The Art and Science of Naming a Business, and Why It’s Not As Easy As You Might Think

Naming is a profoundly human activity. It’s impossible to imagine life without names. People have a deep-seated need to organize and make sense of the world around them, from the Earth and everything in it and on it to the heavens above and all they contain. And they do it by giving everything a name.

We all become namers at some point in our lives. We choose names for our children, pets, houses, and boats, if we are lucky enough to have one. Sometimes, we might even have the opportunity to name a business, and it’s at this point when things begin to get complicated.

For many reasons, naming a business is a challenge of unique complexity. All previous experience with naming counts for nothing.

Here are two guiding principles that may help smooth the way for you, along with a few stories about recent names developed by BrandingBusiness.

1. Take the anxiety out of the process

A new corporate name has to be uniquely “ownable” – that is, free of conflict in some very crowded trademark categories. If you add the need for a direct dot match with the name (name.com) then it increases the challenge exponentially.

Most new names start out life as a single, unadorned word on a screen. Naked. Unfamiliar. People react viscerally. Typical comments: “It sounds like a new drug”; “It reminds me of a something”; “Nothing really resonates with me”: or, “I’ll know it when I see it, and I don’t see it here.”

Why does this happen? When exposed to an unfamiliar word, people feel challenged to make sense of it, especially if their reference points are the known and the familiar. And if the associations are negative, then the name in question stands little chance of moving forward.

The first priority in any successful naming project is to set people at ease and familiarize them with the challenges and pitfalls of naming. It’s not easy. The goal is to review name candidates and make the selection process as rational as possible, mitigating the impact of subjective feelings and personal prejudices.

The truth is that names accrue meaning over time from what they are attached to. Xerox, for example, is a linguistic construct of obscure etymology that has become literally synonymous with what the machine represents. A Xerox is a photocopier. The same principle applies to Google, Apple and Nike.

While, most people understand this time/association principle, it’s hard to keep that in mind when you’re staring at a series of unfamiliar verbal concoctions on a computer screen that are supposed to be name candidates for your business.

2. Focus on the potential of a name and the story it can tell

While the immediate need of any naming exercise is to find a suitable name for a business that will work well today, the ultimate goal is to find a great name – one that captures the promise of the future.

As Michael Ohl says in his book, The Art of Naming: “Part of the majesty and magic of a name is how it gives the reader or listener a firm, solid foundation from which to transport herself to a place she’s never been.”

An effective name must be anchored by a core idea and a set of key brand attributes the business intends to stand for in the hearts and minds of its customers. This conceptual anchor allows naming professionals to develop candidates that capture the essence of a business and create a rational link with the brand, grounding the conversation about final choices.

Here are a few examples of recent names we developed and the stories behind them.

Extensiv
In 2021, 3PL Central, a third-party logistics company, approached BrandingBusiness with the need to reposition and rename the company following their acquisitions of three companies in adjacent business areas – Skubana, Scout, and Cart Rover. Backed by Mainsail Partners, a growth equity firm, the acquisitions were intended to create a new technology fulfillment leader able to connect the shopping experience with the warehouse floor with the simplicity and speed to meet the demands and expectations of modern-day consumers.

After intense research, we developed a positioning strategy centered on a core brand driver: creating the future of omnichannel fulfillment. The company was going to challenge the me-too brands in the market and outdated logistic models of the past with a new solution designed for the future and able to fulfill demand anywhere, anytime, with superior flexibility and ability to scale.

The new story needed a new name. After a long exploration, further complicated by the desire to have the dot com exactly matching the name, the company enthusiastically selected a new name: Extensiv.

As the word suggests, Extensiv communicates breadth, scale, and impact. It is both functionally descriptive of the capabilities of the new business as well as emotionally representative of the ambitions and value delivered. A perfect balance, made even better by a perfect dot com match.
www.extensiv.com

Argano
Chip Register, a visionary and experienced business leader, came to BrandingBusiness when he needed a name for a new business venture backed by Trinity Hunt Partners. He was seeking to create the next-generation business and technology services provider with one objective: Use best-of-breed, platform-agnostic technology solutions to rebuild the foundation of businesses operating in the 21st century digital global economy.

