• Transform magazine
  • May 26, 2024


Has naming been given a bad name?

Daniel O Hara Landscape

Daniel O’Hara, brand voice director at London-based agency Dragon Rouge, describes the big mistakes branding agencies make when it comes to the art of naming.

The world of naming has borne almost as many myths as ancient Greece, and the list of ‘best practices’ seemingly cast in stone went past a comparatively simple 10 commandments years ago. The result is that whenever the topic of naming comes up in a piece of brand work, phrases like “notoriously difficult” or “nightmarish” start flying around. Hysteria induced by bad process inevitably ensues. 

But is a little bit of nomenclature really that hard? Are the pitfalls of the process as cavernous as they seem? And how many naming myths are just that? Let’s take a look at three of the most common.


  1. Names need to be short and easy to read.

Let’s start with the big one. There seems to be a consensus that if your brand name is over six letters, hard to pronounce, or isn’t derived from English, it just won’t work. But here’s the thing: it works all the time.

Think Häagen-Dazs with its many As and nonsensically placed umlauts, or Who Gives a Crap toilet roll, or Mitsubishi, or Volkswagen, or even Stella Artois ­­– a name that gets progressively harder to pronounce the more product you consume. They’re long, they’re tricky AND…they’re sticky.

See, as processers of information, our brains spend most of their time in a state called System 1. This is where our cognitive fluency is unchallenged. We are absorbing information quickly and easily and then moving on. Lovely stuff. Names that are easy to digest fit nicely into System 1 thinking. Reading them feels good and blissfully unchallenging. But this presents a problem: names that are easily processed are also easily scrolled past, forgotten, ignored. It’s all a bit in one ear and out the other. But when our brains are shifted into System 2, where our cognitive fluency is challenged by language, letterforms, or phonetic patterns we are less familiar with, they get a bit jarred. Suddenly, we are forced to pay attention. To read the word, or words, once or twice more. And just like that, tricky names stick.

And there’s another benefit. Names where pronunciation is not immediately obvious can become talking points - “Oh is that how you say it?” - and people talking about your brand builds salience. For the record, Nike rhymes with spiky, emphasise the Ah in Adidas and Porsche has a shuh sound on the end.

Verdict: Short, easy names = MYTH!


  1. If we can’t get the domain, it ain’t the name.

Quick question? When was the last time you typed out a website address in full? Been a while, huh? And yet, when it comes to naming, I hear “we need to get the .com” all the time. Look, being able to protect your online presence is important and if someone is already holding the domain of a name you like, its certainly worth checking them out and seeing if they pose a threat to your brand or product. But there are a million and one ways to ensure people can find you online without the perfectly clean Name.com domain. Add a prefix such as ‘We Are’ or ‘This Is’. Choose an alternate domain such as the increasingly popular .io. The reality is, we’re living in the age of the search bar. You’re better off spending money on your SEO rankings than trying to persuade someone to sell you the perfect web address for an extortionate price.

And to further ease your website worries, you’ll be glad to know that should you not be able to secure the domain of your dreams, you’ll be in good company. Nissan, the Tate, The Guardian, Sköda – none of them have a clean domain.

Verdict: Death by domain = MYTH!


  1. Stakeholder feedback makes naming a nightmare.

“Hmmm I had a cat called that and she was really scratchy”.

“Hi Daniel, I know we’re naming a cereal bar, but the name reminds me of this banking brand in America”.

“I’ve just googled the name and it means duck in Romanian and I don’t think that really fits with the brand”.

These are all real examples of feedback I’ve had during naming work. At the time, they reddened my cheeks and tightened my jaw, but really, I only had myself to blame. The truth is, managing subjective feedback from multiple stakeholders is a pain, but implementing good process can bypass all that fist clenching and teeth grinding. A lesson I’ve learned the hard way. Today, there’s a few crucial steps that I’m sure to include upfront in any naming project. First, set some objective criteria to define what the name needs to achieve. This helps us navigate subjective feedback and brings the head into a process that sometimes involves a bit too much heart. Second, we decide who the key decision makers are. We want a small group of essential stakeholders only. Too many voices leads to headaches. Finally, we define key stages of work; how many rounds of generation, how many check-ins, and when we need to settle on the final shortlist for the lawyers. This stops the process running on and budgets spiralling.

Verdict: Feedback fury = TRUTH! (but avoidable)


So, there we have it. Perhaps naming isn’t the nightmare we’ve all be convinced that it is. With a little myth-busting and sharper processes, naming needn’t fill you with dread. In fact, it can and should be an exciting part of any branding project and should even be… dare I say it… fun! I’ll leave you with a great example of a name a colleague shared with me recently. Whilst browsing the shelves at his local hardware store his eye got stuck on some glue. Not literally. Evo-Stik has released an adhesive called Sticks Like Sh*t! How brilliant is that? You just know they had fun coming up with it. And you know they said boll*cks to ‘best practice’. It’s long, it’s a bit of a mouthful, it’s potentially divisive, but as far as a name for glue goes, it certainly sticks.