How To Name A Startup

Product-minded people rarely enjoy naming discussions. What’s the problem?

Anyone can – and does – have an opinion on naming and branding. In comparison to engineering, or even sales, it is challenging to know what weight to give one person’s opinion vs. another’s when it comes to naming.

“All the good names are taken.” How many times have I heard that during naming discussions?

Naming introduces philosophies of marketing, whether it’s brand-hierarchies, focus-group testing, or whatever, to product-creators who may secretly, or not so secretly, regard them as pure babble.

Naming discussions reveal how others feel about a company, and shows founders that they don’t own how their company is seen – an uncomfortable feeling, even if others’ views are positive.

How do great names get chosen?

It’s quite random. Doing it early seems to help. Brainstorming around a lunch table is as good a method as any…

For instance – Google got it’s name when some grad students, talking to Larry Page about the amount of information his company would need to process, mentioned a “Googol” (10100, about one-hundred-billion times a billion times the number of atoms in the universe), and then Larry mistyped Googol as Google.

Nike got it’s name from the – very obvious – Greek godess of victory. The swoosh was early, too.

Starbucks’ name is of course taken from Moby Dick’s “Starbuck”, the first-mate aboard the Pequod; the nautical reference was a tribute to coffee shippers. The logo was drawn by an artist friend of the founders.

So, what are the lessons? Choose early, to reduce the number of people who have to be involved. Choose something simple, easy to spell, and with an available or obtainable web URL. That may mean a made-up word, since, indeed, “All the good names are taken.”

And choose something that, while it can “mean” something to the founders, doesn’t mean something so specific that it prevents the company defining its own identity; because the only thing worse than a naming discussion is a renaming discussion.

Starbucks illustrate the last point perfectly. Starbucks is indeed simple, memorable, and easy to spell – but when they added the word “Coffee” to the logo, they boxed themselves in in a way they have come to regret.

See, among many, Forbes discussion of Starbucks recent logo change.

[Additional hat-tip: ReadWriteWeb, What’s In A Name?]

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1 Comment

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One response to “How To Name A Startup

  1. mcale

    And what about the naming process for your own start up, Duncan; are you going to share that?