Denise Dunckley, President Crossroads News: September-October Issue 2004
"Creating the Perfect Company Name" by Denise M. Dunckley

What's in a name? Just about everything. A company's name gives potential customers a first impression of the business. Just from hearing or reading a name, many people simultaneously try to figure out, "Do I know what the company does? Are they innovative? Should I consider using them?" Obviously, you want the answers to be 'yes, yes and yes.' Optimally, a company's name should be short, easy to remember, and whenever possible associable with the products or services provided. If, for a variety of reasons, a name can not be directly associated with the products and services provided, then it should be unique and creative so that it captures immediate attention.

»  Keep it short. In the best circumstances, a company's name should be one word. A very interesting example is 'FedEx.' FedEx, originally founded as Federal Express, actually shortened its name to one word because they realized that it is human nature to abbreviate and say things quickly. A few other one word successes include: Xerox, Motorola and Target. A two word name is also acceptable when it clarifies an idea or value. Example: Burger King. Burger King provided hamburgers and wanted to position itself as superior to the rest-- so it named itself 'King.' Unless it's absolutely, positively necessary, try not to select a name that is three words. Once an organization accepts a three word name, it usually succumbs to using an acronym. When an organization switches to using an acronym of its business name, it begins diminishing the recognition of the original business value provided by the name. Though in some instances, a company can gain market share based on its acronym, it may then have to invest monies to rebrand itself based on the new acronym. Example: International Business Machines i.e., IBM. Rebranding is very expensive. Case in point is FedEx. The cost for Federal Express to rebrand itself to as 'FedEx' was staggering. They had to invest in repainting all transportation vehicles; developing all new global shipping labels; and promoting the new name across all advertising, brochures and communication materials.

»  Keep it simple. As well as the full name being as short as possible, each word should be as few syllables as possible. If you choose a name with two words - try to select words that are one or two syllables each. Great examples include: Home Depot, Merrill Lynch, and Time Warner. (Note: Home Depot's corporate name is actually 'The Home Depot' but they were smart enough not to call themselves 'THD'- so we'll give them their two word credit.) If the two word name is more than four syllables, then again, you risk the chance that an acronym will be used. And note, if the name includes an '&' between the two words that counts as a syllable. Two words examples that evolved into acronyms include: Johnson & Johnson (J&J), Procter & Gamble (P&G), and General Electric (GE).

»  Keep it creative. During the selection process, organizations should also consider complete creativity. A one- or two word name with pizzazz can also suit an organization's long-term needs-- even if it feels uncomfortable at first. Example: Nike. (And no, if you are wondering if it was a person's last name- it wasn't. Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman started the sportswear import company in 1962 as Blue Ribbon Sports. Their first employee, Jeff Johnson is credited with creating the name in 1966.) With the right analysis and purpose behind it, a unique name can help organizations gain tremendous notoriety. A more recent example: Google.

»  Keep it consistent. Given today's internet-based marketing environment, a company should evaluate whether it can obtain a website address identical to its company name. A company that knows its customers will be performing a first level analysis of the organization based on its website should absolutely select a name that is identical to an available URL so that customers don't have to search for the website address. Otherwise they risk losing sales and revenue. To safeguard them from losing customers during their own name change, FedEx made certain customers could (and still can) reach them via www.fedex.com and www.federalexpress.com. As well, IBM customers type in either www.ibm.com or www.internationalbusinessmachines.com to reach the same company website.

»  Keep it unique. An organization also needs to analyze the names of its competitors to ensure that they are not going to market with a name or URL that's already taken, or a name that's too similar to a name already registered by another organization.

Though it may seem like a daunting task to create the perfect company name, investing the time, research, and creativity into the development process will be well worth it in the end. Just remember the five fundamentals. Keep it short, simple, creative, consistent and unique.