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How to come up with an effective brand name: Tips, Techniques and Tools

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It’s common to hear that logo is the core of your brand identity. While it isn’t wrong, it can only be that way in conjunction with your brand name. Both the name and logo design are the very first two things that fire up in your brain when you think about a certain company.

Establishing a unique and effective brand name can be a daunting task for both creatives and business owners. 
“Is that name memorable enough?”
“Will it be perceived the right way?”
“Is it going to stand out from the competition?”
“Will it still work a few years from now?”

Those are just a few of the questions that arise once you try to come up with a brand name.

With the following tips and techniques I’ll try to break down the whole brand name generating process to make it more straightforward.

TIPS

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1. Define what you want to achieve with the name

Are you creating a brand with a long term vision for growth? Are you selling a very specific product/service catering to a niche market? Is it a gimmicky spin-off of a parent brand not to be taken too seriously (“Not a Flamethrower” comes to mind)? All those situations and many more require a different approach to the name creation. You’ll save yourself a headache (and money) if you come up with a brand strategy first, so that your brand name is relevant today, while still aligning with the future plans of your company.

Once the brand strategy is cooked, put yourself in the shoes of your potential customers: researching the needs and specifics of your target audience goes an extremely long way in achieving your business goals. Build a set of buyer personas (fictional representations of your ideal customers) and come up with a name that makes them excited about your brand.

2. Prioritize meaning/association/emotion- driven names when you can

Names like “Jason and Willie” or unclear abbreviated ones like “CDF” might work just fine, but you can easily miss the opportunity to grab your potential customers with a more meaningful and catchy name. Now compare it with say Google, which comes from a number with lots of zeros ‘googol’ suggesting the huge ambitions of the company, or SpaceX (space exploration, simple and to the point).

There are of course exceptions: it might be a smart move to use the founder(s) name for your brand, when they already have a famous personality status.

3. Try to keep it simple and short!

Which name are you more likely to memorize: Quantized Network Distribution Corporation or Sony?

4. Is it easy enough to spell/pronounce?

“Anemone” might sound cool, but think about all the confused potential customers who’ve heard about your company and now want to find it online, yet they have no idea how it spells. Test the name with people who are unfamiliar with your brand name (and preferably speak the language as a native), ask them to write down what they hear and see what percentage gets it right.

5. Check for the availability

Before settling in with your new name make sure to research that there’s an available domain for your name and that you don’t copycat another potentially competing brand.

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TECHNIQUES AND TOOLS

Now let’s go through a number of working methods of generating an effective brand name, most of which you can use on your own as well as in a team brainstorm setting. It’s more efficient to try several methods and not only focus on one.

1. Mind mapping technique

Mind mapping helps to come up with new ideas by writing down words and creating “clouds” of associations. The core idea/word is placed at the center and then you start branching out by adding associations to each consecutive word. There are tons of online mind mapping tools but a regular pen and paper are still the fastest way to get it going. Sites like Thesaurus and Wordassociations come handy if you want to get supplied with more word associations. Challenge yourself to come up with as many associations as possible in a set amount of time, so you later have a wider pool of ideas to choose from.

Image credit:  Huanglin Yuan

Image credit: Huanglin Yuan

2. Play the Mashup game

FacebookMicrosoftPinterestPayPal, Pantone. What do all those names have in common? It’s the fusion (usually clever and/or fun) of words/concepts that makes the whole name stronger than the sum of its parts. This might as well be a natural (but by no means necessary) continuation of your mind mapping process. Think outside the box and blend!

3. Invent your own words, borrow words from other languages

GoogleSkypeNikeSonyIKEA: They all sound great, they allow space for imagination, and you’ll not find those words in a dictionary (at least not in the English dictionary). You can start from scratch, use any language ever, deliberately misspell a word, simplify an already existing word, add prefix/suffix to an existing word, etc. The only rule to follow is that there are no hard rules.

4. Go metaphorical

Metaphors are powerful. Try to envision what would your brand be called if it was:

  • An animal / insect
  • Fruit / vegetable / plant / flower
  • Emotion / feeling
  • Sport item
  • Natural phenomena
  • Astronomical object
  • God/Goddess/other mythical character

Make sure there’s some intuitive association that connects your brand with the metaphor.

5. Let robots generate a name for you

This one is quite random, it requires lots of shuffling and testing the patience of Hal 9000’s companions in order to get something remotely decent, but it can easily fill the void in your own brain by making you think in new directions and taking you places you never thought about. It helps if you have a clearly defined problem and keep focusing on your brand’s values when scrolling through the AI generated words.

Brand name generators: NamingNaminumNameMeshNamestation.

Word generators: ListofrandomwordsRandomlistsRandomwordgenerator

6. Test your list of generated names against a predefined criteria

Always have a tangible criteria to test your name against. Some essential questions to include before settling with a name:

  • Will it make sense/connect with your target audience?
  • Does it stand out in some way from the competition?
  • Is it simple and unique enough to be easy to remember?
  • Does it sound good?
  • Is it easy to pronounce?
  • Does it provoke relevant associations?
  • Is the name available and capable of being registered?

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