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How to Name Your Company or Product

January 13, 2000
Related Topics: Featured Article
Before she openedHeffalumps and Woozles children's clothing store in Ridgefield, CT, TraceyBaines stopped walkers on the street near her new store site to ask which namefrom a short list they preferred.

She might have chosenthe name she did even if it did not win in her survey, because it pleased her,and sent the message she wanted to send.

A good name can help youin so many ways by: jump starting your business, making your product memorable,fun, prestigious, interesting to the media, dignified, and more. And a bad onecan hobble your chances while it eats up your advertising budget. It will alsoirritate you every time you hear it.

Here are some steps to agood name:

Step 1: Describe. Sit down, andexplain it simply to someone who has no idea what it is. The process of talkingabout it is invaluable at distilling out the most important aspects of yourproduct. Jot down a concise description, and use it as a framework.

Step 2. Expand. Look at yourdescription, and jot other words that come to mind and describe your product.Let's say you are naming a disposable wash cloth. You might note these words:soft, hygienic, inexpensive, practical, convenient. The longer the list, themore creative ammunition you will have. Now we start putting your right brainto work.

Step 3: Create. Looking at your notes, play with the words. Combine words into createdcompound words or combine features of your product to create new (coined)words. These are extremely popular these days since most "natural"words are already taken. Use alliteration, rhyme, vowel harmony. Use thethesaurus to find underutilized words equivalent to the ones you've written.Write the names you create (neatly, no use if you can't read them later). Gofor volume.

Try to come up with 20,or 50 if you can. As Linus Pauling said, "The best way to have a good ideais to have lots of ideas." If one of the names you have just createdcauses a little shiver down your spine, your instinct might be telling you it'sa winner. At least that has happened to me.

Step 4: Pick and Test. Find the 10 bestnames from your list. Then the top five from there. Make sure the"finalists" please you. Don't "fall in love" with any oneof them until you do a bit more work. Test each one. Enlist a market researchcompany if you can, or just buttonhole people as Tracy Baines did.

Is it easy to pronounce?How will it sound on the phone or radio? Will people be able to spell it afterhearing it? Does it have bad connotations in other languages, or sound likeanything unpleasant in English? Will you outgrow it? Is it so trendy that itwill become passé? Not considering these questions carefully can be costly ordevastating.

Step 5: Trademark. Now comes thereally hard part. That is ensuring that you can trademark the name. If you cantrademark the name, you can protect the goodwill your product builds in themarketplace and prevent customers from being misled by the use of confusinglysimilar names on products or services. And knowing the trademark status alsokeeps you from infringing on a previous owner of that name.

You can hireprofessionals to conduct a search. Terrence J. McAllister, attorney at Ohlandt,Greeley, Ruggiero & Perle in Stamford says "our job as lawyers is togive our advice and opinion as to whether the name is protectable and won'tinfringe upon the rights of another party." Or you can try it yourself.

The book Trademark: Howto Name a Business & Product by Kate McGrath & Stephen Elias with SarahShena, published by Nolo Press Berkeley, explains simply how to conduct yourown trademark search. Now you have chosen a good name, done some markettesting, and checked the trademark status. You can breathe a sigh of relief andpop the champagne!

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