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Facing a Brand Naming Initiative?
by Meredith Muncy and Christine Blake


Countless articles have been written detailing the equity captured, cultivated, or squandered in a brand's most visible communication - its name. As the pithiest condensation of your brand's message, your name must rise above the uproar in the marketplace and resonate with all the constituencies within your audience. More important than how loudly your name shouts however, is whether it effectively supports (whether it telegraphs or evokes) your brand's promise, story, and spirit. When your brand can inspire, motivate or persuade the people who matter to your business's success, you can compete. It's your brand's name that initiates the critical relationship between your brand and audience. Name your brand well.

So how, linguistically, do you capture differentiation, target, and end benefit and create your new brand name? Whether you're naming a new venture or renaming as part of a strategic shift, there are several options available to business leaders. You can brainstorm in house, contract with a freelancer, use your current Ad agency or PR firm, engage a naming consultancy, or hire a full-service brand management firm.

Each avenue has its advantages and disadvantages. Here's our analysis based on 18 years of linguistic, naming, and business experience.


The greatest benefit of naming your own offering, is that your process will be informed with the precision that comes from your extensive familiarity with your brand. Another surety is that you and your in-house team will be passionate about the process and outcome, because you're all deeply vested in the success of your company. And sometimes you can save time and money. If you offer the opportunity for everyone with a valuable opinion to give creative input but ensure that a group of no more than four people makes the final selection, it's entirely possible that you'll have a great experience and come up with an ideal name.

The downside to internal naming projects is that your objectivity will be compromised, since everyone involved is so involved with your project and has intense interest in the outcome. While there is the possibility of generating a great name, there is also a general business truth that experts do things better (for a variety of reasons including special training and experience). Without a talented expert (or team of experts) you may get lost in the precarious maze of creativity and strategy, subjectivity and objectivity - subverting criteria, objectives and structure to emotion or letting strategic rigidity dampen the wildly creative aspect of naming. Another downside to naming your own brand is that after days, weeks, or even months of brainstorming, back-and-forth, frustration, and disappointments from your legal team over trademark searches, there is a chance you will choose something simply because you're tired, faced with a deadline, or needed in your primary business role - not because the name is resounding, resonant, memorable, or appropriate. The costs associated with draining company time, talent, and energy in self-naming projects may exceed the cost of using professionals. In our experience, too, companies fed up with internal naming processes will sometimes contract with an outside resource after intense attempts yield no useful names. The time frame by this point can be urgent and the experts you hire will likely charge you for that added pressure. Another lamentable possibility: you go ahead and launch a brand name only to be forced to re-launch a new name later for unforeseen reasons such as linguistic, tactical or strategic deficits or foreign translation disasters -- issues that experts know to avert - in which case the toll and toil can be agonizing.


Freelancers are generally the least expensive and quickest option for a naming project. They are ideal if you know the strategic criteria and creative standards your name must fulfill, have your own legal team for the preliminary trademark and URL searches, know a global linguistics expert for any foreign translation issues, and are having a challenge only in generating naming candidates. A freelancer may very quickly and cheaply coin the ideal naming solution for you.

Copywriters generally have a limited understanding of your company and little or no knowledge of branding, name equity, or echoic memorability. Freelance namers will likely generate a long list of names that have not been edited with your business, customers, investors, employees, tone, personality, positioning, competitors or strategy in mind. Poring over their long lists may be frustrating and time consuming, and enough off-strategy naming candidates in a document will obfuscate the excellent ones. They also rarely conduct a preliminary trademark search, so you may fall in love with a naming candidate that is unavailable, which wastes your time and resources. And, because independent namers and wordsmiths generally work alone and have limited brand strategy resources to inform their work, their solo efforts rarely strike a balance between strategy and creativity.

Your Current Ad Agency or PR Firm

You'll get very bright, talented wordsmiths with marketing savvy, who will be familiar with you, your way of thinking, your brand's positioning, and your market. Based on your existing relationship and previous successes with this firm, you may have a great experience and wind up with an ideal name.

Verbal identity work is not copywriting. Because an ad agency's expertise lies in ad campaigns, media placement, and trends, the exact requirements of a naming project -- the strategic objectives, creative standards (echoic value to recall value), methods of metaphor creation, global translation issues, trademark searches, and URL issues of a naming endeavor may be new to them. Similarly, public relations professionals are more familiar with journalism and fact-based communications than creative naming solutions. Both ad agencies and PR firms tend to view naming as an interesting pursuit, but generally aren't familiar with its nuances. In either case, your naming work may well fall into the hands of people recruited to brainstorm over lunch, viewing the naming challenge as a tactical issue rather than a strategic endeavor. Though enormously talented and well intended, these professionals may lack the linguistic specialization, specific references, URL and translation savvy, resources and commitment necessary for appropriate name creation. Another likely possibility is that the firm will hire and supervise a freelance namer and pass along marked-up costs to you.

