Amazon. Expedia. Youtube. Microsoft. Snapchat. WordPress. Tumblr. Do any of these names have something in common?
In this chapter, we’ll highlight several types of brand name ideas that you can pursue. And by the end of this chapter, we hope you’ll be able to eliminate a few “no-go” choices.
These are names that suggest the value behind your product, service or mission. Suggestive names are stickier because customers will correlate your service to your name. If you’re able to create a name that is clever, understandable, and unique while doing this, you’ll be in a good spot.
Suggestive names draw on the power of metaphor and analogy to create positive associations in customers’ minds. They’re tougher to create—metaphor isn’t easy!—and more challenging to market than descriptive names, but they’re much more likely to be granted trademark protection and to become sustainable, scalable brands. – Nancy Friedman, WorkWorking
Solely for educational purposes, I’d like to mention this one, but if your business operates in the tech space, I would urge you to forget about it.
Descriptive names quickly convey the characteristics of what the product or service accomplishes. They tend to be lengthy, kind of boring, and are harder to trademark because they make use of everyday language. Imagine if Facebook was called “Connect With Friends” or if LinkedIn was called “Global Professional Networking.”
Additionally, if your name describes your original idea, there’s no easy way to pivot or scale your brand. If your company named “Book.com” started selling video games, you’d have to start back at square (or chapter) one.
Examples: Shoes.com, Online Bookstore, Professional Networking
The technical definition of a homonym is “two or more words that have the same spelling, but contain different meanings and origins.”
Google and Apple. These were words before they were brands, right? However, these companies simply used these words and created a new meaning for them. This can work, and work very well, as long as the word you pick has little or nothing to do with your use of it. Each of these words had some meaning to it that the respective companies wanted to be a “brand characteristic” of their new homonym. – Rich Barton, Founder of Expedia, Zillow, Glassdoor and Trover
Be wary of this naming strategy. It’s not cheap, is often challenging to rank organically on Google, and can be nearly impossible to gain trademark rights. That being said, it can make for a memorable brand name and brand story. Just have your bank account ready.
Take two words and mash them together and you’ve got yourself a compound name. From my experience, these names tend to be more suggestive than catchy, like Salesforce. Not the most exciting name, but as a B2B brand, it tells potential customers what they need to know right away.
I seem to have a habit of doing this with my businesses – QuickSprout, Kissmetrics, HelloBar – but it seems to be working out okay. Make sure that your combined words won’t be misinterpreted. MensExchange.com could also be MenSexChange.com, so think twice. – Neil Patel
Misspelled or Tweaked Names
Brand names like Tumblr and Flickr seem misspelled to be more distinctive and edgy, but a majority of the time, they’re missing a vowel because they needed to secure the URL (even if they won’t always admit it).
Another common myth: if you alter the spelling of the name, it will be easier to trademark. Don’t be fooled kids, Nancy Friedman provides extreme caution:
You can’t register Kokka-Kolla as a soft-drink trademark. You can’t register Guugol for a search engine. You can’t register Dizznee for an entertainment company.
Oh, sure, for $7.49 a year you may be able to register those domains. But domain availability and trademark availability are completely different matters.
Invented, coined or fanciful names
Invented names are often derived from Latin or Greek roots, such as Verizon, which is constructed from the Latin words “veritas” and “horizon.” Veritas refers to truth and reliability, while horizon signifies forward-thinking and vision (remember that positioning thing we were talking about earlier?)
The biggest challenge with invented names is that they are expensive to market because they have no inherent meaning or associations. On a positive note, founders are able to control the reputation of the brand from day one. Usually these names breeze through the trademark process and are easier to get the .com.
Blended or portmanteau names
Blended names are a little more mysterious and obscure than compound names, but can be catchy and fun. Just as their name suggests, blended names are formed when you take parts of two words and mash them together. Take Microsoft, for example, which derives from microcomputers and software. This differs from a compound name because blended names are components of existing words, rather than standalone words put together (“face” and “book).
Suffixes are morphemes added at the end of a word to form a derivative (i.e. -ation, -fy, -ing). While these might sound like a fun spin on your brand name (and allow you to grab a .com address), I would not recommend them. It’s hard to differentiate your brand name when it sounds exactly like another one (“Shopify” vs. “Spotify.”)
Acronyms, Backronyms and Initialism
What the heck, there’s a difference?
American Family Life Assurance Company (AFLAC) is an acronym because you say the string of letters together.
International Business Machines (IBM) is an initialism because you say each letter individually, “eye,” “bee,” “em.”
Blog early, blog often (Bebo) is considered a backronym because the founders came up with the name Bebo first and then created the words behind the acronym.
These names provide an easy way to shorten a long, descriptive phrase or name, but are less common in the startup world today. We tend to see acronyms or initialism with traditional tech brands who began with long, descriptive names (IBM, SAP, ADP, etc.) Now, with less naming options and even less .com addresses available, we don’t start the naming process with such a prescriptive description.
Adam Lang is the founder and editor of Rewind & Capture. He is passionate about creative marketing, design and brand etymology.