What's in a name? Sometimes everything.



Choosing a name seems like it should be easy. But it doesn’t take long for most business owners to end up feeling completely baffled. Head spinning in all directions.

The thesaurus becomes your best friend. In fact, sometimes you sleep with the dictionary under your pillow, hoping the perfect name will just jump out via osmosis overnight.

Sadly, many end up giving up. Defaulting to a safe, does what it says on the tin, name. Or just any random name, as they run out of time.

But it doesn’t have to be the case. In this article, we breakdown our approach to naming.



Brand Gap

What makes the perfect name?

Choosing a name for your new business or new product is one of the first and most important decisions you can make.

It’s the first step in creating your brand identity. And if you’re going down a route you’re not happy with, or that’s not fit for purpose, you can limit the opportunities for your business and your product.

So, first things first. Before you ever start brainstorming, or considering potential names, it’s important to understand what makes a good name.

Marty Neumeier, author of The Brand Gapdefines 7 useful criteria that a good name should meet;

  1. Distinctive – It should stand out from the crowd.
  2. Brief – It should be short enough to easily remember. Will it avoid being reduced to a nickname, or worse, a meaningless set of initials?
  3. Appropriate – It should fit with your business purpose or objectives.
  4. Easy to Spell and Say – Is it easy to spell when you hear it and say when you see it?
  5. Likeable – It should be an enjoyable word to use. It should feel good to say.
  6. Extendible – Ideally, it would lend itself to visual interpretations. Or create opportunities for brand play.
  7. Protectable – It should be trademarkable or have an available domain name as required.


Kicking off a brainstorm

The first step in the brainstorming process is to start thinking about what your name needs to do. What do you want it to stand for? Describe? How do you want it to feel?

Effectively, you need to create a naming brief.

But this doesn’t have to be a formal written brief. At TOTEM our first step is always to listen and help you explore and answer some key questions. To help you identify your brand’s essence and what it is that is unique about your product or company.

For example, our client Leading Edge Group, approached us for support naming an exciting new product they were launching. So, to kick off the brainstorming, we worked with them to answer the following key questions.

What is the product?
It was a new Continuous Improvement Portal that Leading Edge Group were launching, as part of their product offering.

What are the key product features?
It was going to provide a full measurement of Continuous Improvement (CI) that was responsive to clients’ needs. It would allow for global access. It would be intuitive, visually appealing and user friendly. It was going to be a one-stop-shop and an enterprise-wide solution that would give a true understanding of and insight into Continuous Improvement.

Who would be your customers, your end users?
The multinational sector – particularly manufacturing and service organisations. But also, it could be of huge benefit to semi-state bodies, governments and large SME’s that have a need for a centralized method of storing, tracking, reporting and sharing continuous improvement activities.

How would that benefit your customers?
They would have access to simple real time data to allow them to make fast fact-based decisions. It would give Senior Management full visibility of all Continuous Improvement (CI) activities. It would allow sharing across the organisation, improving communication and collaboration and allowing them to take a standardised approach to how they improve their processes. And it would save significant amounts of time searching for information; improving performance and freeing up people power.

What problem would this solution solve?
The current solutions were not user-friendly or intuitive. They were also not competitively priced. There was no one-stop shop for all CI needs.

How would it be positioned against competitors’ products?
It would be a more complete, user friendly and technically advanced solution. A one-stop shop for all your needs.

How do you want people to feel when they hear your name?
That this is something different. Unique. User friendly. Visually appealing. Technologically advanced. Dynamic.

What technical requirements are there?
They needed a .com domain name available. But this product would sit under the existing Leading Edge Group business, so wouldn’t require a separate company registration.

Once you’ve answered these questions, not only have you taken the first step in the brainstorming process. But you’ve also now got a set of guidelines you can evaluate your final shortlist against to see if your name is appropriate to your business objectives. If it best encapsulates what you do and how your product is unique.

Get creative: Think big. Think Abstract. Just let your mind wander.

The next step is to take this insight and blow it up. Pick out key words and key benefits from step one. And let your mind wander.

