There’s no magic formula for choosing a brand name. To make matters worse, even when you discover what you think is the perfect name, you’ll continuously second guess yourself. Most understand the basics of forming a memorable brand name: keep it simple, short, unique, flexible and easy to pronounce. But then it starts to get a little grey. Should it be suggestive or descriptive? Empty vessel or compound? Acronym or misspelled? Or perhaps a real word like Apple or Amazon?
Before even commencing on your naming endeavor, make sure to give our step by step naming guide a skim. Learn what separates a good name from a bad name and build a creative brief to keep your thoughts organized. You’ll hit a couple (or many) mental collapses along the way, it’s inevitable, but I hope these ten naming inspirations will spur some creativity and minimize your frustrations – pulling your hair doesn’t help, it just hurts.
1. Crowdsource a brand name
If you are stuck or just need a starting point, launching a naming contest is a great, affordable way to land on a name or induce creativity.
I recently ran four identical naming contests on four different crowdsourcing platforms: Ink and Key, SquadHelp, Crowdspring and NamingForce to see what services would deliver the highest quality names.
In the post, I highlight:
- The cost & pricing tiers of each service
- The naming brief I submitted
- My rating for each service
- The winning names for each service
- And two tips for those who haven’t run a crowdsourcing contest before
The experience was eye-opening so I highly recommend reading about my experiment before hitting the purchase button.
2. The Domain Doesn’t Matter
Ok it does a little, but don’t spin your wheels if the dot com form is not available. In a perfect world, your domain name should match your brand name, but that’s easier said than done. According to WhoAPI, all the 4-letter .com domains in the world are registered, even made up words. Using their domain API, WhoAPI looked at every possible letter combination from AAAA.com to ZZZZ.com for a grand total of 456,976 combinations – and nothing was available to buy. You probably guessed it, but 2 and 3 letter words aren’t available either.
“I see many, many founders limiting themselves with the domain name. One thing I’ve learned and embraced with naming my own startups is that the domain name doesn’t matter at all. The name itself matters much more than having the same domain name. Pick a great name, go with a tweaked domain name” says Joel Gascoigne, Co-Founder of Buffer.
Explore the rest of Joel’s naming article here.
3. Pick High-Point Scrabble Letters
Richard Barton, the Founder of Expedia, Zillow and Glassdoor was at one point responsible for creating CD-ROM travel guides at Microsoft. As the CD-ROM market started to collapse, he transferred to the multimedia team and developed the idea of selling travel online. As a matter of fact, he’s the guy who pitched Bill Gates the idea.
Barton uses a simple, but highly effective tactic when selecting a brand name, use high-point Scrabble letters. “My wife and I love to play Scrabble (a great brand name, by the way). The highest point letters (least often used in English) are Z, Q, X, J, K. These are memorable letters for people because they are so seldom used. Use them in your brands.”
Learn more about palindromes, homonyms and branding from Barton here.
4. Do what your 4th grade teacher told you to do
Instead of just asking your family, friends (or your dog!) for feedback, set up an experiment and test your hypothesis. According to Will Mitchell and Kyle Eschenroeder, aka the StartupBros, here’s one way to validate a brand name. Create two identical landing pages, swap out the brand names and start driving targeted traffic to the site using Facebook Ads. Now wait, wait some more… and then compare engagement metrics and see how receptive your potential buyers are with each brand name.
Bonus tip: check out Google Consumer Survey to collect more market research.
5. Can Siri, Cortona, or Alexa spell it?
This week I was reading an article on the growth of voice search and decided to test a couple keyword phrases for my own blog. And it dawned on me that even robots misspell words. If Siri misspells it, it’s safe to assume a human may too. Consider buying the misspelled .com extension as well and redirect it your actual domain. For example, I used to work for a startup called PlaceFull.com. We didn’t realize at first that we should have purchased “placeful.com” right away and redirected the URL.
6. The Bar Test
Expanding on pronunciation and spelling, give “the bar test” a try, but don’t head for a cold one until you’ve got a short list of brand names.
Here’s how Marc Barros, Founder of Moment, describes it:
- Hang out in a noisy bar
- When someone asks what you do, tell them the name of the company with a single sentence describing what the company does.
See Related Article: The Ultimate Guide to Naming
If they can’t pronounce the name, or they keep asking you how it’s spelled, or don’t understand how it’s related to what you do, you failed.
Grab another beer and get the full scoop from Barros here.
7. Why is it Called that?
For the last couple of years, we have been revealing the naming stories behind some of the largest tech companies in the world – in all different industries. Go explore over 100 tech brands and learn what triggered and influenced names like: Uber, SnapChat, Instagram, Redfin, DuckDuckGo, WhatsApp and many more.
And more recently we also launched a step by step naming guide, a short-listing tool to help you compare the strength of your potential names and a partner page. Go explore here!
8. Put a ‘Z’ on it
Christopher Johnson, aka The Name Inspector, is a verbal branding superhero based in Seattle. According to his “About” page, The Name Inspector has rescued clients all over the world from the perils of bad names and frustrating naming experiences.
The Name Inspector is a big fan of the letter Z. “People just love Z, with its dynamic zig-zag and zippy sound. That’s why you can take a perfectly ordinary word, replace its first letter with Z, and zap! you’ve got a company name. The Name Inspector first noticed this as an actual trend when he encountered the food website named Zomato.”
Other brand names include: Zite, Zervant, Zolvers, Zycamore, Zirtual, Zazzle, Zattoo and although Zillow was influenced by Pillow, it was primarily inspired by the number Zillion – Rich Barton wanted to create a zillion points of data.
9. Every Name has Downsides
Catchword is a professional naming agency that has developed an abundance of helpful naming tools, including a name visualizer, a library of helpful naming videos and this remarkable naming guide. With offices in Oakland and New York, they help clients develop company names, product names, taglines and have helped brands like Starbucks, Fitbit, Allstate and Walt Disney come up with the perfect combination of syllables.
According to the Catchword team, “It’s okay to want a name that’s short, easy to pronounce, original, totally cool-sounding, relevant in meaning, with few negative associations—and that’s available as a domain name. (Most of us would like to win the lottery, too.) But prioritize your wish list, and be prepared to go with a name that only meets your top criteria. Because no name has it all. Imagine the objections raised when Häagen-Dazs was first proposed. (“How do you pronounce that?”) Or Wii. (What’s it mean?”) And let’s not get started on Virgin. The point is, no name’s perfect. So be clear about what matters most.”
10. Be Prepared for a Surprise
Jeremy Miller is the Founder of Sticky Branding, a strategic branding and business development consultant agency. A few years ago, he and the team were stuck between two brand names when trying to select a name for a sales and marketing recruiting firm. According to Miller, “Internally we all loved the Fox Hunt identity. It was experiential, it spoke to the chase of recruiting, and we liked how it sounded. It had hard consonants to make it easier to say and easier to remember. But our opinion wasn’t enough. We needed to test it.
In the end, Fox Hunt brought up several unexpected negative connotations: blood and guts, violence and animal cruelty. It did well with men, but women by and large disliked it. In the name recall test, we had another surprise. Instead of recalling the words leap job, people remembered leap frog. The funny part was when we corrected them the experience made the name memorable.”
I hope these naming hints inspire creative thinking and you leave feeling like…
What naming hints did we miss? Comment below to keep the conversation going.
Adam Lang is the founder and editor of Rewind & Capture. He is passionate about creative marketing, design and brand etymology.