Hosting that Biznik workshop on naming has inspired The Name Inspector to post some tips about the actual naming process.

First, to get an idea of how much money and time big corporations spend on name development, check out Valleywag’s post about how AOL named its new search service (thanks to Brady Forrest for sending this link). They “engaged a top-tier naming agency” (which, coincidentally, The Name Inspector used to work for), considered more than a hundred name candidates, and settled on the name FullView. It might seem like a lot of trouble and expense for a not-so-interesting result. Your average startup or other small-to-medium business isn’t going to be able to swing that.

Fortunately, there’s no magic to naming. Why fortunately? Because that means anyone can do it. It doesn’t mean it’s easy to do a good job, though. These tips might help a little.

1. Quantity and diversity yield quality

Naming is a matter of satisfying many competing constraints. Ideally a name is relevant, positive, memorable, reasonably short, not too generic, not too similar to a competing name, associated with an available domain name, and distinctive enough to bring your web page to the top of search engine results. The odds are against having a name just pop into your head that satisfies all these constraints. That means the most effective way to come up with a name is to think of lots of different ideas, carefully screen and choose, and repeat. A good metaphor for the naming process is evolution through variation and natural selection.

2. Selection is as important as creation

In all evolutionary processes, selection is more important than the initial causes of variation. So it is with naming. It doesn’t matter how you come up with your ideas for names, as long as you have some great ones to choose from. (Fortunately, the process that leads to variation in name ideas is not random, like genetic mutation. There are things you can do to increase your chances of having good ideas.) It’s important to realize that evaluating your name ideas and choosing the one that really works is as important to the naming process–and takes as much work–as coming up with name ideas in the first place.

3. Try different types of name

One good way to increase your chances of having great name ideas is to try creating different types of name. You might start with The Name Inspector’s classification of names and try to think of something in each category. This will make you consider possibilities you otherwise might overlook, and will help you learn what kind of name is right for your company, product, or service.

4. Use collective intelligence

Another good way to diversify your pool of name ideas is to have lots of people contribute. They can help both by suggesting names and by critically evaluating others’ name ideas. Other people will notice gems that you ignored, and duds that you’re attached to for your own idiosyncratic reasons.

5. Use linguistic resources

What goes for names also goes for the raw linguistic material that you use to create names. It’s unlikely that just the right word is going to pop into your head to serve as the basis for a blend, a compound, or some other type of put-together name. It helps to have lots of relevant words presented to you quickly so that you can select from among them. A thesaurus helps a lot. You might use a fancy online tool like the Visual Thesaurus, but a good old copy of Roget’s does very nicely.

6. Do exercises to explore connections to relevant concepts

Creative professionals, especially namers, love making mind maps and doing other exercises to break their habits of thought and explore connections that would not otherwise occur to them. You should do this, too. Start with a clear understanding of what your company/product/service does and how it benefits people. Then think of things that are indirectly associated with these ideas. Include some things that are visually distinctive (logo material). Also try to think of things that can represent a function or benefit metaphorically. Good metaphors make abstract ideas tangible and obscure ideas clear–consider the way the flake metaphor in the name PageFlakes helps people understand what an Ajax homepage is like. Finally, some simple free association never hurts.

7. Pictures are important, even when you’re just thinking of words

Often what makes a name good is the fact that it gives people a mental image that helps them understand how something works or what benefits it provides. Ideas are more interesting and easier to remember when they’re associated with sensory, especially visual, experience. That means when you’re coming up with name ideas, sometimes it’s best to start with a visual image and then think of the language that goes with it. With a visual dictionary you can look at pictures of complex objects and physical settings that have all their individual parts labeled.

8. To avoid embarrassment in other languages, ask the experts

If you’re releasing something on a global scale and are concerned about what your name might mean in other languages, there’s simply no way to get around asking native speakers. Nothing else will work. One native speaker’s opinion is worth more than any amount of research you might do using dictionaries or online resources. If this is an issue and you can’t afford to hire a naming firm to screen the name for you, try to identify the main languages you’re concerned about (start with the ones with the most speakers in your market, obviously) and find speakers yourself. Try friends of friends. Try online social networks. Try a university with international students.

9. Forget etymology

Maybe it’s shocking for The Name Inspector to say this, but the etymologies of words or word parts that you use in your name don’t matter. What do matter are the associations people make. Sometimes there’s an overlap between the two, though. For example, many people recognize that -lumin- relates to light, and it in fact comes from the Latin word for light. However, most people don’t make the association to light because of their knowledge of Latin or etymology. They make it because they know words like luminous and illuminate and recognize the word part. In general, etymological meaning connections only come through when they’re also part of the living language.

10. Know when to let go

Because naming is about satisfying constraints, it’s important to know when to let go of a favorite idea that won’t work. Suppose you really want to use the word meme in your name, but you want to have a distinctive name and three competitors already have names built around that word. Forget meme and move on.

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29 Responses to “10 tips for naming your company, product, or service”

  1. on 30 Mar 2007 at 9:54 pm Brian Laks

    Another great post! This is starting to become one of my favorite sites, as I’ve recently been getting more involved with “name consulting” for some of my clients (is that even a real service?) I like the idea of selecting names from many alternatives rather than just trying to hit that one shot in the dark.

    A good strategy I have found useful: get a piece of plain white computer paper (lined paper is too distracting!) and just start writing words, don’t even think about it, just let the ideas flood onto the paper. Once you have a nice selection, start pairing them up.. this is a good way to generate compound names (see the 10 name type posts for more info on this and other types)… I have had some great names come out of this process, and I’d be interested to see if it helps anyone else.

