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Let’s step back from the business of acquiring, promoting and selling domain names, and put ourselves in the position of a group wanting to name a business, product, service or organization. Let’s consider the simple question: What makes a good name?

Memorable

Your name needs to be memorable. That simply means that people will remember the name. One reason for the interest in short names is that it is usually easier to remember short names. Names that are a single word are also easier to remember, at least for well-known words.

You can readily do small-scale consumer research. Show people a list of names, and then check back after a few days to see how many of the names from the list they will remember accurately.

All memorable names are not created equal, however. Some names that are memorable may leave a negative impression, or be easily, but not accurately, remembered. Let’s dig a bit deeper into what makes a good name.

Audio Check

The audio check, formerly called the radio test, simply means: If someone hears the name, will they remember it accurately? You can do your own audio test on prospective names with a group of friends or associates.

With audio interface increasingly being used for search, the audio test may be even more important than historically. This suggests another type of name test you can do – say a name and see if speech-to-text gets it right.

Spelling

If a business is well enough known that it appears on the first page of Google, then getting the spelling right may be less of a problem, since intention-based Google search will suggest what it thinks you are looking for.

But if the business is just getting started, or people are sending email, it is important that people spell your name right. Short names, especially common words, have an advantage here.

Double-word names with a repeated letter between the last letter of the first word, and first letter of the second word, are more likely to be spelled incorrectly. Words with different UK and American spelling can pose problems, unless the business controls both. Here is a list of 100 words that are commonly spelled incorrectly.

If you have a name that is based on a common word, but has a creative spelling, try to have at most one change from the common word. Also only a change that seems natural, and easily communicated, through one phrase like “we are EXAMPLE NAME, but spelled with a k instead of a c.”

Visual Aesthetics

Many names depend on being seen on billboards, posters, advertisements, letterhead, etc. Some names are more visually pleasing.

While difficult to uniquely define, things such as the leading and trailing characters, symmetry, and the mix of letters of different width and height all influence visual aesthetics.

In two-word names, a combination of two words of equal length can seem more visually pleasing.

It is worth the effort for a business to do a mockup of prospective names to see how each would look on letterhead or advertisements. The multiple display formats that some domain name marketplaces employ helps users see how a prospective name would look in various settings.

Audio Aesthetics

While difficult to precisely define, audio aesthetics also needs to be taken into account. Always say prospective names out loud, not just for accuracy in remembering the name, but to feel the emotions evoked by hearing the name.

A letter like K has a bold or strong audio feel, while names that start with SH or end with SS may feel more soft and inviting. Either can be a great name, but for different business types.

In two-word names, alliteration can help the aesthetics of the name. b]Rhyming the ends of words[/b] can also help audio aesthetics and make the name more memorable.

Words with more syllables can be considered less aesthetically pleasing, although sometimes multiple syllables helps give a name a lively feel. Many major brands are just one or two syllables in length.

Does the sound fit your intended audience? A fun and playful sound might be perfect for a toy brand or amusement park, but not a good fit at all for a loan agency or research group.

Don’t Box The Business In

In recent years there is a strong trend to brand on common generic words, in most cases words unrelated, or very loosely related, to the business function.

Not only are these common words easier to remember, and get the spelling right, but they do not box the future growth of the company in terms of additional products or services the company might offer.

Hint at Business Services or Products

Despite the view expressed above, especially in the startup phase of companies with a limited advertising budget, there can be advantages to a name that hints at the products or services offered by the company.

Branding on an unrelated generic name may require a huge advertising budget to get consumers to associate the word with the business.

For many years, and certainly in the original dot-com era, businesses often branded directly on product or service words. While that is still done to some degree, and can be very useful for drawing potential clients, in recent years the majority of businesses do not have a product or service word directly in their name.

One can take a middle path, with the name not defining exactly your service, giving a hint of the broad nature of the business.

Emotional Match of Name to Business

Names evoke emotional feelings. Some speak of joy and happiness, others of trust and confidence.

A name that is very good for one business may not be a good choice for another. The name should evoke an emotional feel that is appropriate to the business or organization.

Names for games or kid’s products will have a different feel than names for an investment service or reputation management firm.

