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How to name a venture

A checklist for choosing your key asset eye

The right name can make or break a business and you’ll have just one shot at it. Better make it a good’un.

An organisation’s name is the central element of its identity. As the venture grows, that name will be repeated countless times: and likely to be spoken, written, read, emailed, searched-for, hashtagged, quoted – even sung.

Names are assets which hold value on a balance sheet, which is why they are trademarked and protected – and why the shortest or most memorable domain names change hands for eight-figure sums. So identifying the right name for your new venture is critical. Once out in the open the chances of back-pedalling diminish quickly.

There’s a misconception that naming is an easy task, which couldn’t be further from the truth. One project I was involved in began with reviewing a list of over a thousand possibilities, and ended with a multi-page précis of the research conducted over two months, before the name was committed to and trademarked. On that journey, multiple areas were covered and questions asked, such as how would it be extended? Was it sustainable? Did it reflect the product? How would it sound to non-English speakers?

When approaching naming it’s easy to get blinkered into thinking that the most important output of the development is the ability to register it as a domain, and thus ensure your place on the web. But the fundamental question to ask is how does your name contribute to your personal or business story?

This is what people should come to know about you, above all else. Like a personal name it should be inspirational to you at the heart of the business, before it resonates with your people and customers. It should also be future-facing, and pull your venture forward.

So... if you are about to embark on a naming journey, here are a few steps:

 

Check the name against:

The business/personal story I am understanding

The positioning that is evolving

Vision and goals of the business

Existing products and entities
Competitor names

Domain registerability

Trademark and potential conflicts

Current search engine results

Define the name:

Primary Name and Secondary names

Meaning & Etymology

Cultural meaning: historic & present

Geographical/Local meanings

Implied meanings

Alternative meanings

Use in cultural texts

Use in historical texts

Use in religious texts

Use in myth, folktale & fable, novel, classical literature

Links to fictional, living or historical characters

Meanings in other languages

Translations

Representation in non-Latin characters

Check the name for:

Words within words

Alternative reading / spellings

Alternative hearings (inc. international)

Abbreviations / Acronyms

Hyphenation issues

Possible mis-spellings

Possible mis-readings

Use in urban argot/innuendo/
slang/racial/subtext/double entendre

Word design, shape and presentation

Placement of ascenders & descenders

Case and initialising

Apply the name in test applications:

On a business card

In a soundbite

In a headline

On a vehicle mock-up

In a voice message

In an email footer