What’s in a Name?

3 Categories of Names to Consider When Launching a Company

Think about the last time you introduced yourself. What were the first words out of your mouth? Chances are, it was your name.

Companies are no different. The name is typically the first bit of information potential customers and business partners learn about you. As they attempt to understand what your company does and how it fits into the marketplace, your name serves many functions—both practical and subjective:

“Naming is ‘one of the chief methods for imposing order on perception.’”
— Stephen A. Tyler, Anthropologist1
  • Identifies a group of people working together toward a common goal
  • Acts as a sorting device to differentiate your company
  • Helps to shape perceptions and set expectations
  • Provides insight into the personality and culture of the organization

Ultimately, the name forms the cornerstone of your brand, informing the corporate identity and—in turn—the visual language.

One of the challenges with naming is that a name can be anything. (When naming a rock band, it probably just needs to sound—ahem—“cool.” Your business, however, requires more gravitas.) To help bring some structure to the process, we have compiled a list of name categories to consider.

This is not an exhaustive list, but provides a framework to aid your decision-making and ensure your name exploration is fairly thorough:

  1. Personal
    This approach is frequently seen in the legal and financial industries, where an individual’s reputation and character are central to the service being provided. While names in this category can take several different forms, they most often contain the founder’s name(s) or refer to an area of personal interest. That can include significant landmarks from their lives—birthplaces, schools, recreation spots, etc. We have even seen children’s initials used to form acronyms.

  2. Descriptive
    In this approach, otherwise unremarkable words are paired to provide a straightforward description of a business. These names are not necessarily “catchy,” but make up for that in other ways. For example, in a new or poorly understood industry, a descriptive name can help a company convey legitimacy and quickly explain what it does. Companies in service industries might take this route to communicate honesty and foster trust. One challenge is that the more straightforward the name, the more likely it is already being used—and the tougher it may be to secure legal approval.

  3. Aspirational
    Aspirational names are more abstract—and often quite unique. Rather than providing concrete descriptions, they are designed to convey positive attributes such as innovation or leadership. This approach may use whole words, fragments, and even other languages—alive or dead. (For example, Latin is always a rich source of classical-sounding names.) This approach works best in industries that are established and well understood. Because these names are uncommon—if not completely made-up—they may have a better chance of passing legal muster.

Struggling to find the right name for your company? Contact SPINE for help developing a name that will set up your startup for success.

1 Via Michael C. Shapiro & Harold F. Schiffman, “Language and Society in South Asia”