What Makes A Great Brand Name?

Most brand names of traditional businesses in India can be broken down into three categories: the owner’s family name, some combination of her son’s, daughter’s or spouse’s name and a God or Goddess’ name. More often than not, these names are followed by more uninspiring and cumbersome words such as “construction equipments”, “textiles and industries” or “banquets and hotels”. Names that leave no scope for imagination or innovative brand communication.

Then, there is a new breed of e-commerce and young tech entrepreneurs who usually rely on friends and family to come up with a name that is “catchy”, “sounds” nice and has a domain name available. But there’s no clear method to this brand naming pro- cess and even less thought goes into how the name may be perceived by potential customers. So how does one go about naming a brand?

While parameters for good brand names vary across categories, there are some qualities that are common to all good brand names. “A name with freshness, communication possibilities, evocativeness and ease of pronunciation can work wonders,” says PC Muralidharan, co- founder of the Chennai-based naming consultancy Albert Dali. “It may or may not cue the service or the product. If a fashion brand can be named Diesel, a tech company be named Yahoo and both work so well, we have something to learn from that,” he says.

His brand naming philosophy is clearly visible in his company’s name itself. Albert Dali comes from the combination of the names of Albert Einstein and Salvador Dali, to highlight a perfect blend of the left and the right brain. It is complemented with a logo of Dali’s iconic moustache and Einstein’s pulled-out tongue.

But, just as names are subjective; so is the approach to naming. K Pradeep, founder of the brand identity consultancy Niyati believes that it is better to have a name that refers to the product or service. “If the brand name could convey what the product or service does or at least convey the values of the company, it becomes easier for people to catch on to it,”he says.The brand naming business of his company is called Nameow!; a pretty straight forward name with a logo of a cat next to it.

Typically, for agencies such as these, the brand naming process begins with a client brief, which can be as short as a one- line e-mail saying “We need a name. We’re starting a company” to one with a more detailed description that outlines the specifics of the company, its products, and even what letter the name should start with (for those into numerology).

Yet, most entrepreneurs underestimate what all needs to be considered before coming up with a suitable name, Muralidharan and Pradeep say. So they send their clients questionnaires containing up to 50 questions such as why the company is different from its competition, what the competition is, what the company’s core values are, whether the business is offline or online and whether the owner aims to take it global or keep it local.

After this detailed interrogation, names are legally vetted for trademarks and avail- able domain names and this entire process may take up to 10-15 days for small companies or a few months for bigger ones.

At the end of the day, while the approach to naming brands may differ (there could be 600 styles of naming, if the Dali founders were to believed), a memorable brand name is one that evokes emotion and has a story to tell.

I decided to put these wordsmiths to work by getting them to evaluate five “live” brand names. To be fair, I gave the owners of these brands an opportunity to tell their stories too. The stand-off is ready. I’ll leave it up to you to judge:

  1. Brand Name: Ira Thing

The product: It’s a budget education tablet that supports course mate- rials for CBSE, ICSE and IIT Jee in English, Hindi and other regional dialects of the country.

Founder’s Story: Milind Shah, founder, Wishtel (makers of tablet Ira Thing)Ira is another name for goddess saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, in sanskrit. As we were building a knowledge product, we wanted a name that symbolised that. We also needed a name that was short, sounded trendy, was easy to identify and could be associated to an IT product. Once ira was identified, we wanted a suitable brand extension for our entry level product as it was targeted towards the youth. The word “thing” is a slang used by youngsters these days, so we thought it made a good brand extension. We wanted people to talk about that new ira Thing in the market.

Expert Take 1: K Pradeep, founder, Niyati

Ira is great. but the ‘’Thing’’ doesn’t really go well for a brand name. I did like their rationale to connect with the in-thing of today’s generation. May be a hyphenated name ira- Thing would have helped, although I would still prefer something more jazzy. Moreover, Ira works when it is small letters or mixed case, but not when it is in all caps, as Ira abbreviates to a lot of institutions and organisations that are misleading (about 67 crore matches for ira on google and goddess saraswati is not on the top of those matches). Anice fusion of mythology (Ira for goddess saraswati), and modernity (tab, social, connect etc) could have worked, something like Tabira comes to mind.

Expert Take 2: PC Muralidharan, founder, Albert Dali:

An ethnic name such as ‘ira’ works reasonably well here as it clearly targets the indian market. While ira seems to be pretty fresh, the addition of Thing, however much they try to portray it as a youth lingo, somehow brings the uniqueness level down a tad bit. But overall, the name is fairly decent to evoke curiosity.

2. Brand Name: V Resorts

The service: A chain of budget resorts that pro- vides elegant but limited services to its guests such as no service after 10pm, only buffet-style dining and no promise of an intercom or wifi.

