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So you decided to name your business

Monday, October 10, 2011 - 12:00

You are starting up a small business and it needs a name. Exciting! Given your budget you’ve decided to take on the responsibility yourself. You named your kids after all and Brandon and Brenda turned out okay so why should your business be any different?

Before you launch Brendco, I would like to humbly ask you to read this blog post.

Your business’s name is one of the key ingredients that make up your brand. If a professional naming exploration is out of the question, we at least need to get you up to speed on some basic considerations. In my experience, it is not that DIY namers aren’t being thoughtful, it’s just that they’re thinking about the wrong things.

Don’t try to be memorable.

Being memorable is a symptom of a good name, not a characteristic. Forget about mnemonic considerations (these are the jokes folks) until you’ve nailed down everything else.

Don’t be overly literal.

Amazon does not sell safari equipment. Crate and Barrel sells neither crates nor barrels. Apple is not an orchard. It is possible that a few folks show up at the Apple store looking to pick a peck. However, I feel it is better to have a few false positives with a unique name then to get lost among the generics. Imagine if they were named Cupertino Computers?

Metaphors are good.

On that note, I do think metaphors are positive because they add an extra layer of meaning. Apple of course is an allusion to the one the fell on Isaac Newton’s head. It speaks to the “flash of genius” innovation the company tries to project. Also keep in mind you can combine your metaphor with a statement of identity, such as Apple Computers.

Don’t worry about the alphabet.

While Apple begins with an “A” I would emphatically suggest you shouldn’t make alphabetical order the driving force behind your name. The only place that alphabetical order seems to prevail is the Yellow Pages. They are yellow for a reason… they are old and no one uses them. Most people use search engines to find businesses, and Google’s algorithm is based on relevance, not the alphabet.  Plus, AAApple Computers just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Different is defensible.

Choosing a name that is unique or unexpected makes your brand more proprietary and legally defensible. If you rely on a dry statement of identity like Cupertino Computer for your name you will have a hard time preventing the creation of Cupertino Computer City down the block. However, you can expect to be gang tackled by lawyers if you come within a fruit stand of a proprietary name like Apple Computers.

Short is good.

I feel that overly long names indicate a failure of imagination, or perhaps a great law firm.  In any case, your name should not read like a brochure, or people will just rename you.  Federal Express became FedEx this way. Pricewaterhouse Coopers is similarly dubbed PwC.

Don’t be too clever.

Wit is the salt of conversation, not the food. Doing something clever can be a great way to make an impression. Just remember the joke is on you if the name is self indulgent, lacks in meaning, or feels forced.

Invention is the mother of gibberish.

Don’t be afraid to invent words. This is particularly useful when attempting to define a new category. Jeep, Xerox and Q-tip are classic examples of names with no preexisting meaning that have become synonymous with their product type — something that is very powerful. What is a Twitter?

At least hit the right tone.

The last and most important pointer I would give is to hit the right tone with your name. This one supersedes the others because no amount of anything else can overcome a moniker that is viscerally wrong or inappropriate for your brand.

Your business’s name is not just a reflection of what you like, but of what your audience likes. Keep in mind there is a marketplace you need to stand out in. Do lots of research and be sure to contact a trademark attorney before you invest in graphics.

It’s important to remember that your baby is the business, not the name. That means not falling in love with your first born idea, but digging deep to find the best possible solution.

John Gavula
Contributed By John Gavula

John is the creative director of Gavula Design. He has provided design and illustrator services for many of New York and the region's biggest brand consultancies. Leveraging this experience, and his multidisciplinary background he now works closely with Gavula Design’s clients as a trusted branding partner and steward.