In the late 1980s, the Detroit Pistons had an ax to grind. The city was sick of losing, so its franchise drafted the meanest cusses to ever play the game: a cocky trust fund baby, a ruthless street kid, and a creative punk from Oklahoma who later became an icon. They were vicious but victorious. Fans called them the Bad Boys. T-shirts were made, stadiums shook with thousands of voices chanting “Baaaad Boys!”, billboards and newspaper ads boasted the new moniker, and the name’s momentum drove Detroit to a level of success and solidarity it hadn’t seen in nearly 30 years.
There is power in giving a thing a name.
Naming is a ritual that is central to the human experience. We name our babies, our dogs, our cars. We give friends nicknames, relatives pet names, and enemies code names. We label our collective struggles, term our unified triumphs, and title our creative works.
As your business grows, you’ll find new ideas to hitch a name to: a newsletter, a blog series, your first or third (or seventh!) digital offering, a new podcast, or even a workshop or conference.
So if we do it so often, why is it so damn hard?
Language is a tricky and imperfect medium—constantly shifting and ever dependent on our personal perceptions, biases, and even locations.
We love beautiful logos and color palettes, but it all starts with a name. Here’s what my clients and I have discovered about naming a business or new venture:
1. Focus on feelings, not words.
Focus on a feeling or group of feelings you want your brand to evoke.
For example, one of my clients is a cotton candy maker. She loved the words associated with her craft: sweet, sugar, fluffy, colorful, etc. Obvious, right? Those words and experiences meet my expectations as a customer. They certainly do not exceed them. “Katie’s Sweet Treats” wouldn’t make me stop and look—it’s just another candy store, selling the same old thing.
Instead of exploring the obvious word associations with her business, together my client and I explored the feelings correlated with her customers’ experiences like nostalgia, playfulness, abandon, and community. Suddenly, we had so many more words and ideas to choose from that went beyond the usual “candy shop” lexicon. And Kindred Cotton was born.
2. Focus on the long game.
Longevity is a powerful value to a great name. Are people going to roll their eyes at your trendy name in five years?
Not too long ago, the “fruit and animal” theme in naming was extremely popular. Pick an animal, pick a mineral, throw an ampersand in there and—tada! You had a name. Now, a few years removed from the trend, these names are predictable.
Aim for timeless, not trendy. A name that is phonetically pleasing but fails to explain what you do, how you work, or who you’re for is just another trendy name.
Instead of Bow & Twine for an artisan gift boutique, what about Gifted Proper? Or Joy Gifted? If your name represents what you do and why, it becomes a 24/7 workhorse for your brand.
3. Focus on a story for your customers.
“Tell your story” is a popular catchphrase, but it usually confuses people into going way deeper and more detailed than what is helpful, clear, or compelling. A name that directly reflects a deeply personal story doesn’t necessarily translate to a target audience.
Using a blend of your grandmothers’ names for a business name, or smushing two sounds together, or picking your childhood nickname for your business name is not generally a good idea. Yes, it’s tied to “your story” but it doesn’t work for you by saying what your business does, who it does it for, and why people need to buy what you’re selling. And usually it’s hard to pronounce, difficult to associate with, and difficult to remember.
Instead, choose a word (or words) that tell a story for your customers. What will they see, feel, hear, and remember about your business? Capture that and put it front and center.
I know naming is hard. Make lists, ask for opinions, research, and rewrite. But remember: the most important thing is to decide and believe. In the end, name your business whatever you want. Whatever feels right. If you truly believe in a name, it has all the power in the world to change your work and your life—and propel you toward your definition of success.
If you liked this post, be sure to check out:
- This week’s episode where we talk about using your own name for your business vs. coming up with something else in Being Boss Episode #78: Making Art for a Living with Becky Simpson
- Being Boss Minisode: I’m Stuck on a Name!
- Being Boss Minisode: Naming Your Business