Distinctive, Practical, Unique or Quirky? What does your new company’s name say to your future clients?

There are a number of perspectives you can take when you name a business, but most importantly, be sure of your objectives. You might give ambiguity a miss and go for a functional name, or you may prefer to weave in some mystery and a fascinating story. Whatever approach you take, remember the purpose of a name is to help you sell more.

How did the big brands choose their names?

Understand your brand

In the first instance, define how you would like to position your company – where do you fit now in the market relative to your competition and where do you want to be?

What words would you use to describe your brand? Don’t just think  about obvious functional aspects, but also consider quality characteristics that distinguish your products and services from competitors.

In this post we’ve compiled the most popular types of names used by successful global brands. Let us know if you have a favourite – share your views in the comments below.

1. Descriptive functional names

These include names such as General Electric, HotelNight, Smiles Denture Care or Pizza Express. They are very concrete and specific and communicate the advertised benefits straight away. 

Although not particularly unique, they have a great advantage in listings and can be the perfect fit for certain online businesses. If you plan to trade mainly online, your customers are much more likely to find you based on their keyword- specific searches. Google Adwords can come in handy to generate variations of your chosen name and estimate potential search volume and traffic.

2. Product ingredients

The name Coca-Cola was derived from coca leaves and kola nuts used to flavour the world’s favourite drink. The ‘k’ in kola was then changed to make a rhyme and look better in the famous logo. If you take it less literally, the same approach can be applied for your service’s best features, core materials or the outcome it achieves.

3. Founder’s name

Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Dell are all named after their founders. Some owners go further by adding a secondary word that sounds like a name but conveys additional meaning, such as “Rogue” (used by William Rogue & co), suggesting a notion of unbound personality, and free sprit.

4. A mix of two names

This could be your own name, your child’s name or a beloved one’s name to add some personality and inherent meaning to your new venture

  • Debian: an operating system named after its founders’ girlfriends’ name Deborah and his own Ian Murdock
  • Adidas: founded by Adolf (Adi) Dassler (Das)
Wonder how some the world’s most famous brands chose their names for business? Find out in this video.

5. A blend of two words to invent a new one

This concept relates more to the descriptive category, but there are several examples of businesses whose names are very explicit, memorable and diverse

  • Skype:  Named initially “Sky peer-to-peer”, transformed into “Skyper”, to arrive later at its most recent version.
  • Intel: Integrated Electronics
  • Microsoft: Microcomputer Software
  • Vodafone: Voice, Data, Phone
  • Compaq: Computer and Pack (Paq) to denote a small integral object

6. Acronyms

Whilst they might clash with the desire for clarity and simplicity (and are generally best avoided) there are some very prominent examples of successful acronym-derived company names:

  • SUN Microsystems: which stands for Stanford University Network
  • IKEA: an acronym that consists of the initials of  the company founder Ingvar Kamprad, Elmtaryd (the farm where he grew up) and Agunnaryd (his hometown)
  • HMV: “His Master’s Voice”, derived from an old advert in which a dog is sitting listening to his masters’ voice coming from a gramophone

7. Latin origins

This is a classic source of inspiration. If you like a particular word in your own language but it is rather clichéd or overly popular, go deeper into semantics and origin and you might get a match. For example:

  • Acer: from Latin: “sharp” and “keen”
  • Verizon: Veritas (Latin for “truth”) and Horizon
  • Volvo: the Latin word for “I roll”

8. Translated words from other languages

Consider the concept of your company in a word from a foreign language. Try a number of versions and make sure it sounds meaningful and non-offensive, particularly in language that you choose to operate with primarily.

  • Lego: Danish “leg godt” meaning “play well”
  • Reebok: comes from the Afrikaans spelling of “rhebok”, a South African antelope or gazelle
  • Xerox: from Greek, xeros “dry” and graphos “writing”
  • Carrefour: in French: crossroads, from the place where the first store was built

9. Greek heroes and gods

Similar to the Latin theme, mythology is a popular source of inspiration and a creative way to convey the meaning of your company’s ideas:

  • Asus: after Pegasus, the winged divine stallion in Greek mythology;
  • Nike: the Greek goddess of victory;
  • Oracle: the planning software named after a prophet in Ancient Greece who was inspired by the gods to see into the future
  • Pandora: in Greek: “all gifted”, the first human woman created by the gods in ancient Greek mythology

10. Novel characters and Historic figures

Do you have a favourite one that you associate with or admire?

