Brand Name: 6 Steps to a Name That Would Make Steve Jobs Proud

8 mins read

Everyone wants to give their brand a great name. But how do you get from a bunch of good ideas to the perfect final name? In other words, how do you get from the clunky “Cupertino Computers” to the iconic “Apple?”

Read on for a guide to generating an awesome name for your brand, from A to Z (though not necessarily in that order:-))

What’s in a Brand Name?

A brand name can make or break your business idea. If you choose wisely, your name could join the ranks of iconic companies such as Apple, Nike, Coca-Cola, Red Bull, and Chanel. Choose the wrong name, however, and your target audience might misunderstand your product. You could become a laughing stock, or perhaps worse, just fizzle out.

Intimidated? We sure are 🙂 But look on the positive side: naming is an opportunity to make your brand truly shine! As with all important business matters, it helps to have a process in place to accomplish your goal (in this case: have an awesome name). Lucky for you, we have been in your shoes many times and are excited to show you the ropes.

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But First: The 5 Kinds of Brand Names

Descriptive Names

Brand Name Kinds Descriptive Names Logos

This is the oldest class of brand names. Such names describe what the business does: PayPal is a payment company, Subway serves submarine sandwiches, etc.

These names clearly position the brands and make it easy for consumers to identify their products and services.

The pitfall of a descriptive name is that it can be limiting. Example: Founded in 1999 as a CRM software provider focused on salesforce automation, it has now evolved into a cloud computing company whose offer goes well beyond assisting sales teams. Its name has grown much less relevant over time.

Descriptive brand names are often unremarkable. They do their job, but don’t leave much room for creativity on the part of the brand … or room for interpretation on the part of the audience. Toys R Us and YouSendIt are good examples of this drawback.

The upside of descriptive names: they clearly tell the brand story. The downside: they can paint a brand into a corner and keep it from diversifying. By nature, they rely on common words or phrases. What does that mean? That they are very hard to trademark.


Brand Name Kinds Acronyms Examples LogosGenerally, this type of name is an abbreviation of a descriptive name.

Many of the best known brands are acronyms: IBM, EMI, BMW, UPS, BBC, SAP, and HP, to name a few.

Most acronyms evolve out of functional names. Either deliberately or naturally over time, descriptive names get compressed into bite-sized chunks. For example, it’s easier to say BBC than British Broadcasting Corporation or ORF than Österreichischer Rundfunk.

Acronyms can be quick to say, easy to remember, and even easier to trademark.

Their main drawback: they’re missing a soul. They aren’t based on our actual vocabulary, and their meaning doesn’t really soak in even with a lot of use. They’re just a group of letters.

Invented Names

Brand Name Kinds Examples Invented Names

Names of this kind, as you correctly guessed, are made-up words (neologism, portmanteau word, anagram).

Invented words are ultra powerful, because they come without baggage. They’re basically empty vessels designed to represent a brand.

But using them is tricky. Not all invented words make good brand names. It’s best to avoid invented names with Greek or Latin roots such as Verizon or Cingular. You need the advertising budget of a gigantic global corporation to get people to remember their meaning.
For example, Cingular spent over $428 million on advertising in 2002, just 2 years after its founding.

The best invented brand names are based on poetic names. Twitter evokes the experience of communicating quickly in short bursts, like chittering, chirruping birds. Google resonates with the act of searching and discovering.

By design, the target audience likes saying these poetic-sounding names, which helps propel and get them traction among the target audience.

We like saying our brand name (🚀 Hackabu, short for ‘Hack a Business’) so much that our growth hackers are constantly giving each other nicknames that end in ‘-Bu’. Fun factabu 😁

Experiential Names

Brand Name Kinds Experiential Names Examples Logos

This type of name builds on the feeling or experience that the brand delivers.

Experiential names are the most powerful class of names. This is where the most iconic brands stand: Apple, Virgin, and Oracle.

These names are positioning statements. They help a company stand out in their marketplace by setting an expectation of what it’s like to choose them.

The biggest challenge in generating an experiential name is connecting meaning to the brand. You have to deeply understand your business and what it stands for before you start the naming process. The name has to sync with the positioning of the business.

Founders’ Names

Brand Name Kinds Founders' Names Examples Logos

This class of names is just what you think it is.

