Brand Naming: 5 Step Process

Brand Naming: 5 Step Process

What is Brand Naming, And Why Is It Important?

Nothing in your brand identity is more important than your name. It’s the first step in your brand’s launch, the first step in making an idea tangible. It’s the one thing that your competitors can’t take away from you. And, as a registered trademark, your company or product name is protected. It’s valuable intellectual property, just as much as a patent.

Brand names are not just simple labels or descriptors. When done right, they serve as powerful marketing tools for creating or changing consumer perceptions. To enter the marketplace with a marginal brand name dictates marginal success. Simply put, your brand cannot afford to have an ineffective name.

The Role of Brand Names

Here are 3 key things to consider when developing a brand name for your product or company:

Your brand name is not your story.

Don’t be fooled by the adage that a good company name tells your brand’s story. Yes, your name is the foundation for your story, but your full brand story is built on its unique value proposition, visual identity, brand voice, customer experiences, and the consistent message it delivers across all touchpoints.

Still, as the foundation, your name is critically important. And the reality around a rock-solid brand name is that it’s quite hard to break through the clutter. We’re exposed to 6,000 to 10,000 ads every day, each one promoting a different brand personality. We only pay attention to what’s new or noteworthy.

When the Swiffer name was developed for P&G, it was tested with busy parents. Before these parents learned about the product’s features or benefits, they heard the name Swiffer and imagined an easier, more joyful cleaning experience. This shows how when you make it easy to imagine, you make it easy to purchase. 

Being different isn’t enough. Your name must be noteworthy.

Your branding agency may advise you to develop a “unique” business name. But being unique doesn’t necessarily mean people will stop to take notice. In other words, is the idea noteworthy? Is it remarkable enough?

The bottled water Dasani is a great example. The name Dasani was invented using the Latin word for “health” (San) in the middle. In a world of Crystal Springs, Deer Park, and Poland Spring, Dasani brings differentiation and noteworthiness.

If your brand name is forgettable, you will lose.

To influence a consumer’s choice, you must influence what they remember. One way to be unforgettable is to break the traditional rules. Last year, more than 569,270 names were registered in the US alone. With all these trademarks, fitting in won’t work. Make sure that your company name looks different, sounds different, and acts different. In a sea of mundane search engine brands like Infoseek and Web Crawler, Google stood out. Being memorable makes it easier for consumers to buy your product.

Based on consumer research and linguistics, to be unforgettable, your name must also be easy to process – easy to understand. Our brains don’t like complex ideas. We like to think fast. If your brand name is too complex, people will move past it.

The Brand Naming Process

The brand naming process is a strategic exercise grounded in a deep understanding of your brand’s essence and its target audience. Once you have this, the steps below will help you develop a name that’s easy to remember, is trademarkable, is linguistically and culturally sound, and resonates with your target audience.

Step 1: Avoid “groupthink”

Traditional brainstorming isn’t effective.You must avoid the need for comfort or logic. Many agencies – and even internal brand strategy teams – default to large group brainstorming for name generation. These large sessions lead to the development of predictable, overly clever name ideas. Research indicates that small teams significantly outperform larger groups in the naming process. In subjective exercises such as this, it is critical to remove group think from the equation.  Developing effective names requires real rigor. 

Step 2: Make it easy to remember.

There is science behind memory. All of us remember what we understand and what we can visualize. Mad Cow disease is memorable, but Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (the scientific expression for Mad Cow Disease) is not. Keep this in mind when considering how a name can help to ensure your company will have lasting brand recognition.

Step 3: Ensure your name is trademarkable.

You can’t be serious about creating new brand names without having a strong trademark evaluation process. Without a registered trademark, your brand is at risk. The best brand naming agencies have a fully staffed trademark team which includes paralegals, a URL search team, and an experienced trademark attorney. Checking for identical conflicts does not suffice. Make sure you work with a trademark team that goes beyond the standard “knockout” search approach. Otherwise, you will waste more time and money.

Step 4: Consider linguistic implications of your brand name, even in countries where you don’t operate in.

