If Blue Ribbon Sports doesn’t sound familiar, you’re not alone. Few would recognize the early name of one of the most successful companies in the world. The business was founded in 1964 as a Japanese running shoe distributor, but once the 1970s rolled around, Blue Ribbon’s leaders wanted to push their own shoes. That meant coming up with a different brand name and a new brand strategy.
The business brainstormed all sorts of new brand names, from Bengal to Peregrine and even Dimension Six. After some further research into other successful business name ideas, a new brand name was proposed. Even then, all the company’s leaders weren’t on board with it. But they had a deadline coming up and chose to stick with it.
That’s how the world ended up with Nike.
Naming is a part of brand recognition. It’s an aspect of brand identity (or how customers resonate with a product or service). When looking at how to come up with a brand name, you need something memorable, classic, and in the spirit of your company.
It’s an easy thing to get wrong. Just look at the reaction to Facebook rebranding to Meta. The so-called Metaverse has been the subject of mockery and memes all over the internet. But Facebook at least has a mostly successful company to fall back on. Getting your brand naming wrong when you’re starting out can tank your chances of success before you have a chance to get running.
Great brand naming is all about attracting people to your flywheel. A compelling or intriguing name generates interest in your company. That leads to people wanting to learn more about your business’s offerings. Go with a boring name, however, and even the greatest marketing campaigns won’t generate interest.
In this article, learn about the qualities of good brand names, how to work through the creative process of developing a brand name, and what to avoid doing wrong.
The Top Qualities of Strong Brand Names
Some brand names are synonymous with success. Pretty much everyone knows examples like Apple, Coca-Cola, and Amazon. When looking at how to come up with a brand name, you can replicate the success of what other brands have done in marketing. Here are several qualities associated with strong brand names.
- Simple, unique, and easy to remember
- Has words familiar with the target audience
- Not something already trademarked
- Is different from existing famous brands
- Rolls off the tongue
- Fits alongside other top competitors’ names without imitating them
- Describes what the company is about
- Uses acronyms or mash-ups
5 Steps for Coming Up With a Business Name
1. Get Clear on Who You Are as a Company
Why does your company exist? What do you want to give to customers? How do you want people to remember your organization? Who are the potential customers you want to reach? Answering these questions is key to making a brand name. As Simon Sinek helpfully advises, “Start With Why.” Determining your purpose will help you figure out why your company is here. Once you know this, you can build out brand assets and content that mirror your organizational mission.
Two ingredients are essential in making this work: your vision statement and mission statement. These two statements help map out the change you want to make in the world. With these two pieces in mind, brainstorming ideas for a good brand name becomes easier.
If you’re having difficulty creating a vision or mission statement, identify your core values and build from there. Also, be clear about who you’re marketing to. Who is your core audience? How does your business stand apart from your competitors? Once you know your customers, you can select a name that resonates with them. Think of a brand like CoverGirl, and you’ll get an idea of how to come up with a business name connected to the audience.
Ultimately, everything about your business, including your name, should relate to your purpose and why you serve your audience.
2. Be Creative and Stay Away From Trendy Names
Take a creative approach with your brand name. You don’t want to simply name your company for the product or service you offer. For example, if you’re starting up an Italian restaurant, don’t name it Steve’s Italian Restaurant. That’s dull, boring, and forgettable.
As a part of your unique brand identity, consider what type of experience you want to offer your customers. How do you seek to delight them? From there you can draw connections when you ideate on names. For instance, if you got the idea for your restaurant during a trip to Tuscany and you hope to give a little piece of that trip to customers, you might name your restaurant The Tuscan Experience or something along those lines. The name should tie into your brand messaging. Everything must connect to it.
Creativity can go a long way in shaping your brand name. Think about words that relate to problems you’re solving for your customers. What do the words sound like in your messaging and ad copy?
You can see much of this thinking in how business leaders came up with the name Target. After considering more than 200 names, they landed on Target since the company would act like a marksman in hitting a bullseye. They would “target” the best prices, services, products, value, and experience with precision. From there, much of the company’s identity developed, including the now-iconic logo.
Some companies, like Adidas, Disney, and Walmart, use last names (or variations) for their brand names. That might work for you, but only if you have a memorable last name.
The best strategy is to pick something evergreen and timeless. Avoid trendy picks that might sound dated in a few years. If something’s “all the rage” these days, it might not be before long.
3. Brainstorm with Your Executive Leadership Team
There’s always strength in numbers, so feel free to brainstorm with a variety of people for your brand name. Those people should include your executive leadership team. As you discuss names with your leadership team, use a democratic leadership style to reach a decision. This means listening to everyone’s advice and considering the pros and cons of each option during the naming process.
