What makes a great brand name?

In the creative quest for the ‘right’ name, a robust system is needed for weeding out the ‘wrong’…


At a recent naming session for a new brand, we came up with a list of 137 options. You can spot the moments of delirium around the 65 mark, and then again at 100. This is the fun part. Every team member has a go, (almost) every suggestion makes the long list. Then it gets serious. When it comes to naming, the free spirit of creativity has to be framed by a robust process that separates right from wrong.

In the initial stages, naming is often subjective, almost always personal. You get attached to a favourite, blinkered by the conviction that yours is the only viable option – whilst simultaneously ignoring everyone else’s identical passion for a completely different name. The truth is, provided the long list is rooted in carefree creativity, once you revisit it and cross out names that won’t work (with the benefit of experience, market knowledge and linguistic know-how), every remaining name could make a brilliant brand. The challenge of making it real starts with an IP process.

Yawn remains one of our favourite brand names. With a single word, we were able to capture both the product and brand ethos. It helped, in part, that Yawn was an early entrant into a new market, at a time when there were few independent pyjama brands.

Multiple words can distil the brand’s values into several syllables. With Harrow & Hope, we celebrate the mess, the mud, the staggering risk of making award-winning sparkling wine in the UK. A word of warning: acronyms. Last month, we shared an article about the perils of naming, which told the cautionary tale of California rock band Jimmy Eat World. “When coming up with a band name,” they tweeted, “make sure its acronym displayed really large on your artwork or T-shirts won’t be complicating matters.”

In a competitive sector, you’ll rarely be able to use a single dictionary-derived word that directly references the industry you operate in (unless you’re prepared to pay big money and take on lawyers). This is why we see so many made-up names. It’s an approach that can initially feel rootless (see the current wave of indistinguishable delivery apps). But if the creative process is rooted in meaning, the result can be category-defining. Wahaca, for example, is a made-up word, unlike anything else in its sector, but it’s underpinned by authenticity: the phonetic spelling of Oaxaca, a region of Mexico famed for its food markets.

Of course, we didn’t present all 137 options to the client. After three rigorous rounds, we edited the list to 35. Then, we began the IP process. It’s a murky area – we’re not lawyers – but we make sure we never present options that a client can’t have. That left us with 10 names, all compelling and viable. Now, we have the one (which we’ll share when the brand launches).

But any of those 10 names could have been used to create the new brand. A name is not a name until it’s out in the world. In meetings, in brainstorms, it’s a word in the abstract. A name is only as good as the brand it describes.

Without create brands that make a difference. Receive our Defining Your Difference pocket guide to your inbox or if you’d like to discuss how your brand can connect with today’s consumers, get in touch on 02070999080 or [email protected]

This article first appeared in The Brief, a monthly email with conversations and provocation for leaders and founders of brands . Just sign up here to receive it directly to your inbox – and join the debate.


Find your difference Download our pocket guide to unlocking your brand story