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What’s In A Name?

Published on September 6, 2016 Back to blog
Teenage Girl Sitting on Rock in Front of Ocean

Last weekend, my daughter invited a few friends over to our house for a belated birthday sleep-over party (her birthday is in December, but she much prefers Summer parties). Somehow, during the stay, I found myself in a conversation with them about names. The real surprising thing here is not actually the content of the conversation, but the fact that four 12-year old girls let me be a part of the conversation. But I digress. Back to the conversation.

After much interesting debate about whether their given names were appropriate for their personalities, they all concluded that their parents got it right. My daughter, Julia, was definitely a Julia – not an Isabelle, Lucy or as one of the girls considered, Veronica. Being the humble dad that I am, I explained how it takes considerable effort for a parent to find the perfect name for a child, but that the best parents generally figure it out.

Of course, the truth of the matter is that, regardless of almost any name we give our children, they will eventually grow to represent it because the name doesn’t define a person. A person defines the name. 

The same holds true with brand names. In helping clients identify a name for “their baby” (organizations/businesses), I often warn that it is one of the most personal decisions they will ever make. It will be a part of every conversation. It will appear on virtually every business card, presentation, ad campaign, brochure, retail location, product, etc. And, barring a sale or major organizational shift, it won’t change. However, I also advise that the name is not what defines the brand. The name is just the beginning.

So, when considering a name for your “baby” (or maybe even a real child), here are a few things to think about: 

1. Give it room to be itself. Find a name that gives the brand an opportunity to be itself. The more literal a name may be, the less room it may have to do so. For example, imagine if we named Julia, “beautiful happy child.” While all of those are true, she also has her moments. Adulthood could become a bit challenging as well. 

2. Give it a leg up to start. It’s always best to start on a positive note. So, while a name needs to lend some freedom for the brand to be itself, it is helpful when it also infers positive and/or relevant thoughts. At the same time, be careful not to start it at a disadvantage. (For example, Mr. and Mrs. Small should probably avoid naming their child Richard). 

3. Avoid confusion. In some cases, you may find that the name you really like is already taken by someone else. Aside from the legal implications, using such a name can cause confusion (and, potentially, frustration). Of course, with brand names, you also need to consider URL availability, search engine confusion and other such factors. (I’m sure there are many other Julia Ann Freedman’s out there, but none are so famous to have caused any issues… yet.)

4. Consider future friendships. If your brand is seeking to build relationships with people in other countries and cultures, consider the meaning of your name in those places. General Motors should have considered this one before naming a car Nova (translated “Don’t Go” in French).

5. Sell in. Don’t sell out. There’s a reason that parents often keep the name of a child quiet until after it is born – because everyone has (subjective) opinions. A name is personal. Make sure that the people who will be responsible for it are comfortable with it, and are prepared to help it grow. Don’t let the people who are not responsible for it name it.

6. Instill strong values and beliefs. Perhaps the most important thing you can do when considering a new name for your brand is to clearly articulate the values and beliefs by which you want it to live. When these are clearly understood, and all those responsible for guiding the brand instill these values and beliefs day in and day out, the brand will make a good name for itself.

I hope this guidance helps you in your next brand naming project. In the meantime, I want to take a moment to thank my parents for giving me the right name – and not naming me Adolph, Moon Unit or Ima (take a moment with that one).

As always, please feel free to share your comments here.

Have a great day!

Jeff