How to Come Up With a Brand Name: The Ultimate Guide
What do you think of when you hear the name Häagen-Dazs? What thoughts or emotions does it evoke? Does this Dutch-sounding family name with two dots above the ‘a’ (called a diaeresis) convey that these pints of ice-cream were finely crafted in a quaint European village?
If so, that’s exactly what Reuben Mattus, a Polish immigrant to the United States, wanted you to think when he came up with his brand in 1961. I hate to burst your bubble, but not only does Häagen-Dazs mean absolutely nothing whatsoever, but the brand actually originated in New York City.
Mattus knew that there was a market for artisan, high-quality ice cream—and used this to his advantage. By giving his business a European-sounding name, he anticipated Americans would associate Häagen-Dazs with a superior product, which would ultimately stand out in supermarket freezers. This is a perfect example of smart, well-thought-out branding.
While your dream may not be to start a line of ice cream, you’ll need to come up with a similarly creative name if you are in the process of starting a business of your own. In this article, we’ll go over what makes a brand name so memorable - and how you can create a powerful brand name yourself. As you read, you can also take a look at this brand name generator for guidance and inspiration.
What makes a memorable brand name?
Choosing a brand name is always a challenge, but you know how crucial this is. Your label will dictate your customers’ first impression and set you apart from the competition.
While the formula for coming up with a brand name is not an exact science, there are certain characteristics you’ll want to include—a random word or phrase just won’t do. Your brand name should be:
Evocative: It should elicit a positive emotional response and invite potential customers to learn more about your product or service.
Catchy: It should roll off the tongue and can include, for example, an alliteration or a play-on-words to aid its appeal.
Simple to spell and pronounce: The last thing you want is for people to struggle when reading or writing your brand name. Simplicity is key.
Recognizable: Whether it’s through musicality or a metaphor, a good brand name should stand out amongst the crowd.
How to craft your brand name in 7 simple steps
Follow these steps to come up with a brand name that’s sure to turn heads and invite consumers to learn more:
01. Determine your brand’s values
“Your brand should be a relationship, not a one-night stand,” says leadership expert Simon Sinek. At the end of the day, people choose specific companies not only because of the product they sell, but because of the long-term emotional connection they have to them. But just like any romance, you’ll only be attractive to others as long as you’re confident about who you are. So ask yourself: what’s your brand identity? What do you stand for? What are your values? These are the essential questions you must ask as you are creating a brand.
I recommend starting simply: put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and narrow down a list of 10-15 words or phrases that describe your business. These words should convey your brand’s overall essence. Think about what values and ideals will remain constant no matter how much your business evolves.
Examples of words that come to mind may include:
02. Get to know your target market
While you can afford to use cool, foreign words for a younger audience (Uber), it’ll probably be safer to stick to more established terminology for an older niche (Liberty Mutual). Always make sure your brand name speaks the same language as your potential customers. To do that, you need to know your market.
At this stage, it’s helpful to conduct what’s called an application scenario. This is a process in which you write out a hypothetical “day in the life” of your target consumer. It should include the challenge they face and how it’s solved after purchasing your product.
Questions to consider include:
How do they spend their time?
Are they young? Older?
Do they work full time?
What might their hobbies include?
Do they have kids?
An application scenario will create a picture of your target customer. From there, you can speak with people in your identified market to determine the type of language to use. You can do this by holding focus groups or by conducting surveys. Ask participants what drives them to purchase certain brands and what words or phrases appeal to them the most. You can also explore other companies targeting the same niche and do some research into their branding.
03. Brainstorm potential brand names
This is your chance to get creative and throw all your ideas on the table. Allow yourself to come up with several brand name options which you can weed out later in the process. Here are ten types of brand names to consider:
1. The made-up name (Sony)
Brand names in this category are invented words, but were contrived because the sound of them conveyed the right emotion or value. There may also be a hidden meaning behind part or all of the name. Sony, an international electronics label, is a mash-up of the Latin word sonus, meaning “sound” or “sonic”, and the English sonny, a nickname for a child. Put together, these terms embody the ideas of youth, music, and creativity—characteristics which remain fitting for the brand no matter how much it evolves.
To come up with a made-up name, take the list of words you created to clarify your brand values and let your creative juices flow. Play around with different variations and sounds, combine several syllables from different words, and see what you come up with. This is clearly a trial and error process, but after some time and discussion with colleagues or friends, you may find yourself a solid winner.
