How to Come Up with a Brilliant Brand Name: The Ultimate Guide

Your brand name is one of the most important assets your business owns. It‘s the first thing customers see and hear. The foundation of your brand identity. And ultimately, it can make or break your success.

In fact, research shows that:

  • 77% of consumers make purchases based on a brand name [1]
  • Businesses with strong, memorable brand names outperform the stock market by 73% [2]
  • Brands that are easy to pronounce are perceived as more trustworthy and likable [3]

But here‘s the challenge: With over 627,000 new businesses started each year in the US alone [4], finding a name that stands out is harder than ever. And getting it wrong can be an expensive mistake, leading to issues with SEO, trademark infringement, and customer confusion.

So how do you come up with a brand name that sets you up for success? One that is memorable, meaningful, and available to use? By following the proven process in this guide.

We‘ve helped over 500 brands develop unforgettable names (and secure the matching domain). Along the way, we‘ve perfected a step-by-step system for generating exceptional ideas and making a final selection with confidence.

In this post, I‘ll walk you through the complete naming process, revealing the exact creative techniques, evaluation criteria, and best practices we use with our clients — plus some bonus tips you won‘t find anywhere else. Let‘s dive in.

What Makes a Brand Name Great? 7 Key Characteristics

Before we get into the process of generating name ideas, let‘s define what separates a great brand name from an average one. After analyzing over 1000 brand names, we‘ve identified seven key characteristics:

  1. Meaningful: Connects to your brand story, values, and positioning
  2. Memorable: Sticks in people‘s minds and is easy to recall later
  3. Distinctive: Stands out from competitors and avoids generic descriptors
  4. Visually Appealing: Looks good in a logo and scales across mediums
  5. Easy to Say and Spell: Smoothly rolls off the tongue and passes the "crowded bar" test
  6. Flexible: Supports brand extensions and company growth into new markets
  7. Protectable: Can be trademarked and has an available .com domain

When a name has at least 5 of these 7 characteristics, it has a much higher likelihood of success. Think of brands like Apple, Nike, or Patagonia. Their names are simple yet distinctive. Easy to remember and even easier to visualize. They effortlessly communicate the brand personality.

On the flip side, many failed brand names are:

  • Generic or descriptive (e.g. "Speedy Plumbing" or "Bob‘s Marketing Services")
  • Hard to spell or pronounce (e.g. Cuil, Qwikster, Xobni)
  • Limiting in scope (e.g. "Just Brakes" or "Pizza Hut")
  • Similar to competitors (e.g. all the "Insta-" and "-ify" names)

The lesson? Avoid these common pitfalls and aim for a name that is as strong as possible across all seven characteristics. Now, onto the process for finding your winning name.

The 5-Step Brand Naming Process

Coming up with the perfect brand name doesn‘t have to be a shot in the dark. By following a clear process and criteria, you can develop a robust list of ideas and make a confident final selection.

Here‘s the five-step naming process we use at BrandHouse:

Step 1: Lay Your Brand Foundation

Naming is not just a creative exercise — it must be grounded in strategy. Before you start brainstorming, take the time to clearly articulate your:

  • Brand essence and personality
  • Positioning and unique value proposition
  • Mission, vision, and values
  • Target audience and customer persona(s)
  • Competitive landscape and differentiators

This brand strategy work will inform the types of names you generate and how you evaluate them. It ensures your name is not just clever or catchy, but truly connects to your brand‘s core and resonates with your ideal customers.

Step 2: Get Creative (Without Judgment)

Once you‘re clear on your strategic foundation, it‘s time to start generating a huge volume of potential names. The goal at this stage is quantity over quality. You can always eliminate ideas later, but you don‘t want to limit your options by judging too soon.

Some of our favorite techniques to fuel naming brainstorms include:

  • Word association and mind mapping
  • Looking to other languages and mythologies for inspiration
  • Using online tools like a thesaurus, rhyming dictionary, or name generator
  • Considering different name types like descriptive, metaphoric, acronyms, or portmanteaus
  • Hosting a collaborative brainstorm session with diverse perspectives

Set a goal to generate at least 200 initial ideas before moving on to the next step. And don‘t forget to look beyond the obvious, literal connections to your business. Some of the best brand names come from unexpected places.

Step 3: Define Your Evaluation Criteria

The biggest mistake you can make in the naming process is allowing personal preference to drive decisions. You may love a particular name, but if it doesn‘t meet your strategic criteria, it‘s not the right choice.

