What’s in a name? How to give your start-up its identity

May 2015

What’s in a name? Well, for a business, it’s everything and nothing all at once. For many, recognition lies in a name that is punchy and easy to remember. For others, their name is irrelevant, and they strive to build their reputation on who they are, the quality of the service or product they provide, and the team behind it.

The truth is, giving your business an identity is essential, but there is no sure fire strategy when it comes to a successful name. If you’ve found yourself at the helm of an anonymous business, the best advice is to create an identity that aptly reflects your business, and how you want it to be positioned in the marketplace.

There are no set rules, but there are some options to consider that will make the process a little easier.

Firstly, if your aim is to reflect the spirit and attitude of your business in its name taking an emotional view can help. What words or phrases spring to mind when you think of your company? Industry powerhouses, such as Apple, Orange, or Yahoo, have taken this approach, and it’s helped them grow in to household names around the world.

Taking a step back is easier said than done, especially for those who are completely immersed in the heart of a business. Though taking a multi-dimensional look may be an unnerving approach for some, it’s often the one that provides the most distinction. Remember, an emotive name can also be used in association with a descriptor to provide clarity until your business is recognised and understood.

However, whilst the emotional approach could be considered the choice of the maverick, bear in mind the finer details – availability of URLs can mean acquiring the domain of your dreams could be costly, for example. 

The other extreme is going for something purely descriptive. In new and emerging sectors, getting straight to the point can often be advantageous – think Carphone Warehouse, Facebook and EAT. Being descriptive can be powerful for SEO, and is naturally a direct way to engage your business with your consumers. However, as soon as one company acquires the ‘naming monopoly’ of a sector, all others become followers, which makes distinction and ‘standing out from the crowd’ very difficult.

As soon as the first mover of a sector acquires the descriptive name, availability becomes a challenge.

In turn, we see the rise of the hybrid name – a common trend in the technology and communication industries, with the like of Snapchat and Instagram fusing words to create something unique. The beauty of these names is that they often sit in between emotion and description, allowing consumers and users to make their own association to the product or business. And, in terms of digital identity, in this case URLs are easier and cheaper to acquire, often making them the preferred choice for start-ups and growing business.

Alternatively, you can of course use your own name. This is certainly worthy of consideration if you have a significant reputation within the sector you operate. Though, should you opt for this, be prepared to do some explaining, clarifying and identity building in the early stages.

Whatever course you take, be brave, be bold, and be provocative. In a competitive environment, distinction and memorability is everything – and with the right name, you can be sure to disrupt your marketplace, turn heads, and be remembered.

And there’s help at hand. Once you have decided on a shortlist of names, The National Business Register is a great place to start when checking availability and the help of a creative and branding expert can ease the process by working with a fresh perspective. But to be absolutely sure, it’s best to get legal support – especially if your business is going to operate internationally.

By Stuart Youngs, Executive Creative Director at Purpose