2. The result-oriented name (IMPACT)
In generic or specific terms, these names evoke what your business will do for your clients. For example, IMPACT, the tag of a digital marketing firm that helps companies manage partnerships, carries a strong connotation along with it. Without telling you what they sell, the name grabs your attention off the bat.
To come up with a result-oriented brand name, consider what feeling you want to resonate with your consumers. You can also think of adverbs that describe what you’re selling or how you will provide this to consumers (quickly, strategically, creatively, etc.). Can you incorporate any of these words into your title?
3. The metaphorical name (Nike)
There’s a reason Nike picked this brand name. In ancient Greek mythology, Nike was the goddess of victory—an attribute that perfectly suits the ethos of a sports equipment manufacturer. This is what metaphors are all about: comparing your brand to something else whose attributes or qualities you also claim to have.
To go this route, think of the most prominent quality you want to be associated with. Then, try to identify one animal, one plant, one natural landscape, one famous character, and one location that embody this attribute. If one of your options evokes the right emotion, you may have a good candidate.
4. The transparent name (5-Hour Energy)
Transparent brand names tell the consumer upfront what the business does or sells. By eliminating the guesswork, your customers can more rapidly imagine themselves using your product or service. You can also incorporate an adjective or play-on-words to strengthen your tag. One example is 5-Hour-Energy. You have probably seen these small, colorful bottles at the checkout counter of your local pharmacy. They picture the silhouette of a person running on a mountainous landscape with the name printed in large, black letters. Without even picking up the product, you know immediately that it’s an energy drink.
Transparent brand names can virtually work for any type of products or services. If you want to go this route, consider what you sell and if you like the sound of it in your title. You need to be able to label your product in three words or less, as most brand names don’t usually exceed that word count. You can also try merging it with metaphorical elements for some creative flair.
5. The two-in-one name (Instagram)
These brand names mash up two words that describe your brand and combine them into a single, catchy tag. Two-in-one names are effective at peaking consumer interest and conveying an idea of what the product or service actually is. The social networking app Instagram is a combination of the words instant camera and telegram. Founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger wanted the name to convey ease and spontaneity as well as appeal to a younger, tech-savvy market.
Want to give this type of brand name a try? Take a look at your list of values, on the one hand, and at the words describing your primary product or service, on the other hand. Try merging some of these terms into a single tag that embodies your brand.
6. The founder’s name (Ben & Jerry’s)
This is probably the oldest trick in the book. Giving your business your first name, family name or nickname personalizes your brand and creates a sense of trust. A great example is Ben & Jerry’s. By using the founders’ everyday, first names (Ben instead of Benjamin), the iconic brand conveys a relaxed, laid-back vibe—which is carried throughout their branding, from the colorful packaging to the witty ice cream flavor names.
If you choose to go this route, remember that a first name will always be more casual while a last name will sound more formal. If you’re not particularly proud of your own name, you can consider borrowing the one of a friend, family member, or even your pet.
7. The foreign language name (Panera)
A business owner may choose to incorporate a word from a different language for many reasons. It could be because of their own personal history or simply because they just like the sound of it. In any case, it should be relevant to the specific industry. Take a look at the popular fast casual restaurant Panera. The name means “bread basket” in Spanish, which is aligned with their products. Interestingly enough, Panera is the parent company of Au Bon Pain (“the place with the good bread” in French), another American bakery chain. The founders picked these names because they sound good, but also because European countries (and France in particular) are perceived to be the birthplaces of classic baking techniques.
If this type of name interests you, consider the words on your values list or even the product you are selling. Use Google Translate and other dictionaries to look up translations in other languages. Before you settle on one foreign term, check with a native speaker that the word you like doesn’t convey unexpected meanings. The world map's the limit.
8. The abbreviated name (IKEA)
Have a lot of things to say? Consider using an abbreviation for your brand name. It will enable you to incorporate a phrase or multiple words that don’t tie together naturally. For example, while you may think IKEA is a Swedish word meaning, “put-it-together-yourself-and-feel-like-you-ran-a-marathon-afterwards,” the furniture giant’s name is actually an acronym. The I and K derive from the founder’s name, Ingvar Kampra, and the E and A come from the name of the farm he grew up on, Elmtaryd, followed by the name of the village it was in, Agunnaryd. While nothing in the term IKEA has anything to do with what the store sells, it has become a worldwide household name associated with furniture.
