How to create a Foolproof Name for either a product or a brand. 

(This article is adapted from an eBook on the subject put out by Catchword Branding based in San Francisco and New York)

Whether you’re a global corporation with multiple products and product lines, or simply a start-up with one product or a single service, you’re going to need a foolproof name.

The fool proof name you choose must:

  • help your customer identify your offer.
  • attract customers by grabbing their attention and interest.
  • clearly differentiates you and your product from your competition.
  • jump off the retail shelf or off the page and influence consumers by arousing a positive emotional connection.
  • call out for your consumer to buy and buy NOW!

Fundamentally the name you choose for your brand, your product or your service must both capture and leverage the essence of your brand.

The 7 Categories’ of Names

Prior to developing a foolproof name, a base understanding of name typology can help cut through what is typically a chaotic and draining process. Whilst there are several different structures for name typology, the 7 categories outlined in BRIAN LISCHER’s blog post, offers a clear and simple framework to follow:

  1. DESCRIPTIVE: Descriptive brand names are those that readily convey the service or product offered by a company. Think Toys R Us, E*Trade, General Motors, or YouSendIt.
  1. EVOCATIVE: Evocative names employ suggestion and metaphor to bring to mind the experience or positioning of a brand. Powerful examples include Nike, Patagonia, Amazon, and Virgin.
  1. INVENTED: The best part about brand names is that if you can’t find the perfect word, you can always just make one up. Invented names are fanciful fabrications that are nothing if not distinctive. Exxon, Kodak, Xerox, and Verizon are all great examples.
  1. LEXICAL: Lexical brand names rely on wordplay for their memorability. Puns, phrases, compound words, alliteration, onomatopoeia, intentional misspellings, and foreign words are all styles. Thinks Dunkin’ Donuts, Krazy Glue, Volare, and Sizzler Steakhouse.
  1. ACRONYM: Acronyms have been used for brand names since branding first crawled out of the primordial soup. Brands like IBM, AARP, BP, and UPS.
  1. GEOGRAPHICAL: Sometimes brands are inextricably tied to the regions that birthed them. Geographical names imbue a brand with all the cultural and historical associations its namesake is known for—for better or worse. Example: ANZ Bank
  1. FOUNDER: Whether for heritage or hubris, there will always be brands named for the people who started them. These days, founder based names are less common, but brands like Ben & Jerry’s, McDonald’s, Martha Stewart, Ralph Lauren, and Mrs. Fields have certainly made them work.


 The foolproof name formula

Just like so many creative undertakings there is both an art and a science to developing a name. The formula for creating the perfect “sticky” name is just as much a process-driven endeavour as it is a creative unfolding.

The 4 STEP Foolproof Name Creation Process outlined below ensures you get the payoff you are looking for. This easy to follow name creation process ensures you leave no stone unturned by completely exploring all potential options until you make your final selection.

Finally, this 4 STEP Foolproof Name Creation Process walks you through how to successfully implement your new brand or product name reaching across all touch points.

Step 1. Developing the brief

The creative brief is the tactical foundation in the Foolproof Name Creation Process. Consider the following 10 key briefing questions as a minimum requirement.

  1. Name type (Category)
  2. Reason for the name
  3. How will your name be used? What does your product or service do? What problem does it solve?
  4. Who are your competitors and what sorts of names are they using? What do they call it?
  5. Who are your target customers (Audience)?
  6. What’s different and UNIQUE about you or the product? (USP)
  7. What do you want the name to communicate? (Specifically)
  8. What’s the tone of voice or consumer language or industry’s lingo or jargon you want to communicate?
  9. Will a domain name be needed?
  10. Are there any legal or linguistic or corporate guideline constraints?

Step 2. The creative process

Once the creative brief has been thought through and outlined, it’s time to creatively explore potential names. The idea of this process is to unearth as many potentially winning names as possible. The creative process outlined by Catchword, in their great eBook on the subject, follows a four key steps process:

  1. VOCABULARY: Use your creative brief and grab a thesaurus to start exploring (explore origins)
  2. TRANSLATION: Translate key words to other languages (e.g. Latin, Greek, Italian, ancient languages).
  3. BRAINSTORM: Apply blue-sky thinking and other brain storming techniques to explore ideas and names. The more the merrier.
  4. REFLECT: Review the full list and play with syntax, spellings, prefixes and suffixes.

Step 3. Shortlisting


Once you’ve exhausted all possibilities, it’s time to develop your short-list. In whittling down your list of names, Catchword suggests ranking each name against the 10 criteria below.  We’ve added another three to make a baker’s dozen.

  2. DISTINCTIVENESS (memorable)
  3. BRAND FIT (brand essence)
  7. EUPHONY (pleasing effect to the ear)
  8. APPROPRIATENESS (it appropriate and appealing to your target audience and cultural sensitivities)
  10. PROTECT-ABILITY (Across geographical markets)
  11. LIMITATIONS (Easy to spell and say)
  13. LEGAL

One additional criteria that may be important to consider is legality. If there is a pre-existing name with a strong likelihood of confusion the name may be taken and will warrant further investigation. Here are three key legal criteria to consider:

  1. Trademark infringement
  2. Can the name be owned and protected by your own trademark?
  3. Domain name availability

Step 4. Go live checklist

Once you’ve selected and vetted your name it’s time to launch. Here are some key points to consider when launching a company name in regards to legal, administrative, marketing, communications and technology.

  • Have your attorney submit an application for trademark registration?
  • Update bank accounts, checks, and other financial paperwork.
  • Phase out the old name and decide when to debut the new name.
  • Create/update your logo and other elements of your new visual identity.
  • Create/update business cards, stationery, brochures, pamphlets, and other collateral.
  • Create marketing plan – the best way to reach your target demographic
  • Announce the new name internally (and be sure it’s before you do so externally).
  • Develop a launch plan to communicate the name change to customers, analysts, and other key external influencers.
  • Anticipate and address questions such as whether service contracts will be affected. Call key customers to communicate the name change directly.
  • Register the new domain name.
  • Forward your old domain to your new domain.
  • Update your website content as needed.
  • Update email addresses to reflect the new domain name, and make sure all emails sent to legacy addresses are automatically forwarded.
  • Complete thorough user testing
  • Set up shipping either on your own or a third-party distribution and warehouse company.
  • Set up customer service and support desk

Don’t leave the potential value your new name can create for you and your business to chance. By taking a methodical approach to the creative process you can maximise the likelihood of finding and using the perfect name.


(Adapted from the eBook “Creating the perfect name”put out by Catchword Branding based in San Francisco and New York)