Tips and tricks for naming a product or service

The eternal question: What belongs in that blank space?

The eternal question: What belongs in that blank space?

The hardest thing I’ve ever had to name was my kids. The trouble was my last name, Badalamenti. Besides being ridiculously long and perpetually butchered in pronunciation and spelling, it’s tough to attach a first name to. First, you have to go short (two syllables, max) or risk having to take a breath in the middle of saying your name. Second, if you go too Italian (my last name’s origin), I feared sentencing my kids to a life of typecasting on shows like The Sopranos.

Set against that, naming gum flavors, crayon colors, and more for my job seemed relatively easy. Here are a few I’ve penned:

> Orbital Orchard

> Ballistic Berry

> Sea Serpent Green

I’ve also named a bunch of medical products and devices, services for businesses, programs at colleges and many others. All very cool projects and fun to work on, but alas, not sexy enough to list here.

Naming a product or service can be incredibly fun, frustrating and fascinating. (Like that alliteration? More on that in a minute.) There is, however, a definite process to naming something. And today, I’ll share with you what happens to work for me.

Tools of the trade

Here’s the minimum I keep around for when naming projects come up:

  • A good thesaurus, either on my Mac, online or the old-fashioned analog kind; and a visual thesaurus (you can find this online, too)
  • A dictionary (again, Mac, online or of the musty old book variety)
  • A rhyming dictionary
  • Bookmarked websites of Greek and Latin words and roots (for medical or scientific-type products)
  • Bookmarked websites about words (such as
  • Bookmarked websites of competitors for the product/service I’m naming

Before naming anything…

There are certain questions that you need to answer. Seriously. Depending on how you answer these, it could totally change how you approach your name. Here are the basics I always ask:

What am I naming? Don’t mean to be Captain Obvious here, but there’s a big difference between naming a product, a service, and a company. Customers have different views and experiences with them, for one. Company names tend to be more permanent, because there’s a lot more involved and at stake, whereas a product or service can change more easily. Think it through.

How will this name be used? Is it US-based only? Will it be used globally? If so, you have considerations with translations and culture. (Whenever possible, I ask native speakers about name ideas if they are being used overseas. You’d be surprised what other cultures see in a name that we may not.) It’s also important to know where the name will appear—signs, packaging, a business card, websites, etc. It has to work where it needs to, and the more you know ahead of time, the better.

Whom are we naming this for? By this, I mean the people this product, service or company is intended for. Men? Women? Both? Kids? A product for GE will be named very differently than one named for a pharmaceutical company. Also, consider how your audience talks, their education level, and the way they would use this product/service.

How does branding play a role in your name? Again, think GE vs. Pfizer vs. Crayola. Branding is a critical component in naming, because it needs to carry the tone or voice of a brand. What’s more, your name may have to “fit” with a bunch of others.

How about the competition? The last thing you want is to have a name that sounds eerily similar to someone else’s. Some categories are clever, or fun, or serious. What tone does the competitive landscape set—and should you break it?

The process, roughly

With the questions out of the way and all the answers swirling in your noggin, here’s basically how the naming process goes:

  • Come up with a bunch of names, preferably thinking from different perspectives and angles (try to come up with a minimum of 50).
  • Do a quick Google search on them, then a trademark search. This doesn’t replace an attorney review, but it will eliminate some monikers right off the bat. (Some free, “I’ve lived this” advice: Don’t fall in love with any names. Even if they clear Google and the initial trademark look-see, they may not get past a patent lawyer. Be open.)
  • Submit the names for approval. This is the worst part. Your sweating, straining and struggling will be nonchalantly tossed aside as people hack names from your list. That’s OK. You can come up with more, believe me.

Some easy naming tricks and techniques

There are LOTS of things you can do. Here are a few of my favorites…

Alliteration – Remember this from English class? Alliteration is when multiple words start with the same sound. Turns out, it works for names, too, like Lincoln LogsPayPal and Burt’s Bees.

Metaphors – A name can represent or symbolize something. Amazon is a great example. Like the river and region, the company represents a wealth of offerings.

Compounds names – This is a popular technique today. It combines two or more words into a single name, like: SnapchatBowFlexBandAidLinkedIn, and WhatsApp.

Word tweaks – This is when you take a regular word and alter it somehow to make it more creative or unique, hence a name. Digital names rule here: del.icio.usflickr, and iTunes.

Plain old words – Yes, sometimes people actually choose regular words that simply, aptly represent the product, service or company. You may also pick words that aren’t used every day. VanguardAppleIndeed, and Pandora are a few that come to mind.

Your naming checklist

No matter what your name is, make sure it passes these five Naming 101 tests:

  1. Is the name easy to remember and understand?
  2. Is the name easy to pronounce?
  3. Can the name be mistaken for something else or have a connotation you don’t want?
  4. Is the name’s trademark available?
  5. Is its domain available?

And, much like children, attaching a name to something has a magical quality to it. Suddenly, that name will start developing meaning around the thing its linked to… it becomes its own entity… collectively seen, understood and accepted. It’s a pretty amazing thing to watch and be a part of.

– Andy Badalamenti is the creative director for CI-Group

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  • Mark

    Some good Tips Andy. I enjoyed the blog. Hope all is well with the family. Will have to get together sometime soon.

    1 April, 2015 at 10:28 pm

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