Founder’s Story: Vaibhav Dayal, founder, V Resorts 
The resorts are not named after my initials. The brand name stands for three things that describe the resorts. View: All our properties promise a great view from each room. value for money: These are budget category resorts. vacation: all our properties are in offbeat locations that promise a unique vacation with various adventurous activities.

Expert Take 1: K Pradeep

The name can’t get any shorter. what works is that it’s simple and straight to the point. The rationale of the three vs (view, value, vacation) also goes well. The logo could have been better. In all, it adds to another v for victory. The flipside however is that there is competition and copycats in all sizes. v holidays, v Travels, and v for virgin (the big daddy of branding in airlines, travel).

Expert Take 2: PC Muralidharan

I’ll call this a bland name, not a brand name. it achieves nothing. it’s not memorable. it neither has communication possibilities nor does it evoke a feeling inside you. The fact that a letter ‘v’ can convey all these multiple things is just in the minds of the founders. moreover, the possibilities of coming up with absolutely splendid names is high in the category of leisure and travel. They should have taken advantage of that.

3. Brand Name: Joognu
The service:
it’s an online platform where parents can save memories of their child from the time she is born till she grows up — in the form of photos, videos, diary entries and more. parents can then share the password as a gift on the child’s 18th birthday.

Founder’s story: Anirvan Dam, founder, Joognu

Joognu means a firefly in hindi. it is the only bioluminescent known to mankind, the one which glows within. we believe that when parents share the child’s memories with her as she grows up, they spread the glow of happiness in their child, thus becoming Joognu themselves in the child’s life. we think the name is catchy. since it’s a single word, brand recall is good and it communicates the essence of the idea, even if not in the literal sense.

Expert Take 1: K Pradeep

Jugnu sounds better than Joognu, but probably the domain name wasn’t available. Their analogy to a firefly and its scientific properties seems to be a force fit to the rationale. I believe there are more creative names to call this unique photo memory timeline service. The plus that I saw was the firefly character sitting somewhere in the footer of the web page. I wonder why this mascot was not taken seriously into the branding. The name and the mascot together could be a cartoon blockbuster, but definitely not an online photo album service.

Expert Take 2: PC Muralidharan

For starters, the name is fresh. It’s interesting enough for people to connect to the service they provide. The pitfall is that it’s a vernacular name. Vernacular names may not be the best bet, especially if one’s business model is to operate out of the world wide web. The name needs to have a global appeal. for that matter, even in india, it will resonate only with the hindi-speaking audience.

4. Brand Name: Voonik
The service:
An online personal stylist service that hand-picks the best clothes for customers, based on their body type and style preferences. it provides instant recommendations from stylists on what kind of clothes, jewellery and accessories will suit the buyer, how to wear them, and what to pair them with.

Founder’s story: Sujayath Ali, co-founder, Voonik

We got “voonik” as a play on the word “unique” and quite liked it. we wanted a name that was a single word, unique, memorable, had a domain name available, preferably not a dictionary word, had a bit of coolness when pronounced and the ability to become a verb (like google). we had a few fashion related names such as shopmirchi.com but we rejected them because they did not allow us to pivot if our initial business model doesn’t work out.

Expert Take 1: K Pradeep

Good thinking! The name matches the requirements laid out by the team to the T. it also has a global appeal. it is a good idea to bring the name into the functionality of the website — as in vooniked by customer name. what would work is if their products and delivery culture is as voonik as its online service.

Expert Take 2: PC Muralidharan

How is voonik reminiscent of unique, even if it is a laborious play on the word? In any case, the popular Japanese apparel brand uniqlo does the job tad better. They promise unique clothing. in fact, voonik offers much more as a business idea. They appear almost as a bespoke stylist offering their services online. with voonik, it’s a fabulous idea clogged inside a tenuous brand name.

5. Brand Name: Gelitalia
The service:
A popular ice cream parlour in Mumbai that sells gelatos.

Founder’s story: Chaitali Bajaj, owner, Gelitalia

Gelitalia sells gelatos—ice creams with little or no air— and Italian gelatos. so if you break down the name, gel comes from gelatos and Italia comes from Italy. Gelato in Italian also means ice-creams. So it’s an apt name for our ice cream parlour which has an extensive variety of gelato flavours.

Expert Take 1: K Pradeep

No amount of rationale can actually convince (forget justifying) that it is not genitalia, but gelitalia unless the client intentionally wanted to bring a sexual connotation to their brand. Even then, it is unacceptable. If they did want to pursue the story about fine Italian gelatos, they should have tried better word-matching than zero in on this one. Something like an igel or gely, or an abridged version gelita would have been better, if available.

Expert Take 2: PC Muralidharan

My suspicion is that the owners have come up with this coinage knowing fully well that it would rake up some issues. There are certain categories where such play-on-word names can make sense and would work well. but food is not one of them. One always needs to check the connotation of a name from every possible angle before finalising it. Else, it may backfire badly and affect the brand’s long term growth or vision.

This post was originally published in Inc. India magazine.

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