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What's in a Name?

What's in a Name?

December 12, 2013


Riddle me this… 


When you hear “Dominos,” what do you think?

Pizza? Sugar? The children’s game?   

Let’s face it. With millions of brands and millions of products, and millions of new ones coming out every day, there’s going to be some overlap somewhere.  

But before you name your next product, you may as well do it correctly.


Finding a Sustainable Name

A name defines who or what you are and provides others with a means of identifying and familiarizing themselves with you.  In business, the right name can grab attention, tell customers who you are, and inform them about what you offer -- all in one or two words!

Conversely, the wrong name might be forgettable, or, worse, it could end up with offensive connotations. And to make matters worse, as your business grows, it can cost a fortune to change it.  In the 1980s, it cost Datsun roughly $30 million to make the change to Nissan in the United States. In 2001, it cost Andersen Consulting $100 million to change their name to Accenture.  So it pays to get it right the first time.   

Can Business Name Changes Work?

Expensive as they may be, name changes have been known to work over time.  Typically there is a decline in sales initially, but then positive results have often followed. For example, when Henry Luce, editor and publisher of Time magazine, created a new magazine in 1929, called Modern Business, the timing was bad.  The stock market crashed and few people wanted to read anything about business.  So, a year later, Luce decided to change the name to the more uplifting title, Fortune.  In just one word, the new name captured excitement and magically had readers thinking about the fortunes that awaited them. Fortune was a winning name and the magazine took off.  

Even the name change from Kentucky Fried Chicken to KFC has paid off.  While it’s still easier, and cheaper to get it right the first time, a name change can work if and when necessary.

Six Tips to Successful Brain Storm Your Next Name

Here are a few tips to get you thinking...

1. Consider potential names you like that are unique and easy to pronounce, such as Verizon, Cisco, Nike and Oracle. See if you can come up with some simple words that you like the sound of as well. A Brooklyn based website, in the late 1990s, was called "Smork", simply because the people working there just liked saying the word. You can also think of some common words that could also become your name; “Apple,” for example, was the name of a record company and later, a computer giant. But make sure you’re not the only one who likes the way it sounds. Get feedback; ask people what they think of when they hear the word. Is it catchy? Awkward? Intriguing? Unpleasant?  

2. You will benefit by having a POOBA — the Promise of an Obvious and Overt Benefit Always — in your name. 

“Unstucking” is one of our brands that is unique, memorable, and descriptive of the type of business retooling we do for our clients.  The “Ex” in FedEx indicates speed, as does the "Jiffy" in Jiffy Lube. Think about what you want to convey to customers.

3. Be web friendly. If people can’t remember or spell the name, they can’t search for it. 

4. Avoid being too cute or clever! That's a big mistake I see business owners make all the time.  One example comes from an online shopping community that attempted to merge Sears, K-Mart, and the user. The name “SKYou” was neither clear nor a drawing card for consumers.    

5. Match your name to your manner of business.  Are you playful and cheery? Serious and refined?  Chuck E. Cheese is a great name for a kid-friendly party restaurant, but Chuck E.’s Legal Firm might not cut it.

6. Have a Big Zig. This sets you apart from others in the marketplace. Motley Fool, for example, has a Big Zig with its contrarian investment advice — and their unusual name.

The Three R’s

In real estate it’s Location, Location, Location.  In naming it’s Research, Research, Research. Once you’ve narrowed your name choices down to the short list, you need to do your research.

First and foremost, you’ll want to look for similar names, especially any that have been trademarked in your industry.  Yes, there are businesses with the same names, like Domino’s Pizza and Domino's Sugar, as mentioned above, but they are not competing with one another. Even if you can legally have the same name, beware — it will likely cause plenty of confusion.

You’ll also want to do a domain search and see if you can get the website, or sites, that you need.  If possible, you’ll want to buy similar names to make sure nobody misses out when searching for you. For example, regardless of whether you type gooogle.com, gogle.com or google.net, you’ll end up at Google.com.

And keep in mind that you need a name that does not offend and that translates well in a global economy. Bigby’s Coffee started out as a café called Beaner’s Coffee until customers pointed out that Beaners was a derogatory term for Mexican Americans.  After changing the name to Bigby’s, the business saw a steady climb.  Then there was Nike, which introduced a new shoe named the Nike SB Black and Tan Quickstrike.  Irish Americans pointed out that in the 1920s, the Black and Tans were a British Parliamentary group who used extreme brutality against Irish revolutionaries and civilians. Nike apologized and changed the name.

Translations can also cause a problem.  There’s the well-known story of the Chevy Nova, which, translated into Spanish, means “doesn’t go.” Then there’s Lumia, Nokia’s smartphone, which in Spanish is slang for prostitute. You’ll also find that the word Barf means “snow” in Farsi. But it’s doubtful that people in other parts of the world would want to wash their clothes in Iran’s Barf Detergent. My favorite mistranslation story comes from a company that printed up 5,000 T-shirts during one of the Papal tours that was supposed to say 'vi le papa' “I saw the Pope.” Unfortunately, they did not understand the gender pronouns and instead printed 'vi la papa' which means ‘I saw the potato.”  Oops.

Picking a Winner

This process to come up with a few names that “wow” you and do your research.  It may take days or weeks before you come up with a winner.  But when you do, you've got gold!

If you’d like to run some names by us for a little feedback, drop me a line here.

Taking you from where you are to want to be,