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Choosing the Right Brand Name: A Guide to Naming Styles

In the world of business, a brand name is more than just a label; it’s a crucial element that can impact a company’s success. The process of selecting a brand name involves various strategies, each with its own set of advantages and challenges. In this blog post, we’ll explore different naming styles and their implications for your brand.

Acronaming: The Power of Abbreviations

Brands like REI, H&M, AT&T, and BMW are instantly recognizable acronyms. While many people may not know the full form of these abbreviations, it doesn’t deter customer loyalty. However, these brands share common traits: decades in the industry and substantial marketing investments. Moreover, their acronym histories often have little relevance to their current identity. For instance, H&M stands for Hennes & Mauritz, a historical fact that might leave you scratching your head. In today’s world, choosing a random set of letters is unlikely to yield the same results as these established brands. It may lead to confusion and indifference.

Made-Up Naming: Crafting Unique Identities

Made-up brand names, such as Coca-Cola, Lego, and Adidas, have become household names, even though their meanings are shrouded in mystery. A coined name offers benefits beyond ease of trademarking. It reduces the risk of confusion with other established brands and allows you to build your identity from scratch, free from pre-existing associations. However, this creative freedom demands a significant marketing budget for consumer education and brand establishment. Before opting for a wholly invented name, consider if you have the resources to make it thrive.

Descriptive Naming: The Safety of Clarity

Descriptive brand names are the most popular strategy. Names like CarMax, ToysRUs, SodaStream, and PayPal immediately convey their offerings. These names resonate with a broader audience, are easily understood, and require less marketing expenditure. However, securing trademark clearance and obtaining the exact domain name can be challenging due to the saturated naming landscape.

Evocative Naming: Creating Impactful Brands

Evocative brand names, like Apple, Yahoo, Casper, and Amazon, aren’t descriptive of their products or services. Instead, they evoke emotions and memories. These names can become powerful brand identities that transcend their offerings. However, they often require substantial marketing budgets to educate consumers about the company’s identity. Additionally, they may evoke various associations, some of which might not be favorable.

Unconventional Naming: Breaking the Mold

Some brand names defy categorization. Take, for example, Warby Parker, an online retailer of prescription glasses that combines the names of two characters from a Jack Kerouac journal. Such names offer a blend of benefits and challenges from “Naming After Yourself” and “Evocative Naming.” They stand out as unique and reflect the brand’s personality.

In conclusion, selecting the right brand name is a crucial decision that can impact your company’s success. Each naming strategy has its own set of advantages and drawbacks. Consider your brand’s identity, budget, and goals when choosing a naming strategy that aligns with your vision. Whether you opt for an acronym, a coined name, a descriptive name, an evocative name, or something entirely unconventional, your brand’s name is your first step towards making a lasting impression in the marketplace.


Megan Dzialo (00:04): 

Well, hello everyone. Welcome back to naming in an AI Age. I have Ashley with me and Mike of course. Today we’re going to talk about different name styles. There are a lot of different types of name styles that you could consider for your product, for your brand, for your company. And we’re going to talk about four today. It was a couple of episodes ago. We had already discussed naming after yourself, so if you are interested or considering naming your business after yourself, using your name, we highly recommend you go back and listen to that episode. We talk about all the differing opinions, the pros and the cons of naming after yourself. But we’re going to talk about four other types of name styles. We’re going to talk about acronyms. Are acronyms a good idea or a bad idea? What are the pros and cons of acronyms? We’re going to talk about made up naming or coined naming. We’re going to also talk about more descriptive name styles. And then lastly, we’re going to talk about evocative naming. So we’re going to start out with acronyms. I would love both of y’all’s opinions on what do you think about using an acronym for a brand name? 

Ashley Elliott (01:16): 

I mean, I’m literally trying to think of acronyms that are written 

Megan Dzialo (01:20): 


Ashley Elliott (01:22): 

See, see, you just think of it as how it’s pronounced. I don’t really think, and I see the visual of the letters together. I don’t really think of it as, I mean that means they’ve done a good job, obviously. I don’t know. I think of acronyms. Acronyms in the education world were just overwhelming and nobody knew what they meant and I was constantly, if you started a new school, they have their own acronyms for everything. Here in Texas, we love acronyms, so I’m Googling everything. What does this mean? Obviously with the brand, you don’t necessarily have, and I think at this point, I don’t even know what at t stands for. I don’t know what IBM stands for. I just know what they are. So I don’t know. I guess they did a good job, but I’m not really sure if, what was the point of the acronym? I guess? 

