15 tips & tricks to find a creative name

We are often asked; “How did you guys come up with your company name HatRabbits? What thinking techniques did you use and what’s the best way for me to come up with a creative name for my project?”

We got these types of questions a lot lately. From very different sorts of people. We get them from managers who are looking for a catchy name to make their project more memorable, but also from young entrepreneurs who are in need of a suitable and cool name for their new start-up.

Coming up with a creative name that sticks is a tough and difficult process. It often leads to frustration, or even worse: a dull name.

Creative naming is undeniably a relevant part of business creativity. Yet, I’m afraid there is not one simple success formula to find a creative name. We used many different techniques and came up with a few thousand ideas before we “pulled a rabbit out of the hat”.

Fortunately, there are many creative strategies that you can apply to find a great name. In this article, I’ve listed 15 tips & tricks that will get you started.

1. Go for quantity
It’s easy to come up with a few names. Yet these first ones are often rather boring. As always when it comes to creative ideas, to go beyond the obvious you’ll have to come up with as many ideas as you can. Set targets. Of course, if you use a name quota you will end up with a lot of crappy names. Don’t worry, that’s fine. It helps you to think and to structure your thoughts.

2. Keep it Simple
Some people find it tempting to construct a name out of old definitions and Latin phrases or words. Unless your target audience consists of doctors or extinct-language teachers, it’s better you don’t. It’s much more likely that these “ancient” complex names will lead to confusion and irritation. Beautiful and intelligent as these names may be, they sound rather woolly and are often difficult to remember.

3. Associate
The most basic way to start the naming process is by mapping out associations. What does your subject resemble? What does it make you think of? What is similar? What are its unique properties and characteristics? What are related subjects? It will become much easier to see connections and to combine seemingly unrelated words or subjects.

4. What do you want to communicate?
Who is your audience? What should they think when they hear the name? What feeling should it give them? Is it clear to them what it stands for? Does your name fit your company’s identity? Do you need a national or international name? By thinking about the message that you want to get across you will find that it becomes much easier to pick the right name for your objective.

5. Use Alternatives & Variations
Ideas often lead to new ideas. That’s why you should always try to come up with as many ideas as possible. The fact that you will generate a lot of unsuitable names doesn’t mean these names cannot be useful. Unworkable suggestions can always be used as stepping stones. Creativity is all about looking for alternatives (very different names) and exploring variations (similar ideas). Putting it slightly differently can sometimes suddenly lead to a wonderful name.

6. Make it visual
The names that stick are not infrequently the ones that spark a visual image. An expressive and vivid name is easy to memorize and is more likely to come across as sympathetic. Besides, a visual name will be much easier to translate into a graphic style or a brand icon.

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7. Use a Metaphor
One way to make sure you leave a visual impression is by using a metaphor. Comparing your subject with something else is a powerful way to use available patterns and associations. A good metaphor will lead to original ideas quite easily. A rich comparison will lead to a steady flow of ideas almost immediately.

8. Combine Words
If you are looking for an original name with a free URL, you’ll quickly end up with extremely long names. That’s probably not the way to go. It’s advisable to also try to combine short and mid-long words to see if you can create a fun and unique combination. If you look at famous brand names you will see that a lot of them are actually combinations. To name just a few; MailChimp, Facebook, LinkedIn, SlideShare, YouTube, WordPress, WhatsApp, Evernote etc.

9. Do The Opposite
If you want to develop a creative name for your company, it’s generally not recommendable to use the names of your competitors as inspiration. Yet, when you look at your competitors and you do something totally different, you can position yourself in an original way. Take the wonderful name “FatBastard” for example. An extremely unusual name. Especially when you realise that it’s the name of a delicious red wine. As you can imagine this funny name gets a lot more attention than the other labels in the liquor store.

10. It’s right when it sounds right
A very simple way to tell if you have a great name is by checking its sound. Just ask yourself, how does it sound when I pick up the phone and say the name out loud? Will it take long? Will it be clear immediately? Or will the person on the other side of the line ask me to repeat what I just said? And what about introducing yourself during a party? Will the name be catchy or monotonous? Is it melodious? Is it easy to turn it into a rhyme or Jingle?

11. Change A Few Things
Subtle changes in a word can lead to very interesting and inspiring names. Just think about Pinterest (Pinning + Interesting stuff) or Groupon (Coupons for a large group of people). However, be careful. If you add or remove letters randomly it can look like spelling errors and you don’t want to look stupid. It’s tempting to make some changes so you will have a name with a free corresponding URL. Don’t fall into that trap. It’s important to have a unique name, but don’t force it.

12. Pronunciation
As mentioned earlier the sound of a name determines everything. Always be aware of how your name sounds to your audience. Will they be able to find you on the internet if they have only heard you say the name?

13. Be wary of cultural differences
If you want to operate overseas, always take cultural differences into account. Always be aware of foreign meanings and local slang. The Swedish manufacturer of household appliances Electrolux once ran a disastrous campaign in the US. The brand promoted its vacuum cleaners with the slogan “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux”. In a similar case of naivety about cultural differences, the Coors Brewing Company translated its slogan “Turn it loose” into Spanish, where it was read as “Suffer from diarrhoea.” As you can imagine both campaigns didn’t go as planned.

14. Play With Words
A name consisting of several words can be a good choice. Don’t worry about the URL. You can always choose to make use of an abbreviation. I like to get my inspiration from the names of bands. They often perfectly illustrate how you can create a new identity with a creative name. For example, in the Netherlands there are bands called Go Back to the Zoo, Mr and Mississippi and De Jeugd van Tegenwoordig (the youth of today). Although these names are relatively long they communicate an energetic and rebellious style.

15. Create Word Jokes
A funny element can leave a lasting impression. Humour helps but is also a highly sensitive case. It can quickly become childish or unprofessional. Always take into account what your target audience considers to be fun and appropriate.

A name is just a name. The perfect name does not exist, neither does a golden formula to find one. There are many factors involved when it comes to the success of a name. It’s impossible to develop one single technique, you have to use several. It should be noted that all the strategies above are just a way to get you started. In general, it will take you quite some time (and many different names) to find your ideal name.

Ebook: The Name Game

How to develop a creative name that sticks for your project, company or product

I hope the tricks above inspire you to find a truly original name for your product, service or company. If you found these simple pieces of advice useful, you’ll love our ebook. In this ebook, you’ll find 25 exercises that will help you to generate the perfect name.

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Showing 5 comments
  • David

    Thank you 🙂 very useful!

  • Jeroen de Ruijter

    You’re welcome David. I’m glad to hear you liked my article.

  • rohit aggarwal

    thanks for the information

  • Mia

    Agreed with all the information you stated above and you define it in a very smooth way which is understandable for the person who’s looking for new name for his start-up. My experience is that in addition to the above you should name your start-up according to you targeted audience as you stated above that it should be easily pronounced so that people can remember it. I remember when I was searching for the name of my business a tool Namobot was helpful for me at that time it suggested me very useful names.

  • dylan

    very helpful, thank you!

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