How We Name Things: A JM Approach
Here at Josephmark, we’re kinda known for our branding. We’ve brought beautiful businesses into the world through cut-through brand identities, logos, voice and messaging, collateral, and more.
But what happens when a client comes to us, or we spin up our own business, and we don’t have the very first point of contact most consumers will have with it: a name?
Naming a venture isn’t quite art, and it’s certainly not a science. Sometimes names will come from origin stories of their founders, othertimes they’ll be cobbled together during those first days of teasing out what the business is. Occasionally a client will come to us with a temporary name that they’ve used to stand up the business, knowing full well it won’t provide for the scale they see in their future.
So that’s precisely what we do — we help them craft names that speak to their bold ambitions, that tell stories and fortify brands, and that feel distinct and ownable in market. We’ve developed a tried and true process for naming that starts with homework and a collaborative workshop, continues with our team doing our due diligence and mining the word wells of our brains, and culminates in a light search and trademark check before handing back to our clients to complete the legal due diligence necessary to assume their new name.
Interested in learning more about naming? Let’s dive in.
Where to start with naming your company
There are so many different kinds of names. When you think of your favorite or well-known brands, they might be all over the place. Patagonia is a place. Apple is, well, a fruit. Tesla is named for an innovator. American Airlines is factual to what it does. Uber is abstract, whereas Lyft riffs off an existing word but with a non-existent spelling.
With all of the options in front of us, what’s the through-line and where do we start? It’s helpful to bucket names into a few categories. You have your factual takes (American Airlines, Home Depot) versus your storytelling ones (Patagonia, Tesla). You have acronymic names like CAA or your based-on-the-words like Lyft. It’s helpful to start to bucket what you like in other brands and identify territories where a future name might exist.
We always kick off this process with homework for our clients. It helps us understand the goals of the business so we know whatever name we choose needs to help achieve those, and it allows us to dial into things like unique value propositions that might help shape what that name could be. You take a company like Ritual, for instance, which sells vitamins. Their name is rooted to their UVP: helping you develop a daily wellness ritual through vitamins and supplements.
There’s no bad ideas with naming
Armed with our homework and these understanding of names, we kick into an ideation workshop. What happens there, you ask?
We take about two hours to hone in on any outstanding questions that arise from the homework documents our clients fill out, and then we dive into positioning for the business. When we think of a name, it doesn’t stand alone. It has to sit at the beginning of a boilerplate and has to live confidently among a purpose, mission, and vision. Even having a loose understanding of these key messaging touchpoints for the brand helps us as we move into the bulk of the workshop which is devoted to freeform brainstorming.
Every participant in the workshop takes anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes to go away and come up with a long or short list of names, knowing the naming territories they may want to play in, and with our company positioning top of mind. The rules here are clear: there are no bad ideas. We also try not to get hung up on thinking about “can we own that?” at this stage or other important future questions like “will this live with an Inc. or a Labs or a Co attached to it?”
Quick tip: If you find yourself stuck down a Google rabbithole, ChatGPT (Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer) might help get you out of your funk. Powered by AI, the chatbot can answer almost any question, including “what should I name a tshirt brand based in LA?” While it can’t replace brainstorming, a well-worded prompt can certainly provide a springboard for your creative thinking.
After solo brainstorming is complete, we invite everyone back as a group to share what they came up with. Our “no bad ideas” rule ensures that this is a judgment free zone; even if there’s an idea that someone might not like, it might spark an idea for a name that might work in someone else. Once we have all of our ideas on the whiteboard (or digital equivalent), we start to map them against a few important parameters including memorability, scalability, and differentiation.
Once our brainstorm is complete, we pull back with all of our naming options and start to identify key themes. As a naming team, our first round presented back with the client offers two key points of feedback: we present 2–3 themes under which 4–5 names exist. This allows clients to respond not just to names that they may love or loathe, but also see if they are gravitating towards and further away from an overarching theme. In the past, we’ve had clients say “none of those names are feeling quite right yet, but that direction is one I want to explore more” which brings us to…
The refinements stage. In the second round, we further hone in on names and start to imagine them in situ. If we’re really liking a name or two, it’s helpful to see how it falls into a one-liner or boilerplate. It’s at this stage that we also begin our due diligence to ensure viability of the name as it emerges in the outside world.
When our clients love their names — and we do, too — we then go to work turning those beautiful names into full-blown brands. Discover how we did just that with Backpocket.