Mike Carr (02:07): 

I mean, acronyms allow you to shorten the name, and if you’re willing to put a lot of money behind it and you’re in a non-competitive space, or you have a really unique value prop, it should be considered right. I drink athletic greens and it’s ag, and it’s AG one, and so most people just call it ag. It stands for Athletic Greens. But in their space, they were able to sort of pioneer this thing in a unique and novel way, and I think that works for ’em. It’s got that cool hip sporty vibe, and I think acronyms work better in certain spaces than others. So if you’re in a space where a lot of the names are real words or coin names that convey a benefit or a feature or sound premium or sound like they’re from Europe or a designer, it’s tough to compete effectively with a emotionless meaningless three letter alphabet soup acronym, that usually doesn’t work very well. But in a few cases, if it’s sort of the norm or you feel like it gives it that sort of sporty vibe, like the GT 400 or whatever, then maybe. But as a general rule of thumb, we try to avoid acronyms. They just don’t bring as much to the table in terms of meaning or emotional cachet or the things that we’re really looking for a name to deliver. Megan, do you have any thoughts 

Megan Dzialo (03:33): 

When you think about acronyms like B-W-B-M-W, which is so hard to say, but it’s wildly successful, right? People love BMWs, so you could say, well, it’s been so successful clearly having an acronym as the name is a good idea. But I think the difference between REIH and M at TBMW, these are companies that have been around a long time and they have a history, they have a story, they have a lot of brand dollars. They have a huge budget to make this successful. And so if you’re just starting out, you’re a startup and you’re considering an acronym, I would say avoid it. Don’t do it unless you are in it for the long haul. You have a lot of money, you have a great history, a great brand story that you can wrap around the name. Otherwise, as Ashley kind of proved, it’s like, well, what is it? 


What does it mean? It’s not evocative. It’s not something that necessarily sticks out in your mind. And acronyms can sometimes stand for things that have negative connotations. Mike loves to talk about IBM and how people could think of bmm as standing for bowel movement. And so there’s some risk associated with acronyms too. So I think overall we would all agree. Acro naming, as I like to call it, is not going to be the best route to go or is not an area we would encourage you to go to. So let’s talk about descriptive naming. What is descriptive naming? What are the pros and cons? 

Ashley Elliott (05:01): 

I think one pro is it telegraphs more of what you’re trying to convey or maybe the attribute you want to convey the product, that type of thing. That’s what I’ve learned so far here. I guess I don’t really think about other descriptive names. Mike, what are your thoughts? 

Mike Carr (05:19): 

Okay, so there’s a big difference between descriptive and suggestive. So under trademark law, descriptive names are not registrable. You can’t own the name. And an example of a descriptive name is back when we wrote the first PC program for naming in 1986, we wanted to call it name maker. And our attorney said, you can’t call it name maker because that’s exactly what it does. It’s a tool for making names that’s descriptive, and the PTO won’t let you register that. So we went with a suggestive name, NAMM R and NAMM R suggests that it relates to naming, but it doesn’t specifically say this tool makes names. And so NAMM R was a name that we were able to register as a trademark, and then we came out the Windows version a few years later. We called it name Pro and name pro’s a little bit, maybe more suggestive the NAM R in terms of the pro takes you to professional, but it’s still not as descriptive as name maker. So it’s a spectrum, but the more obvious the name, the more common the word is in that category or industry that you’re in, the harder you’re going to have really being able to register it, protect it, and own it and keep competitors from using it. 

Megan Dzialo (06:41): 

Yeah, so yeah, this descriptive or suggestive, I guess is the correct name term. This style is usually the most popular naming strategy. It’s usually what most people want from us because it’s considered safer than other style of names because descriptive or suggestive names tend to resonate with the larger group of people. They’re more easily understood, and they do require that lower marketing budget because they’re get you most of the way there, types of names. So examples that come to mind for me, our CarMax, which is a name that we came up with, or I’ll say Mike and his team at the time came up with, I don’t know, a couple of decades ago were we born, we were little, I’ll say that. So CarMax would fall into this category. Toys are US, SodaStream, and even PayPal. Those types of names kind of clearly telegraph or suggest the product or service so that you understand what they are upon first glance. 

Ashley Elliott (07:38): 

And I feel like there are certain industries that this is used in specifically. I mean, I feel like a lot of technical industries in that space, they like that or even medical type things. You want to be able to quickly identify maybe what it is with that type of name. 

Megan Dzialo (07:53): 

So that’s why they’re by far the most popular style of names. But as Mike already mentioned, getting these more telegraphic style names through trademark clearance and then also being able to secure that can be a huge challenge due to just that saturated naming landscape. Okay. So opposite from the suggestive naming, let’s talk about made up naming or coined naming. What is it? What are the benefits and drawbacks? 

