This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.
Way upstream–near the original inspiration for any company, product, or project–founders quickly realize that they need a name. Otherwise, how do you tell your friends what you’re working on? How do you label a file or folder? How do you settle on a subject line for an email to your scheming partner?
Sometimes the name we talk about years later–like Facebook–is there from the beginning, a part of the original idea itself. But often enough, R&D begins and a business plan is agreed upon under a placeholder. Maybe it’s generic, like ‘Travel App,” or overtly beta, like “Project Atlas,” or casually personal, like “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web” (which eventually changed to Yahoo!). Regardless of what it is, the placeholder is meant to go away.
But as anyone who has been through the naming wringer knows, that’s easier said than done. There are a great many reasons not to choose a name. Everyone turns out to be an expert and a critic, and they are often at odds with each other. Each name you propose is met with rival riffs and counter suggestions. The possibilities pile up, heads swim, the wheels begin to spin, and before you know it–as progress is made on all other fronts–you’re bogged down picking through loads of rubbish.
It can be exasperating. Naming takes more than a creative mind, a fluent voice, and a critical eye. Success requires the right perspective from the outset and proper procedures throughout. Here are some simple steps to help:
1. Give It Time
While a proper deadline can be your best friend, good naming takes time- time to explore and discover, time to ride a dark horse, time to support a big idea. Remember: your name is a key strategic asset, not a tactical project task. The right name will outlast every business correction and marketing campaign.
2. Restrict Access
Nothing is gained by polling a crowd. It feels like the right thing to do, but it’s not. No two opinions are the same and inevitably the result is over-caution and paralysis. Go ahead and review the assignment with stakeholders, but review name candidates only with decision makers. You don’t really need consensus anyway. You either need a) the top dog to pick a bone, or b) a quorum of senior leadership.
3. Work Outside In
Don’t trouble yourself too much over the brief. Don’t exhaust yourself before you get started. It’s hard to describe what you can’t yet imagine. Keep it simple and aim your team in the right general direction. Instead commit to looking at many, many names. If a name is intriguing, see if you can retrofit the rationale. Chances are the gears have been turning all along.
4. Mix It Up
You may think you know your type, but life is full of surprises. Try to break the conventions you see in the names of your competitors. Look at your opportunity in new and varied ways. For example: having a name that clearly cues a category or suggests a benefit can be the right or wrong approach. It really depends. You’ll feel better about your just dessert if you first sample every flavor.
5. Follow Your Instincts
Great names don’t grow from grids. Avoid checking boxes to pick the winner. Your nose will lead you, your eyes will return to any standouts, and your ears will vibrate to silent frequencies. Your name sets the tone. So open yourself up and do it with feeling. Find your way in the dark. It can be illuminating.
6. Send A Signal
7. Expect Losses
You have to be willing to let a good name go. Even your favorite. Establishing the viability of each name candidate on your short list is the least understood part of the process- as well as the part that often has the greatest impact on the outcome. Trademark availability alone can ruin your best-laid plans, especially if your ambitions run global in popular sectors like technology and FMCG. Add in language checks (so you don’t put your foot in your mouth in Turkish, Thai or Tagalog) and any top-level domain (TLD) considerations and the name you grow to love over the coming years may well be the name your lawyers allow you to use today. The key here is to identify obstacles that cannot be overcome and, once you’ve done so, move along to the next name, all the wiser, with only a modicum of fuss.
8. Look To The Future
There’s not much sense in calling your company JustShirts if, tomorrow, you’re going to add pants to your repertoire. Again, you’ve got to get this right. The last thing you want to change is your name. Anticipate alterations. Suspect surprises. Don’t box yourself in. Everyone worries about first exposure to a name. The real test is whether your name remains pliant and purposeful to employees and customers alike when used for the millionth time. Great names add wind to the sails. Weak names eventually act as a drag that requires extra work from everyone to overcome.
9. Count On Context
The name will be more plausible, not less, in action in the wild. When you come right down to it, people are receptive to new ideas that enter the world we know. We understand our surroundings. The new name fits in simply because it showed up. Sure, big launches from top brands are subject to increased scrutiny and criticized for a week, but even those furors fade quickly. Truthfully, when your name becomes your brand–supported visually, explained verbally, introduced with a handshake and a business card, underpinned by product packaging and mobile interface- we will all accept it as we should, as you intended.
10. Be Brave
Consider breaking the mold. The names we celebrate after the fact are the groundbreakers, trailblazers, and trendsetters. Fine enough. That’s easy to do, to back certified success. I knew it all along… But trailblazers begin as outliers. Supporting an outlier among colleagues long before launch is much harder to do. Yet that’s what has to happen. The next big idea needs a champion. That champion needs to be passionate and persuasive. That champion needs to be you.