What's in a name? How important is your brand's name?

The naming of your company is something people really do worry a lot about when establishing a new brand, and for good reason. Once your name is established it’s really hard to change, you’ve got it for life.

Entrepreneurs often start in the wrong place, they want a name that ‘sounds good’ without considering the meaning behind the name, which is far more important than the word itself. Obviously there are some basic considerations to think about; you don’t want to offend anyone, and you don’t want a name no-one can pronounce! If you think you might expand abroad then it’s worth considering meanings in other languages and cultures. But, as with anything brand related it all starts from the fundamentals. What is it that you are offering of value to your customers? How is that different from what other people are offering? What’s the best way to build emotional connections with your audience to build belief and trust? During this process you have to force yourself to think from the customer’s perspective. It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in your own vision and forget what this will mean to other people. It’s useful to get an outside perspective on this when you are working it out, even a friend who’s not connected to your business if you can’t afford professional help.

Getting noticed online

The more unique the word you choose for your name, the easier it will be to get a high rank if people search for it, BUT, if this is to work, they need to know your name to start with! To get google to rank you highly on terms that are descriptive, like ‘plumbing’ or ‘business consultant’ it helps a lot if you have these words in your name. We did very well with the name of our last business, d3o, because we had a huge amount of press who were all talking about us on the web, and linking to us. Plus people in our market soon got to know us, so when they searched for our name (even if they got it slightly wrong), we’d be at the top, but if you’re struggling to get people to know about you in the first place, a more descriptive name might help. But, beware; imagine if you called your brand ‘Devon Cotton Cushions’. Whilst this would be great for someone looking for that on google, can you imagine how many people are searching for that term every day? The only reason Apple score so highly is because of their size, as a startup with a generic name, you’ll really struggle getting on the first page. So the answer depends on what you are trying to achieve, what your website is for, and your overall business strategy. The best approach from a search point of view is somewhere in between between unique and descriptive.

Trade mark

Secondly, however much you like the simplicity of the name ‘Devon Cotton Cushions’ you wouldn’t be able to protect it with a trade mark because it’s a descriptive term. Here’s more on this from Donna Trysburg of Ellis IP.

A trade mark can consist of any word, logo, symbol, slogan, colour per se, design, three dimensional shape, sound or even in theory smell which is used to identify and distinguish the goods or services of one manufacturer or merchant from the goods and services of others.

Marks or terms cannot be registered if they are:

  • Descriptive of the goods and/or services, or their quality, quantity, intended purpose, geographical origin or other characteristic. (for example OXFORD SOAP for soap made in Oxford)

  • Not distinctive (e.g. no inherent distinctiveness such as “$”)

  • Generic in current language or the relevant trade (for example, ESCALATOR was originally a trade mark but has now become generic)

  • Deceptive (for example the word KASHMEER for clothing which is not made of cashmere)

  • Immoral or contrary to public policy

  • Specially protected emblems (for example the Royal Coat of Arms)

  • For three dimensional shape marks only – shapes which are typical of the goods themselves, shapes which are functional and shapes which add substantial value to the goods.

  • Already registered by somebody else for the particular goods and services in question.

It is best to select a “strong” trade mark if possible, which has no descriptive meaning at all. Good examples are invented terms such as EXXON, KODAK and XEROX. Or alternatively, choose a trade mark with no meaning in relation to the particular goods and services, for example APPLE for computers, or PICASSO for cars. The rationale behind this is that terms which are descriptive should be kept free for all traders to use.

Your brand’s heart and soul

A great example of how your name can really define your direction from the beginning came from a recent talk I attended where the founder of the famous Brighton Choccywoccydoodah chocolate and cake shop talked about her startup experience. Any SEO expert would probably have told you that this name was crazy, and the other alternative “The Chocolate Factory” would have been much more appropriate (although Ellis IP would surely have preferred the more unique version).

The name for the shop came after a late night chocolate eating session over a bottle of gin whilst trying to solve a problem. They had just leased the space next door to their then popular cafe wanting to expand, and had just heard from the council that they’d rather it remained a shop, oh dear. So, with no money and a shop, but no idea what to sell, they decided to open a chocolate shop. At the end of the bottle of gin, they had settled on choccywoccydoodah as the best name, and they went for it; the rest, as they say, is history.

This is a great story itself, but during this talk, Christine was asked what she thought would have happened if they’d stuck with the sensible ‘Chocolate Factory’ name? She replied that she believed they would be nowhere. The irreverence in the name was and still is at the centre of their brand. It defines everything that they do, every decision they make; it’s what differentiates them and gives their brand a heart and soul. So sometimes the sensible option isn’t always the best.

So as you can see, there are many things to consider when naming your company, and it’s really quite an important decision, so make sure you’ve given it adequate thought.


© 2019  Ruth J Palmer