As naming experts, we have plenty of tips to offer about the process. Anyone who’s been in the name development business for 30 years has seen their fair share of company naming efforts gone wrong. Fortunately, that means we have a wealth of wisdom to impart when it comes to avoiding the common pitfalls of naming.

We cover these mistakes in How to Choose a Catchy Business Name, but here we dive a little deeper into how and why these missteps can hamper the process.

1. Trying to Force Your Name to Do Too Much

A company or brand name is like a profile on a dating app. It may capture interest, but it can’t guarantee the first date will go well, or that you’ll survive meeting the parents. It’s merely a first impression, a glimpse into the identity and purpose of your company. That means it can’t do all of the work for you. It needs to be supported by attractive design, engaging copy, and a killer ad campaign to realize its potential. Don’t expect it to stand alone, or you’ll end up with a disappointing result.

We know this can feel counterintuitive. Shouldn’t a descriptive name that conveys a company’s mission and values be a solid choice? Surprisingly, no. Descriptive names tend to be too literal, which is code for “boring.” A good name should intrigue your target, offering only enough information to entice them to interact with your brand.

Consider these three examples of brands that got too descriptive about their purpose and offerings — and ended up changing their names:

  1. Unadulterated Food Products
  2. Research in Motion
  3. AuctionWeb

You would probably never guess that the first two were the original names for Snapple and BlackBerry. You might have guessed that third one was eBay, but you can see why it didn’t last. It’s just not exciting.

Let’s just say there’s a reason these companies went through the headache of changing their names and rebranding. The too-descriptive names were forgettable and ineffective. Their new names prioritize impact and memorability over descriptiveness.

2. Overcomplicating the Process

Creating a company name can be an emotionally fraught ordeal. The name needs to be meaningful, memorable, and available, among other things, which makes for a lot of pressure. Don’t add stress by convoluting the process.

Here are the two most common ways that companies let the process get away from them:

  • Letting too many cooks into the kitchen. Asking everyone in your company to come up with a name or tell you which ones they prefer may seem like a good idea, but it will only lead to confusion. Asking the right people is better than asking everyone.
  • Getting mired in the details too early. Yes, you should absolutely make sure a name is legally available and run a domain availability search as well. But those steps should come after you have a list of names that inspire you. Getting bogged down in the details will sabotage the creative process. It’s better to have ten exciting name candidates and find out that nine of them are unusable than to work backward from your competitors’ ideas.

3. Using an Acronym

On the opposite end of being too descriptive is being too obscure, and there’s nothing more obscure than acronyms. Your name needs to communicate something, and unless your acronym happens to spell out a real word — which, let’s be honest, is probably already trademarked — your target will have no idea what it means.

Don’t spend your marketing budget on simply making sure people know what your letters stand for in the first place. Instead, choose something with inherent meaning, and use your marketing budget to start building brand awareness and preference. Neither of those can occur without memorability, and acronyms are rarely memorable.

4. Trying to Please Everybody

This goes back to our “too many cooks in the kitchen” rule. You can’t woo everybody, so identify your target and pursue them. Yes, you may have board members or employees to please, and that’s important too. But you will never be able to create a name that all of these constituencies will fall head over heels for. If you try to please everyone, you end up diluting the name’s personality and uniqueness. It’s okay for some people not to love it, or even to actively dislike it.

The ideal number of people to involve in naming your company or brand is five or six. That’s it. Choose people you trust, but don’t only involve yes-men. A handful of collaborators is enough to allow for diverse input.

5. Avoiding Controversy

This isn’t a free pass from us to throw around profanity or culturally offensive terms. But we love a name with a little edge. Edgy names are memorable. They get people talking. A name with the right dose of controversy practically pays for its own marketing with word-of-mouth buzz.

If you do lean controversial, it’s always a good idea to check in with your target audience to make sure you haven’t gone too far before you commit. An optional phase of our thorough, seven-step process is Name Evaluation Research. Choosing a controversial name is a risky move that can really pay off when executed well.

When you’re ready to name your company, don’t just buy business names from a name generator or a pre-made list. Contact us today so we can put our creativity to work for you.

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