Category Archives: Name Creation

Branding Basics – Step 8

So now you have one or two names you believe are absolutely perfect for the business. Now comes the frustration. 

You search the USPTO (that’s U.S. Patent and Trademark Office) on-line database ( only to find someone else already owns the precise set of characters you’ve chosen for your name, and they are competing in the same industry category. 

Or you may find by searching the Department of State databases in the states you plan to do business that there’s a competitor using the name.

It may be desirable that your name also be available as a domain name. (There may be a better domain name for your website than you company name depending upon how people will reach your website. You may want a domain name that speaks more directly to how your prospects think about your product category or keywords.) 

Creating a name that is available for trademark, domain name and state(s) incorporation registration can be frustrating and time-consuming.

I get more naming business from entrepreneurs who have fallen in love with a name they can’t own, and can’t move past it. They get stuck and just can’t generate any more adequate candidates. Since I’m not emotionally involved, I can continue generating appropriate candidates ’til one meets the criteria and is available. It sometimes takes multiple iterations.

But even if you’ve performed a successful preliminary search doesn’t mean there’s an end to it. You would do well to then go to a trademark attorney or one of several firms specializing in making comprehensive name searches. They will first search every state and territory. They will search databases with alternatively-spelled configurations for phonic infringement. They will review international trademark databases if necessary. 

You may be able to adopt a name that someone else is using if it’s in a different industry classification, or you may be able to buy a name from a registered owner if necessary.

Once you’ve found a name that you can legally use that meets all the branding criteria, it would be a wise move to trademark it, and to register it with the Departments of State in the states you will have a physical presence.

Developing and protecting a viable name is probably the single most important branding activity you will perform. That name will represent your company for many, many years. It will develop into an asset of great value over time – assuming it lives up to your promise.

So here again, I admonish you to brand smart from the start.

Next time we’ll look at logos.

Martin Jelsema

How Can “Plus” Differentiate a Brand?

As I’ve admonished anyone who’ll listen, the key to building a successful brand is to differentiate your company or offering in such a way that you stand out from competitors, and that your differentiator will be hard to imitate.

So, what do you think of those companies whose name states their prime business and then goes on to dilute their primary focus? Is this good branding? Does it differentiate or just confuse? It’s like being in thier prime business is just not enough.

I’m thinking of companies like Bed, Bath & Beyond; Brakes Plus, and Containers & More.

Did they rationalize that “more” differentiates them? Or were they afraid they’d miss customers if they really niched, so they “hedged their bets” with a name expansion?

Jack Trout, author with Steve Rivkin of Differentiate or Die, states that “breadth of line” is a difficult way to differentiate. It costs lots of money, competitors with money can copy this strategy easily, it blurs what the brand represents.

For really big box chains, having lots of inventory may be a customer plus in and of itself, but most of those stores – Home Depot, Pep Boys, CompUSA – never claimed to narrowly focus in the first place. Their differentiation is a combination of breadth of line, lower prices and customer service. Within their retail categories – home improvement, automotive after market, and hi-tech electronics – they can and do focus.

I’d like to hear from you on this subject: Is adding a name expansion helpful in establishing a solid brand? Does it dilute the company’s primary differentiator, or does it enhance it?

Martin Jelsema

Naming Tips: Number 10 in a Series

As you would expect, there are a lot of resources on the web that can be useful in developing lists of name candidates.

Some are branding sites, but most are concerned with language. I’ve just listed here four I’ve found intriguing and occasionally fruitful in generating brand names.

The Webmaster Toolkit site has a really easy search tool that internet marketers use to search for keywords for their web pages. I find relevant words and phrases, those actually used by searchers when looking for items through the search engines. Even though you’ll find their pop-ups a little distracting, this search tool provides lists of words and short phrases that will provide name candidates.

Then there a multitude of language-related sites that can be useful. The following websites contain links to on-line dictionaries and other word-related resources.

Use Wisdom is an authority site with access to many word-related resources. Warning: you can spend literally hours chasing links here.

iTools set of Language Tools also links up with a multitude of on-line word-related resources, as well as providing dictionary and thesaurus help directly from the site.

OneLook just provides a dictionary search, but what a search it is! When you type in a word or phrase, it can poll up to 900-plus on-line dictionaries.

Martin Jelsema

More on memes

Last week I blogged about memes as a means of branding. Memes are icons or phrases with universal meaning such as the red cross of the Red Cross organization.

I suggested that some marketing advisors embraced the idea of associating a product or service with an existing meme such as Prudential has done with the Rock of Gibraltar. I then stated that I’d be very careful in associating your brand – or incorporating a meme into your brand as Prudential has done – because the meme by its very definition is not unique.