We began an in-depth naming exploration revolving around a few core themes, all tied to the vision of the business. More than a thousand names were developed. One winner emerged: Argano.

Argano is an Italian word of a hoist specially invented by Renaissance genius Filippo Brunelleschi in late 1400 to help build the massive dome of Firenze’s cathedral, Santa Maria Del Fiore. The argano gave rise (literally) to Brunelleschi’s vision, which still enchants people today more than 500 years later.

Argano gave us permission to tell an inspiring story, one that elevated the business value proposition and gave the brand positioning a higher degree of emotional and intellectual power.

Six centuries after the birth of the European Renaissance, the new technologies provide the foundation for a new era, the Digital Renaissance, a new phase of renewal and growth powered by novel ways to think about, deploy, and manage people, processes and technologies. Argano is a purpose-built business and technology services provider that gives rise to the possibilities of the Digital Renaissance, crafting modern, scalable and sustainable Digital Operating Platforms to serve as the foundations of 21st century businesses.
www.argano.com

Kiavi
In the first part of 2021, LendingHome worked with BrandingBusiness to reposition and rename their business in support of a new growth strategy. The company is one of the nation’s top lenders for real estate investors providing professional and first-time real estate investors quick and dependable financing for their projects.

While their name LendingHome placed the company in the traditional lending solutions business, the company aimed to bring to market the integrated power of technology, data and financial solutions to real estate investors driven by the vision of unlocking the value of America’s aged homes. A new name was needed to capture the promise of a new future.

Naming exploration centered around a few core themes, all linked to the brand positioning we developed for the company. Out of more than 1,200 names generated, one candidate emerged from the pack: Kiavi.

Kiavi is an original, three syllable neologism based on the phonetic representation of the Italian word, chiave (kee-ah-vee), which means “key.” While unique among the competitive set, the name immediately suggests the word “key” (ki) aurally – a highly appropriate reference for Kiavi’s mission to unlock the hidden value of aged homes. From there, the name metaphorically takes flight with the second part of our name – “avi” (Latin: bird), which connotes flight, agility and freedom. Overall, the name Kiavi is a memorable, uplifting and truly original brand for our times.

Kiavi is a technology and data company that partners with real estate investors to unlock and monetize the true value of America’s aged homes.
www.kiavi.com

TransImpact
Sometimes, a new company name might just be waiting to be discovered and claimed like a gold nugget glinting in a stream. This is the case with TransImpact, formerly known as “Transportation Impact.”

The company engaged BrandingBusiness in 2020 to develop a new brand strategy that would reflect and articulate the expansion of the company beyond its legacy shipping business.

Transportation Impact as a name was long. It was a six-syllable verbal hurdle that employees and customers tended to abbreviate to “TI” and sometimes, “Transimpact.” Another problem – Transportation Impact was frequently confused with that of a competitor, “Transportation Insight.”

More importantly, Transportation Impact as a name placed the company in the physical world of trucks, roads and containers and failed to encompass the new future as a technology company delivering solutions across the supply chain continuum.

When a company has to transition from a legacy business and reposition itself in an evolving new market, balance is critical. The current customer base cannot be alienated. After careful assessment of the situation, we recommended the adoption of a name that was already in informal use – TransImpact.

This had several benefits. First, it’s shorter and easier to say, and it can always be expressed in its full form without being abbreviated. And, conveniently, the company already owned and was using the URL – transimpact.com.

Beyond these practical advantages, there were important brand implications for upgrading to TransImpact. Trans is a Latin word which means “across.” TransImpact expresses the broader, horizontal power of the company’s offering across supply chain management, versus the more limited vertical position of delivery only.
www.transimpact.com

Closing thoughts about naming:

  1. The name doesn’t have to do everything; messaging, visual systems, and communication channels can do a lot of weight lifting.
  2. New names are hard to like. Focus on the possibilities of a new name and the story it can tell about your business.
  3. In naming, there’s no such thing as love at first sight. Be strategic, not emotional.
  4. Focus on the name first, not the dot com status – the trademark is the harder part.
  5. Don’t fall in love with a name too soon. Legal search is brutal. Ultimately, the best name is the one you can own.