Naming your baby vs. naming your business

by John Furgurson on March 14, 2008

I’ve done a good number of naming projects over the years, and I know that naming babies is much easier than naming products or companies.

First of all, with baby names there are only two people who have a say in the decision. It’s a simple democratic process where the wife always has veto power over anything the husband comes up with.

With company names, you have to get the consensus of many people. Sometimes there are even committees involved, which usually lead to winning names like Poolife for a swimming pool cleaning company.

When you’re naming a baby you can refer to all sorts of books full of perfectly acceptable names with all their hidden meanings and Latin derivatives. With company names, you have to rule out every name that’s ever been used before and start entirely from scratch. You can’t even go through the family tree and choose some obscure middle name, like you can with a child.

There aren’t any trademark laws protecting children’s names. You’re free to call your son Sam, even if there are seven other Sams in your neighborhood.

Doesn’t work that way in the business world. There are hordes of lawyers who do nothing but trademark protection and application work. So if your product name even sounds like something that’s already out there, you’re in trouble. Case in point: There was a little coffee shop in the small town of Astoria, Oregon that got sued by Starbucks for trademark infringement. It was called Sambucks.

And then there’s the whole translation issue. Face it, you probably don’t care what “Clark” means in Hungarian. But there are dozens of stories of products like the Chevy Vega, which didn’t translate real well. If you’re doing business globally, your naming project just got astronomically harder.

And here’s an important distinction: your child’s livelihood doesn’t depend on people remembering his or her name. Sure, unfortunate names like Major Slaughter, Ima Nut or Moon Unit might cause a lifetime of grief, but they won’t make or break the poor kid’s career like a bad product name can.

Most people don’t need professional help to come up with a good baby name. Business names are a different story. The do-it-yourself approach usually results in one of three types of lame names:

• Overly clever, pun-filled names like The Hairport or The Family Hairloom. Har har.

• Totally boring, literal names like the now defunct Third Street Coffee House.

• Names that backfire completely when applied to internet URLs. Need a therapist? Try www.therapistfinder.com. Need some good art, go to www.speedofart.com. Looking for a nice pen? www.penisland.com.

A good name can be costly, but not nearly as costly as blunders like that. So save yourself a lot of time, money and frustration and just hire a branding firm to help from the very beginning. Not a design firm… they focus on the language of images, not words. And not an ad agency… For some reason, ad agencies love to use one-word names that are purposely vague. Like “North” “Red F” “Citrus” “Fuel” If want to confuse people, just follow that lead.

Here are a few other examples of names, both good and bad:

• Federal Express became Fed Ex. A smart move, considering that’s what everyone called ‘em anyway. Besides, repainting all their jets with the new shorter logo saved the company millions year in fuel costs alone.

• Dress Barn??? How many women will admit to shopping there, much less bring herds of their friends in?

• Drug companies spend billions every year on names, yet they come up with some of the worst: “Nasalcom” for an inhaled antihistamine. Sounds like a rat poison that works when they sniff it. “Vagistat” for a yeast infection medicine. “Cutivate” for a skin condition medicine. Aspercreme for an ointment that doesn’t even have any aspirin in it. Not only are drug names often lame mash-ups of other words, the FTC recently concluded that dozens sound dangerously similar.

• Here are a few of my own: PointsWest for a resort development on the west side of Bend, Oregon. Sit Down Dinners for a personal chef service. Widgi Creek for a golf club.

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The Name. « Starting a Brewery
March 9, 2009 at 1:16 am
How to conjure up a business name
January 14, 2013 at 11:42 pm

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