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The Change of Plans Issue September 2021

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How to name a company or product: Tips for choosing a name that resonates

How to name a company

Practical advice for the process of naming a company or product, plus actionable insights from founders who’ve gone through it.

    Coming up with a unique name that accurately reflects your company or product is no simple task. And it’s not just thinking of a standout name that everyone can agree on that’s difficult — figuring out how to structure the naming process itself can feel like an uphill battle.

    To help with the process, we’ve created this guide — useful for early-stage founders, companies looking to rebrand, and established companies launching a new product — to provide practical advice for successfully naming a company or product. We’ve also included actionable, firsthand insight from founders who’ve gone through the naming process — some more than once — and a selection of helpful tools for you to bookmark.


    An effective framework for naming a company or product

    Formulating and then committing to a name isn’t usually done in a single sitting. No matter if it’s your first time or tenth time naming a company or product, it’ll likely be an involved, multi-stage process. (It took crowdspring, a digital marketplace for crowdsourced creative services, which includes naming services, around 50 hours to decide on their name.)

    So, to help you shave a little time off the process but still ensure you’re going about it in a careful, considered manner, here’s an actionable framework.


    1. Kick off with level-setting exercises

    Getting all members of a team on the same page is an important foundational step of the naming process. To unify the team and level-set effectively, you’ll want to:

    Define the naming team and their roles. The naming process requires a team of folks. To avoid the messiness that can come with larger teams, limit the number of people involved: Invite key stakeholders and decision-makers who will bring diverse perspectives to the process. Then, with each individual’s experience and availability in mind, choose who’ll be responsible for making the final decision on the company or product name.

    Undergo a “Brand Sprint.” Inaugurated by Google Ventures, the three-hour Brand Sprint is an opportunity to unite the naming team. During the sprint, the team completes six exercises to reacquaint themselves with where the company is currently and where it needs to be going forward. By the end of it, the team will be well-aligned and have useful, referable exercise material that’ll serve them well during the next steps.

    For an in-depth explanation, read Jake Knapp’s article.

    As an alternative to a Brand Sprint, host a kick-off presentation. For some (especially tight-knit) teams, a Brand Sprint, although certainly effective, could verge on excessive — name-wise, your team may already be aware of the general direction your company or product needs to be headed. If so, facilitating a kick-off presentation instead — a simple 30 to 60-minute meeting where the aims, objectives, and project timeline are presented to your naming team — is an alternative way to start the naming process. 


    2. Define your naming objectives

    A Hundred Monkeys, a high-profile branding and naming agency, uses three “universal naming objectives” as benchmarks to assess potential names for their clients. These objectives are “memorable,” “engaging,” and “easy to find.” They also develop custom objectives for each client — after all, one company may prefer a playful name for its product, while another may favor a more serious name.

    What should your company or product name evoke? What shouldn’t it? Take a leaf out of A Hundred Monkeys’ playbook and define your naming objectives by following these steps:

    1. Schedule a meeting with the naming team.

    2. Ask participants to dedicate 10-15 minutes ahead of the meeting to write down three to five naming objectives they’d like to propose. (The objectives can be written as one-word adjectives like “energetic” or “trustworthy” or as fuller sentences — e.g. “The name must elicit a strong sense of playfulness.”) 

    3. Get together and allow space for all participants to bring their ideas forward.

    4. Decide which objectives should be used as the naming criteria (aim for around five in total).

    Extra tip: When it comes to product naming objectives, one objective should be dedicated to consistency. This will ensure the product names put forward won’t be glaringly out of step with the rest of your company’s branding.

    To learn how A Hundred Monkeys chose their objectives, read this post.


    3. Ideate (with naming objectives in mind)

    Ideation is often the most intimidating stage of the naming process: It requires creativity and the ability to tap into the more fluid, free-flowing parts of the mind.

    However, with the help of ideation techniques, navigating this stage can be less daunting. Try a few of the following techniques to bring ideas to the fore:

    • Worst idea possible: Put forward ideas that simply won’t work, so participants can reach better ideas faster (and alleviate any anxiety around suggesting ideas). 

