(Almost) Everything You Need To Know About Naming Your Company Or Product

So you’ve got something to name. Maybe it’s a new thing, maybe it’s an old thing that needs a new name, maybe it’s a new thing that is the result of two old things coming together. No matter the reason, we’ve got you covered. 

 


 

Below, we lay out the pros, cons, and costs associated with every way you could tackle this naming project - and provide additional resources and recommendations for whichever path you choose to take.

 


 

DIY: 

 

Pros:

  • Inexpensive (or at least, you’re paying with the sunk costs of current team members’ salaries).
  • It’s within your control.
  • It happens when you want it to happen - no need to send out an RFP or research your resource options.
  • You know your brand better than anyone else.
  • It can be fun!

Cons:

  • Naming is not going to be as easy as you think it will be. It seems straightforward, but there are a great many ways to go wrong - and you don’t know what you don’t know.
  • While most people think they can come up with names, that’s a bit like saying everyone can be an artist. Technically, it’s true - but it’s sure not going to be pretty. In this analogy, the “how to name your X” guidelines you can find on the internet are sort of like the naming equivalent of paint-by-numbers… the result may resemble art, but it’s not exactly unique, nor is it a masterpiece.
  • Lacking process, strategy, and experience, it’s easy for naming projects to go off the rails, fast. (Or slowly, which is actually more painful.) Without a clearly defined target, reviewing names can become more of a beauty contest.
  • Trademark pre-screening will quickly kill 90% of whatever you generate, if not more.That can be pretty heartbreaking if you’re not used to it. (Oh, and trademark pre-screening takes some know-how, too.)
  • Even if you come up with viable name options that survive pre-screening, reaching consensus can be hard. Naming can get emotional; even more so if the names have been created in-house and there’s no neutral third party to facilitate a decision.
  • You’re more likely to end up with something “safe.” People tend to gravitate toward descriptive names, because these are the ones that feel comfortable. It can take someone with experience to help sell the possibility of a name that feels a little scary. Truly great names are the often the unexpected ones.

Costs:

  • What is your time (and your team’s time) worth? Employees see this as work - and this work is done at work… in place of other work.

Other considerations:

  • While this may seem like the money-saving option right now, don’t forget to consider what it MIGHT cost you in the future, if you mess this up. Just sayin’... A bad name can come back to bite you. (This is especially painful if you’ve spent time and money building awareness around a name and/or if you have a retail presence to manage.)
  • Just because you know your brand best doesn’t mean you’re the best equipped to name it.

This could be the right path for you IF:

  • Someone on your team has experience with naming - including evaluating the competition and category, screening for trademark issues, etc. - or else really wants to learn.
  • You’ve already got an idea (or ideas) that everyone loves - and you’re happy to pay your trademark attorney to screen all of them.
  • You’re a startup, still at the “I don’t even know if people will want this thing I’m trying to build” stage; in that case, we recommend just doing the best you can and thinking of it as placeholder text. (Keep in mind, though, that if things start to take off, it may be wise to revisit your name and brand BEFORE you try to drive growth and brand awareness in a big way.)

Resources:

disclaimer: we don’t necessarily endorse the information contained in these resources… but if you’re determined to go at it alone, they’re better than nothing. Good luck!


Online Naming Generators:

 

Pros:

  • Cheap and fast.

Cons:

  • Not likely to generate anything very good. (Sorry.)

Costs:

  • Many are free.

Other considerations:

  • Given that many naming generators ask you to input a single word and then provide a random assortment of options from there, this is not the most strategic approach.
  • These MIGHT be useful as a tool in the DIY naming process, but think of the “names” they generate more as jumping off points than as actual names.

This could be the right path for you IF:

  • You really don’t believe that names or brands matter too much at this stage.

Resources:


Crowdsourced Naming Contests:

 

Pros:

  • Cheap and fast.
  • You might get lucky and love a name.
  • You can get lots of ideas from lots of different kinds of people.

