I read somewhere that a company’s name is very much like the first handshake. A good strong name has the ability to make a powerful and lasting impression. Vice versa, a crappy unremarkable name can drain your company of a lot of marketing dollars. What’s the point of having a great product if no one remembers it? My advice, take your time to name your startup meaningfully. It matters.
Although I haven’t had any professional experience in branding, I have named a startup or two in my time. To be completely transparent, they were my own startups and I kinda had free reign on what we named it. However, I honestly do think that they were pretty decent names.
Based on my experience, there are a few simple ways to name your startup. I’ll walk you through the three naming methods which have served me well in the past. You can decide for yourself if they are the best way for your startup. Let’s begin!
Method #1: Function + Form
This is probably the most classic of the three methods. By classic, I really mean it’s essentially just a straight up description of your product or service. There are many very successful examples of this naming method. Among the most iconic are Facebook, International Business Machine (IBM) and Play-Doh.
The term “function” here can be defined as the key purpose, task or expected outcome of your startup, product or service. While the term “form” means the format, design or structure of your product or service. By combining the both, we can form a composite name that best represents your brand or product.
Startup Example: Buyogram
A good example of how I’ve used this naming method is a project that I started years ago called “Buyogram”. Sadly, we decided not to take it live but that’s a story for another day. Let’s focus on the name. I came up with it by simply combining the two words “buy” and “diagram”. The premise of the app was for consumers to invite family, friends and the public to vote on whether they should or should not buy an item. The results then would be displayed as pretty and easy to read graphs. Think consumer polling slash product reviews displayed as infographics.
The purpose (function) of the product was to help the consumer make a purchase decision hence the word “buy”. I chose “diagram” because we wanted to convey the message that the information would be displayed visually (form/format). I still think it was a strong and clear name for the product we were building.
Startup Example: Catablox
Another example is a classifieds platform I launched circa 2010. We called it “Catablox”. Our primary partners were niche publishers in Singapore and Malaysia. The main difference between our platform and other online classifieds at that time was our focus on two key areas; pictures and niche interest groups. Think Pinterest meets Craigslist in a Facebook Group.
The name is a combination of the words “catalogue” and “blocks”. The “function” of the product was to display classified ads as pictures like in a product catalogue rather than the text heavy ads found in most classified platforms then. We used the word “blocks” to represent the different individual niche group classifieds which stacked up to make our whole network. The use of “blocks” as the “form” is less literal and more symbolic. It represents the product’s overall structure of the product. The resulting name “Catablox” really helped to pull together and make sense of this concept.
I have two pro-tips here. Always try to use words with a good balance of literal and metaphorical meanings. You especially don’t want words which are too vague and hard for your customers to connect to your product. An example of a bad name is the cloud video conferencing company, BlueJeans. The founders must have a really awesome reason for using the name. However, I doubt that unfamiliar customers would be able to guess the connection between the name and the product.
Second tip is to experiment by altering the spelling of the words. You’ll find this exercise particularly important when you’re trying to lock down a domain for your product. Chances are the combination of names which are spelled correctly are already taken.
Method #2: Function + Personification
This type of name is quite common across a variety of consumer products, mobile apps and B2B tech companies. Some say personifying a brand dilutes the seriousness of the brand. That it’s more suited for products geared toward children. Though I agree that it works really well with kids, I still think that it’s a versatile way to name your startup. When used properly it’s an extremely effective approach to make your brand more memorable. Some famous examples are Burger King, PayPal, Deliveroo and Datadog.
The term “function” is the same as the above and for all three methods. Personification points to the mascot, identity or symbol that represents the vibe, values and sometimes capability of your brand. By combining the two, you should have a name which clearly showcases your product through a relatable character with a set of familiar qualities. Let’s take a look at some of my examples:
Startup Example: Tapkins
In 2017, I founded an education technology company called Tapkins. Our main product was a typing app for preschoolers. We wanted to create a product which helped kids learn new words and also familiarise themselves with the QWERTY keyboard.
The name was a combination of two words, “tap” and “munchkin”. We chose “tap” as the function word as it represented the act of typing on the mobile phone/tablet keyboard i.e. tapping on the keyboard. The personification word we chose was “munchkin” which was meant to suggest an identity of young age, cuteness and playfulness.
This method allowed us to build a brand bigger than one character by one which was represented by an entire make-believe world centred around cartoon characters called Tapkins. The brand name not only visually represented the functional purpose of our app but also the rich playful and relatable storyline that attracts users in our target age group.
Startup Example: Checklist Buddy
My second example is my latest labour of love, this blog. Checklist Buddy is a self-help information site for 40 something-year-old men looking to improve simple day to day aspects of themselves. All articles come with at least one easy to use printable PDF checklist to help the reader focus and commit to checking off what needs to be done.
The use of the two words in my startup name is pretty self-explanatory. I used the word “buddy” as an identity to personify my brand. I wanted my blog to be akin to that friend who’s always pumped for self improvement. Someone you can rely on to give good advice and cheer you on for simple changes but not push you too hard like some intense boot camp drill sergeant.
I have one pro-tip here. Don’t under utilize the personification word. For instance, B2B cloud monitoring company Datadog is a great example. The company provides network stability and security monitoring services across a company’s entire software infrastructure. In simple terms, it routinely checks your system and alerts you when something fucks up across your company’s network of apps, web servers, cloud applications etc. The use of “dog” as the brand personification is great as it covers a variety of symbolic meanings. Dogs are great at sniffing out things, they are loyal and trustworthy and they are man’s best friend. Boom.
Method #3: Function + Client
I’ll be the first to admit that this method isn’t very popular these days. It can come across as fairly dated like Reader’s Digest. However, when used properly it can resonate very well with the specific user group you’re targeting. A great example I can think of is the cloud customer relationship management (CRM) software company, Salesforce. I know, it may look like cheating because that’s already a real term. However, let’s give it a chance and take a look at the “client” word “force”. I think it’s a strong word which conveys teamwork, determination and being organized. The company understands the power of this word and how it conveys a sense of tribe or community. This is why it named it’s legendary 4 day annual technology convention, Dreamforce. I think it’s genius.
Startup Example: StyleMyself
I started a fashion listing site/app many years ago. The goal was to aggregate pieces from all the local online and physical retailers under a single browsing experience. This way the shopper would be able to mix and match offerings across online and offline shops. I called the startup “StyleMyself”.
The “function” word is literal and self-explanatory. The brand was meant to convey personal, independent and individualistic choices. This is why I chose “Myself” as it allows the client to use and say the brand in first person. A masterstroke of brand naming I must say. I’m going to allowed myself a little pat on my own back.
I have one pro-tip. I think the reason that many people don’t use this method to name their startups is because it can be quite restrictive. For example, it can be difficult to branch out to older mature ladies’ clothing if your brand is called Forever 21. Look I’m all for zoning in and focusing on a very specific type of client if that’s your thing. However, if you’re looking at expanding the client base in the future and want that kind of flexibility, you may want to think harder about what “client” word to use.
What’s in a Name?
I know startup founders who couldn’t care less what their product’s called. They treat the product name as an afterthought. Well I’m not one of those people. I happen to think it’s very important. A good product is as good as how you make your customer feel. Having a good name can help amplify that good feeling. However, I want to close by saying very clearly that there is no one true way to name your startup.
Sometimes great names just appear out of nowhere.
Below is a checklist to help you use the three methods to brainstorm for the perfect startup name.