Respect

Your name will, in most cases, be the first impression of your business or organization. As well as being remembered, you want potential clients to respect your name.

Many aspects go into that respect, including the name itself, the domain extension, the perceived worth, and whether the name is viewed as being unique and distinctive or too similar to better known businesses.

Catchy Names

What is a catchy name? While hard to define, I think most of us know a catchy name when we see one. Does the name attract your attention? Do you smile when you first saw or heard the name? Were you inclined to share the name with someone else?

Catchy names can bring great value to their business, but a catchy name can also be tricky. Be particularly careful of a name that is catchy mainly because of a very recent social trend. Your name will stick with a successful business for a long time, and it is difficult to predict social trends.

Competition

While an early check on registered trademarks and business names is essential, there is more to consider about name competition than whether you are allowed to use the name.

In narrowing the choice of possible names it can be helpful to draw up a list of competitor names that you like, but don’t make the mistake of picking a name that is too similar to a competitor. You want to be unique and distinctive.

A Google search, looking at both search results and paid advertising, will show how crowded the space is for the proposed name. Use LinkedIn or OpenCorporates to see how many existing businesses use a similar name.

It will be easier to gain search traction if you use a name which is easily remembered, yet not too frequently used.

In particular, if a generic word is already in use by a very large and famous company, it is going to be challenging to get a similarly named business, operating in a different sector, noticed. Also famous trademarks carry additional protections.

More Information

The ideas collated for this article come from a variety of articles, books, forum and social media posts, websites, and podcasts. I don’t claim originality on any of the ideas presented here, and thanks to all who share great ideas about names and brands.

The various brandable marketplaces offer great insights on what makes a good business name.

The BrandBucket article What Makes a Great Business Name? covers many of the aspects noted in this article, such as the value of short, memorable, simple, and catchy names.
Apple. Walmart. Amazon. Some of the most iconic brands of our time are also the simplest. These businesses didn't let trying to be clever detract from the point: make it simple for your customers. Make it easy to understand. Make it memorable.
They also add the importance of a name that works well in multiple languages if you are seeking global markets.

BrandBucket also remind us to avoid going too trendy with names.
When coming up with a business name, think about if it would be relevant ten years ago, and if it might be relevant in the next ten years. Stay away from current trends and fads and go with a brand name that will stand the test of time.

In the article The Ultimate Guide: How to Come Up With a Business Name at SquadHelp:
How will your customers feel connected to your name? They may choose it based on emotions, visual appeal, or curiosity. They may also like the idea conveyed by your name or love its elegant sound.

Alter present an interesting set of business renaming cases. For example, did you know that the original name for Subway was Pete’s Super Submarines, or Skype started life as Sky Peer-to-Peer? Alter summarizes what makes a name catchy, along with several other desired characteristics, in this quotation.
’Catchiness’ is somewhat of a subjective matter, but great names are always easy to remember. Unique, clever, yet familiar ideas often perform the best. And of course, short names are better, all other factors being equal. They're easier to remember. They're easier to type. They're harder to misspell and/or mispronounce.

While there are no longer new episodes, Keith DeBoer’s Brandable Insider podcast is still available to listen to old episodes. Over 65 issues he offers a wealth of advice on names that make good brands. I interviewed Keith on the NamePros Blog for Making the Leap to Full-Time Domain Investor.

Last year I reviewed Jeremy Miller’s book Brand New Name for the NamePros Blog. The book has a wealth of commentary and cases regarding selecting a winning name for a business or product. I have some other naming book reviews planned for the NamePros Blog later this year.

I urge readers to add to the list presented here, and to comment on which factors they consider most critical in finding the right name for a business, product, service or organization.

In a related future NamePros Blog article, I plan to deal with the process of coming up with a list of good names, and performing an evaluation of potential names on that list.
 
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The views expressed on this page by users and staff are their own, not those of NamePros.

Laguna

Top Contributor
Impact
1,556
Great article as always Bob. I have a name that fits all those things you just mentioned. It's a .org name for a big charity organization the would be memorable to everyone who hears it. However, it's had very little interest so even when things seem to fit like a glove. Obviously I won't say the name on this thread because that's not what the thread is about. Great read though and plenty of food for thought
 
Impact
13,485
Because all the factors listed are subjective to the people choosing their brand. What I think is a cool brand you think is silly, etc etc.

