When approaching the task of naming something new, many look for the “silver bullet”. The “I’ll-know-it-when-I-see-it” name that feels absolutely perfect.

The bad news is: the perfect name doesn’t exist. All names come with their own benefits and compromises. And weighing those strengths and risks should be a critical part of your selection exercise.

The good news is: the pressure’s off because there is no “one” right name. Rather, lots of names could be the right choice for you. A great name will say something amazing about your offering, and do something productive for your business. But one name will never be able to say all the amazing things you have to say. Or play a part in all the productive work there is to be done. No matter how great it is.

The 3 characteristics of a great name.

This is because names are hyper-short form pieces of content. In fact, their concise nature is exactly what makes them so impactful. But it’s also what limits them. Even the most deliberately chosen set of 1-3 words can only communicate and accomplish so much.

That’s why the best naming lists include options which convey a variety of compelling messages and contribute to a range of critical objectives for your organization.  And choosing between them involves prioritizing which messages and tasks you deem important enough to be promoted and furthered by your offering’s most highly visible communications vehicle.

But how do you know the names on your short-list are exclusively “great” names? Versus names lacking the appropriate intention and forethought?

A great name – a contender for the right name – always meets certain pre-requisites:

  • It arises from a clearly defined naming strategy,
  • It’s comprised of language tied to meaningful and specific aspects of your offering’s value, and
  • Its story can be told through a crisp and powerful “rationale”.

Let’s take a closer look.

The strategy underlying the name should contribute to a specific objective.

The right name is built off a well thought out naming strategy. “Strategy” is defined as a careful plan of action designed to help achieve an overall aim.  And a naming strategy is an approach to selecting a name that ensures the characteristics of that name work in service of a bigger goal.

Want to overcome preconceived notions of complexity that plague your category? Consider a name that prioritizes simplicity and transparency.

Trying to drive trial by piquing peoples’ curiosity? Explore names that use the kind of relevant symbolism that encourages people to dig a little deeper.

Shooting to position yourself as answering an age-old problem with a fresh scientific approach? Think about coined names with the same kind of “highly designed” construction inherent to your offering.

Want to signal a somewhat niche audience segment? Take a look at names that use personification as a mechanism for “calling out” to a distinctive tribe.

As long as a name is working – and working hard – to help you meet a bigger objective, it may be a valid direction to pursue.

The language in the name should relate to high-impact ideas. 

But a name born out of a logical naming strategy is not enough on its own. The right name also leverages language that allows you to intimately associate yourself with a small number of clear, high-impact ideas.

High-impact ideas represent the special and specific value your offering promises to deliver. These “value propositions” can be functional and reflective of tangible results or effects. They can be emotional and illustrative of how people will feel after obtaining those results. Or they can be experiential and representative of the positive characteristics and desirable atmosphere that accompany your usage experience.

Whatever the angle, the right name always speaks to what people want or need, and celebrates how those asks are met by your offering. If it doesn’t, there’s probably a better name out there for you. And you should seek it out.

The story behind the name should be rich and actionable.

The right name also has enough depth and dimension to support an inspiring and memorable story. That story is called the name’s rationale, and it captures what your name is promising, the perspectives or beliefs it symbolizes, and how it will help your business succeed in market. It’s the narrative of why your name is the “right name” after all. For you and the people you’re trying to reach. And it’s important because that one simple description has the potential to keep your entire suite of communications focused on the same, highly persuasive points.

Given its high frequency of use, a name sits at the top of your communications’ hierarchy. Therefore, a truly cohesive communications system is one that pulls and expands the story of a name through its multiple touchpoints. And that cohesion has the power to make the right ideas stick.

This pull through and expansion is also important because it ensures people understand the thinking behind your name – something absolutely necessary to maximize its productivity as a storytelling agent for your brand or business.

Consider the example of Duffel, a software company with a mission to democratize the travel industry by empowering anyone to effortlessly embark on the journey of becoming a travel seller. At first glance, Duffel (presumably short for duffel bag) may come across as uncompelling. Sure, it’s related to trips and travel but it’s also a fairly benign everyday object.

But the power of Duffel’s name can be observed through the brand’s storytelling. Duffel’s wider universe of communications consistently speaks to things like simplicity, ease-of-use, “lightness” and new adventures – all of which are ideas clearly associated with a duffel bag (versus other types of luggage, such as a trunk or suitcase, for example).

Neglecting to reinforce those key value propositions would minimize the effectiveness of the name Duffle, and perhaps open the door for negative associations around blandness and commoditization to arise. Yet, with its consistent reinforcement, Duffle is able to successfully act as a symbol for the business’s most meaningful promises. And because of this, the business’s most meaningful promises stay top of mind, top of heart, and top of memory when users or consumers encounter Duffle.

So, while there may not be a single, magical solution to your naming needs, there is always an opportunity to construct a short-list of great potential names. And in that set of circumstances – there are no “wrong” choices. Only names with different stories and strategies – each with their own power to say and do something great.

– By Tanya Gustafson