For example, we took the full description and started breaking it out…

  • What other words are associated with Continuous Improvement?
    Lean, Sigma, CI, Operational Excellence
  • What other words could you associate with Portal?
    Hub, Connection, Link, Pulse, Flow, Storage, Focus Point, Centre, Core, Doorway
  • Then we looked at each of the benefits and emotive words from our initial brainstorm. And started to really wander. For each key word we start looking at any:
    … synonyms
    … foreign translations
    … symbology
    … mythology
    … abstract associations
  • And then we started mashing ideas together. Pairing words together. Fusing words to make new words. And simply, just making new ones up from scratch.

The point of this stage is to go as wide as possible with your brainstorming and mapping. Don’t judge or dismiss anything at this stage. Just go wild creatively. Knowing that anything you come up with will still, to some extent, be relevant, as it’s from those key words that your inspiration is being drawn.

And it you get stuck. Break it down another level. Take some of the strongest 2nd level words you’ve come up with, and apply the same process to them.


Start refining and organising.

Once you’ve exhausted your creativity and have your pages filled with words and associated terms, it’s time to start honing it back.

Start grouping your potential names together under themes – e.g. Fusion, Descriptive or Abstract. And start the process of refining them.

  • Do they meet your technical requirements? Is there an available .com?
  • Say them aloud? How do they sound? Are they fun to say?
  • Are they easy to spell? Are they too long?
  • How well are they communicating the benefits? Positioning the product?
  • Could it have negative connotations?

At the end of this stage you should have your list whittled down to about 15-20 names.


Your final selection.

At this point, it’s important to step back and gain some perspective. When you come back to your shortlist with fresh eyes, you really want to whittle it down to your top two or three names.

Go back through the full checklist of what makes a good name. And be ruthless. Cut anything that doesn’t make the grade.

Do some extra due-diligence and research. While you will have made sure at this stage that it meets your technical requirements, play devils advocate on yourself. Could this name be misinterpreted? Are there other companies or products outside your industry with similar names? Could these be brand damaging?

Also, look at how future proofed this name is. How might you evolve and expand your business and product in the future. Do these names give you this flexibility or could they limit your future options?

And get feedback. See how it resonates with people. Sometimes we can all have tunnel vision and it’s only when we get a fresh and outside perspective we see the obvious flaws in something. And the real acid test, pretend to answer the phone using your new name. If you can do that easily, if it feels and sounds good, you may have just found your new name.



Citric cube Logo

For Leading Edge Group, there was one clear winner for their new product. And it was one of our Fusion Word Pairings – Citric Cube. It was:

• A distinctive name that would stand out from the crowd

• It was short and snappy. And easy to recall.

• It was appropriate. Communicating the idea of becoming CI Centric – or simply Citric, and being able to distil complex data into useful, user friendly insights by its pairing with Cube – a term synonymous with business intelligence reporting.

• It was easy to spell and say.

• It was a likeable, zesty name. And communicated that sense of something fresh, innovative, visually appealing and dynamic.

• It was extendible. A vibrant name that really lent itself to visual interpretation.

• It was protectable, with an available .com domain for immediate purchase.



Our top tip...

We hope this guide gives you the confidence and framework you need to start thinking about your business name. And that it also highlights how important a name is.

And our top tip is don’t compromise. Don’t settle for okay. It’s not worth it in the long run. Keep going until you find a name that truly fits.

Sometimes that’s easier said than done. You can be so close to your product or company that it’s hard to see the wood from the trees. You can have so many other elements you’re trying to juggle with launching this huge new venture, that it’s simply not possible to get the creative headspace you need.

And the most common of all… you simply run out of time. You need to register a name, so you can start the ball rolling. You need to develop your logo and visual identity. Get your website going. And a million other things.

If this is the stage you are at, delegate. Don’t compromise. Enlist a creative agency that can help. Many people think that it’s something they have to do themselves, but there is an art to naming and sometimes the best thing you can do is to hand it over to an expert.


We guide brands through a process of understanding where they are now, identifying their ideal positioning zone and then we create impactful, simple, brand creatives that stop your audience in their tracks – getting them to reappraise you.

We specialise in helping brands like you shift the dial for what you stand for in the heart and minds of your customers.