When it comes time to select a name for your product or organization, the pressure can feel overwhelming. After all, first impressions are important, and your name will follow you for *hopefully* a very long time! It’s not nearly as easy as naming a goldfish or a ska band—it should reflect your purpose and values and align with your brand identity.
UpHouse co-owners Kiirsten May and Alex Varricchio have plenty of experience creating strong brand names with major staying power. What better way to illustrate their tried-and-true naming process than by sharing our own journey of naming UpHouse? If you’re an emerging business deciding on a name, or an established brand that has evolved and needs a new name to reflect your current state, Kiir and Al have some solid advice to guide you through the process.
The Four Types of Brand Names
Brand names tend to fall into one of four categories:
- Proper names, like Anne Mulaire, Johnston Group, or Sexual Education Resource Centre (SERC).
- Inspirational names that are evocative and symbolic, like Tinder, Huddle, and Manitoba Possible.
- Made-up names that don’t really mean anything but have a unique sound and style, like Trivago or Google.
- Compound names that combine two words, like TECHNATION, ImagineNATIVE, and—you guessed it—UpHouse!
Once you’re familiar with the different styles of brand names, it’s easier to come up with a variety of options. Try to think of ideas for all four categories.
Near the end of our name brainstorm (AKA namestorm) sessions, we were torn between two choices. The first was a real name, “Arthur May.” Arthur is Alex’s middle name—and the lovely street where you’ll find our office—and May is Kiirsten’s last name.
The other option, of course, was UpHouse. We felt that the name communicated our purpose and values:
- elevating in-house marketing,
- revolutionizing marketing to be more inclusive and socially conscious,
- holding higher expectations for the industry as a whole,
- and creating a welcoming, homey environments where people feel comfortable being themselves.
Namestorming in Two Stages
Namestorms are most effective if you break them up into two separate sessions and invite groups of individuals with diverse perspectives.
For the first session, invite stakeholders who are connected and familiar with your industry. Discuss your company values, vision and goals. Define how you differ from competitors. Then try to decide on a direction or story you want to tell with your name.
The idea of a real, physical place was prominent throughout our brainstorms. We thought about cabins and comfortable spaces where people can let their guard down, be who they are and meet with peers on equal footing with a common goal.
In the old days, some agencies had an air of superiority with clients and viewed in-house marketers as ‘less cool.’ We wanted to communicate that wouldn’t be a thing here. Alex knew our strengths were concept and strategy, and we can work with teams that are already in place to support them in executing campaigns. – Kiirsten May
Once you’ve got a couple themes or directions for potential names, you can move on to step two. For this namestorm, invite anyone you want! The more diverse perspectives you can bring in, the better. Ask participants to brainstorm names within those themes to keep the group on the right track.
Stick four poster-sized papers on the wall and label each with a naming category: proper, inspirational, made-up and compound. Encourage people to shout out whatever ideas pop into their heads and have someone write them all down. Once the pages are full, wait 24 hours and then revisit the ideas with fresh eyes. You might be surprised at which ones resonate!
Three Tips for Choosing Your Brand Name
Once you’ve got a list of potential names, picking a winner can be tricky. Here are three tips to keep in mind as you narrow down your options.
1) Future-Proof Your Name
A brand name that works in the present might not work in the future. If the name feels ultra-trendy and uses of-the-moment terminology, it won’t hold up long term. Language evolves, so you’ll want to choose something that can stand the test of time.
2) Check for Trademark and URL availability
It would be a massive setback to spend loads of money on branding, merch and promotions, only to get hit with a cease and desist from another company with the same name under trademark. Check the Canada or U.S. online trademark database to review your top name choices, then eliminate or modify the ones already taken. Make sure your desired URL is available too, and park it right away. You can always cancel it later if you change name directions.
3) Remember: There’s No Such Thing as a Perfect Name
It’s hard to pull the trigger on something as final as a brand name, and you’ll likely feel a sense of uncertainty. But don’t worry—every name will feel weird until you spend some time with it. The idea of what makes a “good name” is highly subjective, so don’t get too caught up in trying to create something that pleases everybody.
Need some help thinking of a name—or a name refresh—for your brand? Drop us a line! As a Canadian marketing and PR agency, we can support your team wherever you need us, offering fresh insights and sound advice to get your brand noticed.
Recommended reading: Marty Neumeier’s 7 criteria of strong names.