How To Name Your Company: 10 ideas from the world’s biggest brands

We’ve all been in bands, right? Sure we have. The band that would’ve made it big if it weren’t for our parents and our crippling lack of talent. We’ve all been in bands, and so we all remember that inaugural moment where Steve, the sometime keyboard guru, full-time bandana wearer pulled off his remaining sock and grunted “so, what are we going to be called then?”

The single hardest decision for any creative venture – the name, the name, the name. Sorry Shakespeare, but it’s all in a name. It needs to be charming, yet straight-talking. Whimsical, yet down to earth. Memorable, original, ground-breaking and yet instantly understandable. The Name. How on earth do you go about figuring out the name? Don’t worry; you’re not alone in your fight. Ten methods to ease your pain – and if it helps, at least you’re unlikely to do a Volkswagen and name yourself after a bright idea of Hitler’s…

1. Embrace a mistake

In a creative skyline that increasingly values the benefits of a good, prompt failure, it seems only appropriate that the biggest company in the world founded their name on a spelling error. Google (heard of them? Apparently they’re some sort of internet detective agency or something) named their company after a misspelling of Googol; the word that means 10 to the power 100. One of those big numbers. Those big numbers like what Google wanted. You get their drift.

2. Steal from books

History is grateful for Greek mythology, because it provides 90- 95% of all current business names. From Trident to Nike, from Mars to Trojan, there’s nothing those pesky Gods don’t love to advertise. If you want to go a little more niché try doing what Starbucks did – attempt to name your company after a boat in Moby Dick, find out that the name of the boat in Moby Dick is Pequod, realise that Pequod is the worst word ever and hurriedly name your company after the First Mate Starbuck instead. Nice save.

 3. Be The Ego

Because there’s no ‘we’ in ‘Really Successful Business’. Why not forget clever wordplay, emotive nouns and SEO-profiling, and just damn well name your company after your favourite bit of your company: you. It didn’t do Walt Disney any harm, nor did it hamper Abercombie and Fitch, Condé Nast, Fisher Price, Ann Summers, Lidl, Aston Martin, Every Fashion Designer Ever or the Lehman Brothers. Wait…

4.  Logic first, whimsy second

As much as your customers might love ringing up the Killer Toad Monkey Insurance Ltd hotline, you may need to consider other factors, such as what you want to rank well for in search, who else you want to be associated with, or how your users are going to find you. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, decided that first and foremost he wanted a name that began with the letter A – so that his company would appear first in alphabetical listings. River schmiver – all he know was that Zavvi was going DOWN.

5. Be A Cynical Hideous Business Troll



You know how inspiring the word Bing sounds? How lovely it is, how exciting, how it makes you think and feel the word ‘bing’ and how that conjures lots of feelings about BINGING away and being BING and BINGING your thoughts and feelings to other people who BING about in a really bingful way? It came out of focus group study, because it was short, easy to spell and represented the “moment of discovery and decision making”. It doesn’t. It represents Chandler’s last name. Come on, Bing. How did that slip through the net? Or as you’d say, Bing through the Bing?

6. The Classic Acronym


As timeless as a fitted black suit or a cough in a public toilet, it’s difficult to go wrong with an acronym. Sure, you’ve got the risk of playing it a little safe, or alternatively of your name accidentally being some horrific swearword in Cantonese, but there’s no denying that it’s a method that gets the job done, no fuss, no mess. It certainly worked well for IKEA – a company whose legacy was built on shoving together the initials of its founder Ingvar Kamprad with those of the farm and village he grew up in; Elmtaryd and Agunnaryd. Inspiring event leader TED decided on shortening their values; Technology, Entertainment, Design, and sexy insurance company GEICO have managed to sweep their stuffy origins under the carpet completely – their name actually stands for Government Employer Insurance Company. Lizard-tastic.

7. Steal from another language

Other languages, eh? A veritable mine of hilarious letter-mashing. If you’re looking for a fool-proof way of bagging yourself an original name with just that whiff of Actually Meaning Something, you can’t go wrong with choosing a word you associate with your brand, translating it into one of those languages you hear so much about these days, and scruffing up a letter or two so that no-one notices. The perfect crime. Take it from Reebok – they nicked their name from an African spelling of a type of antelope:  rhebok. Because you know how antelopes love football? That.

8. Just pick a word

Truly great brands are the ones that have the courage to lasso a wild word roaming through the grass, force it to the ground and force it to submit to their whim. If you can domesticate a random word to become synonymous with your company and its ethos, you know you’ve hit it big time. It just takes a bit of courage to go with an instinct, rather than a rationale. Why Steve Jobs chose the word ‘Apple’ is one of the business world’s biggest mysteries – ultimately frustrating as it sounds like the Big Answer is simply that he liked the way the word sounded. Why did Branson name his empire Virgin? Simply because one of his early employees thought they were all basically business virgins. Take it, make it yours. Game on.

9. Get Punny

High risk, high reward, this one. Getting a bit of humour into your brand is certainly no bad thing, but when company word-play is synonymous with window fixers called Pane In The Glass or furniture empires named Sofa So Good, it’s difficult to extricate yourself from the Curlz MT using masses. Still, you only have to look at the explosive success of Pinterest to know that the right pun can go a long way. And you know what they say, if it aint joke, don’t… fix… exactly.

10. Say what you see


Add the word ‘etc’, and you’re ready for all life can throw at you.

(picture rights to AgentVladimir)

By Natasha Hodgson

Enternships Community Manager

Follow us on Twitter: @enternships

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Natasha Hodgson is the Content and Community Manager over at Enternships. She loves writing about inspiring things, and Nicolas Cage. Luckily, those two things are not mutually exclusive.

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