October 2003

What’s in a Name? The Art of Corporate Naming

By Naseem Javed

When a corporation is forced to change its name, the circumstances are usually adverse. A name may become a liability or a burden, be injured in a trademark battle, or simply lose its appeal to consumers. The reasons for changing a corporate name include the following:

The name is similar or identical to too many others. A corporate name that is shared by other businesses becomes lost in the crowd. Also, a name borrowed from a dictionary often lacks distinction and simply dies from exhaustion.

The name is too old to convey contemporary dynamics. Sometimes a name reflects the great human toil of the company’s founders. The problem is that the name does not reflect the current digitally savvy world. Corporate communications may struggle to shed the old image by promoting the company’s new vision, but these names always fade away.

The name is spelled unusually. Many corporate names are spelled creatively to fit a logo or to avoid a trademark problem. Usually, however, the only thing the twisted spelling ensures is obscurity. The consumer’s mind continually rejects the corruption of familiar words.

The name requires explaining. A company name that cannot relate simply to the business, or requires constant explanation of its obscure origin, becomes a liability. Consumers do not care what the name means to the corporation; they care only what the name means to them.

The corporation does not own a trademark with an identical name. A name is meaningless if it is not owned legally. Every time that name is advertised, it simply helps the company’s competitors or the industry at large. A majority of corporate names today are not trademarkable globally and most do not have an identical Internet domain name available.

The name translates badly in other countries. A name must work not only in its own country, but in every other country where it may be used. Corporations never set out to choose a name that is embarrassing, confusing, or profane in a foreign language, but it happens. The majority of names today do not work efficiently on the international level.

The name is too long, too confusing, or too boring. A name that is too long often gets abbreviated or initialized, changing its entire meaning or causing it to be listed in strange categories. A name that is too confusing or boring becomes a different animal to different people. Strange name combinations, possibly due to mergers and acquisitions, end up telling more than one story and cause confusion in the marketplace. Weird terminologies, alphanumeric names, upper or lower cases, dashes or slashes, and other characters in a name will usually ensure its demise.

Time and Money Well Spent

If a company concludes that its name is not world class, unique, powerful, globally trademarkable, Internet-ready, and related to its business, it should seriously consider changing the company name, fast. No amount of money spent will be able to save the name in the long run. One important caveat, however: Never pick a name out of a hat (which happens more often than anyone would believe). This type of selection is usually done out of panicked desperation the day before a press conference. Additionally, never believe an advertising or logo company that says it is out of names: There will never be a shortage of unique, powerful, trademarkable corporate names. What is rare, however, is the use of successful, proven methodologies to create them through hard work, the application of which is different from branding and design.

Naseem Javed is a syndicated columnist and the author of Naming for Power (Linkbridge Publishing).

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