Brand Naming Exercises & Tips

Entrepreneurs, marketers, and other executives trying to select a company name often kick things off with a massive brainstorming session to identify the coolest, most relevant and memorable brand name.  But brainstorming and idea generation are only one piece in a bigger puzzle, and companies that dive into this before doing important groundwork could find themselves wasting valuable time.  

There are two fundamental questions to ask when beginning a corporate naming process.  First, you should identify right upfront what you’re trying to say with the name.  We recommend that stakeholders identify three key naming objectives, enabling them to focus their subsequent creative activities and devise a meaningful yardstick for evaluating options.  

Secondly, you must then determine how to satisfy these objectives via the name.  There are a three primary types of names that can be used to accomplish this:  

  • Descriptive names explicitly state what the business does;
  • Emotional or evocative names can provide broad meaning and memorable options; and
  • Abstract or made-up names are devoid of overt meaning but may help the company stand out in a crowded category.  

Think of these three approaches as options on a spectrum, with descriptive on the left, abstract on the far right, and plenty of room for exploration in between.

As with many things in life, naming may sound straightforward but it’s often far more difficult to achieve in practice.  After all, not only do you and a bunch of other people have to agree on one name, but you have to protect it legally, communicate it efficiently, market it effectively, and assure that you’re not offending anyone in a foreign culture or language.  If you’re committed to doing this yourself, here are some recommendations to start you off in the right direction.

Top Exercises for Brand Naming

Exercise 1: Develop a Stellar Brand Naming Brief

Developing a thorough brand naming brief is an important way for companies to crystallize their objectives and apply needed discipline to the naming process.  For anyone unfamiliar with creative briefs, these are detailed documents that describe a project and its objectives for the creative team, project managers, or others involved.  As with any creative brief, naming briefs should detail all background information relevant to the name as well as insights into the target audience(s). Don’t skimp on the naming brief!  Instead, do this critical work upfront to facilitate the best possible outcomes further along in the process. By the time you complete the naming brief, you should have a simple list of three key objectives that the name should satisfy.

Tip:  Make sure to incorporate market and competitive intelligence into the creative brief.  This will help ensure that you select a strategic name based on sound market research data rather than a gut feeling only.

Example: The name Fleet Financial was a response to the following three naming objectives:  convey the multiplicity of services, speed of transactions, and the nautical heritage of the bank’s original headquarters. A one-syllable word accomplished all three of these objectives while being available for financial services used worldwide.

Exercise 2:  Keep Brand Naming Objectives Front of Mind

Think of different ways to address the three objectives identified in Exercise 1.  We recommend doing this alone or in groups of no more than two people. Why? Group brainstorming can meander off topic or stifle creative thinking, as participants self-censor or rally around the loudest or most authoritative voice in the room.  Instead, think about the relative importance of your three objectives and see what thoughts bubble to the surface while saving hard-core brainstorming until later on.

Tip:  Consult creative resources as you identify names for each objective.  Fantasy books or movies, popular songs, lists of America’s Cup winners, and geographical maps are as productive in simulating name ideas as thesauri and dictionaries.

Example: When trying to convey flexibility, innovation, and reliability for a new software product, we looked to the entertainment realm, and settled on Adobe Acrobat for its ability to achieve “amazing feats between platforms”. View our brand naming case study for Adobe Acrobat.

Exercise 3:   Continue with a Brand Naming Brainstorm

Once you’ve generated some ideas, independently or in groups of two, it’s now time to convene with the larger group of naming stakeholders.  The purpose of this meeting is to review, vet, and discuss ideas, and ultimately craft a comprehensive list of options that map to the name’s overarching objectives.  At this point in the process, the group should be able to collectively identify 30-40 names that can be subsequently winnowed down to a winner.

Tip:  Begin your group meeting by recapping key information contained in the creative brief to ensure that the project goals and other particulars are front of mind.  Also remind everyone that naming should be objective, not personal. Lastly, capture new ideas that emerge as you review the list, as there might be a winner in there.

Example: When reviewing a list of technical-sounding names for a new satellite Internet service, we decided to speak directly to the benefits: exceeding expectations for speed and reliability.  That’s how the name exede was born. View our brand naming case study for Exede.

Exercise 4: Screen for Brand Name Availability

Before adopting a name, make sure to check patent and trademark offices, common law usages, Google, and other websites to ensure that the name is not already in use by a competitor or major litigious company.  Because the stakes are high, it’s a good investment to hire an experienced intellectual property attorney to do this work. A reputable localization firm can also help you research relevant regional or cultural sensitivities that could impact how the name is perceived by different audiences.  Lastly, once you’ve selected a name, make sure to take appropriate legal steps to protect it so that no one can claim it while you’re not paying attention.

Tip: Select a wide range of names for the pre-screen, because the majority will inevitably be removed from consideration.  Do this early in the process, before falling in love with a specific name.

Example:  We developed an attractive name for a healthcare company that passed most legal screening but resembled the verb “to kill” in Japanese.  Had we not learned this early on, it could have been disastrous to go forward globally with this name!


Contact us for more information on how to select a name that strategically supports your brand.