How I Create Brand Names


In the past 15 years, I’ve created countless names for events, products, businesses, brands, and non-profit organizations. It’s a very rewarding part of my job and by now you would think it should be a straight-forward process, right? Wrong. Although it’s rewarding, it’s also the most daunting project an agency takes on.

The problem stems from clients believing in “love at first sight”. They hope that once they see the right name, they’ll know it. It will just feel right—everything will be roses and sales will skyrocket.

Names are extremely personal. It’s the reason everyone names their children differently (or so they think they do). We all have strong opinions about names too, such as why we like this one, how we know someone named that, or that this name just “sounds funny”.

Dale Carnegie, in his famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People, says that a person’s name is most precious word in the English language for them. It’s no different with an entrepreneur’s product or brand name; it’s their baby. So how do we create hundreds of new names a year for the myriad of projects and brands we work with?

For starters, you have to remove as much subjectivity as possible and introduce objective criteria into the process. Once we determine the strategy and brand, we generate hundreds of names through a creative process (as a group and individually).

We then use standard criteria that are weighted to narrow that list down to the top ten with three recommended choices. Together with our client we either choose one or create quantitative surveys for the target audience to determine the best choice.

Here’s our Name Generation Criteria:

1. Directional Alignment: Does the name fit with the mission, vision, and culture of the organization?
2. Target Audience Fit: Is it clear to the target audience? Will they generally like/resonate with it?
3. Contemporary: Is the name relevant to current trends or is it dated?
4. Sustainable: Will this name work for decades or is it just a fad?
5. Distinct: How memorable and distinct is the name? Will the target audience be able to remember it easily?
6. Protected: Can the name be trademarked and legally protected in the markets we compete in?
7. Geographically Open: Can this name be used in other countries easily or is there a bad translation?
8. Sound and Appearance: How does the name look and sound? Can you picture yourself saying it to others easily and with confidence?
9. Story: Does the name associate with a strong metaphor or story that can be part of the brand?
10. Depth: Does it have layers of meaning and association?

Sometimes we get lucky and the right name comes instantly, but often we need the full process to find the right name.

In the end, a name is just a representative that needs a great product, leader, and business system behind it to give it the right reputation.

Eventually you have to trust the process and execute the strategy on faith.

That being said, I’d rather wear UnderArmour than Fruit of the Loom under my equipment, even if it is the exact same product.

Have a great day!