    • 6-3-5 brainwriting: A remote- and introvert-friendly way of brainstorming, this is where a handful of people (usually six) write down three ideas within five minutes. Once time is up, the notes are passed along, and three more ideas based on the previous person’s ideas are written down. This happens a total of six times.

    • Brain dump: Set up an Excel sheet, Google Doc, Notion page — whatever tool is easily accessible and shareable — so people can directly input their ideas whenever inspiration strikes. After the initial idea dump, set aside time for your team to comb through the list and mark strong contenders with an asterisk, indicating which ones are strong enough to build upon and keep in the running.

    Ideation techniques are especially beneficial where product naming is concerned: They further free you from the shackles of considering purely descriptive names. Instead, you may conjure up more evocative, exciting, and engaging ideas, rather than generic, what-you-read-is-what-you get names (unless that’s in line with your naming objectives, of course).

    For more ideation techniques, browse Miro’s 20 brainstorming techniques.


    4. Pressure test potential names

    Equipped with an exhaustive list (or a shortlist if you’ve been ruthless!) of possible names, pressure testing the options allows you to see which names work and which don’t hit the mark.

    To pressure test, assign a selection of names to folks on your naming team, and ask them to:

    1. Spend a few minutes contemplating other variations of names and write them down.

    2. Consider what kind of imagery the names invoke: How could the logo appear? What typeface could be used? What colors might the name or logo include?

    3. Gut-check the names by asking the following: Is it eye-catching? Is it memorable? How does it feel as part of a sentence? Does it translate appropriately in other languages and countries?

    4. For product names, contemplate if the potential product names truly mesh well with your brand name — and with other branded and sub-branded products your company may have released.

    5. Double-check whether the name is taken, trademarked (via the U.S. trademark database), or closely associated with another company or product.

    6. Pressure test with a wider audience through a service like UsabilityHub, which provides small-scale focus groups to test, rate, and deliver feedback on potential names and branding.

    With the notes from pressure testing, you’ll have everything you need to whittle the list down to the last contenders.

    The final and potentially hardest part is deciding on a name — and who, exactly, should make the final call. Whether you vote democratically or if it’s up to the CEO to choose, gauging which names people are veering toward internally is definitely helpful. For this step, StrawPoll comes in handy.


    Naming (and renaming): Insight from experienced founders

    Though parts of the framework above may prove helpful as you and your team start the process of naming your company or product, it’s not prescriptive. There’s no one true way of going about the naming process. But no matter your intended approach, there are some common pitfalls to avoid and lessons to be learned from others who have gone through the process.

    To learn more, In the Works spoke to the founders of Shape History and Oku. Below, they discuss what worked well for them during the naming process — and what didn’t — and offer suggestions to budding and seasoned founders alike.


    Shape History

    Shape History, a communications agency that assists social impact leaders with amplifying their causes, was founded by London-based entrepreneur Mike Buonaiuto. Mike is also one of the co-founders of the UK equal marriage movement, which won its battle for legalized gay marriage in 2014.

    It was Mike’s experiences as a campaigner that solidified the idea that everyone can be a changemaker.

    “Anyone can shape history if they apply themselves and work together with like-minded others," he told us. In founding an agency that directly helps folks to alter the course of history, Mike knew he needed to land on an emblematic, exciting name.

    What helped Mike during the naming process was having a clear idea of the agency’s purpose —  a starting point he recommends for others entering the naming process.

    “I would encourage other company owners to drill down to what the core of their organization stands for, and try to discover why their organization really exists,” he said. The same probing is just as important when it comes to naming a product: Why was the product created in the first place? How does it benefit its target customer base — or even society at large?

    Once a deeper understanding of your company or product has been achieved, you should then begin searching for names that align well: “Flip open a thesaurus and start working with words,” Mike advised. “The name has to be memorable, visual, have meaning, and be something you can easily slip into conversation.”