To come up with an abbreviated brand name, take the first letter of each word you want to incorporate and jot them down. Try putting them together in various orders. Anything sound good?
9. The name that conveys leadership (Best Buy)
These names are designed to give the brand a sense of leadership in their industry.
A great example is the electronics company, Best Buy. They want consumers to know that they are the best store out there for computers, appliances and technology devices. The use of alliteration also adds a catchy element to the name, building on its appeal.
To employ this technique, consider how your product or service stands out in your field. Can you convey this in your brand name? A list of words you can tap into include:
10. The name with no hidden meaning (Apple)
These brand names do not have any particular connection to the product or the service, but were chosen for their attention-grabbing ring. How did Steve Jobs come up with the name Apple for his technology empire? After returning from an apple farm one day, he thought the name would make the brand sound “fun, spirited, and not intimidating.” He wasn’t wrong!
Using a name like this can be a good corporate branding strategy to make your business stand out among competitors with transparent tags. It lets consumers know that you are doing business differently than others in your industry.
04. Conduct a linguistic screening
Your brand name should be easy to write and pronounce—not only in English, but in the language of every country you plan to target. You’ll also need to make sure it doesn’t have an unfortunate meaning or connotation. You can do this by checking a dictionary, doing an in-depth Google search, or by hiring a linguistic brand screening company.
Here’s an example that’s close to home. Wix’s professional web development platform was previously called Corvid, after a family of very intelligent birds. The name worked for us until the beginning of 2020, when Covid-19 became a global pandemic. We didn’t want any negative association with our brand name, so we needed to act fast to remedy the issue.
That’s when Velo was born, after the word velocity. We took the opportunity to add some exciting new features, and even gave it a catchy tagline: “Smarter, faster, and definitely not a pandemic.” Of course, we couldn’t have predicted this scenario, and most chances are you won’t ever find yourself in this situation. But when choosing your brand name, it’s crucial to consider all the possible issues that may arise.
05. Make sure your brand name is available
There are millions of companies out there, and most chances are: someone already thought of the name you found for your own brand. Does it mean it should stop you from using it? Not necessarily. Here are a few things you want to check before you settle:
Do a domain name search: A strong online presence is vital for your business. That’s why you’ll need to design a website that’s as unique as your brand. And because your domain name should include your name, you’ll need to make sure it’s available.
Do a Google search: Check that your potential name isn’t identical to something else out there in the same country and industry.
Check for social media availability: Make sure Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts with your brand name don’t already exist.
Check the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (USTPO): If you’re planning to register your business in the U.S., you’ll want to verify that your title isn’t already taken. If your brand name is similar to another that already exists, this may open you up to legal complications. If you’re not sure, consult with a lawyer just in case.
Planning to go global? Check with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), if your brand name is trademarked outside the U.S.
06. Test your brand name
You’ve narrowed down your list of potential brand names. Now is the time to test them out for feedback. You would be surprised at the reactions and associations people may make, so don’t neglect this crucial step. This will help determine if you have a solid fit in your selection or if you need to go back to the drawing board.
A great tool to introduce people to your possible brand names is a slide deck. Invite a group of people to a presentation (either in person or on Zoom) and introduce them to your future brand. Explain what your product or service is and the market you plan to target. Next, introduce each potential brand name separately. A word of advice is not to include various logo options, as this may distract your audience and give you skewed results. Choose one image or logo, and stick with that.
How will you pick your audience?
Consider presenting to trusted members in your field for professional feedback and friends or family members for a consumer-based perspective. You can also use surveys to test your brand name on your target market.
07. Incorporate your brand name everywhere
Creating a brand is more than just coming up with a name. It includes all aspects of your business, including your website branding, logo, colors, store layout, tagline, and marketing. Ensuring that these elements work together consistently is the key to a good brand strategy. It relays reliability and trust to consumers, and distinguishes you among the competition.
The store Target is a perfect case study. The logo is a red bullseye and the brand colors are red and white, the classic hues of a target. Even the slogan, “Expect more. Pay less,” represents something large becoming smaller—again, like an actual target. Since a target is about preciseness, consumers feel this store will have exactly what they’re looking for.
And that's a feeling everybody loves.
Small Business Expert and Marketing Blogger