What’s in a name?

I’m currently working on a naming project for a new enterprise. Confidentiality clauses mean I can’t reveal the details about who they are or what they do.

That being said, there are five key lessons from the process I’d like to share:

1. Your name is like a door

Your name is like a door. It might get people to come knocking, but if you don’t get what’s behind the door right the name won’t mean a thing. Getting too tied up in the name can be a great distraction from the things that will really matter in the long-run.

2. There’s nothing new under the sun

With a few notable exceptions, there is no such thing as a totally unique and different name. Nearly everything is derivative of something else.

If there’s a great name and it vaguely reminiscent of some moderately popular band from 10 years ago, I’d say go for it – unless your target audience is solely comprised of their fans.

3. Make sure the URL is available

In a perfect world, URLs would cost $100 each to register. That way the practice of people registering 50 million different variations of phrases and words because “you never know when we might want to use it” would stop overnight and hundreds of thousands of languishing URLs would become available again.

4. Be honest with yourself

Be honest with yourself. If you are really quite conservative and just not comfortable with names using random word associations and a web 3.0 vibe, that’s fine. Plenty of really successful enterprises have quite conservative names. Examples include International Business Machines (IBM) General Electric (GE), and even Facebook lacks a certain upfront zing.

By not being honest with yourself, you can spin your wheels through plenty of frustration before you find something that works. Conversely, don’t go all vanilla descriptive just because you think you should if in your soul you really want a name like “Fuzzy Dodo”!

5. All names look great in retrospect

Every popular and lauded name looks that way in retrospect. Still, there are many names that did not go on to lead their enterprises into the annals of greatness. They didn’t fail because they had a bad name. Does anyone really think a different (better) name would have saved “New Coke”, “Pets.com” or “Webvan”?

A googol was a big number, an apple was a quite enjoyable fruit, and twittering was something birds did. It’s what those companies do that gives meaning and currency to their names.

Is there such a thing as a bad name? Sure. Some names can be a barrier to success. But those are really few and far between. More likely, the name would be a neutral and you can tip that into the pro column with savvy positioning and image.

And sometimes, if you get really lucky you can find the holy grail – the name that can tip over and become a verb or even a noun. But for most having a name that is a door that people will knock on is nothing to sneeze at.

See you next week.


Michel Hogan is an independent adviser and advocate dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes the Brand Alignment blog. You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan.


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