Naming: Naming your company, your book, your project...


Choosing a name is a big deal. A bigger deal than most people may think. The name will be spoken, written, and represented by and to you and your audiences over and over again. So you want it to be a name that will stick in people’s minds.

Here are a few guidelines for naming your product or organization and avoiding some common pitfalls.

1) Is it short?

Shorter is better. Really. The fewer words the better. We recall shorter words more easily — they sound more active and direct — and shorter names look better on paper and in wordmarks and logos. Shorter names will also help you avoid long, cumbersome, hard-to-fit-on-business-cards email addresses.

Choose a name that can be shortened to one word for everyday use. For example, The Vancouver East Cultural Centre eventually was renamed “The Cultch” — a catchier, easier to remember, more distinctive, and less generic name. Care Point Medical Centre is referred to as “Care Point” in everyday conversation. Our full name is Canister Creative Inc., but we generally just use “Canister”

2) Is it easy to spell?

This is important for domain names, and, uh, spelling.

3) Is it easy to say?

Does it “roll off the tongue”? You will be saying it a lot. And you definitely want others to repeat it as much as possible. Test it out on others to make sure it feels good to say it, and sounds good to hear it. If it tongue-ties anyone, rethink it.

Here is an example of a problematic name that I can’t really do anything about: when I introduce myself as “Laurel” people will often mishear my name and repeat what they thought they heard, which is: “Earl?” Sigh. So, make sure your name doesn’t sound like a word that it can easily be misheard as or generally get garbled.

4) Is it understandable?

Test it out on others to ensure it is not confusing. If it requires explanation then it is not clear enough.

5) Is it accurate?

Does it represent your organization correctly? Do people get the right idea when they hear it? Here’s a funny anecdote: after ninety years Canada’s The Beaver Magazine was renamed Canada’s History because pornography and spam filters impacted its ability to reach its readership. It is good to think about all the angles when choosing a name. However you try, you can’t predict everything — I don’t think anyone could have predicted Beaver Magazine’s eventual problem ninety years ago when they chose the name. It was fine for, what, eighty-eight years?

6) Is it memorable?

Does it stand out or have an element of drama? Is it unique? Drama and individuality help people remember names.

7) Is it appropriate?

Does the tone of the name fit within your field? Does it match the genre? Does it fit the context you are operating in? “Tone refers to a feeling that’s evoked, a subtle quality or flavour” (Palmer, Good in a Room, pg. 57, 2009). If the tone of the name does not fit then it may not help you reach your intended audience effectively.

Here is an example of getting the tone wrong, Cinderella Man was a gritty boxing movie that flopped at the box office despite being critically acclaimed. It was based on a true story of a boxer who was nicknamed Cinderella Man, but even though the name was historically accurate, the title did not work. The intended market were adult males, however the word “Cinderella” failed to attract them because it was not tonally appropriate. It was too much of a hurdle for their intended audience to get over.

If the tone is off or the fit is wrong, you can miss reaching your target audience. The tone sets expectations. Kodak (1888) and Xerox (1949) are examples of names that are tonally correct because they both sounded “right” — they were short, snappy, unfamiliar and new sounding at the time —  at the itme they sounded like brand new technology. “Sounded right” is not very, uh, scientific is it? Yup, whether or not something sounds right is subjective… so make sure you test your name out with as many people as practical before a final decision.

However, caution is needed here, because "appropriate" can also lead to boring! Sometimes a name that is unconventional or seemingly inappropriate can be the unique quality you need to stand out in your industry!

8) Is it too generic?

It’s hard to describe what exactly makes a name generic, but they are somehow unmemorable. Maybe the words don’t have good rhythm, or they have a commonplace meaning, or they are used in a way that is predictable. Or maybe the words are just plain boring. A generic name will be less valuable over time.

9) Is it meaningful?

This is a little more difficult to describe because meaning will be unique to your organization or product. “Meaningful” might mean that the name is something personally meaningful to your group (such as acronyms of names), or might it be meaningful in your industry. But meaning is not necessary: Kodak was a completely invented name with no meaning other than that Eastman, the company’s founder, liked the letter “K” — it developed specific meaning through use (today Kodak means anything to do with cameras). While meaning is not necessary, it is good to have a name that resonates with those who will use it most — you and your group.

10) Is there a domain name available?

Check out availability at

11) Is it legal?

Does it meet all requirements set out by your governing bodies? Does it meet relevant regulations? Does it infringe on any trademarks?

12) Are there any other problems with the name?

Does it mean something negative in a language spoken by a significant part of your audience? Will it cause confusion because it is too close to another company’s name? Does it have meaning you don’t intend? Does the domain name spell out something undesirable?

Here are some real examples of tragic (but humourous to us!) URLs: "Who Represents" is a company who has a website where you can determine which agency represents which celebrity —; The "Pen Island" company has a website where they sell custom pens — Ouch.

Final thoughts

Finding a name is hard and you will likely have to give more weight to some criteria than others. The important point is to make conscious decisions about any tradeoffs. Ideally, the perfect name that meets all criteria will simply occur to you like a flash of insight! But any creative work is usually just that: work. It takes time and effort. If insight is not available in the flash-of-brilliance form then naming will be a process that involves research, wordsmithing, meaning-making and in-depth investigation. However, it is worth the effort to get a name that really resonates both with the members of your organization and with your target audience. Ideally, you’ll be living with it for a long time!