Eight principles of naming

Even at the best of times, naming is a contentious and emotional business. Whether you’re naming your baby, your boat, or your brand, the process can breed nearly endless deliberation. Keep these principles in mind as you scout the perfect name.

1  Make it memorable


The search engine has changed everything. Instead of worrying about your spot in the phone book, you need a name that’s relevant and truly compelling. The key to any name —simple or complex, abstract or descriptive —is grabbing attention and staying memorable.


Intriguing, irreverent, distinctly Australian: Yummy Tummy Koalas instantly conveys the fun factor of this brand.

2  Fill it with meaning


Choose a name that tells your brand’s story. Over time, you can expand the meaning of your name and add layers of depth to make it even more powerful —a visual identity, a color, a sound. The more significance your name carries, the more work it will do for you.


From a word that initially meant only a stamp on a passport, Visa has surrounded its name with a host of associations —travel, access, opportunities, identity, official status –that allow it to tell the right story at the right time.

3  Say it out loud


The best names are the ones that people can’t wait to tell their friends about. Names that roll off the tongue invite customers to become your viral marketing agency. Say, shout, and even sing names you’re considering to see which one will echo for years to come.


Happy coincidence? In 1783, Johann Jacob Schweppe opted to name his bubbly, effervescent soft drinks after himself. More than 200 years later, consumers still love calling out his name.

4  Don’t wait to fall in love


Even the best name may not seem terrific the first time you hear it. As your name evolves into a brand, it will acquire more and richer associations. Give the names you’re considering a chance to grow on you—and try to imagine what they might stand for five or ten years down the road.


Originally a variant of googol, the numeral one followed by 100 zeros, Google has come to represent a playful and innovative culture that delivers everything from email to operating systems.

5  Listen to your fear


Great names grab your attention by breaking the rules—but a name that defies your expectations may also appear scary. Look past the fear and you’ll find energy and possibility. That buzz of surprise could be telling you that you’ve found a name that stands out.


ProMail, an early name candidate for what we know today as the BlackBerry, probably would have been an easier sell in RIM’s executive suite. But once users got their hands on the perfectly sized device, it became obvious which name was the perfect fit.

6  Stand out in a crowd


If you are different, you want to sound different. Use your name to focus on what makes your brand special. Look at your category and where it’s headed. What do customers expect? How can your name signal something new?


In a market dominated by the prosaic names of people and places —Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, and Radisson —W had the nerve to sound young, energetic, and stylish. Today, it’s the premier destination for business travelers who want to balance style with substance.

7  Too much is never enough


The first hundred names you think of are likely to be the same ones your competitors tossed around. Use naming specialists to develop thousands of alternatives. To arrive at a name that meets all your objectives, you need a list that’s both broad and deep.


Thousands of names were created, hundreds were screened, and scores were considered. One name rose to the top, and now countless conversations center around this brand’s “Accent on the future.”

8  Expect its story to evolve


There are always reasons to dislike a name, but you can’t make the right decision if you never make any decision at all. Remember that names are just one part of your brand, and they’re elastic—you can stretch them to mean what you want.


As a word, “virgin” brings to mind anything from wool and olive oil to Mary and The Material Girl. But as a brand name, Virgin has come to stand for a provocative attitude that can sell everything from prepaid mobile phones to vacations in orbit.


This article was first published in Fast Company (24 February 2012).

© 2012 Landor. All rights reserved.