What’s in a name? Deciding on a name for your company

By Alex J | Friday, 18 November 2016

When you introduce yourself to another person, naturally the first thing you say is your name, which can say so much about you. Similarly, a company's name says a lot about their brand.

Here's an example: Nike founder, Phil Knight, initially wanted to call the company Dimension Six. It was only at the eleventh hour when one of the company's first employees suggested Nike (after the Greek goddess of victory).

Although Knight wasn't such a fan in the beginning, the name served the company well later on. After all, some of the most celebrated figures in sports did endorse the brand at some point. Some would even argue that landing a Nike deal signifies a career landmark.

So what can you learn from this example? There are a few takeaways, namely:

Keep it short and memorable

While there is nothing wrong with trying to stand out by coming up with an original name, it could prove damaging – especially when it is hard to spell and pronounce. You can follow the example of BestBuy, Apple, Facebook, and Home Depot and simply use existing words.

Using the right words for your brand name is one way of establishing your brand. You can make them look more catchy by changing the spelling a bit. Founders of Sony came up with the name because it is derived from the Latin word “sonus”, which means sound.

If you do insist on coming up with your own brand name, just make sure it rolls off the tongue easily.

Choose a name that reflects your company

The beauty of picking the right brand name is customers immediately get a sense of what your company is about. But don't pick a name that is too specific. You might risk putting yourself in a box. Try and come up with a brand name that would still resonate even as the company evolves.

Take Netflix, as an example. As soon as you hear the brand, you'd immediately associate it with online streaming of television shows and films. But aside from streaming, the company also revolutionised the way viewers enjoy their favourite series and movies by allowing them to binge-watch.

As a result, the company decided to release entire seasons of their own shows instead of just airing one episode a week. This method has not only revolutionised film and TV consumption but also the production of shows.

Test the name with consumers

Before you go public with the name, it helps to test it with potential customers first. The goal is to test how receptive your target audience would be and if the name would generate a positive reaction. Assemble a focus group and test out the shortlist of potential names on them.

Even more established companies still grapple with their brand name. So if you find yourself unsure about the name you picked, there are plenty of other opportunities to change it even though your business is already up and running.

Accenture, for example, decided to change their name from Andersen Consulting when the name Andersen was tied to accounting scandals. Google was also previously called Backrub but switched to their current name simply because it sounded a lot like the mathematical term googol.

Once you have decided on a name, make sure it checks out. Enquire with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) if it has not been trademarked or copyrighted. Doing this would hopefully avoid conflict of intellectual property. You should also check domain registries to check no other brand used the name for their website.

If you're lucky, then you can also use it for your website, which can potentially boost traffic. Ultimately, the right name not only solidifies your brand's identity, but could also set the course of the company.