Articles

How to name your brand and not become a name-a-like

Interview

If we imagine brand copycats it’s natural to think of companies whose identities look remarkably similar, or sectors where visual clichés have become the norm.

 

But it’s not just visually where brands demonstrate similarities; naming is just as prone to trends, imitators and clichés. We’ve all recognised brand names that fall into conventions: a few years ago you couldn’t move for consumer tech businesses with an ‘ify’ suffix.

 

To get an expert opinion we asked naming guru and Nalla collaborator Rebeca Arbona for her view on naming trends, both tired and inspired.

 

 

Nalla: Firstly, why do you think so many businesses end up copying one another?

 

Rebeca Arbona: People are trying to thread the needle between the desire to be creative and the fear of losing high stakes bets. Why not just jump on something that feels safe and relatively familiar? I encourage everyone to find their own new ideas, but I do have a little sympathy with the copycats. They’re trying to work out the careful balance of how to make their brand feel current and familiar, without developing a name that’s so daring that it’s off-putting.

 

Nalla: Are there any trends that jump out at you as past their sell by date?

 

Rebeca Arbona: There have been some really terrible naming trends in recent memory that are thankfully waning, like the Noun & Noun trend. Every company that employed this ended up sounding like a faux-retro pub. It has a classic sound because it’s been around for so long and many established brands still use that construction; Johnson & Johnson, Arm & Hammer, M&S, M&Ms, AT&T, Ben & Jerry’s.

 

But it became almost too trendy, resulting in an absolute glut of clothing and food brands with this kind of construction — Rag & Bone, Kettle & Fire, Boots & Barkley, Good & Gather, Hearth & Hand. It was so hot at one point that someone launched a hipster name generator — my experiment revealed a rather macabre suggestion “Whistle & Vein”.

 

Also for a while it seemed that new brands weren’t relevant unless they dropped a vowel or two — hello Flickr, Tumblr, Grindr, Letterboxd, Scribd, Timr, Viewr and more. Thankfully this trend appears to be well and truly over, and we’re seeing very few names being launched with this kind of construction — which is grt!

 

Nalla: What are the present trends you’re seeing?

 

Rebeca Arbona: Firstly, one that’s been around for a while and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere I call “Mixed Messages”. This is where names have a little pinch of negativity. It’s the kind of thing that brands used to stay away from, but now names with a hint of something bad are far more common; Monster, Slack, Spoiled Child, FarFetch, BuzzKill and Shady Rays. If it’s correctly executed, it adds interest and makes the name more memorable; like adding a dash of sour to make food taste more delicious.

 

Minimalism is one trend that I can get behind. The shorter a name the more impactful and memorable it can be. This works well across a number of sectors: Stripe and Monzo in Fintech; The Row, Cos, Arket and Quince in fashion; Toast, Braze and Meta in tech.

 

Emotional Maximalism – I love that I’m seeing more emotive names, especially in the very specific domain of non-profit organisations renaming themselves to be less descriptive and more inspirational. An example I love is America’s Second Harvest becoming Feeding America. Last year we renamed an organisation called Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center (what a mouthful, right?) and now they’re Ignite Peace — a name with a powerful call to action embedded. I hope we continue to see more and more of this trend!

 

 

 

Let us help you gain standout and separate your brand from the rest. From a name change to helping pinpoint your differentiation and echo that into your visual identity so you can pivot away from copycats, we’d love to hear from you.