Marketing Consultant & Fractional CMO

Top 10 Tips for Corporate Naming

by | Apr 16, 2005 | Marketing

Having recently been consulted for a corporate naming project, I thought I’d post my personal guidelines on how to dodge the most common naming landmines.

Over the years, I’ve put together a mental checklist that I’ve used when working on naming projects, and this seemed like a good time to put the list down in writing and get some feedback on it.

1. Determine how important the name really is

Having a clever name isn’t always important. Many companies thrive in industries that are based on government contracts, bidding wars, business friendships, etc., and their name is often just a unique identifier to be placed on legal paperwork.

For most companies, however, their name can be an integral part of their marketing process. A clever, memorable name can make a potential client think about the company for a few extra moments, which may be all you need to get the edge on your competitors.

2. Stand out!

The most common mistake made when naming a new business endeavor is to make it sound like the other companies in that industry. This is based on anxiety about whether the new business will be taken seriously. In reality, it’s critical that you stand apart from your competition, and that you look to your competitors as examples of what to avoid.

Your company name should feel like asking someone on a date. You should worry about it. You should be nervous. You should be afraid it might be taken the wrong way. You should be afraid of rejection. Indeed, sometimes you will be turned down—but when the answer is “yes,” you’ll be glad you were bold enough to ask.

3. Avoid Generic Surnames

Unless you’ve got a truly fascinating and memorable family name, or you’re building the company around your own personal brand, it’s usually best to leave it out of the mix.

Examples of what to avoid: Hewlett-Packard, Johnson & Johnson, Archer-Daniels-Midland, Haliburton, Morgan Stanley, Lockheed Martin

4. Avoid Descriptive Names

Traditional naming wisdom long held that your company name should describe what you do, so that people would quickly understand your business. While good advice at the time, this principle now hurts more than it helps.

These days, there’s plenty of context to help customers figure out what you do. You don’t need to name your new software firm, say, “Texas Software Group,” because people will be finding you by searching Google for “software companies in texas,” or by looking you up in the local phone book under the appropriate heading. They’ll often know what you do before you ever talk to them.

Instead of trying to overburden the name by making it do everything at once, take advantage of other ways to explain your business (your business card, your website, your elevator speech, etc.), and liberate the company name to be used to engage and fascinate potential customers.

Examples of what to avoid: American Airlines, United Health, United Parcel Service, United Technologies, International Paper, Northwestern Mutual, Computer Sicence, Public Service Enterprise, General Mills, International Business Machines, Bank of America, Waste Management, Progress Energy, Continental Airlines, United Auto Group, Fidelity National, Automatic Data Processing, Southwest Airlines, United Health Services, Interstate Bakeries, Advanced Micro Devices, American Financial Group

5. Avoid Acronyms

We all know there are too many acronyms in the world already. Don’t contribute to the alphabet soup by coming up with your own.

Examples of what to avoid: BASF, IBM, GE, BMW, AT&T, TIAA-CREF, AFLAC, SBC, CVS, ABC, CNN, MBNA, MGM

6. Avoid Faux Latin

Latin-like names sound great, and they’re easy to trademark because you can make one up that nobody has used before.

Unfortunately, these great qualities have resulted in an overabundance of such names over the past few years. Whenever in doubt, companies lean toward Faux Latin to save the day.

Examples of what to avoid: Abertis, Calibrus, Novartis, Vocera, Nutiva, Pentium, Accordis, Atomica, Altria, Valero, Nantero, Aventis, Axius, Innovene, Veriton

7. Especially Avoid Faux Latin Names Ending in -NT

This subset of Faux Latin is, without question, the biggest joke in corporate naming.

Examples of what to avoid: Agilent, Lucent, Acquient, Alliant, Aquent, Reliant, Thrivent, Aucent, Covisint, Guidant, Consilient, Levilant, Naviant, Conexant, Candescent, Telegent

8. Avoid Spaceless Names

It was clever the first half-dozen times it was done. After that, it simply became trite.

Examples of what to avoid: RetroBox, SimpleFire, MessageOne, BlueArc, BeSonic, TeamWorks, ChevronTexaco, MetLife, BellSouth, AutoNation, FleetBoston, PacifiCare, FedEx, InterActive, AutoZone, WellChoice, RadioShack, LandAmerica, HighBeam, JetBlue, BlackBerry, FatSplash

9. Avoid “Tech Power Synergy” Names

This type of name was saturated even before the dot-com area, so your chances of using it effectively are almost non-existent now.

Examples of what to avoid: Certegy, Spherion, Viacom, Sysco, Intel, Avnet, Centex, Omnicom, Dynegy, Cinergy, Qualcomm, Omnicare, Biotechonomy, Initech, as well as e-anything, i-anything, or anything.com.

10. Find Great Examples to Emulate

Search out examples of great, evocative, powerful, memorable, witty names, and keep a list of them handy. They’ll give you avenues for finding new names, and a familiarity that will help you spot the right name when you see it.

My own partial list of names I admire: Ludicorp, Skype, Vigilante, Old Navy, Broad Daylight, Cruel World, Breadbox, Front Porch, Ithaka, Alfalfa, Left Field, Bandwagon, Chuckwalla, Clutch, Iroko, Ironweed, Jamcracker, Jamoka, Makoro, Steelhead, Talisman, Zatso, Subway, Snapple, Oreo, Opera, Firefox, Virgin, Wendy’s, Jack in the Box, Caterpillar, Banana Republic, Restoration Hardware, Stingray, Safeway, The Gap, Staples, Chubb, Sprint, Anthem, Fifth Third, Apple, Amazon, Ikon, Starbucks, Quiznos, Jetboil, Rhino, Rivet, Method, Smartwater, Octopus, Heartstring, Antidote, Igor, Gulliver, Moreover

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