What’s in a name? Five ways to craft the perfect brand name

* 4 min read

When it comes to branding, naming is all-important. It forms the foundation of a brand’s positioning, the hook on which to hang its unique proposition and the definer of the brand’s distinctive tone of voice.

Each role a name performs is crucial. The name identifies, differentiates, communicates, protects and legalises the brand. It rarely changes and acts as a focus for considerable marketing and capital investment.

Take for example Irn Bru’s latest redesign, revealed last week. The striking, simple new look works by giving the name more prominence. With its rust-coloured contents and classic, girder-referencing slogan, Irn Bru is a brand that truly hinges on its name. Irn Bru is strong and bold just like its fictional ingredient. Alluding to both the “I” at the beginning of Irn Bru and the shape of a girder, the new design unites name, logo and product offering beautifully.

iron bru

Name development is never as straight-forward as people think. It requires planning, focus and perseverance, and ideally the involvement of an experienced ‘namer’ to be truly successful.

Irn Bru has gone through many changes over the years, but its unique name has remained the same. What can you do to get your brand name right from the start?

1. Think big early

First off, be clear about what you’re naming. Agree upfront what type of name is needed and its desired role within the existing or new brand architecture. Clarify terminology for all involved, from master brand to endorsement brand, sub-brand to ownable product descriptor.

Ideally, especially at sub-brand level, the name should headline the product’s unique proposition, crystallising it in a word or phrase. Hovis Best of Both and Cuprinol Ducksback both encapsulate this perfectly, giving a product description within the actual product name.

A limitation many find during the naming process is the lack of a visionary brief. So think big early, ensure your brief is suitably future-proof and that the names generated do not restrict the further expansion of the product range or business. With an eye on a bright future, the Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Company renamed itself 3M Innovation and the Holt Tractor Company became ‘Caterpillar’; both are now international and increasingly diversified industrial conglomerates.


2. Create, innovate and protect

Of course, it’s great developing a name, however you need to ensure you get input from your legal advisors early on, at least to agree some initial parameters of where you can and cannot go with names. An initial visit to the UK Intellectual Property Office website is useful to establish which classes of trademark classification you will need.

Once you’ve done that, your brand name and the words surrounding it are the perfect ground for you to create brand new consumer language, allowing you to truly own a huge space in your product category.

3. Think aurally

It’s crucial to consider how consumers will actually say your brand in their everyday conversations. Think about the likes of Coca-Cola, which is known informally as Coke, Stolichnya as Stoli and Chevrolet as Chevy. These terms have entered our everyday language and allow brands to be a part of the conversation without having to consciously infiltrate.

A personal favourite of mine comes from Russia, with consumers of the SABMiller premium beer Zolotaya Bochka affectionately shortening the brand name to “ZoBo”.


4. Think visually

Branding is often a combination of written and visual communication, so it’s important to think of names in the context of imagery, colour and iconography, and the specific role of each element in the visual brand architecture.

Generally names with potential should immediately start to paint a picture in your mind, demonstrating their communication opportunities. Good examples of ‘visual names’ include Red Bull, Tropicana, Land Rover, Dove and Green Giant.

5. Keep it tight – and global

‘Less is more’ is generally a sound principle in branding. T E Stockwell & J Cohen combined to create the Tesco name, Bayerische Motoren Werke became BMW and thankfully ‘Bib-label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda’ became 7-Up.

Even if you are not working on a brand bound for global domination, check what your name means in other languages. This is something Irish Mist liqueur failed to do, resulting in poor sales in Germany due to ‘mist’ meaning manure in German. General Motors is still embarrassed by its unsurprisingly failed attempt to launch the Opel “Nova” in Latin America, where the name means ‘not going’.

In essence, effective name generation is both an art and a science that requires strategic rigour, inspiring creativity and a lot of determination. It is vital that brand marketers and their agencies maximise the opportunity in naming and ensure that new brand and sub-brand names and ownable product descriptors are as strong as possible.

Brand communication campaigns can come and go, packaging is refreshed and identity is evolved, but names are strikingly difficult to change in the consumer mind once out there.