    Equipped with a clear purpose and vision for Shape History as an agency, the naming process was all the more painless for Mike. He came up with the name Shape History very early on, and it resonated deeply from the start. He bypassed pressure testing entirely, opting to follow his gut instinct and run with the name instead. 


    Oku (previously Readng)

    The small, remote team behind Oku, a reading companion app that helps people achieve their reading goals, had issues with their previous name. “I purchased the domain name for Readng five years ago, at a time when it was acceptable to have a name with missing letters. Initially, I really liked the name, but after sending the closed beta to friends, I changed my mind,” said Aziz Firat, the Oslo-based co-founder.

    Co-founder Joe Alcorn corroborated: “It wasn’t until we heard from friends and beta testers that it was difficult to pronounce, spell, and google (‘Did you mean reading?’) that we started to talk about changing it.”

    That change finally came in 2021, when the team decided to find a name that both they and their user base would be happier with. “We started a Slack channel and began throwing stuff at the wall. We tried some domain generator tools with limited success, and then put it on the back burner for a few months,” Joe said.

    Finding a new name they liked was a trial, but Aziz’s wife, Burcu, had the idea to try words from languages other than English. Aziz and Burcu are both Turkish, and in Turkish the word “oku” means “read.” Burcu mocked up a logo sketch with the new name, and the combination of the word’s meaning and the way it appeared in branding materials felt right — the new name was no longer hard to say or type, it had meaning, and the entire team liked it.

    But how did their user base react to “Oku”? Aziz described the reaction as “overwhelmingly positive — even those who really liked the name 'Readng' loved it.” Before the announcement, the Oku team also shared the updated name with those in their close circle — and they approved. “This made us feel less worried, since it's always hard to change a name.”

    Given the Oku team’s experience with naming and renaming, they have a few pieces of wisdom to share with others. First, Aziz advocates for involving the folks around you and thinking collaboratively. “Someone may come up with an angle you wouldn't have considered,” he noted.

    Second, not clinching a .com domain isn’t the end of the world (they opted for .club, for instance). Finally, if you’ve found a name that feels right — that is, it resonates and accurately reflects your company or product — trust your instinct, or, as Aziz said, “Go for it!”


    Extra tools for streamlining the naming process

    With a naming framework and firsthand insight from other founders, you’re equipped with the tools you need to go about naming and renaming more intentionally.

    But before you bolt, let’s quickly cover some extra tools you’ll want to bookmark to streamline the naming process even further. 


    Zinzin’s naming guide and manifesto

    Zinzin is a Berkeley-based naming and branding agency. They also wrote The Art of Naming, an essential and easy-to-read naming guide. In its fifth edition, The Art of Naming is chock-full of useful chapters: It includes an in-depth overview of Zinzin’s client naming process, naming advice for new founders, and even a branding manifesto with 36 commands to get the creative juices flowing.


    Namelix’s AI-powdered name generator

    Leveraging an AI name generator can help with the creative heavy lifting. With Namelix, you get to define naming parameters (length, related keywords, and name styles, such as rhyming words or compound words). It then provides a lengthy list of potential names, all with visual branding suggestions.


    SurveyMonkey’s name testing survey template

    For a product to be adopted by your established user or consumer base, it will need market appeal. To discover whether your potential product names are engaging to others, there’s Survey Monkey’s premade name testing survey template. It can be emailed out to your email list as is, or you can adjust and edit the questions to suit your own needs.


    iwantmyname’s comprehensive domain search

    The site iwantmyname is a comprehensive domain search tool, combing through domains like .community, .fyi, .management, .software, and .solutions, among hundreds of others. Additionally, there’s the option to directly purchase available domains.


    What’s next? The beginning!

    As Zinzin astutely put it in The Art of Naming, “Everything begins with a name.” In terms of the next steps, focus your efforts on locking down a resounding identity for your company or product. Then, get ready for a whole new chapter to begin.

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    Written, recorded, and designed by doers & makers © 2021 In the Works