What’s in a Name?

By Summer Teal Simpson Hitch

A company name is the first point of introduction, hence it should be strong, easy to remember, and, if possible, relevant.


But a name is not a brand experience, it is only a small part of that. What was Apple in 1980? It was a company named after a fruit. It was an otherwise meaningless word.

Re-naming is an emotionally challenging task for businesses, because it feels so uniquely tied to identity. But it is important to remember that it is just one piece of the puzzle. It is a word to which your brand experience, customer experience, and product/service experience will give meaning.

At Focus Lab, we love naming exercises and, generally, any opportunity for soup-to-nuts impact on a brand. We approach naming carefully, having first charted the brand strategy. It's nice to inform the name with some brand storytelling, but without trying to tell too much of the story in the name. Imagine if Nike had gone with the name Sporty Shoes. Instead, their storytelling centered around Ancient Greece and the story of the first marathon runner. Those are the kind of connections that are naming gold. Subtle, clever, interesting connections that don't limit a company like Nike as it grows beyond, say, shoes.

So, we start tailored, looking to strategy and storytelling for naming cues. Then we broaden our search with rounds of brainstorming, culling and vetting, and rebrainstorming. Once we've settled on a few directions, we filter them through some important creative guidelines.

  • Is it short and memorable?
  • Personal?
  • Pleasant and upbeat?
  • Easy to read and pronounce correctly?
  • Is it trendy or classic?

The real deal breaker, however, is registrability. From a legal perspective, there are four types of company names.

  • Coined, or totally made up: Lego.
  • Arbitrary, words that exist but have no meaning for the company: Pandora.
  • Suggestive, where there is a connection but mental thought is given to discern: Nike.
  • And then Descriptive, where it's blatantly obvious what the company does: The Weather Channel.

We prefer to stay somewhere in the realm of Suggestive to Arbitrary. They are the easier for an audience to consume than Coined names, and present less of a challenge for registrability than Descriptive names. Working with a legal partner can help determine viability and prevent unfortunate complications down the line.

URL availability is another biggie that can render even the best name dead in the water. Thankfully, gone are the days of companyname.com. We like to have fun with URLs and imbue some of the business personality.

Do you have hesitations or challenges with your company name? We're available to audit your existing name and provide recommendations on the path forward.