What’s in a Name? Steps to Choosing an Effective Brand Name

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 11/01/2017 | 4 Minute Read

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Deciding on a brand name is no easy task. Sure, we’ve all heard of some of the outrageously named products and services that didn’t exactly stand the test of time or were an embarrassing laughing stock in the market. But even if you’re able to avoid some of those major pitfalls, a poorly-chosen brand name can make or break the success of your brand.

It’s time to break down the key attributes that define a brand name. No single attribute is inherently “right” or “wrong”; rather, each one influences a name in a specific way. Designers and brand owners can take specific measures to lock in a powerful and effective brand name—one that entices consumers, clearly expresses the brand, and makes a memorable impact.

1. Set the Foundation

Before you start scribbling down all of the ideas that come to mind, take a moment to define a conceptual theme for the name based on the goals and strategy of the brand. Then, either independently or as a group, start to brainstorm. These don’t have to be fully formed names yet—even just jotting down words that resonate with the brand is a great start. Come up with categories of name sources and shortlist words that fit well (like “botanical words”, “latin prefixes that mean ‘sun’”, “gemstone name”, “mathematical terminology”, etc.). Google is your friend here.

2. Explore Name Types

Taking your list, you can then explore the different ways you can piece something together. Name types include:

  • Coined Names—completely made-up words, may be derived from real words
  • Compound Names—names that combine two real words or link them with an “&”
  • Real Language Words—names that are actual dictionary words
  • Proper Nouns—such as surnames or place names
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3. Regroup & Shortlist

Once you’ve taken some time to toy around with different name iterations, create a shortlist from your master list of the standout choices. If you’re on a team, one person should act as the reviewer; if you’re working alone, whittle down the list yourself. This list can be as long or short as you’d like.

4. Preliminary Legal Review

A vital step is to check every name on the shortlist against the US Trademark Database (TESS) or at the other official database per country. It also doesn’t hurt to conduct a surface check on Google to see what pops up on the first couple pages of results.

5. Present to the Client

Before you go into the meeting, you’ll want to shortlist the shortlist. Evaluate the results and determine which names to present to client based on what seems most likely to be available for trademark. Don’t worry—an attorney will review the final selections later on. You can present your favorite picks (usually about 3-5 names) visualized in some way to make it easier for the client to evaluate how the name “feels.” You can also include the full shortlist on one page.

Including some evaluation guidelines for your client is always a good idea so that they can understand what to look for in a name. (ps this article will help!)

When you meet and review with the client, discuss each name and attempt to feel out their gut reaction. As best as you can, try to keep the discussion based on name attributes, rather than strictly “what I like” feedback. Including the above guidelines helps clients stay grounded and able to remain confident in their name choices in the face of random feedback from co-workers, spouses and sisters-in-law…

6. Submit the Final Name for Legal Review

Shortlist 1-3 name finalists, which should then be submitted to client's trademark attorney for legal review. If your client doesn’t have a trademark attorney, there are online trademark websites like Trademarkia.com and others. You’ve now got a brand name!

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