That’s what happened when Nike came up with their name. Phil Knight, Bob Woodell, Jeff Johnson, Geoff Hollister, and many others came up with several names for the company. They discussed their options, providing important feedback and criticisms. Jeff Johnson came up with “Nike,” drawing inspiration from the Greek goddess of victory. While it wasn’t met with universal acclaim, they eventually settled on it.
As Jeremy Miller, author of Brand New Name: A Proven Step-by-Step Process to Create an Unforgettable Brand Name, puts it, “The beauty of naming is it’s immensely creative. You can use real words, take words from stories or history, or create words. There really are no limits when it comes to naming.” Getting more people involved can help the process.
Brainstorming can be one of the most fun aspects of creating a good brand name for a new business. Here are some helpful steps you can take when starting a brainstorming session as part of the naming process:
- Write down what you want customers to feel when using your products.
- List adjectives that describe your company and products.
- Do a word association activity with your team for your products.
- Think of imagery associated with your company, not just words.
- Go over what you would say about your products to a new customer. List any words or descriptions that stand out and use these in your content.
4. Make Sure the Chosen Name is Available
Imagine going through all these steps, picking what you think is the perfect name, branding your products and merchandise, only to find out someone already has the name. Before finalizing your company name and using it in your marketing, make sure it’s actually available. Check for registered trademarks and copyrights. Online databases such as the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will have that information.
Check to see if the domain name for your brand name is available as well. If it is, then you’re in good shape. If not, you may have to buy it from whoever has the domain name rights. This can get expensive, so you would probably be better off coming up with a new name. Website hosting companies like GoDaddy usually provide examples of potential names that are available.
Domain names can affect the name of your brand for your new business. When Pierre Omidyar was developing an auction website, he wanted to call it Echo Bay. However, someone was already using that name. Instead, he had to fall back on an alternative option: eBay.
It’s important to also check social media. Some brand names might not be trademarked, but they could still be popular profiles on social media platforms. Checking social media early on can save you from headaches later.
If you find the name available, trademark it and register it. This is a crucial step to follow when starting a business, as it shapes the company for years to come.
5. Get Feedback on the Brand Name, Then Commit to It
Even if you’ve trademarked your new brand name, now is not the time to print 70,000 t-shirts. You need to test it out first. If others like the name, then you know you’re on the right track.
Make sure to get a variety of opinions. Ask people in your professional network, but also try your friends and family. Even if someone isn’t familiar with what you’re trying to do, they may have a valuable point of view you haven’t considered. If your budget allows it, you can even send out surveys or hold focus groups for people that make up your intended core audience. One of the best examples is Tinder. The makers of the dating app chose that name because, from survey responses, women preferred that brand name.
Feedback like this can be especially worthwhile since a complete brand or rebrand can be costly. The creation of new logos, brand decks, content, and more doesn’t come cheap. You need to be sure before you decide.
Establish metrics as you begin the process of requesting feedback. Ask yourself, what percentage of customers need to like the name? If you’re changing the brand name, how many are receptive to the change? It’s important to note that you’ll never get everyone in favor of a specific name, but if there’s enough support, you can feel more comfortable in making the change.
What to Avoid When Developing a Brand Name
When coming up with a brand name, don’t overcomplicate it. Keep things simple and easy to understand. If you end up spending six months trying to figure out a name, you’re doing something wrong.
While getting other people’s opinions is important, be careful not to let too many views convolute what is meaningful to you. Also, be careful to avoid any possible negative connotations with your brand name. This can negatively impact your social media strategy and the overall public opinion of your brand. When the founders of Twitter were creating a name for the product, they looked at names like “Twitch” and “Jitter.” They eventually decided against those names because they realized those words sounded too much like what someone might associate with addiction.
You need to stay true to yourself and trust your gut and data. Do plenty of marketing research before making a decision, but don’t be scared to pull the trigger when the time is right.
As you create your brand name, you’ll also be able to develop a brand strategy and unique story. Check out the story of YETI’s brand strategy for more inspiration. Additionally, find out how StoryBrand can help with your marketing as you take your brand name out to the world.
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- How Nike almost ended up with a very different name. (2023). https://www.businessinsider.com/how-nike-got-its-name-2016-1
- Target History Timeline. (2023). https://corporate.target.com/about/purpose-history/History-Timeline?era=2
- How Etsy, eBay, Reddit got their names. (2023). http://www.cnn.com/2011/LIVING/04/22/website.name.origins.mf/
- Summers, Nick. “Dating App Tinder Catches Fire.” September 5, 2013. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-09-05/dating-app-tinder-catches-fire#p2
- Twitter Could Have Been Called “Twitch,” Founders Tell Jimmy Fallon [VIDEO]. (2010). https://mashable.com/archive/twitter-founders-jimmy-fallon
- Trademarks. (2023, February 23). USPTO. https://www.uspto.gov/trademarks