Tip #1: Start with a story.
When Patrick and Derek Howard were teenagers in small-town Indiana, their dad Barry made them work summer jobs. (The horror!) So, they peevishly called him a “bad dad,” and the nickname stuck. Years later, when the father and sons started a brewery together, they not only had a great work ethic, they had their inspiration for a name: Bad Dad Brewery.
Most brands have stories baked into their DNA. If you’re searching for yours, consider how you got started, why you picked your location, or where your love of fill-in-the-blank came from. If you’re struggling to unearth your stories or decide which ones are interesting, a deft interviewer can find them. Ask a freelance writer or journalist to interview you and compile several potential story angles.
Tip #2: Get hooked on a feeling.
How do you want your name to feel – bouncy, sharp, vast, bright, agile? As we explored in an earlier post, Swiffer is a perfect example of a name that mimics the product’s unique benefit. It’s built from “swift” to indicate speed and “sweeper” for its floor-cleaning abilities. Drop the “t” and it’s easier to say – with the added benefit of being an own-able, brand new word. Side note: it feels like a Taylor Swift X Swiffer brand collab is long overdue.
Tip #3: Paint a picture.
If you’re short on words, start with visual inspiration. Patagonia is a great example of a brand name that evokes specific imagery. In 1973, Chouinard Equipment chose the now-famous name for its clothing line. As written in this fascinating post about the origin story, “To most people, especially then, Patagonia was a name like Timbuktu or Shangri-La, far-off, interesting, not quite on the map. Patagonia brings to mind…romantic visions of glaciers tumbling into fjords, jagged windswept peaks, gauchos and condors.”
Tip #4: Mine your mission.
What do you hope to achieve? What’s your unique point of view? How does your approach differ? Your deeper motivations and true differentiators can provide good naming fodder. Before I had a name (for Pivot), I knew I would help entrepreneurs navigate change and define a new focal point for growth.
For inspiration, your manifesto can be a great foundation for your name exploration. Here’s one we wrote for the Indianapolis Parks Foundation – before rebranding it as The Parks Alliance of Indianapolis. The word “alliance” invites others to share in “the transformational power of parks, because when our spaces are open and accessible, our city is too.”
Tip #5: Go wide, then go narrow.
Explore LOTS of options. This is the time to get out the thesaurus and go down rabbit holes. Revisit your photo archives and re-read your favorite authors—anything to fill your mind with words, images, sounds, and memories. Make lists of words, recombine them, and don’t be afraid to get a little weird with it.
Once you’ve done that, it’s time to make some cuts. Eliminate practically anything that doesn’t meet these criteria:
- Your name should be easy to say, spell (ideally), and recall.
- Shorter is better. You don’t want your name to be shortened to a meaningless acronym.
- Check to see if domain names and social handles are available.
- Conduct an online search – is anyone else using it in your service or product category?
- Make sure your new name isn’t offensive or conveying unintended meanings. (Ask around.)
Bonus Tip: Pick multiple winners and vet further.
Hedge your bets. Don’t just have one favorite; select at least two names that could work. Why? Your favorite name might be taken, so have your trademark attorney vet multiple options.