Naming Consultancy

A naming consultancy is dedicated exclusively to the art and science of naming. The best consultancies generate extensive lists of naming candidates and pare them down based on strategic criteria you've approved (including audience relevance, competitive differentiation, sustainability, credibility, graphic potential, echoic resonance, and brand personality). To save you heartache and time, they present only the naming candidates that fulfill your strategic objectives, their creative standards, and that have cleared a preliminary trademark search. Naming consultancies may dedicate as many as 14 experienced naming and strategy specialists on your project-teams who go beyond simply describing your attributes and benefits to capture the spirit of your customer's relationship with your brand. They generally have the resources to research your brand, audit your competitive landscape, and create your naming strategy. They likely have an extensive library, a codified strategic and creative process to cover comprehensive literal and metaphorical territories, and a core understanding that strategy must drive the naming process while emotion dominates name selection. Naming consultancies often offer the additional resources of brand strategy expertise, legal resources, global translations, and URL creation and registration.

Naming consultancies can be expensive. They're not as quick to deliver names as freelancers or some internal contributors, since they're often coordinating a team of talent and add multiple filters to the work before presenting it to you. Some (definitely not all) naming companies ransack their own name databases, searching for projects similar to yours so they can sell you work done for other clients. Other naming companies mix and match syllables or plug key words into formulae and software. Most of the names those companies generate will be indecipherable, unpronounceable, forgettable jargon. Of the few intelligible names, most will be unavailable for trademark, since they are based on morphemic translations of your benefits and attributes, a list many of your competitors have in common with your offering. The mathematical, robotic generation of these names will unlikely result in a creative experience for you. So you'll want to make sure legitimate and inspired wordsmiths bring their passion and poetry to your process. And regardless of the quality and caliber of the consultancy you choose, if you want a visual identity for your name, you'll need to go through the rigors of finding and incorporating an additional firm (although some naming consultancies will offer cooperative alliances with graphic design and interactive marketing firms, so it's possible that you will have the convenience of almost seamless service).

Brand Management or Corporate Identity Firm

Brand agencies with a dedicated naming department operate in much the same way as the best naming consultancies - they well know the value and requirements of a brand name. In addition, they may involve a broader spectrum of brand experts and creative minds (graphic designers, architects, brand directors) to work on your solution. Should you need a graphic execution of your new name, retail architecture, consumer packaging, or a Web site, you can have the convenience of a seamless, one-stop experience. Most large corporations look to their brand management firm to help them generate names, so these firms frequently have credentials that include respected, multinational names.

Identity firms are expensive (but often give discounts to companies willing to engage them for the entire spectrum of branding services). In some cases, firms view naming work as a bitter pill to swallow: a necessary piece of the business accomplished to win clients for their more profitable core competencies in design or strategy. Their naming fees are competitive, but they may charge you a large, separate fee for the preliminary strategy work. As with naming companies, some brand agencies collect names from their databases rather than creating artful communications specifically for your brand. Many brand agencies (but certainly not all) also use computer software and Web sites to generate words based on attribute and benefit lists, leaving you with names devoid of any creative or human energy. And, despite their company size, some branding firms have shockingly small naming departments, meaning they dedicate precious few minds to your solution. In fact, big firms may do the old bait and switch, using senior people to win your business only to use junior people to execute the actual work. Or they may bill you their high fees to recruit talented people from other departments to brainstorm "in their free time" or over lunch. Though these creative and strategic experts know the importance of names, they are rarely experts from linguistic fields. And again, like PR firms and ad agencies, they may hire a freelance namer and pass along marked-up costs to you.

Next Steps

Should you decide to go with a new outside resource, research at least 3 different competitors. Ask them how they approach naming. What qualities do they value in a brand name? How important will your brand strategy be to their process? What is their position on subjectivity and objectivity, structure and emotion throughout the process? What resources will they dedicate to your solution - how many people will be involved and what are their qualifications? And finally, how do they generate names? Do they use research, brainstorming, linguistics, databases, software, blue sky, or proprietary creation tactics? We recommend avoiding any company that takes a rigid or narrow approach, since naming is a complex, creative, strategic, artistic, linguistic endeavor.

Good luck, and good naming.


The Authors

Meredith Muncy is the Chief Executive Officer of Vibrato Naming. After studying creative writing at Brown University's graduate school and earning an MFA from Columbia University, Meredith worked in Manhattan as a creative consultant for some of the top identity agencies in the world. Since creating her own firm, she has developed an extensive client base in entertainment and e-commerce and has named companies, products, services and even an Academy-Award winning film. Over the years she has crystallized her naming methodology, auditioned and trained 12 talented wordsmiths, and formed alliances with some of the best creative minds in the industry. She pools these valuable resources in Vibrato Naming, Incorporated.

Christine Blake is Vice President of Verbal Branding, Vibrato Naming. Christine has named companies and products in the technology, venture capital, professional services, retail, non-profit, fitness, hospitality, and consumer goods industries. Her business experience includes communications work for Intel, Dole, Glen Ellen, and McKinsey & Co. She applies her communications and linguistic expertise, initiated with a BA in Literature from the University of California at Berkeley, to the direction and strategy of naming projects. Recently the Director of Naming at a Bay Area branding firm, she incorporates her creative skills, honed through years as a professional actress and improvisation performer, to the development of appropriate, memorable, and differentiated names.

Contact Meredith Muncy by e-mail: and visit .

Many more articles in Branding in The CEO Refresher Archives
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