Ashley Elliott (08:20): 


Mike Carr (08:22): 

Ashley? Okay, and you guys probably have garnered this or figured this out by now that the coin names or the abstract names are often the easiest to get through trademark registration. They tend to be shorter, so you don’t have to worry about using up all your real estate if you’ve got a package or signage or something. The coin names will often be shorter, and so they’ll tend to pop a little bit more. They sometimes have a more trendy or cooler modern vibe that depending upon the industry and the you’re in that may be in vogue, and so you might be able to ride that wave. You certainly want to avoid anything that’s too faddish or too trendy. On a previous podcast, we talked about inserting a number in a name and how I thought that was so cool because I’m old and the millennials like Megan and Ashley thought that was really dumb because that wasn’t cool anymore. 


It was only cool when text messaging first came out and now it’s passe and dated and all that stuff. So to give you an example of a couple of names that we’ve come up with that are coined but not just so abstract that they could be anything is we have ogo, just OMGO, and it’s four letters, two syllables. It relates to something that’s active or action oriented. With that go on the end of it, the OMM might take you to Omni as in all and complete. So it has a bit of a story. Ogo is pretty easy to say, and it sort of does convey a little bit about persona that you might want to embrace. You could see Ogo as an athlete. You could see Ogo as an accelerator, a vehicle, something that’s moving a scooter. There are certain categories that it fits pretty well in, and then there are other categories that maybe it wouldn’t work as well in. So that’s part of this strategy of coming up with a coin and abstract name is how does it sound? Does it just feel fast or does it feel pensive or does it feel whatever it is you want it to feel just by the way it flows off the tongue and then you can sort of build the appropriate story around it. That’s just an example. 

Ashley Elliott (10:41): 

Yeah, I like what you said about that with picking some of the Greek and Latin roots. We play a lot with those and softening them by ending them with an A or adding another prefix or suffix, and that can make it more coined. But also the root itself does a little bit of the lifting for you, like you talked about with Ongo for 

Megan Dzialo (10:57): 

Sure. Yeah, and I’ll say these made up style names. When we present these types of names like Ogo or even Vigo to some of our clients, these are not names that people immediately gravitate towards. It’s not like a, oh, I love that name. And that’s important to mention because oftentimes we’ll have people come to us saying, I want to name Coca-Cola, I want to name Lego, I want to name Adidas or Nike. It’s like the reason those are great names is because they have history, they have context, they have a logo. They have built this brand awareness that you think is incredible. But had we given you that name years ago before it was ever a name, you’d probably be scratching your head like, well, what does it mean? I don’t like it? And so I think you have to keep that in mind, and it’s a great strategy, and they have a lot of great coin names, have a lot of great benefits to them because as I’ve mentioned, there’s not a whole lot of prior associations with the name. 


So you have the ability to kind of wrap this brand story around it. But at the same time, with a name like this, you have to have a big budget. You have to have a big marketing budget because you have to be able to put all that money behind telling the story. But I think another benefit is typically names like this are easier to get clearance or they’re lower risk for trademark being able to get that trademark because they’re coined and they’re made up. So okay, let’s move on to evocative naming is what I’m calling it. So to give you guys examples, evocative naming are typically real word names. They don’t have to be, but they’re not descriptive. So apple, apple’s a real word name, but it does not describe the product really whatsoever. So we’re calling it evocative because it brings this kind of mental image to mind and sometimes feelings associated with that. Other examples would be Yahoo or Casper or even Amazon. Let’s talk about this naming strategy, pros and cons. 

Ashley Elliott (12:56): 

I think Ashley, some of the pros are that it does evoke something, a prior association, whether or not that’s positive or negative. I think the fact that it does a little bit of a lift in some way and it kind of catches your attention because it’s almost opposite maybe or not related to what it’s actually talking about. So you have that nice mental, the connotation behind it without necessarily it being descriptive of what it is. 

Mike Carr (13:24): 

That memorability potential that a evocative name brings to the table is huge, right? If a name is sticky, then you’re part of the way to winning the branding battle. If you can’t get inside your customer’s head with a name that just they can recall, they can remember a day later, a week later, a month later, you’ll burn through whatever budget you have. Just trying to get that unaided awareness score up to where it needs to be before you can start building preference and all the other things you want. And evocative names tend to be the most memorable style of names as a class of names, because they do the evocative because they relate to an emotion or the evocative because there’s some visual image. One of my favorite names that Megan and Ashley have heard me mention, I already know 

Ashley Elliott (14:16): 

We’re already smiling. We already know. 

