October 12, 2023

Making a Name for Yourself: How to Name Your Brand in Four Steps

Leah Metz

Most creatives agree that a naming project is one of the best—yet most challenging—parts of the branding process. And, while it is extremely fun and satisfying, naming can also be slightly nerve-wracking. Why? Think of it this way—it’s the first step in taking your client’s brand off the page and into the world, the first thing people see when they interact with it, and the maker (or breaker) of first impressions. That's a lot of firsts and a lot of pressure.

Luckily, Heinrich has a trusted naming process that combines a ton of insights and strategy, a bunch of research, and a healthy dose of branding expertise.

Step 1: Discovery and Strategy

Know who the brand is before you name it.

The first step in any successful naming project is to not start with naming at all. You’re probably sitting there thinking, “Wait, I came here to learn about how to name a brand and now you’re telling me I can't?” Here’s the thing. You can’t name a brand if you don’t know who the brand is. So, if you don't have a brand strategy yet, you need to back up and start at step one of the overall branding process: the client discovery session.

During this session, you’ll sit down with your client and get to know everything about their brand—from the nitty-gritty details to their preferences and vision. These are the learnings that will influence how your brand strategy is created and, in turn, how that strategy influences the name.
Hot tip: Be sure to reserve time during this conversation to ask specific naming questions. This will help you determine what kind of name your clients are drawn to and why. To get the conversation going, come prepared with a list of different naming styles and structures (like the ones below) and see what piques their interest.

Types of Naming
When you look up different types of brand names, you’ll find that there are many opinions on how to categorize them. But when you get down to it, most names can be put into the following structures and styles. With that, there is bound to be some overlap. For example, PayPal is a descriptive name that uses both an alliteration and a compound structure. Whereas Mailchimp is a playful name using a compound noun of real words. Keep in mind that your names do not have to fall neatly into one of these buckets, but getting input from your clients can help add some spark and guideposts to your brainstorming process.

Name-Structure Examples

  • Alliterative: American Airlines, Best Buy
  • Acronym: IBM, AT&T
  • Compound: PayPal, Coinbase
  • Real Word(s): Dove, Target
  • Misspelled: Froot Loops, Lyft

Name-Style Examples

  • Playful: Mailchimp, Tushy
  • Metaphoric: Amazon, Tinder
  • Historical/Origin: Saks Fifth Avenue, Dairy Block
  • Founder: Disney, Ben & Jerry’s
  • Geographical/Location-Based: Cisco, Florida’s Natural
  • Coined: Verizon, Pantone
  • Descriptive: Whole Foods, Comedy Central
  • Invented: Kodak, Häagen-Dazs
  • Combined: Fabletics, Pinterest
Step 2: Research and Write
Turn your strategy into a creative distinction.

Taking everything you learned during the discovery session, it’s time to get to work. To start, consider which types of names your client is interested in, consult the brand strategy for insights and themes, and use all this information to create some naming buckets for yourself.
Then, dive in.
Go down the research rabbit hole.
See what competitors are doing and why.
Search for interesting nuggets and good stories. For rich histories and curious details that will make the brand stand out.
Leave no Internet stone unturned.
Looking for a name with a geographical tie? What about something metaphorical that connects the brand ethos to its vision? See where those roads lead.
Use your research to write 10 names. Then 10 more.
Think of ways to modify, combine, and invent.
Keep writing, and keep going back to the strategy.
Continue pushing until you have a handful of names that you’re confident fit with who the brand is and what it stands for.

Here are some examples of names Heinrich has developed for our various real estate branding clients. Watch for them around the Denver Metro in the coming year.

Step 3: Narrow and Vet
Lots of names are good. Instead, let’s be smart.

After you’ve organized your massive list of name options and why they make sense for the brand, it’s time to narrow down to your top five best options.

Before you begin, let’s define what makes a “good” brand name. Like most artistic endeavors, this can be a bit subjective. But if you ask us (and you should since we have lots of experience), it isn’t just about coming up with a “good” name, it’s about coming up with a smart one.

Here are nine things Heinrich considers when deciding which names to present to our clients:

  1. It's memorable
  2. It's distinct and not being used within the competitive landscape.
  3. It has meaning, or meaning can be created around it.
  4. It fits your strategy and embodies your brand positioning and personality.
  5. It’s accessible; your customers can easily learn to say it, spell it, interpret it, or Google it.
  6. It’s appealing and resonates with your target audience.
  7. It’s appropriate, not appropriating, and avoids negative concepts.
  8. It sounds good.
  9. It looks good.

Obviously, a few items on this list are, as previously mentioned, subjective. So how do you avoid having you or your client choose a name based on your personal preference? You vet. If you don’t have the budget or resources to hold an official focus group, create an informal one on your own. Find people in your social circle who fit the target audience of this brand and ask them what they think. Take notes, be honest with yourself, and kill your darlings. That super-cool name with a great rationale that, deep down, you know is way too complicated or hard to pronounce? Nix it.
For a real-world example, consider Heinrich’s recent real estate branding project for a Trammel Crow and Greystar apartment complex in Denver’s Central Park neighborhood. For this name, we were inspired by a few things:

  1. The neighborhood where the property lives was once home to Denver’s Stapleton International Airport.
  2. Our strategy informed us that this brand’s audience was looking to enter a new chapter of life filled with movement, growth, and discovery.

The result? Elevon. Originally a term for aircraft surfaces that combine the functions of two instruments for pitch and roll control, the name Elevon was clearly inspired by the geographical history of the area as well as encouraging residents to live a life in motion they so desire.

Step 4: Present and Select
Sell the story and the strategy.

Now that you’ve narrowed down your favorites, it’s time to share with the client. One of the best ways to get your client excited and on board with what you’re proposing is to put together a well-crafted presentation. Don’t just email your hard work to them and hope for the best. Instead, start by reviewing the approved brand strategy as a refresher, and then move into sharing each name. Be sure each option is presented with a strong rationale and background so the client can understand the story and meaning.

Hopefully, the client will love what you’ve come up with and immediately select a name. But if they don’t, you can either head back to your original list to see if there are any other options that align with their feedback or go back to step two and give the whole thing another go.

So how do you make a name for yourself?
First and foremost, know that a brand name is much more than words on a page or logo on a website. Ultimately, a name needs to embody the essence of the brand and resonate with its target audience in a way that makes them want to be a part of the story. It’s a daunting task, no doubt, but Heinrich is clearly passionate about the process and ready to help. To get started, send us a message, or give our branding team a shout at hello@heinrich.com.