    Thanks and keep up the great work on this site!

  2. [...] Check out The Name Inspectors 10 tips for naming your company, product or service. [...]

  3. on 03 Nov 2007 at 7:16 am MIchelle J. Santos

    What do you think about blu:kastr for a bluetooth marketing company?

  4. on 27 Mar 2008 at 12:05 am Peter Chee

    Your blog is very insightful. I’ve gone back to this post a number of times before coming up with our company name.

  5. [...] surfed there, but now I’m thinking that some kind of karma illuminated my path to said post, The Name Inspector blog’s “10 tips for naming your company, product, or service”: 9. Forget [...]

  6. [...] asking various people, and reading the information on the internet, it seems that the conventional wisdom seems to fall into three [...]

  7. [...] Source: The Name Inspector [...]

  8. on 15 Mar 2010 at 7:09 am Gunter Soydanbay

    Hi,

    Very insightful post. I have started a series of posts on naming. When completed, it will be very thorough. You can check the first entry here.

    http://soydanbay.com/2010/03/13/the-art-naming/

    Cheers,

    Gunter Soydanbay

  9. on 03 Jun 2010 at 3:59 pm Gunter Soydanbay

    Hi to compliment my previous comment, you can find the link to more articles on naming here: http://soydanbay.com/category/verbal-strategy/

    Cheers

  10. on 29 Jul 2010 at 9:53 am Mike Storseth

    This is a great article!

    One other important point is availability. A ridiculously obvious example is that you would probably want to avoid naming your company “Pepsi,” particularly if you happened to produce a beverage as your product.

    A not-as-obvious point is that you want to be able to have your company name as your domain name (URL, Internet address). If you commit to a company name before checking its domain availability, then find out it’s NOT available, you’re going to have to have a different domain name…which produces INCREDIBLE brand confusion.

    Check the domain name availability first!

  11. on 18 Oct 2010 at 8:17 am Marcus

    Thanks for a good article, it helped me a lot in my naming process.

  12. on 30 Nov 2010 at 9:36 am 40+ Naming and Branding Resources

    [...] 10 Tips for Naming Your Company, Product or Service [...]

  13. on 01 Dec 2010 at 12:06 pm Tips for naming your startup

    [...] The Name Inspector (2007): 10 tips for naming your company, product, or service [...]

  14. [...] no one will look for it, then you will have a hard time selling it. I recommend reading the article 10 tips for naming your company, product, or service. The third step is adding details about your product. This is what sells your product and where you [...]

  15. on 20 Dec 2010 at 11:07 am Cheriana

    Thanks for this post – it has been very helpful to me today. Now it’s on to brainstorming and trying to come up with a product name for YourMembership.com!

  16. on 09 Apr 2011 at 12:31 am boat parts

    I recommended reading the 10 tips for naming your company, product, or service. The secod will follow to promote your company. This explain what sells your product and where.

  17. on 22 Apr 2011 at 11:11 pm Graphic Web Design Perth

    This is stunning article,I really admire these 10 tips.I will definitely work to promote my upcoming business plans.Third tip will promote your company.

  18. [...] The Name Inspector (2007): 10 tips for naming your company, product, or service [...]

  19. [...] The Name Inspector:  10 Tips for Naming Your Company, Product, or Service http://www.thenameinspector.com/10-tips-for-naming-your-company-product-or-service/ [...]

  20. on 20 Sep 2011 at 12:13 pm Josh

    I really like PickyDomains.com idea for naming. It’s a crowdsourcing service where you pay for a name, domain or slogan only if you like it.

  21. on 05 Nov 2011 at 12:29 pm Kenny H

    Some good stuff. I like how they came up with this. I really like the name the company names http://www.thegreatcanvas.com and http://www.otterbox.com

  22. [...] The Name Inspector (2007): 10 tips for naming your company, product, or service [...]

  23. on 14 Mar 2012 at 10:14 am Mindful Marketing Strategies

    This article is simple yet very effective. Nike’s “Black and Tan” Branding Team should have read it, especially tip #8.

    Nike’s St. Patrick’s Day sneakers “Black and Tan” stir up controversy: http://fb.me/1AwoiTxVS

    @Mindful_MKTG

  24. on 26 Mar 2012 at 7:37 am angela

    Great post. Is it advisable to have your company name the same as your blog name with the dot come in it. It seems to be a way to get people to remember your web site. I was wondering as far as trademark concerns.

  25. on 22 Apr 2012 at 2:06 pm Kim Oakland

    Another great article. The 10 tips are right on target especially tip #10 that advises to forget etymology. There is way too much focus on etymology. I found a cool company naming evaluation tool that can help in evaluating the quality of name choices
    free evaluation worksheet.

  26. on 03 Jul 2012 at 4:18 pm Investment in Real Estate

    This is amazing article,I really appreciate these 10 tips.I will definitely work to market my future strategic plans.Third tip will enhance your company.

  27. on 30 Jul 2012 at 9:52 am Nguyen Tuan Hung

    Exellence tips. I’m waiting for more tips about trademarking. With me, trademarking is the hardest factor to control in brand naming.

  28. on 17 Aug 2012 at 9:31 am Brandable Domain Names

    I think your right about coming up with concepts that work for your future company. If you have a solid business you can look at solid items in the environment around you, rocks stones and the sort. Or if you’re quick and fast, look quick and fast animals.

  29. [...] can go with real words, of course, though they tend to be overused. You can make up words, combine two words into one, or pull inspiration from a map, nature, other languages, or even [...]

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