Cons:

  • Names are not screened for trademark conflicts before you review and select them.
  • Inexperienced creatives means that names are often either expected and/or off-strategy. If you, too, are inexperienced in the realm of naming, this challenge is compounded.
  • No thought is given to brand architecture or future naming concerns.
  • Namers will not be evaluating the competition to help you find a name that stands out -- there’s simply not enough incentive for them to do so, as they’re frequently working on lots of contests at once and throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks.
  • Managing the contest will be time-consuming -- you’ll need to do a lot of work upfront to define the strategy and craft a solid brief, and then be ready to respond to hundreds of names to help guide the work of the crowd.
  • You might get lucky and love a name… only to find that you can’t have it (after you’ve done the screening work, yourself.)
  • You’re on your own when it comes to figuring out what’s got solid potential and what doesn’t.

Costs:

  • Varies. Typically starts around $200 (half for the platform, half for the creative who wins the prize) - but can go up over $1000. The larger the prize, the more interest there will be and the more entries you’ll receive.
  • There are “upgrade” options, including things like audience testing or trademark screening - which is performed after you select names from the lists.

Other considerations:

  • On some platforms, it’s possible to pay for additional support and guidance. While this may help some, you’re still looking at a “mass market” solution -- and if you aspire to create a product or company that stands out, it’s hard to get there from here.

This could be the right path for you IF:

  • You have a solid in-house marketing team or partner agency with brand positioning and brand architecture experience, and are just looking for some options to consider.
  • You’re confident that the internal decision-making process will go smoothly; either there aren’t too many stakeholders, or someone on your marketing team has enough experience to be able to confidently review the options, then select and sell the rationale for the chosen name.
  • The trademark bar is low - either you don’t need to protect the name or your geographic usage is very limited, e.g. neighborhood, town.
  • You aren’t concerned about needing to trademark the name.
  • It’s unlikely that you’ll need to name future products or be establishing a brand architecture.
  • You’re a startup just looking for a name “for now,” but don’t want to go the DIY route.
  • The stakes are low. (You just want to find a fun name for your annual cookout, for example.)

Resources:


Purchasing A Name Online:

 

Pros:

  • Ta-da! It’s done. And you probably got a domain, too.
  • You can see what you’re getting.
  • It’s fast.

Cons:

  • You’re likely to be swayed by what’s available, rather than creating a name that is firmly rooted in strategy.
  • Brand architecture and future-proofing the name is all on you.
  • The chances of happening upon a really great name that makes sense for your business and speaks to your target customer… yeah, they’re pretty slim.

Costs:

  • All over the board, ranging from names/domains in the hundreds of dollars to the hundreds of thousands.

Other considerations:

  • Just because a domain is available for purchase doesn’t mean the name is ownable. You’ll still need to have your IP attorneys screen for trademark and common law availability.

This could be the right path for you IF:

  • You happen to find the perfect name - hey, it could happen!
  • You’re not convinced that a standout name is necessary for your product, service, or company.
  • You’re looking for the path of least resistance.

Resources:


Working With Your Agency:

 

Pros:

  • You already know (and presumably like working with) your agency.
  • Your agency is already familiar with your brand, the competitive landscape, your target market, etc.
  • It's not uncommon for agencies to outsource naming work to specialists. In this case, you get the best of both worlds - your agency helps manage the process and ensures that the naming team understands your brand and strategy, AND you get a name created by experts.

Cons:

  • Naming isn’t the same thing as copywriting. There are many constraints - and your agency’s copywriters, no matter how creative, will likely not have the domain-specific experience necessary to navigate them. If you need something named, it is worth asking for specific examples of naming work your agency has done, and understanding whether it was done in-house or with the help of outside resources. Most agencies like to say they can do it all - so it may help to be clear about the fact that you're in support of bringing in external experts, if needed.
  • If your agency isn’t truly passionate about naming, they may not give it the time and attention it deserves, instead seeing the name as something to get through before they can do the fun stuff they’re best at. Again, this is just something to be aware of; it can easily be navigated.
  • While agencies that specialize in naming and branding are likely to generate hundreds or thousands of names throughout a naming project, you’re unlikely to get that kind of volume from from a general or full-service agency trying to create the name themselves - they simply have too many other things to focus on (and, let’s face it, probably aren’t quite the same breed of “word nerd” that tends to work at specialty shops.) This means that 1) the short list that is presented to you will likely be smaller, and 2) the depth and breadth of the names that are presented will also be more limited. Trademark issues will also be more of a hurdle.

