Insight

What’s in a name?

“That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”, wrote Mr Shakespeare. But would it? Would we love that rose so much if it were called a Bogbloom?

Whether you’re naming a company, a place, a product, a person or a community (and we’ve done all of those things), the name you choose is the tip of the iceberg that is your brand. That name represents values, personality and function in one (or two) easily digestible word(s).

Choosing a name – the right name – takes time. Choosing the wrong name will cost you far more later when you unpick the brand experience and start all over again.

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How can you get it right?

Don’t jump straight to possible monikers. Consider what you do, what you stand for, your personality and the context in which you work. Then give it a framework: do you work internationally, in technology or politics? Who is your audience – are they conservative or creative?

As the tip of your brand iceberg, you want your name to trigger an emotional response. This might be trust, security, desire, exclusivity or joy.

Consider the future. Your company is likely to evolve: does the name allow you to do that? It might restrict you by being too specific (eg, Bob’s Planning Firm will find it difficult to become an architectural practice also). What about brand extensions? Think Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Media, Virgin Trains.

We know of one new company that has changed its name three times in the last 12 months and another that has put its marketing material into production knowing that the name will change before September.  These companies are beginning again each time they change their name, undoing any brand recognition.  It also means that they didn’t give their branding enough thought at the outset: it’s costing them far more in repeated work.

Things to consider:

Pronunciation. There is a magic to the balance of vowels and consonants, which sound different in other languages or regional accents. Try it, play with it, say it fast, slow, loud, mumbled. Imagine it coming out of the mouth of a child, an employee, your grandparent, a grumpy receptionist.

International context. Can French people and Americans pronounce it? What does it mean in Swahili? US or UK spelling? How does the Australian Head of Procurement feel using your company name when pitching to the Board in Canada?

Meaning. Cultural and political sensitivities really matter. For example, aggressive or brash branding doesn’t go down well in the far east but suits an American audience. If you’re looking to do business in or with deprived UK communities, references to the monarchy in your branding may create resistance – and don’t underestimate the extent of anti-London feeling in the UK regions.

Should you use your own name? It worked for Arup, Lichfields, Seddons, Barton Willmore and many more, but it can take years to move away from the perception of you as a one-person enterprise.

Contractions and abbreviations. How does the name work when it’s shortened or turned into an acronym? How might that acronym be pronounced (consider Apple’s Support Service).

Availability. Has somebody already taken the name? You’ll need to check Companies House, find a domain name and investigate social media.

There’s a reason so many brand names use invented, conjoined or shortened words.  Think Flickr, Xerox, Samsonite, Accenture, FedEx, Luma…

Your name in use. How does your company name work as a verb, a noun or an adjective? Think about Google and Hoover. Illumanate is a good one.

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Think negatively

So, you love it and think it’s the bees’ knees. Pretend for a moment that you don’t. Imagine you’re the mean kids in the school playground looking to bring you down. What does your company name look or sound like or rhyme with, that is less than cool? Consider also the converse of the word. Beware the superlatives (best, first, greatest) as the opposite is often true.

Think visually

Much as we love words, humans are visual creatures. What images does your name conjure up? How would you present it – does it suggest certain colours or graphics? Think Nike, Apple, Hermes. The type of name you choose will have an influence here – is it evocative, descriptive or invented?

Test it

Beware the bubble. Yes, ask those around you – your colleagues, collaborators, clients, friends and family. But those people will want to please you; make sure you also run your ideas past people who think differently. Take on board the comments you receive and make your own mind up. Decision by committee rarely leads to clarity.

Sometimes, changing a company name is about a merger and those brands need time to become one (or to disappear).

When Roger Tym & Partners became part of Peter Brett Associates in 2011, the brand disappeared almost overnight. PBA become part of international consultancy Stantec last year; we can guess from the logo that the PBA brand is not long for this world. From one person’s name to another, then to an acronym and soon to an international brand rooted in the identity of its founder, Dr Don Stanley.

Be patient

Choosing a name for your company, product, place or community is hard. It takes thought, experimentation, research and more thought. Mostly, it takes time – and you should allow it to take time.

Naming is so hard because the very best make it look so easy.

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