What’s in a Name?


What’s in a Name?

At some point in your career, you’ll likely be faced with playing a part in naming a company, brand, or product. As this challenge has presented itself through the years, I have cultivated a list of criteria that can be used to help frame the process. While measuring up to all of these suggestions can be a tall order, the more of these boxes that can be checked, the greater the likelihood that the name will be a success.

Whether you’re launching a startup or seeking to reinvent a company, the perfect name will have the following features:

Clear, simple, and easy to understand. The average American is reportedly exposed to 5,000 to 6,000 marketing and advertising messages per day. Therefore, any company that wishes to break through the clutter needs to make recall easy for its target audience.

Easy to spell. Similarly, a clear and concise spelling makes it that much easier on your prospective audience. Because so many names are already taken, many companies resort to phonetic spellings. If that’s the case, the easier and more intuitive your name is, the better. For example, “Syfy Network” is easy to recall, given that “Syfy” is four letters and two syllables. On the other hand, Qwikster was a bit of tongue-twister and may explain, in part, why Netflix quickly left it on the trash heap.

Avoids autocorrect. In an era of social media and rampant smartphone usage, a name that does not autocorrect to some other word consistently is vital. For example, on a recent project, a musical act wanted to adopt the name “iives,” which autocorrects into “lives.” The notion that members of the target audience of millennials are going to backspace over “lives” was—pardon me—dead on arrival.

Memorability. Again, ease of recall helps create stickiness. It makes it more convenient for the consumer who is inundated with information.

Uniqueness. There should never be another company or product of prominence with the same name, in order to avoid confusion and potential trademark or copyright violations.

Intuitive. The name should ideally align with what the company or the product does—its mission or benefit.

Capable of telling a story. Words have origins and meanings, literally, historically, personally, and by way of association. A name that possesses a meaning that aligns with the company’s or product’s purpose and that can be interwoven into a meaningful and credible story is ideal. For example, the name of this column—“Dish”—is derived from a nickname associated with my last name, Petry, as in petri dish, and this is where I discuss—or “dish” on—many topics.

Has an associated URL that is also easy to recall. Given the power of the internet to advance a company’s aims, having a URL that is associated with the name that can be recalled easily is paramount. Ideally, a URL will be available that is “” versus “” Nowadays, this is not an easy task.

Resists mockery. Unfortunately, with the prevalence of online trolls, one should stay away from names that can be easily turned into putdowns. So, for example, a word that rhymes with a curse word or other negative invective should be avoided, if possible.

Avoids strong cultural associations unless they makes sense. Names that have strong cultural associations or would come across as non sequitur should be avoided unless they make sense within the context of the story you are telling.

Feels right. This is the most important factor of all. Whatever the name is, it has to “click.” This is an extremely important decision that will become part of the company’s or product’s permanent identity; think of it as the flag you’re about to wave. Therefore, the decision should not be rushed, rash, or coerced. In fact, it would be prudent to vet any name on a shortlist with trusted colleagues across the spectrum of the marketplace, including internal and external sources.

Final thoughts? A good place to start the process is to assemble a list of words and go to and to find word associations that allow you to build off the most obvious choices. Many of the most obvious will be taken. Assemble that shortlist first, before hunting for a URL, to avoid backtracking. Then apply these tips to your leading choices, and you, too, will be in a position to herald your good name.

Rick Petry is a freelance writer who specializes in direct marketing and is a past chairman of ERA. He can be reached at (503) 740-9065, online at, and on Twitter @thepetrydish.