3 biases that can block a great name

What are your five favorite brand names? Don’t think: Just rank them off the top of your head, purely by name. What about your least favorite? Now ask yourself: Why did I pick those?

Chances are, whether or not you think much about naming and etymology, you already have an opinion about what makes a name good or bad.

Now imagine you’ve been tasked with choosing a new name for your organization. All of a sudden, you probably have even more to say about what that name should be like.

It’s no surprise—naming is inherently subjective and naturally emotional. Names inspire feelings: curiosity, surprise, skepticism, humor, indifference. And the name of your brand or product needs to be able to tell a story to the world. It’s the outward expression of the things your brand stands for, drawing on your business, your people, and your customers.

We look to people inside an organization to make sure we’re telling the right story—drawing on their passion and ways of thinking about their work in ways that can be articulated through a name. That’s where preconceived notions can be useful—up to a point.

But when evaluating names, it’s important to separate the useful insights from the personal biases that can hold you back.

These personal biases we see in naming can stop a project in its tracks.

“I thought of a name. It’s ________. Can we just go with that?”

Approaching the naming conversation with too narrow an idea of what the name should be is something you want to avoid at all costs.

The biggest issue is that, from a legal perspective, your “dream name” may not be available. Too often we see clients fall in love with a particular name only to find out that it’s already trademarked. This automatically sets you up for disappointment when subsequent names fail to live up to the expectations you’ve set.

“The only type of name that will work for our organization is ____________.”

While guidelines help frame creative exploration, narrowing in on only one type of name may cause you to miss out on the right one.

The truth is, you can’t want what you don’t know yet. You may think you like a particular type of name because it’s familiar, but the right name could be something you’ve never seen before—and you won’t know until you try it on.

For example, some clients tell us they don’t want descriptive names because they seem boring and expected. But when faced with a list of abstract names, they’re put off because these names don’t have any built-in meaning. Both types of names have their merits, but only keeping one on the table will cause you to miss out on what the other has to offer.

“I shared the name with my wife. She thinks it sounds dumb.”

Trying on a new name can feel uncomfortable. When we present names to a group, we provide a rationale and context for each. This can help soften expectations and make an unfamiliar name feel more real and less jarring. But when you share names out of context, you lose that necessary story and get back gut reactions that aren’t fully formed.

We ask people to spend some time with a name—and if they share them, to only do so with the people within the organization who have the necessary context to make a fair evaluation.

With the right groundwork in place, you can begin to productively imagine a totally new name for your organization—without letting inherent biases get in the way.

Is there a name in your future? Let us help you find it. This handbook is your guide to Naming.

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Contributors

Associate Consultant, Verbal Identity