Creating good brand names is a craft of its own

I have had the opportunity to participate in the design of quite a few company names. Now I wrote down the main conclusions based on these experiences.

The naming process is straightforward, if the company’s business idea is clear. You find themes and word groups that naturally connect with the business. The job becomes, however, more complex, if the company’s mission and vision are “under construction” – for example due to a merger situation.

Then I would first take time to determine what the organization exists for, what are its strengths and goals, and how it intends to achieve them.

Name change goes naturally when strategy changes

I would think twice before switching an old and well-known name to something new just for the sake of change. It’s usually easier and cheaper to reshape the existing company image than to create an awareness from scratch.

The name should reflect the new added value that the brand will generate after the change. If there’s nothing fresh to tell, a new name won’t do the trick. The best moments for change are strategy updates, where the whole business gets restarted.

Brand-based name changes may even fail. In the UK, the Royal Mail was transformed to Consignia, but, after angry feedback, the entire £ 2 million rebranding was cancelled only a year and a half later. We have seen the same happen in Finland with Posti and Itella. Some investors say that a name change sounds like the company has something to hide.

If you decide, in spite of everything, to change the name, it may be a good idea to keep the old one as an auxiliary business name. Just in case.

Make sure the name and web domain are free

When registering company names, you need to determine the name isn’t used by other companies, it isn’t someone’s surname or otherwise reserved. For example, an international company may have registered their name in all EU countries even though they operate in only a few.

When selecting your name, make sure you can reserve a similar web domain. Especially when you want a domain with .com suffix, you may find out it has been reserved. Therefore, always register the domain as soon as you have decided the name.

There are quite a few classic sources for name generation. A good name may be associated with the company’s founder (for example, Vaisala), place or geographical area (Tikkurila, Skanska), industry (Kemira) or cultural metaphor (Nike).

It may also be formed as an abbreviation (Valmet, Alko), a combination of initials (YIT, ABB, GE) or a word union (StoraEnso, HOK-Elanto). At times, names derived from Latin (Patria, Mandatum, Volvo) or pseudo-Latin (Omnia, Nordea, Destia) are popular, and sometimes even the Finnish tradition has its moment (Ilmatar).

There is certainly always room for creative ideas or word games (F-Secure, Netflix, Facebook). However, the English-speaking world has exhausted its reservoir of words and, therefore, Scandinavian names are now and then chosen to highlight quality and innovation (Peloton, Moderna).

A good name is an important investment – but the company’s operation will turn it into a brand.