I still hold to this premise. But I must expand my thoughts to say that a meme can be a really powerful brand element or association if you’ve created it. In other words, if you’ve established and promoted your brand through a unique graphic, audio or text element that has become a meme through your presentation of it, and through people’s acceptance of it, you’ve got a winner.

Another way to say it: you’re practicing viral marketing. (As an aside, is it a coincidence that viral and virile have the same root?)

So if you’ve created “where’s the beef?”, or a bald-headed, house-cleaning genie, or “you’ve got mail”, you may be gaining brand equity. (Just a warning, though, the toy bunny with a drum is most often associated with Duracell even though he belongs to Energizer Holdings.)

Still, finding a unique way to express the essence of your brand is vital, whether that icon or tagline ever becomes an authentic meme.

Martin Jelsema


Branding Basics – Step Seven

With your brand platform and an idea of the brand personality you believe to be attractive, and even compelling, to your target markets, you’re ready for the next creative step.

It’s the step most entrepreneurs begin with. Step Seven is name development.

For some, this is the fun part. For others, it’s just frustrating and energy-sapping. (If it gets to you, I can help. But you really should take a crack at it first so you’ll appreciate just what it takes to create a compelling name that’s not been adopted by someone else, and also meets your established criteria.)

First thing is to identify exactly what you are going to name.

Is it a single business that has no aspirations about going global? Is it a company you are naming, or is it a product line, a subsidiary, a family of products or a single service?

For companies with multiple product lines, and models and styles within them, you may need to establish a naming hierarchy early on just to make sure you won’t be confusing customers later on.

Perhaps you will be naming a product that will be replaced by newer versions in a year or two – like software.  If so, you’ll want to establish that ground work at the outset so you can establish continuity.

After clearly defining what you will be naming, it’s time to establish the criteria you will use to create and evaluate brand name candidates. Criteria for a particular offering can come from the list below. Not all need be considered and you may wish to add one or two of your own depending upon your branding project.

Each name candidate must (should) answer the following attributes in the affirmative:

  • Is it meaningful?
    Is it unique?
    Is it relevant?
    Does it suggest a benefit?
    Is it memorable?
    Is it appropriate?
    Is it easily pronounceable?
    Is it descriptive?
    Is it in good taste?
    Is it short enough?
    Is it vital?
    Will it “have legs” over time?
    Does it appeal to all stakeholders?

Now some will say that imposing criteria prior to generating name candidate lists will limit the quantity you’ll have to choose from. This may be true, but if those generating candidates have some direction and focus, my experience says you’ll get plenty of quantity and the quality will be much higher. (I related how I learned brainstorming from Alex Osborn while at BBDO circa 1959-60 in the blog entitled Naming Tips: Number 8 in a Series)

Next, you should distribute the tools you’ve previously developed – brand platform, brand personality document, description of what is to be named, and the naming criteria – to your naming team. After a day or two, get them together to answer any questions they may have and then have them clear a day on their calendars to brainstorm names. Give them at least two or three days, preferably a week, to “percolate” their own ideas.

On the appointed day, reserve a conference room with several whiteboards, appoint a person to record all the ideas so everyone can see those ideas and “hitchhike” on those that generate a spark. Remember, no negativism or discussion of ideas. There is no judgment taking place here; that comes afterwards. Go for quantity.

If you don’t have a group of people to brainstorm names, you might consider some of the resources available on the Internet that help you generate candidates, usually without paying any attention to criteria, though.

There are some tricks, tips and techniques to naming that can be beneficial in extending the brainstormed list. They can also be used if you’ve had to generate name candidates with no help. I’ve documented a couple of dozen of them in this blog – see the series Naming Tips under the category Name Creation. Once you have found the absolutely most appropriate, compelling and memorable brand  name candidate, you’re ready for Step Eight. And plenty of frustration.

Naming Tips: Number 9 in a Series

In the book, Strategic Brand Management, author Kevin Lane Keller provides some criteria for a brand name.

The problem is two of those criteria seem contradictory.

To gain and keep high marks for brand awareness and recall, Keller wants a name to be “familiar and meaningful”. But to establish brand recognition, the brand needs a “different, distinct and unusual” name. He concedes “tradeoffs must be recognized”.

But there are several ways to combine the familiar and the different: to satisfy both criteria fully. Here are three methods.

Begin by developing a list of familiar words relevant to the product to be named. Usually these are words that might describe a benefit or perhaps a desired emotional response. They might be descriptive, allegorical or suggestive. Just build as long a list as you and your thesaurus can accumulate.

  • Tip 1: Now, for those words that end in a silent “e”, substitute “a”, “i”, “o”, “u” or “y” for the silent “e”. This is especially effective for verbs and single-syllable words.  Here are some examples: hype=hypa, groove=groovo, rake=raku. You may also substitute short, vowel-beginning syllables such as “an”, “or”, “ite”. More examples: style=stylant,  save=savio, crane=cranus. But note how the word itself is retained without the silent “e”, so familiarity is retained while the added suffix makes it unique.