To avoid this pitfall, we recommend creating a decision matrix to objectively evaluate each name idea. Your matrix should include 5-7 criteria, weighted based on importance to your brand.

Here‘s an example of a common criteria matrix with a 3-point scoring system:

Criteria Weight Definition
Meaning 30% Clearly communicates the brand essence and positioning
Distinctiveness 25% Stands out from competitors and avoids overused words/themes
Memorability 20% Easy to remember and recall
Ease of Use 15% Simple to say, spell, and type
Trademark 10% Can be protected and has available domain name

Scoring System:

  • 3 points = Exceeds the criteria
  • 2 points = Meets the criteria
  • 1 point = Below expectations
  • 0 points = Does not meet criteria at all

Of course, you can (and should) customize the criteria, weighting, and scoring to your business needs and naming non-negotiables. The key is having a clear, objective way to narrow down your options that everyone on the decision-making team agrees to upfront.

Step 4: Eliminate and Refine

Armed with your decision matrix, it‘s time to start evaluating your master list of name ideas. Go through each name and give it a score from 0-3 for each criteria. Eliminate any names that are below a 2 on more than one key criteria. Your goal is to end up with a shortlist of 10-20 names.

From there, start combining and iterating. Look for themes or word combinations you can build upon. Gather feedback from your target customers, using questions like:

  • How would you describe this brand based only on the name?
  • What do you think this company sells?
  • How does this name make you feel?
  • Is this a brand you would want to learn more about? Why or why not?

Don‘t forget to also check for potential issues like negative connotations, trademark conflicts, and cross-cultural misunderstandings. Tools like Google Translate and the USPTO trademark database are your friend.

If you‘re feeling stuck, bring in some fresh perspectives. Host a focus group or share your shortlist with people outside of your industry. Often, they‘ll see things you‘re too close to catch.

Step 5: Make a Final Decision

By this point, you should have 3-5 strong contenders that meet all of your core criteria. Now, it‘s time to make a final choice.

To build consensus among decision-makers, have everyone rank the final names from most to least preferred. Discuss the reasoning behind each ranking and look for common ground. If there is a clear winner, great! If not, don‘t be afraid to go back and either refine or expand your shortlist.

Remember, your brand name is not permanent. Some of today‘s biggest brands changed names early on — like how BackRub became Google. The most important thing is committing to a name and bringing it to life across every customer touchpoint.

Brand Name Success Stories

To illustrate what this process looks like in practice, here are three of our favorite brand name origin stories:

Warby Parker

The beloved eyewear brand started with a list of over 2000 potential names, including Shazam and Rivet & Sway. After months of debate, the founders landed on Warby Parker by combining two names from Jack Kerouac‘s journals.

The result was a distinctive name that evoked their literary-inspired brand ethos. And thanks to a bold launch strategy that generated tons of press, it quickly became one of the most memorable names in their category.

Casper

The direct-to-consumer mattress brand knew they wanted a name that was friendly and approachable — a stark contrast to legacy competitors. After an exhaustive search, they chose Casper for its warm, conversational sound and subtle nod to the "friendly ghost" of cartoons.

By aligning their name with their disruptive positioning and values, Casper completely transformed their industry. The name sets the tone for their playful yet premium brand experience.

Robinhood

For a fintech startup aiming to democratize investing, the name Robinhood perfectly captured their mission to "take from the rich and give to everyone." It leveraged a universally known story to communicate volumes about their brand purpose.

While Robinhood has faced some controversy, there‘s no denying the power of their name. It‘s a textbook example of using a metaphor to quickly convey meaning and values.

The common thread among these examples is a rigorous naming process combined with a commitment to using business strategy — not subjective preference — as the ultimate filter.

Final Thoughts

Creating an incredible brand name is part science, part art. By combining proven naming frameworks with creativity and strategic thinking, you can develop a name that becomes a true competitive advantage.

Remember these key takeaways:

  1. Start with strategy to ensure your name aligns with and supports your brand essence and positioning.
  2. Prioritize memorability, distinctiveness, and flexibility to stand out today and scale tomorrow.
  3. Use objective criteria to evaluate ideas and make a decision based on your brand goals — not personal preference.
  4. Don‘t expect to find a "perfect" name. Get creative, narrow it down, and choose a strong contender to build upon.

Your brand name has the power to spark interest, convey meaning, and leave an unforgettable impression. Make sure it‘s setting you up for long-term success.

Now it‘s your turn. It‘s time to take everything you‘ve learned and get to work on a brilliant brand name. Your next big idea is waiting to be uncovered!