Name Evaluation

When considering potential names for your company, product or service, it is vital that the process be kept as objective as possible, and that subjective personal responses to names, such as "I like it" or I don't like it" or "I don't like it because it reminds me of an old girlfriend/boyfriend" are exactly that – subjective and personal, and have no bearing on whether or not a potential name will actually work in the marketplace as a powerful brand that supports all your positioning goals.

All well and good, but clients often ask us to be more specific, to explain objectively just what makes a name work. With that in mind, we created a straightforward way to dissect potential names into the following nine categories to make it easier to understand why names work or don't work, and to more easily weigh the pros and cons of one name versus another:

Appearance – Simply how the name looks as a visual signifier, in a logo, an ad, on a billboard, etc. The name will always be seen in context, but it will be seen, so looks are important.

Distinctive – How differentiated is a given name from its competition. Being distinctive is only one element that goes into making a name memorable, but it is a required element, since if a name is not distinct from a sea of similar names it will not be memorable. It’s important, when judging distinctiveness, to always consider the name in the context of the product it will serve, and among the competition it will spar with for the consumer’s attention.

Depth – Layer upon layer of meaning and association. Names with great depth never reveal all they have to offer all at once, but keep surprising you with new ideas.

Energy – How vital and full of life is the name? Does it have buzz? Can it carry an ad campaign on its shoulders? Is it a force to be reckoned with? These are all aspects of a name’s energy level.

Humanity – A measure of a name’s warmth, its “humanness,” as opposed to names that are cold, clinical, unemotional. Another – though not foolproof – way to think about this category is to imagine each of the names as a nickname for one of your children.

Positioning – How relevant the name is to the positioning of the product or company being named, the service offered, or to the industry served. Further, how many relevant messages does the name map to?

Sound – Again, while always existing in a context of some sort or another, the name WILL be heard, in radio or television commercials, being presented at a trade show, or simply being discussed in a cocktail party conversation. Sound is twofold – not only how a name sounds, but how easily it is spoken by those who matter most: the potential customer. Word of mouth is a big part of the marketing of a company, product or service with a great name, but if people aren’t comfortable saying the name, the word won’t get out.

"33" – The force of brand magic, and the word-of-mouth buzz that a name is likely to generate. Refers to the mysterious "33" printed on the back of Rolling Rock beer bottles for decades that everybody talks about because nobody is really sure what it means. "33" is that certain something that makes people lean forward and want to learn more about a brand, and to want to share the brand with others. The “33” angle is different for each name.

Trademark – As in the ugly, meat hook reality of trademark availability. Scoring is easy here, as there are only three options, and nothing is subjective: 10 = likely available for trademark; 5 = may be available for trademark; and 0 = not likely available for trademark. All of the names on this list have been prescreened by a trademarked attorney and have been deemed “likely” for trademark registration.

These are the categories we scrupulously consider every name we present to clients, and we've done it so much that it has become second nature to us. But for those just stepping into these confusing brand waters, it often helps to rate names in each of these categories and compare the rankings. In the table below, we have attempted to quantify our impressions of several brand names in the music streaming sector by assigning up to 10 points in each of the nine categories; the more points, the better (90 maximum total points):

Pandora 10 10 10 9 9 10 9 10 10 87
Spotify 10 10 7 6 8 7 6 8 10 72
Rhapsody 6 7 6 7 7 7 7 6 10 63
iHeartRadio 5 4 5 5 5 5 5 5 10 49
TuneIn Radio 3 1 4 3 3 3 3 0 10 30

The point of this exercise is to break the names down into relevant components to better understand what makes some names better than others and why, and it should give you an understanding of how we arrive at the rankings you see in our name taxonomies. Rarely will a name score the highest across every category, but the best names score consistently well. Ultimately, it's about defining "like" and "don't like" not in personal, subjective terms, but in terms of how names support the brand positioning.

Now you should have a clear idea about why certain names work better than others. But this exercise is also about feeling confident that you chose the best name for your company or product by understanding why certain names work best when all factors of name, positioning, and competitive context are taken into consideration.

Blank Chart

We have created a blank chart you can print and use as an exercise to evaluate names you are considering for your own project and see how well they support the positioning of your brand.

Further reading:

Theory of Negativity