4 Strategies for Naming Your New Brand

What to do when all the good ones are taken

Have you ever had the experience of trying to name a brand from out of thin air? Whether you attempted this as part of a team or tried it alone, the sheer number of names already taken by existing brands, regardless of category, is truly staggering. I have found the following strategies to be indispensable in the naming process:

1. Assemble A Naming Team

Whether you work with a branding agency or decide to take a shot at it with your internal team, combining the power of multiple perspectives will ensure you are covering all the bases. A team of 4–8 people are enough to generate good momentum where teams of over 10–12 can be hard to keep focused.

A good branding or naming agency will involve a client-side team of individuals who are closest to the entity being named or re-named. It was actually the receptionist at the branding agency who came up with the name“Plan B” for the morning after pill. The best ideas for a brand names can come from people who you may not think of as typical “creatives”.

2. Catch Your Brainstorms In Buckets

Now that you’ve assembled your naming team, begin by creating buckets or categories for the brainstorm. Brainstorming sessions are ideally held in person, but can also be conducted via video conference. The moderator of the session writes down everyone’s input on a whiteboard or large stick-sticky note pages. These whiteboards can then be photographed and uploaded to a program like Evernote for future reference.

The simplest way to create momentum in a brainstorming session is to focus on one bucket at a time. A bucket could be “product attributes” or “how we would like to be seen.” Once you’ve exhausted all the ideas for each bucket, reference a thesaurus and list the best synonyms for the words in each bucket.

What you’ll begin to notice is that most of the words are descriptive. If you are trying to name a brand in a crowded category, you will quickly discover most of these descriptive words already exist as brand names. But don’t get frustrated yet, as we are still laying the foundation. The goal is not to create an actual name at this point, but to systematically fill each bucket with as many words as possible.

3. Compound Names (Or Why You Should Name Your Brand Like A Pub)

Now that we have a long lists of words, our next step towards creating a name will be combining any two of the words we’ve written down. Examples of this naming style would be a pub named “Fox & Goose” or a pasta restaurant named “Flour & Water.” But a compound name does not always require an ampersand. “SnapChat” and “Facebook” are two of the best known names created by crashing two shorter words into one another.

We recently employed this strategy in naming and re-branding a boutique hotel in Silicon Valley. Although there was not much to draw on creatively from either building or area itself, the hotel was set off far from the main road under a lush grove of trees. The moderator of the naming session asked the team to imagine wandering into a clearing after a long walk through the woods. We then brainstormed buckets on “manmade objects” and “woodland animals”–things that we might find in a forest. After assembling a long list of words for each, the words “moth” and “lantern” magically connected themselves (read more about the Moth & Lantern).

A more sophisticated version of the compound name is the neologism. A Neologism literally meaning “new word” is often the result of crashing two words front to back or splicing parts of one word into another. The neologism is the favorite naming style of the pharmaceutical industry. The Viagras, Lyricas and Lumestas of the world owe their existence to this naming style.

4. Begin With An Image

Some product categories are so densely populated by competitors that nearly every imaginable descriptive name was trademarked long ago. For product categories with thousands of SKUs, such as wine and spirits, an alternate strategy is required.

Skinner Vineyards located in the Sierra Foothills, recently asked us to help them name and design a new wine brand that would appeal to the millennial market. They also wanted the new brand to reflect the history of gold mining in their region, specifically their ancestor James Skinner who was a gold miner turned wine maker.

As we began brainstorming words, the results were mostly cliches that led us to the tired visuals that you might expect: Old 49er’s with floppy hats and stringy beards, gold pans, picks and axes.

We felt stumped. Our attempt to create an inspiring brand name through an exhaustive exploration of words was getting us nowhere. This led us to an alternative approach where we imagined the most compelling image for a wine label that would also tie back to our gold mining story.

We turned our imagination to the colorful and lurid gold mining camps and the dark and dangerous practice of hard rock gold mining. We printed out images of a sultry saloon girl, a miner with a headlamp and a vintage plunger-style explosive detonator and hung them on the wall. We then began listing words and expressions to describe the images. For our saloon girl image the words “Carnality” and name “Feathered Friend” appeared. To our dismay, both names were too close to existing brands.

We then began brainstorming on the image of the detonator box. The moderator directed the group to explore how the device was used. Someone from the naming team quickly responded “to blast something to smithereens.” The name ‘Smithereens” was available as brand name and was a simple one-word name that payed off the rustic image in an unexpected but memorable way.

Geoffrey Nilsen Photography

Some Parting Words

The romantic notion that creating a great brand name is the result of someone staring out a window waiting for divine inspiration to strike, couldn’t be further from the truth. Most often it is the result of a lengthy and systematic process. Even if you arrive at what you think is the perfect name, then comes the process of checking its availability and whether it is legally protectable as a trademark–a task onto itself.

Arguably, a well-conceived name is the most valuable component of a brand’s identity. Therefore, at that inevitable moment during the naming process when someone sighs, throws up their hands and says “All the good ones are taken,” that’s your cue to keep digging deeper.

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