The branding name game —

When it comes to finding the right name for your new business, product or service, the Oxford English Dictionary is both too big and too small. Too big in the sense that you can’t hope to traverse every name option in it and too small in the sense that countless businesses worldwide are looking for exactly the same descriptive words that you are or have already pounced on them and claimed them for their own. 

For the uninitiated, the issue of naming can seem such a straight-forward and pleasurable procedure at the outset. But they quickly learn that this is not a task for the faint-hearted. What makes naming a more daunting challenge is the series of hoops you need to jump through before you end up with a useable one. And it’s not always an issue of scale because small businesses can grow into bigger businesses and diversify.

So, any name selected initially needs to bear the future in mind. Even the smallest enterprises and product lines should be registered to secure the investment put into them over time and to avoid being landed with an unwelcome lawsuit from someone who believes you are trampling on their lawful naming rights. It is this prerequisite that presents the largest hurdle for most people looking to secure a name.

But before we arrive at this particular obstacle, its worth reflecting on what the desirable characteristics of a name should be. If you’re considering a new business name, this will be the leading edge of your brand which will, given careful nurturing, accumulate a distinct value over time. You can give it a good start in life by selecting the appropriate name. There are few hard and fast rules about the types of names to use and circumstance will often dictate the most appropriate. 

A real word or combination of real words has the benefit of being easy to relate to and readily understood. However, real words that are both positive and descriptive tend to be in very short supply. This is especially true if your company and its products are going to compete in multiple off-shore markets. Try for a little originality and avoid using over-worked metaphors. Depending on your business or products, wit or humour can work, but it can also wear thin if you are not careful. A massage centre known as ‘Nice to be Kneaded’ or a computer consulting firm called ‘Rent-a-Nerd’ will probably stand the test of time.

Another class of words is made-up or auto-suggestive names. These are names like ‘Microsoft’ and ‘Ziplok’ which are a combination of meaningful word segments known by linguists as morphemes. Alternatively, they can be respellings such as ‘Snax’. Auto-suggestive words are not quite as self-evident as real words and therefore require more communications effort but they are also free of pre-conceptions, which can allow you to build fresh ideas around your company or product. The obvious combinations will probably have been swooped on already internationally but a more imaginative combination could yield a positive result.

A simple, effective example would be ‘Italiatour’ which is self-explanatory, with the use of ‘Italia’ instead of just ‘Italy’ as a flavourer and sound enhancer. On the other side of the coin, the name ‘Flixx’ for a general movie hire chain seems superficially clever but possibly ill-conceived because of the potential connection to X-rated films. You could, of course, use your own name or names but this doesn’t give you much of a head start in describing what you do or what makes you different and better than your competitors.

There are some absolutes in the naming game. Firstly, and most importantly, the name needs to be distinctive in your market sector. Chances are you’re familiar with the names, products and brand positioning of your competitors, so the territory you occupy with your name must stand apart from these. Ideally, it should be connected to your own distinctive brand positioning in your market and/or say something about the specific benefits your company or its products deliver to clients.

In the absence of a brand positioning, you should consider perhaps half a dozen reasons why a potential customer should select your company or products over your competitors and a further three to five distinct personality traits of the business. Build a list of all the real names that come to mind from these attributes and also some auto-suggestive options. 

Next comes the whittling down process to around ten names by applying the following desirability factors:  Visual and oral appeal - How well does it look and sound? Does it roll off the tongue nicely? Is it easy to pronounce? Will it complement other visual aspects of the brand? Growing Room – is the name flexible enough to cater for future growth of the business or its product range? Some might argue that Rentokil’s sortie into pot plants is not the best of name associations. Web Friendly - is a similar domain name available? Language – is the name free of negative connotations in other languages?

Having whittled the number of options down to around 10 or fewer, it pays to write them individually on cards and see which, after a few days, continue to resonate. Another useful test is to expose the options to a group of people for critiquing who have had no involvement in either the company or the naming process (e.g. a focus group).

Next in the name clearance process comes the critical trademark search. Some inner fortitude is required here because some or all of your carefully chosen names are sure to have been grabbed already and therefore can’t be registered. Remember, there are up to 45 trademark classes or classifications (depending on the market) which your company and its products can fall into. So you need to ensure you examine and make the application for the appropriate class or classes. It is possible to search trademark databases in New Zealand and many large markets, however, while this can be useful for an initial screening, we would suggest employing a specialist patent attorney to verify it. Not cheap admittedly, but a lot of money and effort can go down the gurgler if you get it wrong.

And a final thought if you’re in the food business and intent on embodying a company or product name with regional roots. The EU is increasingly pressing for exclusivity in naming of foods that are processed and prepared in a given geographic area using recognised know-how. We are all familiar with the champagne wrangle but this is getting down to the basics. For example, last October the European Court of Justice ruled that Feta cheese was a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin). Columbian Coffee is also in the pipeline, so this will be an interesting area to watch. As you can see, naming is a strenuous obstacle course but hopefully the end result is a robust name you can proudly call your own.