I eventually whittled down to 10. You don’t have to come up with 300, but the more, the merrier!
Step 4: Narrow it Down
This is where you get rid of the ones that suck, haha. It’s time to focus on your favorites! Make a new list of the ones that just ~feel right~ as well as the simplest and easiest to understand ones.
When analyzing a potential name, ask yourself these questions:
- Is it easy to spell? This is SO important. There’s nothing more than annoying than having to constantly spell out your name for people, or worse, them not finding your work because they don’t know how to spell it.
- Is it going to get confused with something else? Does it have a homophone? Does it sound like another word that will constantly be a mix-up for you?
- Is it easy to remember? You want something simple and memorable. 🙂
- Does it look and sound good? Some words and sounds just don’t feel good. They may feel sharp, gross, whatever – we have different associations to different sounds. Try to make sure the names you’re landing on have a good feeling about them. It’s tricky since it’s subjective, but hopefully, you get what I mean.
- Does it look and sound like it’s a thing? Does it sound like a name? Does it sound like: “oh yeah, that’s a company.” Again, very subjective, but that is probably my favorite test for a name. Like, “yes, that sounds like it could be a company or a thing.”
- Are there any negative or potentially negative connotations around it? While super important, it’s also a bit tricky. Can that sound, word, or phrase be easily mistaken for or turned into something you don’t want to be associated with? Think of the TV show Pen 15. This was, of course, named on purpose to look like the word “penis.” Here, it’s a good thing; it was intentional. But you wouldn’t want to do something like that with your business accidentally. Sometimes this stuff is hard to spot on your own, so grab another pair of eyes and revisit it after some time to make sure everything reads and feels good. Make sure it doesn’t rhyme with or look like some negative word you don’t want anywhere near your brand.
Step 5: Get Some Outside Input
After you’ve asked yourself all of those questions and you’ve narrowed down your list. Now’s the time to get some input from other people. I suggest picking one-to-three people really close to you (and your business partner or team if you have them) to weigh in on their favorites and help narrow the list down even further.
Step 6: Make sure they’re available!!!
Once you’ve landed on 5-10 names, it’s time to see if they’re available. This can be a very tricky and disheartening process, so hopefully, you haven’t fallen in love with any of those names… It can be tough to find a name that’s available in all the ways you need it to be.
Here’s what you need to look for:
- Can you legally use it? If it’s trademarked by another company, like a McDonald’s or Nike, you can’t use that name. Simple as that.
- Does someone in the same industry use it? If someone in your or a very similar industry has the name, and there’s a likelihood for people to get confused, then that’s off the table as well. For example, if you’re creating a video game platform called Starburst, but there’s already a game with the same title, it would be a copyright violation since it would be easy to confuse the two within the industry.
- Can you get the URL? With so many websites, businesses, and even people just buying up URLs to re-sell them, it’s gotten tough to get the “.com.” You can, and people do, get creative with alternatives, but finding an available .com will generally fare better for you. So, you want to see what options are out there that make sense.
- What about a social handle? Certain platforms will be massive for you, so you want to make sure that you’re going to have a handle that’s easy to remember, simple, and you can use with this potential name.
How do you even go about this?
- Google it and see what comes up on the first several pages.
- Search with the US Trademark System to make sure no trademarks are using that name.
- Look at social media.
- Search for available URLs with a domain provider like GoDaddy or Namecheap.
- See what companies come up when you search your name on a website like Crunchbase. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it has quite a few companies, especially bigger ones, that use any version of the word you’re searching for now.
Just because someone else is using that name doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t use it. Again, the problematic factor is the likelihood of it being confused for you. You can incorporate modifiers to your name to try and work around this. Going back to the coffee example, you could try something like Coffee Distributors, Coffee Bean International, or Coffee Bean Limited. You may be able to use something like that with just a slight modifier, even though there are similarities in the names.
I’m not a trademark attorney, so I won’t give you exhaustive legal advice on this, but those are good things to keep in mind and get some more guidance on.
Step 7: See What Resonates
Once you’ve narrowed it down to a shortlist of available names, take some time to see what resonates the most.
You may even want to work with a logo designer and see them mocked up somehow because sometimes that gives a little bit more authority to the feeling of the name.
Step 8: Pick One
Now, you just have to pick one. Try not to overthink it too much. A name matters, but it’s not the most important thing in the grand scheme of things. Don’t let coming up with the perfect brand name stop you from getting started because perfect doesn’t exist. The business and the service you provide, the brand you’re building, are so much bigger than just the name.
The creative process takes a lot of time.
Your brain is working behind the scenes even when you’re not working on something. When trying to do this creative work, it’s very, very important to take breaks and step away. Often, your best ideas are gonna come to you in the shower or on a walk, in those times when you’re not actively working on it. So, give it a little time, work on it, then give it some space. That’s what’s going to help you come up with even better ideas.
Drop a comment and let me know if this helped you come up with your brand name! I’d love to hear what it is! I promise I won’t steal it! 😉
Have a name but need help getting started in other ways? Check out my free training, How to Build a Powerful brand from Scratch, for help laying the foundation to build your amazing brand!
Until next time, stay badass!
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If you’d like a little more help, you can check out my free training: How to Build a Powerful Brand from Scratch. It’s a three-part video training that outlines key components of building a successful brand and how to approach them on your own.