A Brand Named Sue

“Life ain’t easy for a boy named Sue.” Country singer Johnny Cash apparently knew what he was talking about. Your name determines your road in life. Thus, a well-chosen name is often considered the first fundamental decision related to each new being — a decision that grounds personality, be it the personality of a newborn baby or newborn brand.

Anyone who has ever participated in a naming process — whether for a kid or a brand — knows how time-consuming and emotionally loaded this challenge can be. In my years in advertising and branding, I was involved in several naming processes. These are my five takeaways.

1. Proud Is Overrated

Anyone can come up with a brilliant name — consultant, intern, client, employee, spouse, or computer program that spits out thousands of syllable combinations. Never reject a naming idea just because it allegedly didn’t come from the “right” corner.

2. Evaluation Is War

Rating name suggestions is the real job. It’s not rare to look through 1,000 proposals before you find a valid option. For each suggestion you will have to decide whether or not it’s worth taking to the next round. Managing this task is only possible with a heterogeneous team, a group of people willing to discuss and argue. Let everybody explain what name suggestions they love or hate and why. It’s a melting pot in which words are cooked down until the remains are deemed good enough to be shown to the client.

3. To Name Is to Check

There is nothing more embarrassing than officially presenting your client a name that is already being used by a competitor in some variation. Therefore, it’s critical for a professional naming process to check the shortlist with trademark databases and (simple enough) Google. It seems like an obvious point, but it’s something you need to consider right from the beginning.

4. The Simplest Solution Is the Hardest

In a globalized world with millions of products and brands, it is almost impossible to find a name that has not been used before. Sometimes it seems like all the simple ideas have already been realized. But that’s not true at all. They are still out there, and sometimes they are so simple that you don’t dare to suggest them. Get rid of the idea something could be too simple. If you dismiss all the simple ideas, you probably won’t find the great simple one that is left.

5. Expect the Unexpected

Like no other process in branding, the result of naming is often completely unknown at the start. You only know, it will be some combination of letters in some order. Nothing else is determined. And sometimes the result is completely different than what you were hoping for. But there is no need to be disappointed if that’s the case. The good thing is that names can be filled with life and meaning. Combined with exciting storytelling and a visual language, a name suddenly becomes mature and feels good — like a kid who is building a strong personality, even though he or she may have received what seemed like a questionable name at the start.

_Fabian Fallert is a Senior Client Manager at MetaDesign Berlin.