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19 December 2019

How to name a company

The story of our studio’s name

Over the years we have undertaken many naming projects: from companies and products, to more fleeting names used for an event or a campaign. By far the hardest naming project has been re-naming ourselves back in 2013: from Steve Scott Graphic Design to Another Colour.

So how do we go about choosing a name? Here are the three phases we went through, that can be applied to your next naming project.

Phase one — the assessment

Sometimes you just feel like a change: you might get a haircut, or buy an out-of-character sparkly pair of trainers. But you rarely change your name. So why did we do it?

This was something that we thought about long and hard. Did we really need a new name? Or did we just need a new look? Changing our name could be costly — registering, updating stationery, changing signage and relaunching a website all adds up. Would we lose our brand equity that had been built up over several years? After months of discussion we decided that a new name should really only be adopted if our current name was no longer effective. And since we found this to be true, (read that story below) we decided to take up the challenge.

Why we needed a new name?

The most obvious reason was that we had become just that — a ‘we’. Six years after its humble beginnings in a home office, Steve Scott Graphic Design had grown to become a collective of creative people.

Secondly, as the nature of the industry and the requirements of our clients changed, so had our range of services. More than half of our work was now digital in format, which is not always associated with the traditional term ‘graphic design’.

Thirdly, our ‘no frills’ name didn’t inspire us — we wanted a name that would inspire a unique-looking brand and would pleasantly roll off the tongue.

There were were also other practical reasons. Shorter names are easier to remember. Answering the phone was quite a mouthful and we could ditch the longest email addresses ever!

Phase two — the shortlist

To come up with a name, we brainstormed and created a shortlist. Anytime we heard a word we liked we added it. It didn’t have to be for any reason in particular — it could have been spotted on the side of an ice-cream truck. If we liked it, we just added it. Words from other team members often catalysed a string of new words that were completely unexpected. We used wordnik to uncover synonyms and hyponyms. Then we paired different words for poetic effect: rhymes, alliteration, consonance and assonance. We looked for words that had multiple meanings, words that were relevant to our business and words that were euphonic.

In reality, the shortlist became a long list. A very long list. We toyed with numerous ideas that ranged from the technical (Flux, Twindragon, Vertex), to cute (Lost Mittens, Ugly Duckling, Plastic Kitten), to random (Blushing Crow). Old names (Loom, Challice, Harbinger, Talisman) and names we made up (Vixo, Ography). Pretty names (Gossamer, Lucent, Inkling, Meld) and ugly names (Concoction, Fat Lattice). Word plays (Hue Diligence, About Space, Colourbind) to names that were poetic (Rubber Hydra, Shapeshift). We really liked Playpen (we “play” with pens) — but googling that kept bringing up porn :-/

Over a few weeks, we crossed off the names that didn’t quite fit, didn’t really make sense, or were just too tricky. The remaining few made it to the next phase.

Phase three — the naming checklist

We developed The Naming Checklist (in full below) to ensure the success of a new name. The first ten items come from Steve Harrington’s timeless article How to Nail a Name (Sydney Morning Herald, 2011). We then added the next ten, to make sure our names are robust and strategically chosen. It can sometimes be impossible to avoid all the pitfalls, but making sure you’re aware and have a plan to manage any shortcomings is important.

We took our favourite half dozen names on our shortlist through this phase — many of them didn’t get past the first five criteria.

In the end we chose Another Colour because it survived The Checklist. It was meaningful and relevant to our industry. The last check for us was checking the intellectual property for the name was not already owned. In Australia, the governing body is IP Australia —check for local regulations before your purchase any URLs or start your branding design.

If you intend to take your name global (who knows what might happen!) then you have your work cut out for you as you will need to check multiple IP regulators from around the world. Some good places to start for global checks are Markify, WIPO, Trademarkia and Applied Marks. For European entities check EUIPO, and for China check CTMO. Consult with an IP lawyer to ensure your name is free from any potential legal issues.

The Naming Checklist

1. Keep it simple.

2. Keep it short.

3. Will it stand the test of time?

4. Does it resonate with the target market?

5. Can it be easily pronounced?

6. Can it be twisted around by a mischievous journalist?

7. Any cultural sensitivities?

8. Does it have layers of meaning?

9. Never chose the first name you like — people are likely to pick the familiar over the new.

10. Be prepared for people to hate it at first — it can take time to sink in.

11. Is it unique and original?

12. Is a URL available? And how much does it cost?

13. Does it pass the ‘say it back to me’ test? Say the name to a friend and ask them to repeat it back to you. If they reply “what?” or “huh?”, it might not be the most effective name. If you’ve made up a word, phonetic spelling can help (Google, Accor).

14. Is it memorable? Poetic techniques can help, like alliteration (American Apparel), onomatopoeia (Bing, Snap), consonance (Kodak, Twitter), rhymes (7Eleven), half rhymes (Another Colour) and wordplays (Avant Card).

15. Think twice about ‘phunky’ spelling of everyday words. It might mean you can find a unique URL, but you’ll need to invest more in brand recognition.

16. Avoid highly generic names that are forgettable and don’t reflect your brand’s personality.

17. Does it anticipate growth or diversification? Burger King will always be associated with burgers but McDonald’s have more opportunity to diversify.

18. Does the name have existing meanings or connotations? Check the Dictionary, Wikipedia, Urban Dictionary, Google, Google Images and Google Translate. Does your name sound like any other existing words or names?

19. Avoid old tricks. Acronyms (BMW, IBM), spaceless names (FedEx, TeamWorks) and Web 2.0 (flickr, tumblr) have been done to death.

20. What’s your gut reaction? Do you like it? Even if you pass 1 to 19, this is probably the most important question.

Phase four — trying it on

We stuck our new name up on the pinboard in our studio in large letters and over the next few weeks it became a little shrine that we looked at every day as we tried to decide if it fit. Gradually, it grew on us more and more. It also inspired endless and creative branding opportunities. We did some user testing and ran the name past a larger group to see it there were any pitfalls.

We liked the many different and relevant meanings the name could convey. For us, Another Colour meant a new face for a brand; standing out from our competitors; and, seeing things in a different light. The cheeky half rhyme represents the importance of having fun with design. Lastly, it celebrated colour in all its diverse forms — not everything has to be blue.

The last step was to register our new trading name with ASIC. Check with your local regulator for countries outside Australia. We launched the new name at the same time we launched our website. Email addresses and all our online profiles were changed at the same time, ensuring the transition was as smooth as possible.

If you have a naming project and need some inspiration or analysis to ensure it stands the test of time, please get in touch.

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