This is the second issue of the gist of written by Misha Berveno. If you no longer wish to receive these letters, you can instantly unsubscribe — no hard feelings at all.
After a brief overview of verbal identity in the previous issue, today we’re diving into the first verbal identity element — naming.
It seems like naming shouldn’t be included in verbal identity — it’s just what you call a company or product (or service). But it’s crucial. A good name can express the full meaning of a brand on its own (e.g. 1Password) or carry the meaning infused into it (e.g. BMW ➙ high-quality German manufacturing).
So how should we think about naming? What are some dos and don’ts? And why is naming important?
Let’s find out,
Sent from Montreal, Canada.
A name is the first thing people want to know about when you introduce them to your new company or product.
What’s it called? What’s the URL? How do I find it?
If something doesn’t have a name, it’s a little disappointing. It’s almost like we can’t wrap our heads around a nameless concept.
We need clarity. That’s why we need a name.
There are two overarching reasons that make naming a crucial process in creating a verbal identity:
“To evoke a proper image there must be a name created which the customer will be able to relate to. … A name needs to sell a concept in a public’s mind.”
— Naseem Javed, Founder of ABC Namebank Inc.
If you’re mostly working by yourself (as I do), you might wonder why not just invest in your own name — creating a personal brand?
In my own case, why differentiate between Misha Berveno, the writer, and No Country Studio, the copywriting studio?
A personal brand is by far the best tool for building accountability. You sign the work. You own the failures. You reap the rewards.
There are two potential downsides:
That said, some of the most famous companies are named after their founders, from Adidas to Deloitte to Nordstrom.
At the same time, there are companies that intentionally limit themselves in scope, in the sense of excelling at one thing. Hiut Denim makes jeans. Cultured Code makes Things.
Sometimes you also come across successful combinations of a personal brand with extended scope and scale.
Tobias van Schneider runs the House of Van Schneider, which creates awesome products like Semplice and mymind.
Every naming agency experiments with dozens of naming techniques before it settles on its own process through trial and error.
Here are a few frequently used naming strategies:
So what’s the best name for your product or service? It’s likely there isn’t one, but good names strive to attain some common qualities:
How do you put it all together? Eli Altman in his book Don’t Call It That lays out a number of good approaches you can start with:
Note: Put more emphasis on how potential names feel when you say them out loud. What sounds intriguing? What invites more conversations?
In coming up with names, try not to be too literal. Most descriptive names are hard to remember and even harder to trademark. Top-Shelf Wines is not a good name for a winery or liquor store.
Similarly, avoid changing the standard spelling of the words just to get a .com URL. It’ll be confusing forever. Plus, there are so many new top-level domains coming onto the market that you can surely find an alternative.
Also, don’t commit to a name without doing at least a little bit of research first:
Some countries don’t require you to trademark your business name and still give you the first-use advantage. However, it’s usually limited to your province or state. Trademarking might be important if you want to expand federally or internationally.
Note: For more info regarding international trademark registration, read about the Madrid system.
In 2016, I was working at Skyrocket, a digital branding agency, and one of our clients needed a title for a new game targeted at kids around the ages of 8-12.
It was a business simulator, giving kids an opportunity to develop entrepreneurial skills by running a virtual skateboard shop.
What were the titles of skateboarding games at the time?
Using a variation of “skate” seemed like a necessity. To attract the target audience, a game like this needed to be somewhat descriptive, since there wasn’t much time or budget to infuse meaning into a new concept (it’s no Halo or Far Cry).
At the same time, the name had to differentiate between doing tricks and being an entrepreneur.
Finally, for the game to spread through word of mouth, the title needed to be something the kids would actually talk about. So:
Hey, you played SkateBoss yet?
In the end, naming is a creative exercise, but there are no barriers to entry. Be playful, think metaphorically, try to relate to your audience and do some research. That’s all there’s to it.
Even if you screw it up somehow — thousands of companies and products have changed their names in the past and are doing just fine. Don’t let indecisiveness stall your progress.
The next letter will be about the importance of vision and mission.