Insights
3 min Read
March 19, 2015

What’s in a name: Some universal truths about naming your organization

Naming or renaming your organization (or even a major program) can be one of the hardest things you can go through in the branding process. It seems so easy—it’s just a name, after all—but finding the perfect name is more elusive than a yeti sighting. Why is that?

First of all, there’s no such thing as a “perfect name.” If you’ve lived with your current name for one, five, 20, or even 100 years or more, anything else will feel weird. Imagine that your name is Betty, and people suddenly start calling you Gordon. This is exactly the leap you’ll need to make if you’re changing your name. If you’re a new, unnamed organization, it’s likely that any name will feel somewhat limiting. Accept the limitation, and you may find it opens you up to opportunities.

A name just has to get the job done. We put a lot of pressure on names, but there’s only one thing your name absolutely must do: identify you. It should do so without being misleading or confusing, and it should be easy to remember. But it’s actually quite a prosaic thing with a specific function. It’s more important that you find something legally available you can all agree on than it is to go on the search for the Holy Grail of names.

Compromise is at the heart of naming. When building consensus, you’ll soon find that one person’s “great name!” is the next person’s “worst name ever!” The only way you’ll be successful is if everyone in the room is open to possibility and willing to explore the potential in any of the name options in front of them.

You will not “know it when you hear it.” In fact, if you think you’ve “heard the one,” you may be wrong. The truth is, you shouldn’t just know your name when you hear it once. You need to examine it and ultimately search it thoroughly to make sure there are no other organizations like yours that use it or something like it.

Everyone has an opinion. But not everyone has considered fully the strategy behind your name. And yet, especially before you’ve officially decided on something, people will share their opinions freely. There’s a reason parents don’t share baby names before the child is born. Once the child is born, his or her name is simply a fact. You’re striving to make your name a fact. Keep your committee as tight as possible and make sure they know what your overall brand strategy is.

You need to do your homework. This doesn’t just mean asking people what they think; it means getting intellectual property lawyers involved. They need to do a thorough search to see if the name (or something deemed too similar) is already registered, especially if it’s already in your area of work. Yes, you should Google your potential name and do some searching around URLs, but you can’t stop there. Your name needs to last.

You have a couple of names on the table. What do you do next? First of all, pat yourself on the back for getting this far. It’s a new name and that’s exciting! Then live with your name options a little. One of the things we recommend to clients is that they actually spend a day or two “trying it on.” Refer to yourself as one of your potential new names throughout the day with your colleagues. See how it feels, see how it sounds, see how people get used to it. After a day or two, try on the next name. Then discuss your experiences as a group.

What’s your experience been like with renaming? Leave a comment and let me know.

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