No Pain, No Name – the myth that creating brand names is easy.

3 minute read

When you’re pregnant there’s one question you quickly learn to avoid answering.  It’s, “Have you thought of any names for the baby?”

The first time this is asked, you might respond with a few of the names you’re considering.  “Yes,” you reply, “We were thinking of X or Y” (Names redacted to protect the innocent).

“Urgh no – you can’t call him X!”, your chum will respond. “I went to school with an X and he was vile.”

Or they’ll say, “Well that’s different.” Which is code for, “Hate it.”


You soon realise your error and never open that can of worms again until the baby is born. At this point you hope that your loved ones will have the manners to keep their opinions to themselves.  Unless your parents are like one of my friends who, on telling them the name they’d chosen for their first born, responded, “Oh no! We’re NEVER going to call him that!” Which rather set the tone for their grandparenting style from then on.

When it comes to names, everyone’s got an opinion.  One of the ‘Myths of Branding’ explored in the book of the same name, is ‘Creating brand names is easy.’ Naming seems to be regarded as a breezy undertaking; get a few creatively minded people together, drink some coffee and kick some ideas around. Perhaps if you are a very small business with little ambition and no real understanding of the value of trademarks this is sufficient.  In nearly all other cases it’s not. Having recently finished a couple of naming projects for clients, here’s five pointers to take the pain from the naming process.

1. Make it future-proof

Choosing a name is a strategic business decision. A new name will need to fit with your current and future ambitions.  You don’t want to create a name now only to find that you have to change it in five or 10-years’ time. Ask yourself:

  • What geographical markets do we aspire to enter?
  • What categories or products or services do we want to offer?
  • How will we sell or deliver to customers in the future?  Online, Offline, both?

Unilever & Mars tried to make positive stories of their local to global name changes such as Jif to Cif and Marathon to Snickers but it would have been easier and cheaper to start with the same name everywhere.

2. Be objective and open-minded

There are all manner of personal, subjective reasons why clients reject names out of hand.  Just because your neighbour once had a dog you hated with that name doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good choice for your business. That’s why we insist on a clear criteria the name has to meet.  If a name meets those criteria, it’s on the shortlist. Even if it’s not a personal favourite.

“You can’t call that beer Stella.  That’s my ex-wife’s name.”

3. Be realistic

A name is powerful and important but it is also only a collection of letters.  It comes to mean something of value to your and your customers because you repeatedly use it in the context of a great product, service or experience.

A name is not a marketing strategy.  It’s not a brand positioning statement. A name will not on its own tell consumers everything you want them to know about your brand.  And those great brand names we love didn’t do that when they were first launched either. How much did Kodak mean to its first customers?

“It’s the finest idea that was ever started.  ‘United Metropolitan Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking and Punctual Deliver Company’. Why the very name will get the shares up to a premium in 10 day.”


Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby.

4. Carry out legal and linguistic due diligence

We’ve all heard the horror stories of names that mean something obscene in Mandarin or Portuguese.  Screen names for negative associations in your most important markets. Check that the name is available for you to use and, ideally, protect.  It’s virtually impossible to find a free.com for any real word so other domain names may need to be investigated.

Mitsubishi Pajero has a very derogatory meaning in parts of Latin America.  Pee Cola is still sold in Ghana.

5. Don’t underestimate the cost

Creating the shortlist of names is the cheap bit.  Legal and linguistic checks and trademark registration fees can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.  A realistic budget is vital.

If you are changing a name, there’s also the cost of implementing the change on everything from stationery to signage, as well as the cost of explaining to your stakeholders why you are making the change.  Of course, that is also the opportunity.

The change from Anderson Consulting to Accenture was estimated to cost $100 million.

Get the process right and it’s possible to create an interesting and protectable name for your brand baby. Congratulations!

Louisa Clarke

Communications, business and branding expert and experienced facilitator with an outstanding track record for new business.
Louisa Clarke

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