  • Tip 2: From the same list, select those words that begin with a vowel. Now experiment with adding a single consonant or if you’re into linguistics, a phoneme, to the beginning of the word. Thus, element=Nelement, Apollo=Capollo, Oslo=Voslo, arch=Sharch. Again, the original word is retained and the added phoneme gives it individuality.


  • Tip 3: Here you deliberately “misspell” words to create a new, trademarkable name: Qwest, Ikon, Duque. At first a customer will have a little trouble recognizing the word, but once they’ve pronounced it, they’ll remember, particularly if the original word carries a relevancy to the product or company itself.

So there you have it, three ways to have your caki and feat it, tu.

Martin Jelsema

Naming Tips: Number 8 in a Series

This week’s naming tip requires patience and dedication.

Just learn all you can about the creative process and problem solving.

Yes, think of naming as a problem solving activity. With that in mind, learn and try the various systems and methods that have been used and endorsed by copywriters and other “creatives”. Three come to mind as rich resources for developing “creative thinking” that can be applied to naming companies and brands.

Two were developed by the Englishmen, Edward de Bono and Tony Buzan.

The other originator, Alex Osborn, was a founder of BBDO, the ad agency at which I cut my teeth beginning in 1959. Osborn, as well as the legendary John Caples were still semi-active at the New York offices of BBDO then, and I had the opportunity to sit silently as they conducted in-house workshops for us “newbies”. That brings back many memories, including an early love. But I digress.

Alex Osborn is the originator, or at least the “formalizer” of brainstorming.

His approach was to get a dozen people from various agency departments, including those in “non-creative” assignments like receptionists, media buyers and traffic coordinators, together after they had a chance to digest a “creative brief”. He had a bell which he’d ring if there was any negative comment (including grimaces or titters) to any idea. All ideas were put on the black boards (it was before white boards were invented), and we were encouraged to “hitchhike” on previously presented ideas. This is essentially the same formula used today for most brainstorming sessions. And it still works in providing a quantity of ideas with a broad spectrum of perspectives represented.

Osborn wrote several books on creativity. The two I find to be required reading are Your Creative Power and Applied Imagination, both written over fifty years ago but both as fresh today as when they were conceived.

Edward de Bono is primarily known as the author of Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step  and Six Thinking Hats. The concept of lateral thinking is the basis for his giant output of material – books, seminars, workshops and presentations. It begins with “don’t take anything for granted”, or “suspend your preconceived notions and assumptions”. Then apply various techniques like answering what many would think to be irrelevant questions: what if it were the size of an elephant?, what if there were no wheels?, what famous historical figure might be an ideal spokesperson?

There’s a lot more to de Bono and his ideas. And, yes, it might take some time to absorb and put to use his techniques. But the effort is worth your while if creativity is part of your life.

Next, Tony Buzan, the originator, or again perhaps the first advocate of, mind mapping. Originally developed to help students “outline” lectures in a graphic way, it’s been found to be a powerful method of generating ideas. A mind map is pictured below. It was copied from his book, The Mind Map Book.

A mind map

Note that everything emanates from the central point in nodes that can be expanded as the process continues. In naming, each node could be a particular type of name (geographic, coined words, idioms, etc.) or perhaps attributes of a product. You might concentrate on name candidates based on beauty, durability, leading edge, etc.

So, here are three approaches to creative problem-solving. All three are very useful in the naming process. But I know I’ve found them useful in any problem-solving situations.

Naming Tips: Number 7 in a Series

In this series, I’ve attempted to broaden the scope of potential names. Here are two more ways you might not have thought of, even though both have limited application.
There’s a way to impart certain cultural suggestions or associations by using the first part of two-part proper names (ie: Mc, Mac, O’, Van, von, D’, Di, De, Del, Bel, San, La, L’) and hook them up with descriptive nouns like McNuggets, O’Cedar, MacFrugal.

It’s also worth exploring new lead-ins as if you were on staff at Paramount Studios dreaming up character names for the next Star Trek series: (RelTran, B’Yond, G’Wizz). 

This second tip may be as much a graphic approach as it is a purely name-making activity. But you can create names that stand out with visual devices. When so-doing you must remember that your name may not be utilized in the method you would wish by press or referrers. Also, though it might be trademarkable as a graphic, a graphic name may not be available as a common word, nor will you be able to use a graphic device as a web site URL.

However, it is possible to incorporate devices such as hyphens, common symbols & punctuation(+,!), all lower case, underlined word parts, combined UPPERlower case, CapsINmiddle, pronunciation marks (Jels’-ema), two Differentfonts, Etc.

Though limited in application, either of these tips might stimulate your search for outside-the-can name candidates.

Martin Jelsema

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