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Brand StrategyMarch 23, 2020

How to Come Up With a Brand Name: A Guide

March 23, 2020
Latana Logo Author Photo
Laura Harker
Freelance Writer & Editor

There are some brand names that just seem to stick with us.

Can you imagine a world in which our favorite soda or baked beans hadn’t been christened Coca-Cola or Heinz? Who knows what we’d be asking for at dinner time!

But why is a brand name so important? And how can you come up with a good brand name?

Think of it like this — everything needs a name. It’s the label that people will refer to things by and defines the very thing it's naming.

When you think of all the best brand names, you’ll start to realize just how important it is to try and come up with one that will grab your target audiences' attention.

Take the name “Hoover”, for example. This simple word has gone on to become a catch-all term for the common vacuum cleaner in the UK. Even if a household doesn’t have a Hoover-branded vacuum, they’ll probably still refer to their model as a Hoover.

Imagine if your new brand name went on to become the household standard for your product? Customers will be asking for you in the shops without even thinking about it, and you’ll blow your competitors right out of the water!

How to Come Up With a Brand Name

Chances are, you already know just how difficult it can be to come up with such a unique and catchy brand name.

You might have way too many ideas — meaning trying to pinpoint the best one for your brand could be like being made to choose between your own kids. And that’s when it’s just you trying to decide — imagine how chaotic it would be with a whole team of managers behind you shouting out their ideas!

Some companies spend weeks — even months — agonizing over a new brand name. They want to get it just right, as the name really could make or break for them. You can’t just go with the first name that comes to mind!

Ideally, naming your brand should be easy, but it very rarely is. Consequently, there are a few common problems that many companies face — you might have even encountered some of these yourself already.

  • Everyone on your team disagrees. With too many opinions, it can be very difficult to reach a final decision.

  • Everything you come up with is, well… let’s face it, not that great. Inspiration doesn’t always strike when you want it to and your list of possibilities might only be a couple of suggestions that (to put it bluntly) stink.

Do these sound anything like problems you’ve been facing?

Not to worry, you aren’t the first and you certainly won’t be the last company to go through these struggles.

So, take heart! These steps should help you push through and find your perfect brand name.

Create a naming team

This isn’t a decision that should be opened up to your entire staff, as there will be far too many conflicting ideas to shortlist.

Instead, spend some time deciding on a core team of stakeholders (3-4 people) who can succinctly debate the pros and cons of each possible name. Also, your brand manager is the best candidate to supervise this team.

Define your brand

What are the core values of your company? Who are you trying to attract with this new brand name? How do you want your name to reflect your business?

Once you’ve answered these important questions, you should find it easier to think of a word or phrase that really reflects your brand identity.

Shortlist, categorize, and evaluate

Now that you should have a list of possibilities, you need to choose some favorites to shortlist. You might find that sorting the possible choices into categories helps you with this.

Once you have a shortlist, evaluate each option and discuss its strengths and weaknesses.

Any names on the list that could be deemed offensive? Strike them from the list. Any options that are just too confusing to ever work? Don’t need those.

Remember to Think Globally, Not Just Locally

Now you have your finalized shortlist, it’s important to takea look at your potential brand names from a different perspective.

You need to ensure the name you think sounds original and catchy will also translate well. After all, you don’t want to limit yourself to a monolingual market.

And you certainly don’t want to unknowingly put your foot in your mouth by giving your wonderful new product a name that could offend speakers of another language or just give them a good laugh.

Your brand name needs to be able to cross borders just as easily as the product itself. Perhaps the name you’ve chosen means something less-than-polite in Mandarin. Or perhaps it’s the name of a controversial figure somewhere on the globe. Or maybe it just sounds really odd in the language spoken by one of your target markets.

You should focus most of your attention on the languages spoken in markets you’re currently operating in or plan to operate in. But it’s also worth making sure that it wouldn’t be controversial in any of the world’s major languages, just in case you become an international phenomenon.

Of course, you can never guarantee that your chosen brand name won’t have some negative connotations in any of the seven thousand plus languages spoken on our wonderfully varied planet. But, as long as you’re not offending millions or billions of consumers, you should be okay.

Some brands do, of course, change product names for different markets for just this reason. However, if you can, it’s best to keep your brand name consistent internationally.

Here are a few examples of international brand names gone wrong, and what we can learn from them:

1. Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz first entered the Chinese market as “Bensi”, which means “rush to die”.

The Lesson:

If you’re targeting a specific market, make sure you work with a native speaker.

2. Ford

Ford tried to launch the Pinto in Brazil, not realizing that it’s a slang term for rather small male genitals.

The Lesson:

Take slang into account when selecting a name, especially if you’re borrowing a word from another language.

3. Vicks

Vicks thought that their brand name would do just fine in Germany, but failed to take into account that Germans pronounce “v” as “f”, and “ficks” is a rather intimate term. The brand is now known as Wicks in Germany.

The Lesson:

Just because something isn’t spelled in a certain way doesn’t mean it won’t sound strange when it’s said out loud.

4. Colgate

Colgate launched a toothpaste called “Cue” in France without realizing that there’s a French pornographic magazine with the same name.

The Lesson:

It’s not just offensive words you want to avoid. Other products or companies with the same name could cause you problems too. If you find that you are still stuck with finding a name, try using a powerful brand name generator to act as a springboard for creativity.

You Got The Name… Now What?

So, you think you’ve come up with the perfect brand name? Not so fast! Once you have a contender that looks set to be crowned the winner, it’s worth letting your whole team know.

You don’t have to take any of their personal feedback onboard, but it is worth passing your idea by as many people as possible to make sure there are no negative connotations you might have missed.

What will your competitors think about your new brand name? You’ll no doubt want them to be green with envy over just how excellent it is. However, you certainly don’t want their ears to prick up thinking that it reminds them of something… like their own name!

Your brand name needs to be unique to ensure it doesn’t infringe on any of your competitors’ copyright. Not only could this put you in some hot (legal) water, but it might also end up confusing for your target market.

Final Thoughts

Although choosing a new brand name can be a frustrating, labor-intensive process, if you stick to the process outlined above, you should be able to choose a great name without too many hiccups.

Remember, this isn’t the place to cut corners — creating a fantastic, memorable brand name is part of the foundation of any successful company. Once you have a strong name in place, it will be a lot easier to build a reliable brand around it going forward.

That being said, a good name is just a small part of building a strong brand. Read why brand tracking should also matter.

Brand Strategy

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