When Mark Twain said,

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning”

he wasn’t talking about naming a new power generating company. But he could have been.

Naming a product of company isn’t something most (any?) of us do every day, so in some ways it helpful to know that even Twain struggled to come up with the right word. That knowledge may be power but it doesn’t make naming any easier.

People who do naming for a living find this stuff difficult too, and in reality they’re not much better at it than you or me. They may be good at checking for meaning in 72 different languages but these are the same guys who came up with Consignia (definitely worth a trip to this BBC report – Nine letters that spelled fiasco, don’t worry, I’ll wait), and Transco (for gas, now replaced by the National Grid).

Is it worth the effort anyway? After all, it’s extremely unlikely that the only thing someone knows about your business is the name. They’ll probably know a little about what you do, they’ll associate you with your category, where and how they came across you, maybe a tag line or a recommendation or two. With all that wrapped around someone’s brain, how important is the name anyway? Extremely. Seth Godin recently suggested naming everything, and came up with baxter as his own contribution.

Your name is the anchor point for all those firing neurones. A good name will stick, will stand for something and will make all of your other marketing efforts just a little bit easier. A slow factor that controls the quick.

The English language is rich – the name is out there. So how do you come up with the right word? There is no guaranteed method but here are some guidelines, so you know the right name when you see it.

So, accepting that this is going to be tough, what are the guidelines?

  • Short – if you use more than three syllables everyone, including you, will shorten in anyway. International Business Machines is IBM to all of us, British Telecommunications PLC is know as British Telecom is known as BT.
  • Early in the alphabet – you never know, maybe all you other marketing efforts have left a potential customer above the water line and she’s looking in a directory. Push your name above the fold with an A-to-G name. BTW – nobody likes AAAA Anything.
  • Spell-able – a friend told me about flikr long before I saw the word in print, to find the site I had to ask for a link. Numbers are difficult, do you spell onetwothree or 123?
  • Simple – by which I mean don’t try to be clever, try to avoid having to start sentences with “It comes from the greek for …”
  • Obvious – names that capture what you do can be very strong but are difficult to pull off. Mule Bar (energy bars) is good.

Google is a great name that works on every level.

Missing the mark on any one dimension is ok, but compromise too many and your name will be weak or bland.

So what’s wrong with Bland? Tick, tick, tick, tick, ooops. Unless … maybe, just maybe, there’s an un-fashion company waiting in the wings. (I just checked, www.bland.com is a holding page – watch that space.)


Foundations Making Promises