What’s in a name? If you’re a brand, well — everything. Brand names are more than mere words; they’re powerful tools imbued with meaning. In addition to communicating a brand’s promise and symbolic identity to consumers, they also carry larger semantic associations.

Here are six tips for choosing an effective, memorable brand name that will resonate with customers:

1. Create a naming brief

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A naming brief is a critical document that determines your company’s desired brand identity and positioning, which in turn informs your strategic objective. Branding agencies and corporate identity firms use these as parameters when creating names for companies.

Bernd Schmitt, Faculty Director of the Center on Global Brand Leadership at Columbia Business School, says briefs should answer essential questions, such as:

What brand personality, brand image, and associations do you want?
What kind of emotion do you want to evoke?
What’s your target segment?
Do you want a mass-market name or a more sophisticated niche-market name?

2. Keep it simple

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Your brand name should be short, easy to pronounce, and easy to remember. Avoid acronyms, as customers won’t know what they mean without an explanation.

3. Choose a name that relates to your product or category

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Twitter — meaning “a short inconsequential burst of information, chirps from birds” — is a good example of this strategy. The names of some sports brands are also rooted in athletic ideas like agility and triumph (Reebok is a variation on rhebok, a type of African gazelle; Nike is named after the goddess of victory).

4. Or try an unrelated name — if it evokes the right story

In an era when computer companies had staid, sensible names like IBM, DEC, and Cincom, Apple stood out. Steve Jobs, who was on a fruitarian diet at the time, came up with the name after returning from an apple orchard. Jobs said it sounded “fun, spirited, and not intimidating.”

Indeed, some of the most successful brand names have nothing to do with their product category, but rather, reflect aspirational objectives on a grand scale. Think: Uber, Amazon, and Google. All three names now define a product or service.

“With digital businesses, there’s a trend toward being cool, funny, funky, and casual,” says Schmitt. “They often have very little to do with a product category — they’re just all about creativity, casualness, and fun. Names like ‘Apple’ and ‘Google’ are more playful names and often more memorable.”

5. Ask your employees

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Involving employees in the name creation process is becoming increasingly common. Consulting firm Accenture (a portmanteau of “accent” and “future”), formerly known as Andersen Consulting, was renamed from an employee suggestion during an internal naming competition.

“You need to get your employees excited about the name and logo,” Schmitt says. “They need to be able to explain what it means and why the company chose it, so it’s very important to get that internal buy-in.”
6. Test, test, and test again

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In addition to consumer testing, legal tests should be conducted: Is the name legally available? Can you protect and trademark it easily? Names should be tested internationally, as well. “Brands are not just local anymore,” says Schmitt. “They have to work on a global scale in all sorts of languages.”

Cultural nuances, perceptions, and colloquialisms must all be considered when globalizing a brand, since meanings can easily become lost in translation. Case in point: KFC’s slogan, “Finger licking good” was once translated to “We’ll eat your fingers off” in China. And when Puff marketed its tissues in Germany, it faced the discovery that “puff” was slang for a brothel!

A strong brand name is the first step for effective positioning and success. Beyond that, says Schmitt, “The ultimate job of a brand is not just to be memorable. It’s to create an image, a feeling, and an experience.” When you find the right moniker to convey all of that successfully, you’ll be one step closer to becoming a household name.

Top image: Text concept macro by MichaelJayBerlin

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