How to Create Brand Names That Stick

A Great Name is a Must

Whether you are launching a new company, a new product, or refreshing a brand, you need to have a great name.  Some companies have a name that just fits while others see massive marketing campaigns fail because of a poor name.  Still others have names that are limiting future growth.  For instance, Tony Hsieh, CEO of says that started out as

Alexandra Watkins is a nationally recognized naming expert and founder of Eat My Words. She’s been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Inc. and Entreprenuer.  Her clients range from Disney to Fujitsu.  She recently wrote the small, but powerful book Hello, My Name Is Awesome: How to Create Brand Names That Stick.




For those not in the field of marketing and branding, why is picking the right brand name so critically important? 

Your name will last longer than any investment you make in your business.  Think about that for a minute…will you have the same tablet, mobile phone, printer, and office furniture twenty years from now?  Not likely.  But you will have the same brand name.  That’s why it’s important for you spend the time to get it right.


Qualities of a Perfect Brand Name

What are the qualities of a perfect name? How do you know you’ve landed on the right choice?

A helpful and purely objective checklist for the qualities of a perfect name is my SMILE & SCRATCH Test, a 12-step name evaluation method based on my philosophy, “A name should make you smile, instead of scratch your head.” If your name passes the test (and clears trademarking and international linguistic checks), you can be assured you have a winner.

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SMILE: The 5 Qualities of a Super Sticky Name – the perfect name has all of these characteristics:

Suggestive – evokes something about your brand

Meaningful – resonates with your audience

Imagery – is visually evocative to aid in memory

Legs – lends itself to a theme for extended mileage

Emotional – moves people

SCRATCH: The 7 Deadly Sins – the perfect name has none of these stumbling blocks:

Spelling-challenged – looks like a typo

Copycat – similar to competitors’ names

Restrictive – limits future growth

Annoying – forced, frustrates customers

Tame – flat, descriptive, uninspired

Curse of Knowledge – only insiders get it

Hard-to-pronounce – not obvious or is unapproachable


Brand Name Mistakes

Are there common pitfalls you see repeatedly?
The most common mistake is thinking that the first thing you must do when naming a business is to make sure the domain name isn’t taken. Countless great names have been killed that way. Worse, countless bad names have been conceived for the same reason.



If you’re a scrappy startup, self-funded, or simply don’t want to fork over big bucks for a domain, a second word is the way to go.  Adding a “modifier” to your name in the form of an extra word or two is now a common and perfectly acceptable way to get an available domain name and help your customers find you through search engines.  For instance Tesla is at, Bliss beauty products are at and Square is at


Tips for Brainstorming

You dedicate a chapter to brainstorming. What tips do you have to ensure the best possible outcome from a brainstorming session?

First and foremost, do not brainstorm in a group or in a white room.  Traditional brainstorming meetings are terribly ineffective.  Most corporate conference rooms have bare walls, fluorescent lighting, and sadly lack any mental stimulation.  Group brainstorming is a mad free-for-all, where extroverts throw ideas at the wall and see what sticks.  Introverts, who may have good ideas, may fear speaking up.  Everyone sucks up to the boss.  No one in the room has an objective filter for what makes a name good or bad. And if any name does get chosen, instead of the best name, it’s often a mediocre one that’s met with the least resistance.

I recommend brainstorming solo with the most powerful tool available to stimulate creativity… the Internet.  It’s a goldmine for ideas and the only source I use.  Online dictionaries and thesauruses are an excellent place to start.  One of my richest resources for brainstorming is looking at images.  A picture says a thousand words.  Stock photo websites such as and are fantastic places to get fresh ideas especially because you can search by concepts (e.g. “happy”) to find related imagery. I personally like to use Google images because the amateur photos are more fun to look through and it’s endlessly entertaining.


3 Rules for Building Consensus

With any creative endeavor, we likely will end up with multiple options. On top of that, multiple people want to decide. Would you share 3 of your rules for building consensus?


Rule 1

Have everyone initially review the list of name ideas independently as opposed to in a group.  This process allows every decision maker on the team to freely express which names they like without the trepidation that can occur during group presentations.  By giving team members the confidence to fearlessly say what names they like, you also eliminate the pressure for people to “echo what the boss likes.”  This way, no “good names” go unnoticed and everyone’s opinions are heard.

Rule 2

The essential question to ask when reviewing the names is not, “Do I like it?” which is subject to personal bias.  The better question to ask is, “Is it right?” which is much more objective and effective.

Rule 3

Refrain from negative comments.  You will have greater success finding a name everyone can agree on if you focus strictly on what works.  Negative comments are never helpful in building consensus.


BioPhoto_AlexandraWatkinsYou’ve worked with some clients ranging from the big names like Disney and Wrigley. Is there a good practice these clients use that helps them avoid the pitfalls and follow the best guidelines?

Following the consensus building process we recommend is key to the success for clients of any size. Unfortunately, many bigger companies insist on focus groups and “hallway testing” their names, which is the leading cause of death of a breakthrough name. Asking a group of strangers what names they like shows a lack of confidence. Imagine if Richard Branson had asked others to weigh in on the name Virgin. It would have never flown. The same goes for Banana Republic, Coach, Fossil, Body Shop, Skinny Cow and countless other brand names which all overcame seemingly negative connotations. For the most objective opinion, make sure it passes the SMILE & SCRATCH Test.

Hello, My Name Is Awesome: How to Create Brand Names That Stick

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