Blogs  / May 23, 2013

You named your startup what? 5 tips for getting it right.

by Rebekah Iliff

Naming your company is like naming a kid; except instead of the kid taking the heat for a “bad” name (think Francis Bean, Tu Morrow, Zuma Nesta Rock, or <insert baby name of any really famous person>) YOU will actually take the heat.

In terms of PR, the name of your startup can either be a huge asset or, on the flipside, a rather sizable roadblock.

Love JuiceAs a general rule of thumb, the worst brand names usually fall into one of three categories:

1)    Sound and/or read like a sexual act of some sort.

2)    Sound and/or read like a derivative of a racial slur.

3)    Sound and/or read like toilet humor.

Just for fun, and for sake of example, you can go here to see what I’m talking about. A small sampling of this type of nonsense: Jussipussi, Asse, Gookie, and Zephyrhills.

But what’s in a name?

Well, according to branding and design expert Fabian Geyrhalter, founder of Finien, a whole helluva lot.

I first met Fabian roughly five years ago when we both worked on the launch of music tech company, Audiolife. Since then, his design firm has literally exploded; he’s worked with a slew of both consumer and business brands and won about 234238 awards. The proof is here:

Fabian Awards

Fabian’s Awards

To make Fabian extremely uncomfortable – which is not hard to do since he’s a (self-admitted) somewhat uptight, snobby Austrian – I asked him to provide a gut reaction to the name “Onclusive” just to prove how objective we are and not to seem preachy when we publish a blog about naming.

Here’s what he said:

  • Sounds a bit like NPR
  • Sounds light – this is good if easy to work with, not so good if shallow (‘leaves it up in the air’) work
  • Air – makes me think of online only (so easy and ‘a system‘)
  • It’s great you own the name outright

Then he said: “Are we still friends?”

Well, obviously. For now anyway.

ATF (According to Fabian) the name of your organization’s brand is quite possibly its greatest asset and will be the “launchpad” from which all other elements spring.

Regardless of whether or not you’ve decided to take on the task of coming up with the name yourself (I suggest you engage a pro, at least to bounce things off of initially), when selecting the best name for your company or product, here are the top 5 characteristics Fabian suggests you look for:

#1 Short and easy to pronounce

Aim for a name with 3 syllables or less. Test the pronunciation of your name by pretending you answer the phone – how does it sound and feel? Is it easy to say and does it sound established and trustworthy?

#2 Available .com domain without qualifiers

Let’s say you are launching a new educational product for kids and you’ve already decided that you want to name it “BrainWhiz”. You go to register the domain name only to find that it’s (1) on auction (2) a very pricey premium domain or (3) not available. Tempting as it is to tack on “kids” to buy the domain “BrainWhizKids” or “BrainWhiz.biz, it dilutes your brand from the get go. The world’s top brands own their domain names outright and you should set the same goal for your brand.

#3 Passes the Google test

Do a Google search on your desired name to make sure it doesn’t appear in similar or related products. Reviewing results of the first 2 or 3 pages should be sufficient to help you catch any red flags. If you use strategic marketing tactics like SEO and blogging, your new brand will quickly infiltrate the first pages on search engines anyways.

#4 Tells a story

When people ask you what your company or product name means (and they will!), make sure it comes with a good story to back it up. With so much competition in the marketplace these days, consumers are seeking more than just a product: they’re seeking to connect with your brand on an emotional level and the story behind your name can become a large part of that connection.

#5 Stands out (but not too far) from your competitors

Selecting a name that allows you to stand out from other companies and products in your vertical will allow you to gain your consumer’s attention. However, take care not to choose a name so distinctively different that it no longer feels associated with your industry. Otherwise, you run the risk that your target audience won’t be able to quickly connect with it.

With those 5 things in mind, it’s easy to see how important “naming” is when it comes to not only your overall vision and identity, but also in terms of communicating your message to the world.

Bonus naming story: In prep for this post, I asked Onclusive’s CEO, Sharam, the story behind our name (since I came on board a few months in), to which he replied:

“PR people pull things out of thin air.”

And I thought: “You’re being PC. We should have called it AssPR.”


Fabian GeyrhalterFabian Geyrhalter –  Founder & Principal, Finien

Fabian Geyrhalter is the Founder and Principal of Finien, a consultancy specialized in naming, identity, and digital design for brand launches. For 12 years he has been running the highly successful branding and graphic design agency Geyrhalter & Co, working for clients such as The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Goodwill, Brandman University, W Hotels, CO-OP Financial Services, USC, Evolution Juice, The City Of Los Angeles and John Varvatos.

Geyrhalter’s work has been published internationally by the likes of Graphis and Communication Arts, and he was featured on the cover of Graphic Design USA in 2007 as one of its “People to Watch.” An active member of the International Academy of the Visual Arts and winner of numerous design awards, including 17 American Graphic Design Awards, Geyrhalter is often invited to judge international design competitions. He served as an adjunct professor at USC and Art Center College of Design, where he also conducted special project initiatives for DesignMatters, the school’s social and humanitarian department. Geyrhalter is a frequent lecturer at universities nationwide. Geyrhalter was born in Vienna, Austria and is a graduate of Art Center College of Design. He continues his creative output outside of Finien as a photographer and part of music production duo Happiness Won.


Check out Fabian’s company here: http://www.finien.com/

Follow Fabian on Twitter: @FinienInsights