Costs:

  • This really depends on your agency and your needs. This could be a six-figure project, complete with audience testing and many mock-ups, or it could be a relatively small line-item - one piece of a larger project.

Other considerations:

  • Some things are hard to do as a discrete project; naming isn’t one of them. A naming project has a clear deliverable with very little in the way of “handoffs” or “information transfer” necessary on the back end, so bringing in specialists to work with your agency is actually pretty easy. 
  • Because naming agencies tend to be one-trick ponies, you don’t need to worry about your agency feeling threatened, or be subject to any other unpleasant inter-agency politics.
  • Your level of involvement can really vary, in this situation. You could leave it entirely up to your agency to manage the naming process from start to finish, or you may wish to be more involved - perhaps even to the point of first identifying the naming team you'd like to work with, and then connecting them with your agency.

This could be the right path for you IF:

  • Your agency counts naming among its specialties - and presumably has experience with all parts of the process, including pre-screening and guiding decisions.
  • Your agency is open to working with naming specialists, brought in to handle the name as just one part of a larger project.

Resources:

  • Your agency.
  • If you don’t already have an agency you’re attached to and a name is the first order of business, you’re likely better off starting with naming specialists - many of whom will be able to recommend agencies for follow-up work (logo, packaging, design - whatever it is you need, good namers will likely know other good people.)

Working With A Naming Specialist:

 

Pros:

  • You’re working with specialists who understand the hurdles, constraints, and common pitfalls unique to naming.
  • You’re going to get a name that is strategically sound.
  • You’ll have someone with experience who is able to guide you through the entire process - all the way from creating a strategy through making a decision and getting all stakeholders on board. (Sometimes this is the most challenging part of the whole project!)
  • As naming will be their sole focus, the project can be completed in a timely fashion.

Cons:

  • Not the least expensive option.
  • If naming is all they do, you’ll need to find someone else for the rest of the project - whatever it entails. (Likely the namers are used to this, will have suggestions, and will work well with outside teams.)

Costs:

  • Larger agencies that specialize in naming and branding don’t come cheap. You could be looking at six figures, just for a name. (Yes, really.) Complex brand architecture projects or naming systems will run you even higher.
  • Smaller boutique agencies will still be expensive when compared to the DIY and online contest routes, but are comparably reasonable. Rates vary.

Other considerations:

  • You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t understand that names are important. They are how your company or product makes a first impression. As the longest lasting brand asset, they are worth investing in. Great names are foundational - the thing upon which all other elements of the brand are built.
  • Many of the smaller agencies were started by namers who cut their teeth in the big agency world, so you’re getting big agency value at small agency prices. (And no junior creatives.)

This could be the right path for you IF:

  • You are interested in an efficient process that pretty much guarantees a great name. (Many of these agencies won’t stop until you’re satisfied - their job is to deliver an ownable name you love.)
  • You’ve got a messy situation that needs cleaning up. Whether it’s the result of a merger or acquisition (or many), or an old name that has just finally got. To. go. , if your needs are complicated, you need experts.
  • You’ve seen what happens (maybe in a past life/career) when names go awry, and you’re determined not to do that to yourself and your company; you want to get it right the first time, this time.
  • You’re a startup (or a VC assisting a portfolio company) who has realized that it’s time to invest in professionalizing the brand.

Resources:

*This list is not comprehensive, but provides a good sampling of agency sizes and styles. There aren't THAT many naming specialists out there, though. Clutch.co is also a good resource. 

 


(Full disclosure: this guide was written by the team at StokeSignals. While we would of course LOVE to work with you - contact us for a free consultation! -  our primary goals here are to 1) make you aware that people like us, who do nothing but name things, actually exist; 2) help you understand why we exist - because hey, anyone can name sh*t, right?; and 3) provide you with guidance and resources so that you can find the best solution for your situation - because we know we're not for everyone.)