Finding the right brand name calls for strategy, creativity, and savvy people management.
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Naming your brand feels like a high-stakes decision. After all, your name is usually the first thing people hear, before your finely-tuned homepage or pitch deck.
The right name can help launch your story. Like Bulb, the UK’s fastest-growing energy supplier, who launched in 2016 with a name that’s all about fresh, bright ideas.
The wrong name may send the wrong signals, and be expensive to fix down the line.
So, where do you start? How do you know you’ve got it right? And how do you get the rest of your team on board?
At Reed Words, we’ve named everything from travel companies to tissue paper, sports to yoghurts. In that time, we’ve learned that successful naming is a combination of strategy, creativity, and people management.
Don’t jump straight in
Naming often begins with a flurry of activity: team polls, Post-it notes, shared docs stuffed with long lists of words.
These are all great ways of generating ideas. (We use them too.) But they shouldn’t be your first step. Because while they’ll give you lots of options, you won’t have any criteria to judge them by.
Before you start, ask yourself what kind of name you’re looking for:
Do we need a name that stands out, or fits in?
Who are we aiming this at?
Should the name work in multiple languages?
What sort of personality does our brand have – or need?
The answers give you a clearer idea of what you’re looking for — so it’s easier to know it when you see it.
Map out the competition and context
No brand name exists in isolation. Your name is only meaningful compared to the names of your competitors.
Take ‘Orange’. By itself, it doesn’t mean much. But next to stuffy or technical names like ‘British Telecom’ and ‘Cellnet’, Orange felt bright and fresh — perfect for a new kind of mobile network.
If you want your brand to stand out, look at the names everybody else is using:
are they made-up (like Monzo or Revolut)?
are they human (like Harry’s or Oscar)?
are they purpose-led (like Innocent Drinks or Impossible Burger)?
Or maybe you want to fit in. Maybe your audience responds well to reassuringly familiar names. In which case, hold your nose and take a leaf out of Jordan Belfort’s book.
When ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ set up his brokerage firm, he chose Stratton Oakmont: a name as bland, stolid – and therefore apparently trustworthy – as the Merrill Lynches and Morgan Stanleys of the world. (For the record, we don’t endorse Belfort-style fraud, but it’s a good example of how names trigger powerful associations.)
Keep everything on the table
The strongest names often arrive in surprising shapes. Think Apple, Virgin, Google: household names that once seemed very strange.
(It’s easy to forget just how alien Google sounded alongside clunky corporate names like AOL and Altavista – and not by accident.)
So keep an open mind, particularly in the early stages. Don’t censor yourself – you risk missing that unexpected gem.
And while you want to avoid obvious negative associations (‘Isis’ is probably off the table for some time yet), don’t overthink the possible interpretations.
You can always come up with objections people might have. But brand names ultimately take their meaning from the brand – not their literal meanings. No one thinks Virgin is to do with sex or Christianity. No one wonders if McDonalds sell haggis.
Sleep on it
Don’t expect to fall in love at first sight. In our experience, few brand names are chosen on the spot.
Of course you’ll have an initial reaction. But let all the options sit for a while. At least overnight, and ideally for a few days. Your response will likely change. And try names out in context: Hi, I’m the founder of Sesame, the digital bank with a difference.
If you need buy-in from others, don’t present your favourite name cold. It’s too easy for people to just give gut reactions, like:
It sounds weird
It reminds me of a teacher I had
I’m not sure — let’s email it around for feedback
Tell them the story behind the name. Show the process you went through, and how the name fits your strategy. That way, you’ll encourage more considered – and probably positive – feedback.
Don’t lose heart
You’re looking for one or two words in a sea of language. Which means most of the work is saying ‘No’ to ideas.
That can feel disheartening, and make you feel like you’re getting nowhere. (Particularly if the early rounds aren’t fruitful.)
But stick with it. Think of it like sculpture: every rejected idea is another bit of stone chipped away – and another step closer to the shape you need.
Reed Words is a brand writing agency based in Soho, working with clients around the world.