The Name Game

Behind Studio Doors

For a recent project, we were tasked with finding alternative name options for an, as yet unborn, brand. The working title was one the founders had grown to know and love, but our objective consumer view didn’t feel it resonated with the power of its product. Led by our Strategic Account Director, Adam (who says his fascination with names comes from his own “boring” one), the exact number of names on the lengthy list of options is unknown, but it must have been several hundred before we settled on a winner.

In one simple word, or a select few, a name becomes identity; the descriptor that allows people to make quick judgments and assumptions. It is part of the shop window that makes people stop, look and consider – or walk on by. We’ve yet to put the above new business name to the public test, but the exercise reminded us of the deep consideration that goes into the naming process.


Here are a few of the rules we’ve learnt along the way:

  • You can’t always love a name from the word go; it needs to live and grow to become part of the product.
  • Don’t disregard a purely functional name, even if your brand values are more fun. Kentucky Fried Chicken has a playful tone of voice, but its name is very straightforward and tells you exactly what it does.
  • Short isn’t always good. Air NZ sounds less friendly and welcoming than Air New Zealand, and Urban Outfitters has a great confidence in a name that on the surface seems long and functional.
  • Most things are taken, so don’t be afraid to look outside of two syllable words.
  • Phrases (such as Head and Shoulders, Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Cornflakes) and portmanteaus (such as Asda, which is a portmeanteau of Associated Dairies) can provide good fuel.
  • Don’t focus too much on brand architecture during the naming stage. A lot of (good) names get shot down because someone asks if a name will make sense should the company evolve and expand beyond its initial remit.
  • If all else fails, use a persona or make up a name. Look around and you’ll notice them everywhere: Ted Baker, JP Morgan, Marks & Spencer, Johnnie Walker, Ben & Jerry’s, Linda McCartney.
  • People will always say or spell things wrong, so don’t let that get in the way of a good brand name. Take Pret a Manger for example…


So, what’s in a name? Hours of thoughtful consideration – and the heart and soul of the brand will be in there somewhere, too.


By Oonagh Stoker, Head of Content & Delivery