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What’s in a brand name: How to choose a name with character 

April 23, 2024 | Published by Faire

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As a small business, you know branding is important—and it all begins with your name. It’s the front door to your business: At first glance, it should be intriguing, easy to remember, and clear. Once you take a closer look, it should invite your customers to sit down and stay awhile. It’s the start of your story. But how to come up with a brand name?

We wanted to learn how to figure out a good brand name that not only speaks to your mission and vision but also helps you attract customers. So we sat down with Kathryn Worsham Humphries and Carla Nikitaidis, co-founders of All You Need Method. Between them, Kathryn and Carla have more than 30 years of experience helping small businesses and well-known names like Gap, Nest, MIRTH, Williams Sonoma, Target, and others build strong brands with loyal clientele. Here’s their take on how to come up with a brand name that lasts.

What makes a good brand name?

A brand name that resonates with your customers will be clear, easy to pronounce, memorable, and meaningful. It could be tied to your brand story, your mission and vision, or all three.

Tip #1: Define your brand story (and lean into it)

When you’re starting out, people will often ask you to tell the story of your business, including how you came up with the name. If you simply liked how something sounded, or smashed two syllables together, it doesn’t add anything to your brand. “It falls flat,” says Kathryn. “It’s much more interesting to have a name that actually means something.”

Even though many small business owners get stuck defining what makes their journey unique, it’s a fruitful place to kick off the naming process. If you’re unsure, Kathryn says, talk to a good friend or trusted mentor: Seeing your business from an outsider’s point of view can lend a helpful perspective. “Every small business has the opportunity to discover their unique and special angle,” says Kathryn. “Starting with some reflection about the ‘why’ behind your business will inspire words to come to mind.” 

Some thought-starters:

  • Why are you starting this business?
  • What was your journey to this point?
  • Who is your target audience and what problem is your business, product or service helping them solve?
  • What do you want customers to feel when they think about your brand?
  • What kind of meaning are you trying to convey?  

Kathryn emphasizes doing this exercise in the beginning stages of your business, as it can impact everything from your website content to your marketing vibe. There are ways to change your name further down the line, but it requires substantial effort, so it’s best to nail it the first time.

The staying power of a strong story is not to be underestimated, says Kathryn, and there’s no wrong place to pull from. “Dorsey is named after the owner’s grandmother, and she often talks about how her grandmother inspired her company, which really helps you remember the name,” she says.

Consider what differentiates your brand. “Think about what your business really authentically means to you,” Carla suggests. Take CheerNotes, an inclusive stationery brand that celebrates diversity—and is easy to say, clear, and memorable. Once you know its mission to lift up and honor underrepresented artists, it’s that much more impactful.

Tip #2: Brainstorm freely, without editing yourself 

When you’re brainstorming business-name ideas, there should be a beginning stage where anything goes. If you’re having trouble thinking of anything, try online name generators or ChatGPT. Even though these tools might not deliver the name, they can ignite sparks. 

Carla suggests creating a Google doc or Excel spreadsheet and listing any store-name ideas that come to mind—the more the better. A reliable starting point: When considering how to come up with a brand name, go back to the “why” of your business. “A name is just a name unless you’re actually taking the time to think about how it connects to your target customer and the vision and mission of your brand,” Carla says. “A brand name is really as memorable as the brand that you’re creating.”

Sow the Magic was created by a family that is “enchanted” by plants, herbs, and ancient wisdom. Their products include everything from gemstones and tarot seeds to notebooks and jewelry. The name has real meaning, is easy to understand—especially once you know the story behind it—and is quite creative. No other brand could own it as well as them.

The last thing you want to do is fall in love with a name only to realize that it’s not legally available

Carla Nikitaidis

Tip #3: Be timeless, not trendy 

It can be easy when you’re brainstorming business-name ideas to inadvertently gravitate toward popular words—if only because they have traction in the current zeitgeist. It could be something as simple as using the + sign instead of “and,” ending your name with an “ly,” or being too direct (pets.com, sports.com). “Avoid names that are overly trendy,” Kathryn says. “You really have the potential to stand out when it feels different.”

Another important consideration is legibility and recognition. If your target audience can’t pronounce your name, they certainly won’t be able to remember it or share it with friends. 

Pioneers of fair trade, Ten Thousand Villages started a maker-to-market movement that prioritizes people and the planet. Its name focuses on the villagers around the world who make the brand possible and the impact of every purchase by their conscious consumers. It’s singular, meaningful, and memorable.

Tip #4: Research availability before committing

In addition to meaning and value, any business name needs to have legs in the digital world. So as you make your list, take note of whether each one has the right online real estate available, including:

  • Domain name
  • Social handles
  • Trademark

“Narrow down your list to three and go really deep on Google,” Carla suggests. Check if there are any competitors or LLCs in your state with the same (or similar) name. “The last thing you want to do is fall in love with a name only to realize that it’s not legally available,” she says. 

If it’s not that expensive, it can be worth it to register social handles and spend $20 to buy the domain names for your top choices. “You can always delete them, but grabbing those handles is super important,” Carla says. “It can take some time to actually lock down the name, and the last thing you’d want is for someone else to grab the perfect domain while you’re still ruminating.” 

You could even hire a lawyer to help with cross-checking, says Kathryn, noting a client who was a year into launching their business when they ran into a snag. “They were getting press and starting to build their name, but there was another random company with the same name, and it created unnecessary expenses and headaches,” she says. Doing your due diligence in the beginning is key. 

Alternatively, running the name—as well as the idea, the brand story, and all the pieces—by a group of close friends or family is always constructive. “It’s really insightful to gut check everything with trusted confidantes as you build,” says Carla. Because as it turns out, what’s in a name is really quite important.

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