Years ago, when I worked for my father-in-law, we tried to help one of our vendor partners with product naming for some feed additives used in animal production.
Let me just say the initial names were bad. All around, just terrible. Let me give you a couple of examples. What do you think these are called? Say them out loud.
CI 3-4 Poultry and CI 5-4 Swine.
Our later attempts gave the additives a more descriptive name: Global-Life. Much better.
Still, I wish I had better known how to name a product much earlier in my career. It wasn’t until I started paying attention to different product naming conventions and “rules” that I started coming up with quality company and product names.
How to name a product — 9 tips for success
To help you avoid my early mistakes, here are nine tips to help you name a product or even a company you may be developing.
These are not nine sequential steps to take though, because a couple — use real words and make up words — are contradictory. Instead, pick a few of these tips and follow them to find your best product name.
- Brainstorm dozens, if not hundreds, of choices.
- Be descriptive.
- Keep it short and punchy.
- Make it easy to say and spell.
- Make it pleasurable to say and hear.
- Use real words, but change them slightly.
- Make up words.
- “Verbifiy” the name.
- Do your research.
And when you’re done, find someone to help you come up with the visual components. Which means don’t forget that you’ll need a logo when this is all said and done.
1. Brainstorm dozens, if not hundreds, of choices
“First thought, best thought” is not a good product naming method.
After all, there’s a very good chance that other people have thought of that same name and used it.
The only way you’re going to get that first-thought product name is if you invented something that no one else has ever created.
Start brainstorming different ideas about the product. Think of related terms about what the thing it is, the thing it does, the problems it solves, the people who will use it, the place where it’s used, and so on.
Let’s say you’d developed a special kind of night light that’s operated by voice command. Make a list of some of the different names you could use if it were, for example:
- Used as a light for children’s rooms.
- To light up a bathroom in the middle of the night.
- As a safety and security device in an office building.
- A low-level light for pets.
- A security light for a museum.
All of these different uses can help you create a lot of different ideas for names, each based on where it’s used and who’s using it.
So brainstorm as many terms as you can come up with — for each use — and then apply a few of these other product naming tips to find the best name.
While you’re at it, check out the competition. What kinds of naming strategies are they using? Are they using oddly-spelled names or funny, witty names? You’ll want to follow suit. Are they more conservative and buttoned-down? They probably know the marketplace very well, so this is not the time to be clever and witty.
2. Be descriptive with product naming
Your name should be descriptive. It should tell people what your product does or what they should expect from it. It may not be exciting, but a descriptive name helps you overcome one of your biggest hurdles.
One of the best product names? Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.
It was a spot-on descriptive name. Liquid-Plumr drain cleaner is another great name, as is their Clog Destroyer product. There is no question about what exactly those products do because the name spells it right out.
The name may not be exciting or emotionally evocative, but depending on your market and target audience, you may just want the most descriptive name possible, even if it’s a little boring.
3. Keep product naming short and punchy
Your product name should also be short and to the point. I can always tell when non-marketing people are in charge of product naming, because the names are just, well, bad.
Overly long, unnecessarily descriptive, poor attempts at wittiness… the list goes on.
Basically, the longer the name, the harder it is to get people’s attention. Long names may be descriptive and complete, but they’re way too long to actually be memorable.
Similarly, even if you have a two- or three-word product name, don’t make the words too long. Otherwise, people start to abbreviate the words and you don’t get to control which ones people use, which means all your product marketing and branding are wasted if they pick an abbreviation you didn’t consider.
4. Make it easy to say and spell
Do you remember the little riddle going around several years ago about how”ghoti” was actually pronounced “fish?”
Or have you ever heard how the British name “Featherstonehaugh,” is actually pronounced “FAN-shaw?”
I won’t name names, but I have seen some company names and product names that are just this obscure and hard to understand or pronounce. The worst thing you can do to your product is to give it an unpronounceable or unspellable name.
Imagine you’re doing a radio commercial for Ghoti Window Cleaner, and pronounce it as “Fish.” How many people do you think will search for Ghoti and how many will search for Fish?
If your product name is hard to pronounce, people won’t talk about it and if they can’t write it down (and spell it correctly) when they hear it, how do you expect them to Google it? Keep it simple and don’t go with any wacky spellings just for the sake of being clever.
Say the name out loud a few times and make sure you can easily say it. And if you have more than one word in your product name, pick a structure so the words flow easily from one to the other.
