Creativity

How To Name A Product Or Brand In 9 Steps (A Repeatable Naming Framework)

Gerrard Lipscombe
9
Minute Read
New

Naming is a fascinating process.

For a period in my freelancing career, I was so fascinated by the psychology and creativity of naming that I pinned myself as a naming specialist. I only engaged on brand, product and business naming and tagline projects—and by doing so, I was able to see the full spectrum of approaches and opinions out there when it comes to how to choose a product or brand name.

During that time, I organically developed a framework of my own for the naming process.

It wasn’t planned, but after asking and answering the same questions so many times—with clients from SaaS startups to global manufacturers of machine pump parts (true story)—it seemed only natural to distil it all into a repeatable framework.

Here’s how that naming framework breaks down.

  1. Free association brainstorm
  2. Select 3-5 naming directions
  3. Focused brainstorm
  4. Applied naming frameworks
  5. Capture spinoffs
  6. Create your shortlist
  7. Make a pick
  8. Domain name availability search (& creative solutions)
  9. Trademark search

Let’s get naming.

1. Start with your product & users (free association)

This is our grounding. What keeps our product tethered to base reality, and ensures we don’t ever stray too far from something ‘recognizable’ to the user.

Remind yourself of:

  • Which problems your product solves;
  • How those pain points are experienced or felt by the user (emotive words like ‘frustration’, ‘inspired’, ‘self-confident’ are great here);
  • Which features make your product standout (your differentiator in a keyword);
  • Who you are talking to.

In this first step, we want to keep things as loose and freeflowing as possible. We don’t want to commit to any given direction, we just want to explore the potential word landscape as it relates to (no matter how distantly) our product or offering.

Action: While considering your product and these prompts, simply write down in bullet point/list format all the key words, concepts and phrases that come to mind. You can sort this into multiple columns if it helps, but write or type rapidly: think ‘free association’, no filters.

2. Select your naming directions or ‘themes’

Now we want to make some kind of method from our initial madness.

The human mind is an incredible pattern detector—so much so that we often see patterns where none exist. Let’s leverage that now.

Action: Review your free association list and begin to sort the keywords and concepts into categories or ‘themes’. For example, if I had ‘secure’, ‘reliable’, ‘stable’, ‘steady’, I might group all of those words into one ‘theme’. Other items on my list like ‘speed’, ‘swift’, ‘easy to use’, ‘frictionless’ might then belong to another theme.

Take your list and identify 3-5 primary themes or naming directions.

3. Second brainstorm: focus on keywords, user outcomes and emotions

With your 3-5 naming directions settled, commit to a second round of free association brainstorming within those themes.

The goal here is to extend the associations by focussing narrowly within those dedicated themes. Take existing words and explore related tangents—open the thesaurus if you must—and feel free to push the boundaries of what’s possible within those selected themes.

Action: Perform a second round of brainstorming on a new sheet or page, this time writing or typing underneath each ‘theme’. You can do this in columns, or simply by creating space for each—try to still perform this brainstorm in the same sitting, across all the selected directions (i.e. you don’t want to do a separate brainstorm for each direction, let the themes mix and mingle but write down words and concepts in their respective category).

4. Apply common naming frameworks

By this stage we should have a handy list of keywords, emotions, pain points and concepts to pull from. Now it’s time to actively apply a few common naming frameworks to our free association lists:

  1. Try out quirky spelling of especially important keywords that capture your value proposition (think ‘Lyft’);
  2. Explore new madeup portmanteaus of multiple keywords (e.g. ‘Facebook’);
  3. Consider recognizable mythological characters, names and entities (including plants, animals and places) that in some way or another personify some of the keywords listed (e.g. ‘Hercules’ if your keywords included ‘strength’);
  4. Straightforward: try to state your value proposition as straightforwardly as possible and see what results (e.g. ‘WeSellUsedCars’);
  5. Sticky, memorable, punchy: Take your favorite keywords and try to make them as sticky, memorable or punchy as possible (this one is harder to give universal guidance on, often just comes down to a feeling 🤷‍♂️).

5. Jot down new ideas that arise

While in the process of repurposing your existing list through these common frameworks, often, the magic happens.

Your mind is exploring various avenues, looking at ideas from different angles and searching for solutions; very often, entirely new concepts and combinations come forth.

Action: Create a space to capture these ideas that burst forth.

6. Create your shortlist of 7-10 names

Take this longlist and turn it into a shortlist of 7-10.

Then, if you’re able to, review this shortlist with a friend, colleague or community vote. Best to talk through it with someone in real-time (over a call or in-person) to explain your thinking, get their immediate reactions and feedback and challenge ideas together.

7. Make your pick, then let it sit.

If you love a name, select it, then sit with it for a couple of days.

If you still love it after spending a couple of days away from it, time to do some research.

8. Domain name availability research

If you plan to host your product on its own unique domain, or if the name you’re developing is a brand or business name, then you’ll want to do some domain research.

You can use a tool like domains.google.com to search for available instances of your new name.

  • Begin with the name + ‘.com’ as your ideal case;
  • Then, search for alternate endings if .com isn’t available. Try not to entertain anything too whacky (e.g. .xyz) and stick with recognizable endings like ‘.co’, ‘.net’, or a local country code like ‘.co.uk’.
  • If none are available, you can always get creative with additional non-keyword phrases like ‘get-’, ‘weare-’, ‘-hq’ and other add-ons to create unique domains for your product (e.g. ‘www.wearedesignable.com’ if ‘designable.com’ isn’t available).

Once you find a domain you’re happy with, hit purchase and get yourself motivated to build the site—be careful though, buying domains for every startup and product idea can become an addiction 👀.

9. Trademark search

If you plan to trademark your product, now would be an excellent time to do some trademark research. Trademark databases are local to your trading country, and so depending on where you are you may have a different engine to search.

Typically, however, a quick google search will point you to the relevant trademark search database for your given country. For a couple of examples, here are links to the US trademark search site and the UK site.

General product naming ideas, pointers & tips

  • Short is typically better. One word names are great. Two words can be fine. Three and above and you risk recognizability and search issues;
  • Focus on the user. How will they be reading/hearing this name? It’s all well and good if you have some deeply personal, philosophical, abstract word that represents your product’s true essence—if the user isn’t in on the joke, though, they’ll just see jibberish. Some user-based assoications to keep in mind: a) outcomes; b) pain points; c) emotions
  • Don’t overthink it. Your name is indeed often the first impression of your product, but it isn’t the only product. Far more important to do an excellent job on product development, strong marketing and consistent presence than it is to land the perfect name.
  • And if you really get stuck, there are three tools you can always look to:
  • A thesaurus;
  • Online naming generators like this one; and
  • Freelance naming and brand specialists (but again, only if you’re really stuck).

Happy naming!

(Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash)

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