For most people, when they hear the name of their favourite shop or company, they will also feel something, too. Perhaps they will remember the shopping experience, or how the item made them feel when they used it for the first time. Although price, quality, and convenience are obviously key factors in one’s purchasing decisions, brand awareness is an essential aspect of salience and loyalty. It’s therefore essential for a brand to have a unique and meaningful name which resonates with its target audience.

But having an esoteric or too-trendy name can be difficult for consumers to remember. On the other hand, having a name that is too bland or generic is not likely to be noticed by potential visitors. Because choosing the right name can be tricky, here are five questions to ask yourself, before choosing the name for your company, blog, or product.

How unique is the name?

Always carry out some due diligence research on your relevant market. As you develop your brand, you’ll need to consider the images, narratives, and characteristics that people will associate with your product or service. What words and connotations do people associate with other, similar brands? What are their social media handles? You will want to ensure that there is minimal overlap, as choosing a name that is too close to an existing brand name could might confuse customers or viewers. Furthermore, if you go with a brand name that is too similar to another in your particular industry or sector, you run the risk of infringing the other brand’s intellectual property rights and good will — even if the name isn’t identical. This type of misrepresentation is commonly known as “passing off”, which I’ve written about here.

The first lesson of branding: memorability. It’s very difficult buying something you can’t remember.

John Hegarty, Hegarty on Advertising

Is the name capable of trade mark protection?

A trade mark is simply a unique sign or name which distinguishes your services and goods from those of your competitors. The benefit of registering a trade mark is that the registered owner can sue a non-owner if the non-owner attempts to use it without permission. Before you get too attached to a name, it’s best practice to double check if someone has already it trade marked. In the United Kingdom, you can run a trade mark search for free at gov.uk/search-for-trademark. Under the Trade Marks Act 1994, any sign which can be “represented graphically” is generally capable of registration, unless one of the grounds for refusal applies (some of which, but not all, are mentioned below). It’s also a good idea to see if names which are similar to yours have been trade marked, too. Don’t forget that things that appear similar fall into this category, for example using a capital “I” in place of an “l”, or a “0” instead of an “O”.

What does “TM” even mean?! Owners of trade mark rights in the UK use the ® symbol to indicate a trade mark is registered. The abbreviation ‘TM’ means that the word &/or symbol is being used as a trade mark, but is currently unregistered.

Might you ever want to start a company?

If you think you might eventually want to evolve your brand into a registered company, it makes sense to bear that in mind from the outset. Incorporating a new company will prevent other businesses from registering the same (or a very similar) company name to yours. So, as with the trade mark search mentioned above, you should check the corporate registrar in your jurisdiction. The registrar in the UK is Companies House, which has an online name availability checker. Of course, whether or not you should set up a proper limited company depends on what sort of work you do, and your specific business strategy and ambitions. There are certain tax advantages and funding incentives available to limited companies, but alternatives such as being a self-employed ‘sole trader’, or forming a business partnership, are worth exploring too.

Is the name controversial?

Creativity and shock value are usually great for brand recognition, but did you know that business names and trade marks have to follow certain rules? In the UK, the relevant laws are primarily the Companies Act 2006 and The Company, Limited Liability Partnership and Business (Names and Trading Disclosures) Regulations 2015 (SI 2015/17). For example, you cannot register a company under an “offensive name”, or a name which suggests a connection with the government or the Monarchy. Likewise, names may not be registrable as trade marks if they are contrary to public policy. For example, the European Union Intellectual Property Office (“EUIPO”) refused to register “SCREW YOU” for general consumer goods (see case R 0495/2005-G). However, the EUIPO allowed “SCREW YOU” to be trade marked for sex products (see R 0495/2005-G), on the basis that “a person entering a sex shop is unlikely to be offended by a trade mark containing sexually charged language”. Clearly, it’s a nuanced area of law, that depends heavily on the circumstances!

Would it make sense to just use your own name?

Stella McCartney, Victoria Beckham, and Vivienne Westwood are just some examples of the many fashion designers who do business under their own names. There are some caveats to be aware of however, before selecting this option. Firstly, remember that you will essentially be tying your product or service to your identity. If something goes wrong (which could range from a PR disaster, bankruptcy, or lawsuit) it can be difficult to distance your personal life from your professional life. Secondly, if you have a common name (in the UK, this might be “Olivia Jones” or “Liam Smith”) you might find difficulty in securing brand protection. If your name is Jack Wills or Frank Wright, for example, you’d probably be out of luck!

With all of the above in mind, you may be left wondering where to find inspiration. I suggest starting by considering the emotional response you wish to evoke. Is there an adjective that captures how you want your visitors or customers to feel? Is there a pair of words that sound nice together, which conjure up a certain reaction or sensation? Try exploring the thesaurus, an etymology dictionary, or even lists of uncommon words.

Kodak ad from the May 13, 1957 issue of Life magazine

Kodak’s name origin. George Eastman, the co-founder of Kodak, loved the letter “K”, saying “it seems a strong, incisive sort of letter.” He said that there were three principal concepts he used in creating the name: it should be short, easy to pronounce, and not resemble any other name or be associated with anything else. According to an advert in 1920, the name “was simply invented—made up from letters of the alphabet to meet our trade mark requirements. It was short and euphonious, and likely to stick in the public mind.”

My final piece of advice? Try not to get too anxious or frustrated when choosing the name of your brand, blog, or product. The name is not the sole determining factor of your success! Things like showcasing your passion, offering amazing customer service, and having an engaging personality behind the brand are far more important than the name alone.


Photo credits | Featured image: Christina @ wocintechchat.com