In the digital world, your brand name is instantly global. Negative connotations, anywhere in the world, represent liabilities that no brand can afford. Linguistic and cultural assessments indicate how your new name will perform across your key markets or around the globe. Before you spend millions launching your new brand, make sure you understand the strengths and weaknesses of its name.

Step 5: Use research as a decision-making tool.

When done well, research adds an objective lens to decision-making and uncovers insights about what a name will and won’t do for your future brand. When done poorly, it adds another decision-maker into a process that may already feel like an endless maze. Successful new products always change people’s thinking and change habits. A name does not need to be  comfortable or popular, but it must be believable. When Pentium was tested, it was not the most popular candidate. To some consumers it was “a bit strange.”  But, when asked about its ability to make computers more powerful, 80% of the sample responded positively. Employ research techniques to evaluate the potential of words to deliver specific messages among your target audience.

Best Practices for Effective Brand Names

Does the name make your audience think?

Effective names focus on being remarkably distinctive and noteworthy. They lead your audience to the conclusion that your product has a new story and can help them rethink expectations about the category itself. Gatorade is a brand name that requires you to think about what is in the bottle that inspires a reference to gators. By contrast, Powerade makes a 100% predictable claim and one that’s impossible for either the consumer or the manufacturer to substantiate. More than 30 years after its launch, Gatorade is still the market leader.

Does it make your competitors wince?

A registered brand name needs to make your competitors wince every time they see it. If they’ll just shrug it off or create something better, take the name off the list. Be disruptive and calculated when taking risks with your name. Microsoft’s Azure® Cloud brand helped position the company’s new cloud service as the next-generation offering, gaining significant ground against Amazon’s generic acronym AWS.

Is it relevant, yet distinctive?

The name must offer a degree of relevance. But this is misleading because most people think relevance means names must be descriptive or highly suggestive. While this is true in some cases, relevance can also be delivered in attitude or by association. Think Google. Think Apple. Think Sonos. These names are not descriptive, but they deliver relevant attitudes. Understand your target audience, consider how your product naming strategy affects them, and deliver relevance in the right way.

Is it linguistically sound?

The name has to have processing power. Use high-frequency words and word parts to create surprisingly familiar ideas. Pentium, borrowing the familiar “ium” ending, became one of the world’s most recognized brands. Sonos combines the word part for sound, ‘son,’ with ‘os’ to communicate an operating system for sound.

Don’t worry too much about the URL.

Many clients place too much importance on acquiring the domain name. Research shows that URLs don’t matter to consumers anymore. With Google search, there is no need for someone to type in a full URL. You can acquire a domain or navigate the situation by adding a modifier. Tesla started as and eventually bought Other successful companies without exact URLs include Peloton ( and Square (

Case Studies and Examples


In 2012, a small technology startup based in Santa Barbara, California, wanted a new name for their innovative sound system. The product’s design was beautiful, and their current name, Rincon Audio, wasn’t right. SONOS was created to reflect the product’s sleek design and intended purpose. The name draws from the Latin word ‘sonus,’ meaning sound and incorporates the idea of an operating system (OS). The name is easy to say, spell, and read. Sonos now has over 1800 employees, revenue of $1.75 billion, and a current market cap of $2.13 billion.


San Francisco-based startup Zeit created a rapid deployment platform for developers. They needed a new name to communicate the efficiency, excellence, and strength of their tool. They landed on Vercel —a name that supports the platform’s core benefits by drawing on “versatile,” “accelerate,” and “excel.” Vercel announced their rebrand from Zeit in April 2020, securing $293 million in funding post-rebrand, with a $3.25B valuation. Vercel now powers over 35,000 sites, with clients including Stripe, Rippling, Uber, and Nike.


TripActions, a travel management company, was expanding beyond its core offering. Changing the corporate name would signal a shift to the market. Lexicon developed “Navan,” drawing from “navigate” and “avant” (avant-garde). Navan is a palindrome, meaning it reads the same way forward and backward. Navan is elegant, smooth, and breaks from clever SaaS technology naming conventions. Since its rebrand in 2022, the company raised $400 million in debt financing and $154 million in Series G funding, valuing it at $9.05 billion.

