Brand Naming Do's and Don'ts

"The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name." - CONFUCIUS

Startups are on the rise, and there are now more businesses than ever! With so much competition, how can a new one get famous? Here are essential Naming Do's and Don'ts guidelines to help your startup stand out.

With the number of startups highly on the rise, corporate companies facing startup disruption more than ever, and everyone and everything moving online, there has never been more noise in the business landscape than we see today. There are now more businesses than ever! So how can a new one become famous?

We've put together a list of essential naming do's and don'ts to shed some light on the process and help you make better choices right from the start.


Work on a suggestive brand positioning.

Before choosing a name, you must define your brand positioning and clarify what you want your name to do for your brand. The name you choose must be derived from that positioning and say something about your brand without plainly describing it. The more distinctive the positioning, the more effective the name. Strong names allude to what a company or product can do or suggest to users a positive experience. However, you shouldn't expect your brand name to say it all. Give it room to work and activate your customers' imagination.

Be memorable.

The shorter the name, the easier it is to remember. Memorable names create associations with familiar concepts and figures. Your name must look familiar, understandable, and relatable for people to remember it easily. Your customers shouldn't have to remember how many vowels you have in the middle of it. If you opt for a made-up name, stick to two or three syllables. There are exceptions here, but, as a rule of thumb, a shorter name is more memorable than a longer one.

Use visual imagery.

Our brains are better suited to remember images, tastes, or smells than it is to remember abstract concepts. People have a hard time remembering other people's names, but they remember faces and things they see much easier. That's why having a name that creates a visual representation in your customers' brains is a tremendous advantage. If you can find a name with visual imagery, taste, and smell, that's even better. Think of Citronade, for example.

Be pivot-proof.

It's hard to predict the future, especially if you're an early-stage startup that might have to pivot a few times until it can find its grounding and reach the product market fit. That's why you need to start this trip next to a flexible name that can grow with you and adapt when you need it to. Think of it as a marriage — you'd ideally want it to be for life. Sure, should things go south, you can change, but it's going to cost you and leave some scars. It's simply better to try to get it right from the beginning.

Have a theme.

When naming products, it's better to opt for a theme. People like to make logical connections and see the relations between your product lines or iterations. It gives your product line a sense of belonging, family, and togetherness that people long for. Especially after experiencing the extended lockdown and isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic…

Connect emotionally.

​Influential names connect with us emotionally. We are attracted to names that echo our needs and desires. And savvy brands know how to take advantage of that. Think of Calvin Klein's Obsession perfume line, Impossible Burger, or Queen.

"According to Forrester Research, 50 percent of every buying decision is driven by emotion. Not only do we buy things that make us feel good, but we are also inclined to buy things with names that make us feel good.." — ALEXANDRA WATKINS, "Hello, My Name is Awesome"

"Naming things, breaking through taboos and denial is the most dangerous, terrifying, and crucial work. […] I believe freedom begins with naming things. Humanity is preserved by it." — EVE ENSLER


Don't be difficult to pronounce or spell.

Try to pass on acronyms, numbers, hyphens, special characters, and double or triple letters. And it's a good idea to keep the "c" as is — do not try replacing it with a "k". Valid as well for "q" and "k," etc. If Alexa, Siri, or Cortana can't spell your name correctly, you should pass and keep searching. When your name looks like a typing error, you must spell it to everyone every single time you talk about your company. It will be exhausting, and it will not generate memorability. Think investors will remember it?! Think again. Big NO!

Don't look like a copycat.

Adibas, Reebook, or Rulex are not inspiring much trust, are they? If your name isn't original and sounds like one of a different, well-known company (movie, band, book), you don't sound innovative. You sound more like a fraud. Would you buy an Aple computer? Would you read the New York Tines? If not, then try not to sound like a knock-off product. People don't trust fakes — or at least they didn't use to — and unless you plan to compete exclusively from the perspective of low price and a matching "quality", this is another big NO!

Try not to go for what is trendy.

Names that end in ___ly or ___fy will date poorly unless you're the original company that made them famous. Beyond mere plagiarism, it's advisable also to try to avoid copycats such as 50 shades of___ or ___rocket, or ___topia, or ___ology, etc., that will not work in your favour.

You'll be seen as lazy and unoriginal at best. At worst, you'll be called a fraud and sued.

Don't get a restrictive name.

I've said it before. I'll repeat it: it is hard to predict the future. Your company might have to pivot a few times to find its footing. So don't give it a name that will only match its activities today. Consider where you might evolve in 5–10–15 years and give it a name that is suitable today and will also be suitable after several pivots.

Don't be silly.

Don't get quirky names just because. Try not to be annoying, sound silly, or forced. Consumers who don't see any connection can get frustrated and try to avoid your products altogether. And the press will rub the floor with you. A recent example is the Fiat-Chrysler-Peugeot merger which will be called… Stellantis. The press had a few words to say about it that likely didn't make any stakeholder happy…

See CNN's article here.

Don't use jargon.

If you intend to market your business to people outside your industry or field of expertise, be they consumers, investors, or prospective employees, then avoid using names that only have meaning to your specific industry. If people need to be in your industry to understand your name, or if the name only has meaning to yourself, then it suffers from insider knowledge. You can't explain your name at every consumer touchpoint, so avoiding jargon and acronyms is better.

Don't be descriptive.

It's boring. ​Does your name appear meek, plain, or dull? A flat and uninspiring name will not make it above the noise. If your brand's name is descriptive, it will get lost in the background. Think of the countless Something-Something Consulting, Something-Something Software, or Something-Something Solutions. It's easy to criticize, I know... And you probably think that, unless you explain to your customers what you do exactly, they won't get it and will not even find your offerings.

We know that feeling — we meet many startup founders and see the urge to adopt names that describe what their company does and explain its functions. It saves quite a bit of a headache, right? Wrong.

The thing is, if your name uses the same descriptive terms that other competitors in your category, you simply won't stand out, and you won't be perceived as the leader of the pack. You will be just another player in the big bulk bucket And then you won't be able to claim you're an innovator because your customers will have a hard time believing you are one.

Moreover, a descriptive name is a nightmare — if not impossible — to trademark. And no registered mark means no moats and no legal protections against copycats. That means less money for you.