Hi

pretty much agree

the listed factors, are still basically taken from a domainers perspective as to what makes a a good domain

for a company, one may name it after themselves.
ie; jonesandsons and whatever products they make or services provided could have generic names which describe them
ie: J&S saws or J&S burgers, J&S installations, etc.

it always depends on the company,
what/where their market is, whether they are trendy or traditional, old school or new school, tech or industrial, manufacturing, services, etc.

and we all know that money can affect popularity of a name,
and when/if the product or service is great, then it can boost the brand name or company name which produces it.

still, some names like "Travago.com" for instance still sucks, no matter how many times i see the commercials.
:)

imo...
 

Avinash S

Established Member
Impact
-28
While difficult to uniquely define, things such as the leading and trailing characters, symmetry, and the mix of letters of different width and height all influence visual aesthetics.
Hi, can anyone please tell me abt what is 'leading and trailing characters?

Also, an example of 'symmetry'? Please
 
Impact
29,268
"A letter like K has a bold or strong audio feel, while names that start with SH or end with SS may feel more soft and inviting. Either can be a great name, but for different business types."
Any examples, please? :)
A classic real world branding example is Kodak. As the story goes when the company was being named the owner asked the team to come up with a name that started and ended with letter K, because he regarded that as a strong letter, and that the name did not previously mean anything.

As an example of brands benefitting from the soft sound, Bliss is a makeup brand that promotes animal and planet friendly approaches. Not only does the word bliss have a soft, gently (and positive) feel, but part of that is the 'iss' ending.

Shasta is a name that feels inviting and personal, and slightly gentle perhaps, from the sh start. It is widely used in branding including in fashion, family travel trailers, beverages, etc.

Bob
 
Impact
29,268
Hi, can anyone please tell me abt what is 'leading and trailing characters?

Also, an example of 'symmetry'? Please
Thanks @hawkeye for answer re leading and trailing.

The first letter in a single word name, or each first letter in a dual-word name are leading. Generally, you want those letters to be distinctive, both visually and when spoken.

Symmetry can mean various things. In two-word names, the most obvious is when the two words have the same length the name feels a little more perfect (sure tons of effective brands that don't do this). For example WellsFargo has 5L in each of the two names, and both W and F are visually prominent leading characters.

As a name with near complete symmetry, and also using alliteration, consider Coca-Cola two terms, each of length 4L and each starting not only with C but Co and each ends with a. You can't have much more symmetry than that.

One of the larger companies by revenue (see list) is UnitedHealth. While a relatively long name, there is the symmetry of each name being 6 letters in length, and the two leading letters U and H are similar width characters.

A single-term famous brand with a lot of symmetry is Costco, but starting and stopping with co, and a middle part of same length, the name feels symmetrical. If of course also benefits from having cost as the leading word embedded in the name.

Bob
 
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Impact
29,268
Wow, I never knew that 'Width' in characters can also affect the price of domain names!
Thank you @Bob Hawkes for always sharing great info here!
Possibly. It is one of many factors. One can find exceptions to all naming branding rules.

Companies that specialize in helping businesses find names typically start with lists of 100+ names, and then through dialog with the client, research, and focus groups looking at some of the factors mentioned here narrow the list to a short final list for consideration. Spending 5 or 6 figures of a name consulting firm is not unusual, as I understand it.
So it means tht if the starting letters in the words are not CAPITAL Letters, then it may not look good on ads, or billboards?
I think it is generally assumed that it is best to start different words with capitals for clarity on the meaning (some multi-word names could be split different ways) and to make them more quickly recognized and remembered.

Bob
 
Impact
29,268
In response to requests for examples of names with symmetry or strong aesthetics, consider the brand Sonos – best known for the audio firm, but used in more than 100 other businesses too.

The name has great visual aesthetics, just 3 different letters, starting with so and ending with the reversed os. In fact it is also a palindrome, a word the same forward and backward.

Sonos also has a very inviting oral sound, and is short and easily remembered.

Bob
 
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