What's in a Name?

Johnson King's Lindsey Challis considers the importance of  a brand's name...

Naming a company must be difficult.  Like with a child, it becomes intrinsically connected to its owner, it can cause mockeryintrigue and even speculation, but how much of a brand’s success is built on the name itself?

There are hundreds of ways people decide a brand name and there are a number of basic requirements it needs to meet.  A name must work in different languages, be different from the competition, have a recognisable URL available and, in some cases, even have an available trademark.  After the basics are checked off, there is a whole world of different avenues a company can go down.  The length, for example, should you stick with something simple such as ‘Sony’ or would the more descriptive ‘Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering’ be better?  Does it pay to be clever?  One of my favourite brand names is an authentication client called Nok Nok Labs, chosen because the internet is constantly trying to determine ‘who’s there?’.  And, what about the golden letter ‘z’ which, according to name-maker Lexicon, resonates particularly well with consumers.

No matter how good the name, no matter how many boxes it ticks, in my opinion, a name can still fall flat on its face if there isn’t a solid brand behind it. 

A name can’t create an identity – in a person or in a company – and this is where the hard work starts.  Not only does a company need to decide on the type of identity it wants, but it needs to make a concerted effort to create this.  It’s about finding a concept that the whole company believes in and sticking to it, creating a tone that penetrates everything the company does, from articles to adverts.  It must become natural, part of the fabric of the company, if it’s going to work.

In fact, the ultimate success of brand name could be that it’s no longer about the words at all.  Who cares if Hotmail is a prettied-up version of HTML, if it’s the email service you trust and want to use?   And, I’d put money on the fact that when you hear IKEA, you don’t think of a Swedish village; or that when you hear Adobe, you don’t think of a creek.

That’s not to say, however, that there isn’t something so much more satisfactory in hearing the dispute of whether Yahoo! is named after the definition ‘rude, unsophisticated and uncouth’ or ‘Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle’, as opposed to Groupon’s Jedward-style morphing of group and coupon.