Common Myths

Here are common myths or assumptions you should avoid when developing good brand names:

Myth 1: The perfect name must fit the concept or be popular amongst your team for it to be successful.

If it is, try again. The most popular names in your marketing department are usually the most comfortable (aka boring). Oscar Wilde once said that “an idea that isn’t dangerous is hardly worth calling an idea at all.” In branding, this follows suit — the best names involve some amount of risk. Impossible Foods is a great example of this. It’s patently false since the product proves that it is in fact possible.

Myth 2: It’s all about semantics.

Not one – but three – key factors affect a name’s performance: semantics, structure, and sound symbolism. Ignoring any one of these will decrease the chances of developing a truly effective name. To observe how structure and sound symbolism communicate, it’s useful to look at an invented name that doesn’t resemble any existing word. In this case a name’s “meaning” will rest solely on whatever meaning can be inferred from its structure and from sound symbolism. A highly visible example is Dasani, which has an elegant look and a relaxing sound, without much resemblance to any real English word. 

BlackBerry may seem an incongruous name for a portable email device. Could the BlackBerry have been called the Pineapple or the Orange?  The handheld’s black keys suggested a blackberry’s external surface. Its small size and weight make it hard to envision as an orange or a pineapple. Its sound qualities also set it apart from other fruit names. The two [b]’s alliterate, an effect that is strengthened visually by capitalizing both. The consonants [b], [l], and [r] have fullness that help us imagine a feature-packed device. The three vowels of the name are among the thinnest, lightest sounding vowels of English, appropriate for a device that fits so well in the hand.

Myth 3: Coined names take a lot of money to build into brands.

Coined solutions that represent original ideas are often the most effective. In the late 1980s, two new luxury automotive brands, Lexus and Infiniti, were introduced. Historical sales performance leaves no doubt that Lexus won that battle. Infiniti is derived from the real-word infinity. The word conjures up limitless space, which is a questionable claim for a new vehicle without an established track record. Because the word is four syllables long, it rambles by comparison to most automotive brand names and certainly compared to the quick, two-syllable Lexus.

Lexus represented a real risk for Toyota. Traditional wisdom suggested that Infiniti was a better and far safer choice. Consumer research indicated otherwise. When respondents were asked what they thought a product called Lexus might be, it was most often associated with high priced luxury goods, such as an expensive men’s cologne. When the context shifted to automobiles, there was overwhelming sentiment for a high priced luxury car.

The l and x can be easily related to the word luxury, serving as a validation for a wannabe consumer. While one might be surprised by the sharp sounds of the letter x and the final [s], research revealed that these created speed and performance expectations. 

Myth 4: If a company has a strong corporate name, the company doesn’t need any other brands.

Companies miss many opportunities to create strong corporate assets when they rely on a corporate brand.  Developing and launching a new brand is about corporate renewal. A new brand, done well, can add energy and commitment to an organization. 3M is an example of a company that leverages its corporate identity to enforce new brands. “I know that other companies have tried to consolidate and have one corporate brand,” said Dean Adams, former Director of Corporate Branding at 3M, “but we have a different view.” “The corporate brand takes on the role of authority and credibility, but consumers want to look underneath,” explained Adams.

Scotchgard makes a promise about making things look new for longer, and the brand’s strength works as tangible evidence, proving 3M brand’s corporate promise.  One of 3M’s most recognized and successful brands, Post-it, began with a number of names plastered on its packaging. When the product was launched, it carried trademarks for Scotch, 3M, Post-it, Plaid and more.  Once 3M saw what it had, the other brands were dropped quickly and the ubiquitous Post-it was born.


Brand naming is not just about selecting a name. It’s about setting the stage for your brand positioning, narrative, and ultimately, its success in the marketplace. It’s a catalyst for value creation. Case studies like Swiffer, Pentium, Sonos and Navan demonstrate their power. As Mark Twain said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter – it’s the difference between the lightning bug and lightning.”