Before anything else—logo, packaging, or advertising—a brand needs a name. The name is the thing by which a brand is remembered and discussed. A “good name” is synonymous with a good reputation. It is comparatively easy for a brand to change its logo, its package design, or its advertising; it is much harder to change a name and get customers to connect the new name with the old one. Brands that pick a good name find half the marketing and branding work is done for them. “The best product and company names require the least advertising. They are advertisements,” reads the website of San Francisco-based naming agency Igor.
Sounds are not neutral; they have intrinsic associations, and it is important that a brand name have the right sounds to conjure the right associations. Making matters tricky is the fact that those associations shift from one culture to another. A name that may sound good to French ears can sound peculiar to Germans, and vice versa. A short, likable name that can be easily pronounced in many languages (and registered as an Internet domain in every country) has a huge advantage today.
Igor defines four types of name, paraphrased here with their permission:
• functional or descriptive names that literally describe what the company, product, or service offers, e.g., General Motors, British Petroleum, American Telephone &Telegraph;
• invented names, either with Latin/Greek roots, or based on fun, rhythmic sounds, e.g., Jeep, Viagra, Google, Exxon;
• experiential names, similar to descriptive names, but focused on the experience rather than the function, e.g., Hungry Man (frozen dinners), Land Rover (all-terrain four-wheel drives), Fidelity (investments); and
• evocative names, selected to evoke confidence or strength, e.g., Jaguar, Mach3, and Lucent (telecommunications).
There are also referential names, which refer directly to a founder or place of origin. Examples include Ford, Harley-Davidson, Hewlett-Packard, Guinness, and Evian. Another category is acronyms, for example IBM, USX, BP and EMI. Most of these initials once stood for something, but for the consumer, their significance has been lost.
The best names—the most memorable ones—tend to be both invented and evocative; in rare cases, functional and experiential too. Such names dominate their product or service category: it becomes virtually impossible for a competitor to think of a better name. In The Brand Gap, Marty Neumeier lists seven criteria for a good name: brevity, distinctiveness, appropriateness, easy spelling and pronunciation, likability, extendability, and protectability.