Naming something is very, very hard. Not only is it hard to choose a distinctive name that describes your product or company, almost all of the good names are already taken. There are naming firms who charge hundreds of thousands of dollars to help large companies choose new names, and even then they often end in disaster. So, how should you pick a name?
While there is no silver bullet, it helps to have a process. In addition to reviewing the process, we will practice on a fictitious company and try to give it a name. For this exercise, let us assume we are starting a new consulting company that will help set up IT infrastructure for small businesses.
Step 1. Metaphor
All of the best names are based on metaphors that describe what the product or company does. Literal names (such as The IT Company) are rarely distinctive enough to be remembered and easily confused with other, similar companies. The more creative your metaphors the more distinctive your name and the easier the naming process will be in the future.
For our example IT consulting company, what metaphors work? Since IT touches almost all aspects of business these days, the company will provide a wide range of services to help smaller businesses grow. Any metaphor that involves getting bigger over time would work well here, including construction and stacking. The word “grow” is interesting and seems to fit well with gardening or farming so let us choose the metaphor of gardening.
Step 2. Word Association
It’s time to exercise your creative muscles and play word association with the metaphors you chose in Step 1. The goal is to create a large list of words that relate to your metaphor, as many as you can. If your creative muscles are out of shape you can use online tools to help generate a list of source words related to your metaphor.
Based on our gardening metaphor you might come up with the following list:
Some companies choose to include more descriptive words in their name to avoid customer confusion. It also makes finding a domain name significantly easier since all single words are taken. Some words that describe IT infrastructure:
Step 3. Try some names
It’s time to combine the words from our word association exercise, creating a list of potential names. It is okay if they are horrible since we’ll filter them out later. Note that combining the words into new names can take any form you like and sometimes the best names come from combining two words into one. For this exercise we won’t invent new words, just create compound names:
- Seed Technology
- Harvest Installations
- Sprout Networking
- Green Hardware
Of those, “Green Hardware” and “Seed Technology” sound like biotech companies so let’s throw that out. That leaves us with two potential names:
- Sprout Networking
- Harvest Installations
At this point you need to be practical. Check available domain names to make sure they are available and/or affordable. Use a service like 99 Designs to have some example logos created for your names to see how it looks. Talk to your friends and associates about the names and get some input.
It is possible that after all of this you end up with no good names, forcing you to start over again. For a given product I typically find I have to repeat this process 2-3 times before I end up with some really good candidates. If you are lucky you will find a name you really love, but often you will find a name you can learn to love.
I hope that helps. You could always just fall back on naming it after yourself (it worked for Bloomberg) and there isn’t really anything wrong with that. In the end if you have a great product or service, treat your customers well and deliver on your promises it won’t matter what your name is – people will remember it.
NOTE: This post is adapted from an answer I posted on Quora in Startup Advice and Strategy.
Sure beats the current trend of naming everything with an “ly” ending!
One approach I like to get inspiration is to use some of the domain name tools where you can enter in a bunch of keywords and words you like and let it automatically try every variation of those terms. It’s still very hard to find a decent available name, but this kind of shotgun approach can help you narrow down the list.
Another thing that some people do is test out a bunch of domains. They put up a landing page at several different sites and try different combinations of search ads (Google, Bing) and social media promotion (the kind of stuff via http://www.buyfacebooklikesreviews.com for example) and see what domain name results in the most clicks and most actions taken.
If the only difference is the domain name, you can test it out and see which one people like best through tests – it can take some time to set this all up, but if one name converts a few percentage points better than a different domain name, it can very well be worth it.
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