  • Starbucks: remember the chief mate from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick?
  • Yahoo: a legendary being from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels
  • Captain Morgan: a brand of rum named after the 17th-century Welsh admiral, privateer and a pirate of the Caribbean, Sir Henry Morgan

11. Geographical objects

A wonderful name source to thrive locally, but think twice when considering expansion beyond home boundaries. Some choices might impair business credibility if you move to new markets or diversify into new product ranges. Alternatively, if a place is well known for its industry orientation and prosperity, then picking up a name from the region could be your chance.

  • Cisco: named after the US City and County of San Francisco, California
  • Nokia: a Finn city
  • Adobe:  Adobe Creek river in California
  • Amazon: The world’s most voluminous river
  • Fuji: Mount Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan

12. Experiential

Moving further towards abstract naming, experiential names suggest a connection to something real which trigger an association and desire for certain actions. Thus playing with your audiences’ emotions can prove to be a very powerful strategy to create demand:

  • Navigator, Explorer, Travel, Evolve or Just-Eat, Build-a-Bear, Go Outdoors, Dance Direct

13. Evocative

Evoke the positioning of a company, as opposed to the goods or services or the experience. For example:

  • Lotus Cars: named after the Lotus fruit, as the legend goes, causing a person having eaten it to forget where they came from and lost all desire to return. Similarly, Lotus wanted to create cars, which provided driving experiences like no others, making those who tried it lose all desire to return to their previous type of car.
  • Shell:  a name chosen as a tribute to the previous occupation of the family – the seashell trading business.

You can find out more on evocative names in How to build a successful emotional connection with your clients.

Final considerations

Consider the following points carefully in relation to the short-term and long-term potential for your company’s name:

  • Substituting letters for a number (4u, l8r), a sign (f!rst) or contraction, such as X for Ex, or R for -Er can be tempting, but would your name sound equally modern, say, in five years time? Unless your business is designed to exist only around a particular short term trend, this style of naming could potentially become dated and too saturated, leaving your brand less space to carve out a unique identity.
  • Initials could be successful based on business performance in the long run but unlikely to attract much attention at start. Use them wisely and preferably with a descriptive word at the end to achieve more clarity over your business activity.
  • Names that are too specific are often restrictive in geographical locations and meanings, and could turn into obstacle when you grow and expand nationally and internationally, or extend into different product lines and categories
  • Words with negative connotations, especially common misspellings which redirect to unwanted websites are the ones to be skilfully avoided.

Make sure you are prepared against these by performing a few Google searches and consulting online dictionaries.

Read the full guide on avoiding common pitfalls when choosing a domain name.

Find more details about trademark rules and guidance for company names.

The final field test

Finally, go one step further and field-test your name with real people, especially those outside of your personal demographic. This is especially worthwhile if you are using a foreign name in a language that you are not totally familiar with. Independent advisers and native speakers will give you an objective view of what associations your name brings to mind and might be able to suggest improvements that fit your purpose better.

Closing thoughts

By now you should have brainstormed potential names, crowd-sourced your ideas, verified availability and slept on them. Your original entries are most likely crossed out and the bottom of your list proudly contains the best ideas for your future company name.  Just before appointing the winner, take a moment to tick off the last few points to ensure you’ve made the right choice. Is your new name:

  • Personal?
  • Legal and available?
  • Catchy?
  • Not overly popular and likely to become saturated and dated soon?
  • Inoffensive in all languages?
  • Easy to remember?

It’s now time to unleash your imagination: grab a pen and paper and let the naming begin!  

Are you already in business? Visit our Facebook page and tell us how you came up with your company name.