What’s in a name? Thinking up the perfect brand name

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Brand names are all taken!

The perfect brand name is hard to find. Think of 20 names that describe you, your business, your product or service – chances are they are already in use. I spent a huge amount of time thinking of my business name, I wanted something that sounded cool, punchy, modern and the rest. What I found was, being in a creative industry, you can add “design”, “creative” or “branding” to pretty much any cool word and someone already has it. Try it! you will be surprised how many random designers there are.

However, there is hope. You will think up a couple of names that are available, they may not be the most inspired words but all is not lost, you just need to change your thinking.

Thinking of names is hard!

I recently had a client who wanted to open a fast-food restaurant. They already had a successful business portfolio running several franchises. They wanted a new challenge, to open something new, built from the ground up, developing their brand and menu. 

From the very start, my client had a solid idea of what they wanted to achieve with the fast-food restaurant, but then came naming it… they struggled, really struggled. Everything they and I thought of was either taken or they weren’t feeling it.

So why are unique names so hard to find?

I watched a great Ted Talk about brand names from Jonathan Bell (How to create a great brand name), he tells us that there are about 300 million businesses worldwide. This is a massive number of names you have to rule out! This, mixed with wanting to find that perfect name that totally sums up what you do, your morals and ethics plus something that sounds super cool is almost an impossible task.

This was the point where we took a step back and looked at the wider picture.

What’s in a name?

We were hitting a brick wall and had to approach this from another angle. I thought it might be good to go back and check out other brands in the same space.

To understand what makes a great brand name I broke down the top UK fast-food brand names into categories; descriptive, people and abstract.

Descriptive names such as Burger King and Pizza hut pin their offering to the wall, burgers and pizza. The problem we found was most descriptive names are already taken or you could run into trademark problems. You also dramatically reduce the option for adding different products or taking the business in a new direction.

That leaves people and abstract names; McDonald’s, Greggs, Fives Guys, Nando’s, etc. Without having previous experience of these brands, the names are meaningless. Through branding and the restaurant experience, the names become synonymous with the products they offer. In my opinion, these are better options for a brand name. But in the ideas stage, many potential names will be disregarded as they have no meaning or connection to the business because the branding and experience are yet to come. 

While brainstorming names, the client said they want a “one-word name, like Dominos” (an abstract name). I encouraged them to look at other brands they admire, such as Dominos and try to imagine those brand names with no prior knowledge of the brand and the experience.

The point of this exercise was to get the client to think about how a brand name can become synonymous with a product, through branding and customer experience. I was also hoping we could bring previous name options back into play. We had a good pool of available names I thought would be a shame to lose.

Don't Stress

Brainstorming names can make you go a bit crazy, frustrated and stressed. There is a lot riding on the success of your business, but it’s important to remember that your business is not built on the name alone. Rather than trying to find those one or two words that embody your products, morals, values, try thinking of words that sound good or are nice to say. Most importantly, don’t overthink it and don’t stress.

Own your name!

My client eventually decided on a name, one which they previously weren’t into because it didn’t scream ‘fast-food restaurant’…  It wasn’t until they thought about the bigger picture – the name, the branding and the customer experience. Just like a logo is only part of your business identity, so is your brand name. With a strong brand identity, quality products and service your brand name will become the word(s) that people use to tell others about their great experience, thus passing on the brand – “I had a takeaway from (insert name), it was the best pizza I’ve had in ages!”  

You don’t need to explain your name, back up why you chose it or justify what it means. Who cares that Domino’s was originally DomiNick’s, or Nando’s comes from the owner’s name – Fernando, or Five guys is owned by the five sons of the original owners. It simply does not matter as long as your brand identity is strong and you produce great stuff, people know those names for what they do. 

I know this kinda sounds like – meh, just think of a name, doesn’t matter what it is. That not what I’m saying, you should still put in the effort to find a great name, just don’t worry that it might not be cool or punchy enough. Your quality products, service and branding are what your customers will remember. Let’s face it, pizza aside, what’s great about the name dominos? – not a damn thing!  But their branding and products are strong and memorable.

Just own that brand name!

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