For example, if the first word ends in a vowel and the second one starts with a vowel sound — Rotunda Unicorn, Cerami-Outside — it can be a little harder to say.
Write the name down and ask people to read it out loud. Ideally, they’ll be able to pronounce all the words without any help or prompting.
If most people are having trouble, you may want another name. You shouldn’t have to explain over and over and over how to pronounce a name; otherwise, no one is going to know.
5. Make it pleasurable to say and hear
The study of phonaesthetics is the study of beautiful, pleasurable sounding words, without regard to what the word actually means. In other words, it’s how it sounds, not what it means, that’s important.
Think of the soft drink brand, Schweppes. Say it out loud. It’s not that hissy shushing noise irritated librarians make. It’s deep and rich, and it’s just fun to say. Your own product name should be fun and pleasurable to say or hear.
6. Use real words, but change them slightly
There are a few ways you can use real words in product naming, but change them so they’re suitable for your use.
For starters, it’s still a big trend in product naming to drop an errant vowel from a name: Tumblr, Flickr, etc.
You can take a real word and remove a letter or two, which makes it unique, but still sets you apart from the competition.
Next, use metaphors.
Ford Mustang is not really a horse, but it’s fast and powerful, like a wild horse. Volkswagen Jetta means “jet stream,” which it is not, but it suggests that the car is fast. Metaphors are a great way to name a product, and you’ve changed the meaning of the word, even while you’re still using a real one.
You could also add a prefix or suffix to a word. iPod, E-Trade, Heinz 57, and Lot18 are a few examples.
How many times did you fail before you came up with a workable product? Stick that on the end of your product name. WD-40 means it’s the 40th water displacement formula that the chemist tried before he found the right one. It could just as easily have been called WD-47 or WD-29.
7. Make up words for product naming
All words are made up — Shakespeare invented over 1,700 words himself — so there’s nothing wrong with creating a word or two to suit your product naming efforts. Here are a few ways you can do it.
- Portmanteau: This is where you combine two words to create a single new word. For example, “smog” is a portmanteau of smoke+fog. The game Pictionary is a combination of picture and dictionary.
- Acronym: A word created from the first letter of other words, like SCUBA (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus).
- Use a name: Schweppes soft drinks were named after Johann Jacob Schweppe. Gatorade was named after the University of Florida Gators, where the product was made. Even French toast is named after the 18th-century American innkeeper. Joseph French, who first made and sold it in the United States.
- Make up a word: Seriously! Just a whole new word! Doritos and Fritos are made-up words, so why can’t you make up your own word as well?
8. Can the name be “verbified?”
I’m usually not a big fan of turning nouns into verbs. Some of the worst business jargon to ever be inflicted on an innocent public are verbified nouns, like “calendaring a meeting” and “handshaking introductions.” (Seriously, someone actually said “handshaking introductions” to me, and it was all I could do not to tear my hair out.)
I might ask you to Skype me for a quick phone chat. You might Google an answer to a question. And if you have a dusty floor, you would Swiffer it.
When you’re naming your product, see if you can easily turn the name into a verb. Does the product name, or a version of it, lend itself to being verbified? Say it out loud a few times and see if it flows naturally in a sentence.
9. Do your research on product naming
Before you lock yourself into your name, you need to make sure it hasn’t been taken already. In fact, this should happen very early on in the product naming process while you’re still picking out possible names.
If they are, move on. But if they’re not, it’s all yours.
Create a list of the top 10 name choices and then start doing research to see if they exist elsewhere.
- Google the name in quotes, because that tells Google to “look for exactly this phrase.”
- Check out GoDaddy to see if the domain name is available. If it is, consider buying it, even if it’s just to prevent squatting.
- Work with an IP attorney to check for copyrights and trademarks.
Go ahead, search for the domain:
If you can’t find any matches on any of your top 10 items, you’re good to go! Pick the one you like best and build an empire. But if someone else does have all of your best names, go back to the drawing board and brainstorm some more.
Wrapping things up
Naming a product is a critical step for any entrepreneur. The right name can tell customers exactly what you’re offering, and the wrong one can make people guess and guess and guess as to what it means, which hurts your branding and promotion efforts.
Pick a descriptive name that’s easy to say and spell, and even pleasurable to say. Make up words or use real words and give them different meanings or spellings. And don’t forget to do your research to make sure no one else is using it for the same thing.
Does your business need a logo to go with your newly named product? GoDaddy’s Logo Design Service will do the heavy lifting for you.