A washing powder called Humphrey

If you’re a parent or about to become one, you’ll know just how tricky the game of the name can be. A name is a fundamental part of a person’s identity and it’s no different for brands. And just like naming babies, it’s highly subjective. Whether you think ‘Skyway’ or ‘Fox’ are good babies’ names is as much a matter of opinion as whether you think ‘Cillit Bang!’ is a good name for a product.

There are many hurdles to jump in the race to find a good name – the law, for a start. Has anyone else beaten you to it? And even if they haven’t, are the necessary web addresses available? Or at least the ones you want. It’s a bit of minefield. And then there’s the creative task…

Like so many aspects of marketing, naming is subject to a highly unpredictable force: ‘gut instinct’. Although our ‘gut’ provides a powerful response, there are a few important principles that should guide you to a good name:

1. It may seem obvious but find something memorable and distinctive. If the leading brands on the market are ‘Dazzle’, ‘Superclean’ and ‘Wonderbright’, then don’t name your product ‘Megabright’. You’d be better off calling it Humphrey. Or Nigel. Or Mildred. It’s not such a ridiculous notion – don’t forget that there’s a television channel called Dave.

2. In our highly globalised economy, a good name is easy to write and say. ‘Wii’ is perhaps deliberately childish in terms of sound and spelling. It’s three letters, one syllable and a sound that is a universal expression of playful joy – ideal for a games consul competing on the international market. Okay – to a British ear, it does also sound like a childish word for urine but it doesn’t mean that in the rest of the world.

3. Have a personality. In 1994, the name ‘Orange’ wasn’t literal and focussed on technology like the leading telecoms brands: Vodafone (‘voice / data / phone) and BT Cellnet. Confidence and personality always work hard for brands. And, as Blackberry, Orange and Bluetooth all demonstrate – the name doesn’t need to explain – it simply has to signpost your organisation, product or service in a striking way.

4. A bold, distinctive name with personality gives you a strong creative starting point. The spikiness and energy of ‘Shazam’ are much more likely to inspire exciting communications than ‘Music Finder’.

Lastly, gut instinct and the X factor shouldn’t be dismissed. They’re important. Trust them. If you keep coming back to a particular option that somehow feels right, it probably is. Even if it goes against everything your rational mind is telling you. After all, whoever they happen to be, your customers respond to names just as irrationally as you do.

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