Anybody who has named a child knows that choosing names for your offspring is very serious matter.
When my wife was pregnant with our second daughter, we were struggling coming up with an appropriate name for her. We wanted a name that was uncommon, was Yoruba, acknowledged God, and that would be easy for most of the planet to pronounce. Naturally, as the father and self-professed creative in the union, I had a significant role in coming up with the magical name.
So, I journeyed into the creative ether. After many visits and profound rumination, I had the perfect name:
That is the short form of Mapolongojesukakirigboboagbaye. It means “I will declare the goodness of Jesus all over the earth.”
I thought it was absolute aces. It was uncommon, it was Yoruba and it acknowledged Jesus. I presented it to my wife.
She almost divorced me.
She cleared all the bottles of liquor in the house and mentioned something about stabbing me in my sleep. I took it she didn’t fancy being called Mummy Polongo. I went back to the Muses. But I thought we lost an absolute gem there.
Picking a name for your business or product should be as considered as picking a name for your child. That is because names stick. Because they have connotations. And they make the first impression.
Take your mind back to when you were in primary or secondary school. To that guy with the funny name. How he seemed to be the butt of all the jokes. Some research findings have shown that names affect self-esteem and how well you do in life. Maybe if I were named ‘Bill’ or ‘Warren,’ by now I’d be on the first-name basis with Dangote. Wonder what happened to Warren G though.
I have no doubt that if I had named my daughter Polongo, one day when I’m long gone, she would come to my grave, exhume my body, and shoot me again.
Sure, if a company or a brand has a poor name, it can still be successful (Kasaprenko/Alomo Bitters). But success is easier if the name is a good one (Orijin).
There are a couple of ways to name a company or a brand. Three of my favourites ways are (i) naming by brand value, (ii) naming by description and (iii) made-up names.
Naming by Brand Value is giving a product/company a name by the brand promise. That is, the name communicates or evokes the fundamental qualities the brand is about.
Close-Up toothpaste and the dishwasher FAIRY are names by brand value. ‘Close-Up’ conjures up images of intimacy and confidence, while ‘FAIRY’ evokes ‘magical’ and ‘secret power.’ In my experience using FAIRY, I have found it to clean like magic. A little drop and voila, dirty plates transform into shiny ones. Shoprite, Etisalat EazyBlaze and Pampers are also named by brand values.
Naming by brand value helps the consumer remember what the brand stands for quicker.
Naming by Description is naming the company/product by what it does. WAKANOW, United Parcel Service (UPS), Klin, SWIFT Broadband, Quickteller, and The Wall Street Journal all denote what the brands do.
Naming by description, like naming by brand value, gives the consumer a quick and clear frame of reference. However, the challenge with the method is that your business may outgrow the product description.
If you named your jewelry business Jewels by Cynthia, when Cynthia decides to enter the complementary clothing, make-up or hairdressing business, that name becomes a barrier to brand consideration and recognition. A name like House of Tara allows the company to play anywhere within the fashion, beauty and personal care industry.
One way to overcome this obstacle is to rebrand the company with initials so that it loses the ‘baggage’ it carries. Jewel by Cynthia could transform into JC. General Electric became ‘GE’ so it could play across broad business spectrum. Mr. Price has become Mr. P. It no longer wishes to be seen as ‘clothing for masses of the masses.’ It now carries exclusive design ranges in select stores.
Made-up names are names coined out of the blues or from existing words or terms. Names like Xerox, Google, Indomie (‘Indo’ is from ‘Indonesia,’ while ‘mie’ is Indonesian word for noodles), Viagra and Bournvita are made-up brand names.
The advantage of made-up names is that they don’t carry the baggage any existing word may have. You can give the name any meaning you like. The disadvantage is that made-up names sometimes lack meaning, personality and are difficult to recall.
Below are some of my guides to picking the right company or brand name:
- Consider your purpose. What is your business all about?
- Consider the industry you want to play in. FCUK could get away with a name like that because it’s a fashion brand. You won’t if you’re in consulting. Fancy keeping your money in a bank called Raid.
- Keep it simple. If you’re going to use made-up names, stick to two words at the most e.g. GoPro.
- Aim for memorability. Think Blackberry, Cisco and Buddie (remember ‘Buddie’ from Econet Wireless?)
- Don’t make it too trendy, funky or fashionable. ‘Bae’ and ‘No-Chill’ won’t stand the test of time. Your company should.
- Make it easy to travel. It should be easy to pronounce, and shorn of negative meanings or connotations. You never know if you’ll do business in the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste.
- This should be obvious, but it’s worth repeating: ensure the name is available to register with CAC. Ensure it is also available to register a domain.
Spoiler alert: all the three-letter words in the English dictionary have been taken. 99% of the words in the English dictionary have also been taken. Bummer.
Even if your name is Xavier or Dominic Toretto, resist the temptation to use it. Except you’re a law firm or a tax consultancy. Even Price Water House Cooper as become PWC. Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta had to transform into Lady Gaga before she could get a kiss.
You could also name by geography (Emirates Airline, Qatar Airways). But the country or locale has to be known for quality or expertise in the trade. Like Italy and leather, perfume and France, Switzerland and watches. Don’t let’s kid ourselves; you might want to avoid appending ‘Nigeria’ to your brand name right now. Our time in the sun will come. But it’s not now. Oh, wait! Maybe there’s something in your bakery being named GeGe Pastries, or sign off your gin with ‘The Spirit & Soul of Sapele.’
Naming a company or a brand is a creative process. It is both inspiration and perspiration. There’s a science to it. There’s art to it. If your personality is more yin than yang, I suggest you enlist the assistance of someone who is more creative than you are. If you’re a big company launching a new product, get professionals to look in on the naming. Avoid incongruities like Power Oil. I however like the brand name MiniMie. Chin-Chin. It’s playful and easy to remember. TV spot is pathetic though.
Jide Alade is a brand, differentiation and advertising enthusiast. You can read Jide’s other posts on jidealade.com