Five Steps to a Name


Naming is one of the most subjective, emotional and polarizing exercises in marketing. I’ll never forget my first naming client… We presented over six rounds of ideas (over 100 names) and the client ended up naming the company after herself. My initial exasperation eventually turned to accepting the lesson… Naming someone’s company is like naming someone else’s child. It’s humbling work – even as my skill and success rate has increased. And, dare I say, sometimes your client chooses a name you don’t like because it reminds you of an ex from high school.

Below are five steps for marketers that I believe will lead to naming success. That’s not to say the process will unfold perfectly every time. In fact, it rarely does. Ultimately, the right name will come from being smart, thorough and creative… and maybe even lucky. Don’t take idea rejection personally. It’s not your child. God speed.

Step 1: Mise en Place

Mise en place is a French culinary term meaning “putting in place” aka – prepare. But, I find it’s applicable across many aspects in life – including naming. Gather as much intel as possible before you start. The more you prepare, the more you’re setting yourself up for success.

If you’re working with an agency to name your company – help them succeed by providing quality information for education, context and inspiration.

Step 2: Employ a team, smartly

Names can come from anywhere… and anyone. Not everyone has to be a creative director and or copywriter (though – ideally your team should include both). A team with a wide range of roles and skill-sets will be more fruitful. How you engage the team will determine its success.

Find a very clever copywriter who enjoys naming, set clear expectations and let them do their thing. On a separate but parallel track, host a brainstorming session with the rest of the people you’ve included on the team. Don’t be the smartest one in the room. Make sure it’s light-hearted and fun (it’s not a ‘meeting’). And never forget snacks and libations.

Step 3: Curate

Once you have the first batch of ideas (from both the copywriter and team brainstorm) it’s time to curate the list. This is crucial. Sorry to say – but there are bad ideas. Give this stage breathing room, as opinions will ebb and flow. Keep dialogue going with key team members during this time. Ultimately someone (you?) must decide which ideas make the list and which will be cut. Finally, don’t forget to vet selections to make sure they’re not already in use and that URLs are available.

Step 4: Share the wealth

Now it’s time to share your ideas. I’ve heard many opinions on the perfect number of names to present. Personally, I feel most confident with 7 to 11 options (in the first round). Too few will feel underwhelming – especially if the one isn’t in that list. Too many will dilute the overall quality.

Share your list of name ideas in person. It’s invaluable to see facial expressions and engage in genuine face-to-face conversations on the ideas. Furthermore, all decision makers should be in attendance. Recently we presented the first round of names to a client with overwhelmingly positive feedback. Everyone, including the clients in attendance, thought we nailed it. Turns out the CEO of the company didn’t agree and had pretty drastically different parameters to work within. Be fluid and adapt.

Step 5: Lock it in!

When one of your name ideas is chosen – Hallelujah! Purchase the relevant URLs (if you haven’t already), begin the trademark legal process and kick off the logo design. If the magic didn’t happen – C’est la vie. Step away for a couple of days, then go back to step two and start again armed with the valuable feedback you gathered in the previous round.

If your company needs help in the brand naming process, enter your name and email in the form below.