Ad and marketing creatives

Put Your Name to the Test!

I'm often approached by small businesses or organizations that can't afford professional name-development fees. And, frankly, a comprehensive name-development process, from creative brief through extensive legal review, may be more than they need. Entrepreneurs, mom-and-pop stores, and small nonprofit organizations often already have some name ideas. They just need some way to confirm that their hunches are on target.

That's where I can help. I developed these guidelines to steer smaller companies and product developers toward appropriate, successful names. So, for all you name-it-yourselfers out there, here are ten questions to ask yourself and your fellow decision makers before giving the order to print the business cards.

  1. Is it pronounceable? Give it the "receptionist test": Is it easy or awkward to say on the phone 50 or 150 times a day? Will it sound good in a radio or TV commercial? Does the sound of the name have any unwelcome associations?
  2. Is it distinctive? Does the name stand out from your competitors' names? Will it be confused with other names in your niche, or similar niches?
  3. Is it memorable? When you tell people the name, do they remember it accurately? Do they stumble or make mistakes when repeating it? Does it have a counterintuitive spelling that may cause problems?
  4. Does it tell a story? Does the name have energy and a bit of mystery? Does it invite people to hear the name's story -- and by extension your business's story? Or is it so literal that it piques little interest?
  5. Is it evocative? Effective names are metaphors. Does the name have positive associations that go beyond its literal meaning? Does it conjure images that are consistent with and favorable to your product or business?
  6. Is it flexible? If you'll be creating sub-brands, your umbrella name needs to allow for expansion. A strong metaphor-- for example, "house" -- suggests logical extensions (foundation, kitchen, picket fence). You may also want to consider "verbability" -- the ability to turn your company and product name into an action term (for example, turns into "Digg it"). Finally, think about whether the name can be turned into an acronym. Is this a desirable outcome? Then be sure the acronym is positive or at least neutral. If you don't want your audience to reduce your name to initials, consider a single-word name.
  7. Is it appropriate? A name for a prescription medicine should look and sound different from a name for a movie studio or a cosmetics brand. Is your name suitable to your industry, your product, and your brand personality?
  8. What does it look like? People may see the name before they hear it. Is it easy to decipher at a glance? How does the name look in a logo, an ad, a T-shirt?
  9. Is it global? Not all brands will have international scope, but if you think yours will, you will want to invest in thorough linguistic and marketing checks in your target markets.
  10. Is it ownable? If you need trademark protection, have you gotten reliable legal advice? If you need to own an Internet domain, is the URL available? If it isn't available, is it buyable? (Many, many domains are for sale.) Can the name be modified to create an ownable domain?
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Nancy Friedman is the chief wordworker at verbal-branding consultancy Wordworking, and the author of a fine blog on naming, branding and more called Fritinancy. Nancy has named a venture-capital firm, a laser hair-removal device, a mobile-money service, and many other companies and products. A former journalist, she still writes or ghostwrites articles, speeches, white papers, and books. Click here to read more articles by Nancy Friedman.