Megan Dzialo (14:18): 

I know what’s coming, 

Mike Carr (14:20): 

But I love this name and I can’t get anybody to use it. Mean I want somebody probably by now, it’s already been used, is something that conveys speed. So we do a lot of work for chips that go inside smartphones and cars and all this stuff. And of course, chips have to be fast. So the name I’ve loved for years is streaker. Now if you’re my age, it does bring certain visuals that maybe you’re inappropriate or that you laugh about or raises an eyebrow, but just by that fact, people will tend to remember it. And it’s a little controversial is a good thing because it’s interesting, right? A name that’s safe, that’s whether it’s evocative or not. If it’s a safe, traditional name, they tend to be boring. Nobody wants to talk about ’em. Nobody caress. It sounds like everything else is out there. And so an evocative name often has something about it that is either visual or emotional or controversial. 


And because of that, it’s sticky. It tends to reside in your brain. People want to discuss it. It sort of spreads itself organically throughout the social digital world. And everybody’s heard about it without you guys having to do a whole lot in terms of your investment as a name that is meaningless, like an acronym or totally abstract. So who knows what it is or everybody else’s name. It doesn’t spread. You have to spend so much effort just getting the word out as to what this thing is and who cares and all that. So we really like, and I personally really like this last style of name, Megan, that you’ve brought up. 

Megan Dzialo (15:57): 

Yeah, yeah, that’s probably my favorite too. What were you going to say, Ashley? 

Ashley Elliott (16:01): 

I was going to say, how do clients normally both of your experience to the evocative style names versus the other types? 

Megan Dzialo (16:10): 

Yeah, I would say evocative naming typically has similar reactions as complete and made up in coined naming because it’s not an easy leap to whatever the product or service is. It makes people say, wait, how is this connected? Or what does this mean? But to Mike’s point, that kind of reaction sticks with you. You remember it. And so one of the things that we like to do, the exercises we like to do with our clients and we’ve done in the past is after we present a handful of names to a client, we like to figure out which names were memorable, not necessarily which names they liked, but which ones were memorable. And so we’ll come back to them 48 hours after we’ve presented that set of names and say, Hey, question for you out of the names we presented to you, which ones do you remember? 


Again, not which ones you like, which ones you remember, because those are totally different things. And typically they’ll say, oh, I remember this name or that name. Those names tend to be the more evocative naming styles because it grabbed them, whether it was a positive reaction or a negative reaction, doesn’t matter. It grabbed them. And that’s the stickiness factor that Mike is talking about. That’s so important. Your name doesn’t necessarily always have to be the most positive or well-liked, but if it can grip you and you can remember it, you got to hold onto that. That’s gold. That’s a gold standard when it comes to naming. 

Ashley Elliott (17:31): 

And I think that’s a good point. And we’ve talked with clients before that maybe didn’t want to do name validation research or testing or didn’t have the budget for it, but just even doing that with a handful of people that you know and trust about your name. And is there a sweet spot of numbers of, I mean, if you give them 50, that’s a lot. That’s too many is there, but three, maybe too few. So what would your sweet spot be in terms of giving, I guess, mulling over these names with people? 

Mike Carr (18:00): 

Well, from a memorability standpoint, and we’ve done this for decades, we like to test six. That’s a lot of names, but what it gives us the opportunity to do and our clients, an opportunity to do is test different styles and types. So they might have two or three that everybody likes, and then there’ll be two or three outliers in there that for whatever reason, we think they’re going to be more memorable, or there’s something about it that’s interesting, and we’ll test those with their customers or their target and see which ones really resonate. Now, one of the things about an evocative name or a name like an Apple or an Amazon or a Streaker is they have associations. And sometimes those associations are viewed negatively or confusing, but that’s not a disadvantage. It’s actually something that you can lean into. If the association is positive, streaker has some maybe off-putting associations, but it also suggests speed. Well, then you lead into the speed and you build a story around that whole association and it works for you. So evocative names are sometimes harder to sell because an apple’s associated with a red apple, at least it was initially were the Beatles, the Beatles music label, not Apple computer. But people still remembered it. They still wanted to talk about it. And over time, that association can be really leveraged, I think, to deliver something of lasting brand value to you. So it’s just one of the many things to consider in developing a name. 

Megan Dzialo (19:45): 

And these are the types of conversations that we have with our clients. Everything that you guys are hearing us talk about today, we talk a lot about brand strategy and strategy with the type of name and the style of name. And so when you work with us, we love to go down all avenues, evocative naming, descriptive, naming more, suggestive naming. We come up with a lot of different name styles for you. We talk about all of the associated strategies that go with each one, and we help kind of guide you through that process. That’s what makes it fun. So that’s all we have for you today. We will see you guys next week. Thanks, Mike. And Ashley. 




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