The naming practice for this type uses the name of the person who started the company. One of the most famous examples is Disney, which is named after Walt Disney.

Note: Brand naming may involve the use of several of the above conventions.

The best example for such a combination of brand name types is IKEA. The company’s name is a neologism and an acronym of the founder’s name and his hometown – Ingvar Kamprad, Elmtaryd, Agunnaryd – all at the same time.

And you wondered why shopping at IKEA is complicated.

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Step 1: Know Your Competition

Brand Name Competitor Names on Post-It Notes

Make a list of direct and indirect competitors within your niche. Divide these companies into 5 categories: experiential names, descriptive names, acronyms, invented names, and founders’ names.

Then answer the following questions:

  • Which naming conventions are trending?
  • Do the brands fall into one category? Or are they hybrids?
  • What attitudes do their names project?
  • Which names stand out? And why?

Begin the brand naming process by mapping the competitive landscape of your brand.

By doing this first step, you should be able to know what you are up against. It also makes it easier for you to set some guidelines for the naming process.

BRAND Name Check, 1,2 …

Finding the perfect name for your brand means nothing if the name is already in use.

Brand Name_MicrophoneTools like Namecheckr, Namechk, and Knowem will help you check the availability of your name of choice across the Web and the major social networks. Keep your fingers crossed! 🤞

If Your Dream Name is Taken

Brand Name_Man Banging Head on Keyboard

Don’t despair! You can often purchase domains that have already been registered. Try marketplaces such as GoDaddy Auctions and Sedo.

Step 2: Build a Bridge to the Name

Brand Name_Illustration_Golden Gate Bridge

We don’t literally mean build a bridge – nor do we mean a catapult, an undersea tunnel, or whatever construction will most effectively get you from the ideas churning in your head to an awesome brand name.

The gist of this step: create a structure for gestating your ideas. Think: spreadsheet 🤓

Here’s a handy template you can use (feel free to download and share):


Step 3: Make YOUR Short List

Brand Name Sticky Notes

Next step: break your collection of name ideas down to a shortlist!

Narrow down the selection! Ask a small group of people to pick their 5 favorites from your list. Then see which names rise to the top.

The short list can be humbling. You may hit this stage and realize that none of your names are good enough. Don’t let this hold you back! Avoid compromising by selecting one name just because it’s there. If none of your names are good enough, start the process over.

Step 4: The Font Test

Print each name in huge characters so it fills up the page. Then hand the pages out to people and ask them two questions:

  • What do you think of when you read each name?
  • Which is your favorite and why?

Brand Name Font Test Comparisons

To test the appearance of your brand name print the name in capital letters in Helvetica Neue Bold. What you are looking for is the balance and readability of the name. How does the name look in a standard sans serif font?

If you’re considering a handful of names, print each one on a piece of paper in huge characters so it fills up the page.

Step 5: The Recall TEST

Brand name recall GIF of woman with memories blowing out of her ear

A few days later, ask each person to recall the names you showed them in Step 4.

Which did they remember? How easily were they able to recall the names?

Step 6: The Logo TEST

The neat part of developing several names and logos is you can mix and match the best elements of each.

Brand Name Logo Test Comparisons Apple vs. Red Bull Old Logos

The benefit of generating a lot of options is it gives you more to work with. You never know where inspiration will strike. You may find elements of one name or logo really stand out. By combining them you can create something wonderful.

Tip: The Itty Bitty Naming Committee

Brand Name Dilbert Comic of Committee Failing to Decide

Limit the number of people who are involved in the naming process.

Keep committees out of your naming process at all costs. Paralysis by analysis is not an option!

Choose your naming team carefully. Be ready to answer these questions: Who is generating names? How are you testing names? Who is helping to select the short list? What qualifications do these people have? Build your team early on in the process. There’s nothing more frustrating than having a great name that no one can agree on.

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Brand Name Wrap Up

Brand Name Photo of James Brown

Follow these 6 steps (know your competition, build a bridge to the name, make your short list, the font test, the recall test, and the logo test) and you’ll be on solid footing for achieving brand name fame!

A final thought: nailing your brand name is ultimately a form of creative marketing. If you do it right, your product’s name will spread like wildfire. Check our 12 creative marketing tips for a tight budget for more ideas. Happy growth hacking!

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