2 February 2016
How to name your company
2 February 2016

How to name your company

AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Startup Comments Off on How to name your company

I get a lot of people asking me how we came up with the Heyzap name. Here are the rules I used to help pick the Heyzap name. Simplicity, Abstraction, Magic, Visual, Effortless, International, Protectable, Light up a MRI scanner, Viral and robust, Domain, Unique, Avoiding 2.0, Logo concerns, Symbolizable, No negative connotations, Personal.

1. Simplicity: Pick one or two syllables – this helps to make it easier to remember. E.g. “Zyn” “ga”, “Square”, “Goo” “gle”, “Face” “book”, “A” “pple”, “Stripe”, “Hey” “Zap”, “Twit “ter”. My favorite appraoch right now is to go for one syllable. If you go for two syallables make sure each syllable bounces off each other when you say it out loud. “Hey” “zap” bounces well, “Hey” “plant” doesn’t. Three syllables can work if the name is a real world object e.g. “O” “ra” “cle” or “A” “ma” “zon”.

2. Abstraction: Make sure you abstract your company name away from what the company does or the product it is making. E.g. if your candidate name was “Postalsoft” and you ended up pivoting away from the postal market this would be a restrictive name choice because some people may assume your new product is postal related. Instead, opt for abstract names that are pivot and expansion proof. There are exceptions to this rule, where the initial company has been so big that no name change is needed. E.g. Facebook and Salesforce. As a good example, Airbnb will probably end up rebranding to “Air”, just like “Banksimple” became “Simple”.

3. Magic: Pick a name that bakes in one magical idea that becomes a metaphor for the company. As for Apple, I imagine an apple dropping onto Isaac Newton. For square, I think of credit cards and regular, reliable shapes which in turn mean reliability to me. For airbnb (or Air), I think of a comfortable and fun experience of flying through air and travelling around the world. For Heyzap, I think of fun and excitement of a zap. For Stripe, I think of transactions occurring. For Oracle, I think of a “collective of knowledge”.

4. Visual: Ideally you want the name to generate an image in the mind of the recipient. Square and Apple generate powerful images in my mind.

5. Effortless: If you were to measure the energy required to say the word it should be minimal. Say the name of the company candidate name aloud and see which ones require the least amount of energy to say.

6. International: Make sure that the company name doesn’t mean chicken balls in Chinese.

7. Protectable: Make sure that there is not already a company with the name in the same space and check the trademark on the name with the USPTO.

8. Light up a MRI scanner: If you were to hook up a person to a MRI scanner and have them see or read the name of the company, which areas of their brain would light up? In the case of “Square” I can imagine many places lighting up. The parts of the brain dealing with shape recognition, mathematical association, spatial coordination and other parts that relate to dealing with squares.

9. Viral and robust: You want the name to be very easy to pass via word of mouth and not be easily misspelled and/or mispronounced.

10. Domain: It’s important not to forget that you’re going to want to get the .com for it eventually.

11. Unique: You want to avoid the name sounding to similar to famous/hot startups. It leads to confusion with customers, potential employees and investors.

12. Avoiding 2.0: The market is tired of companies removing their last “e” in the name and other horrible web 2.0 naming techniques. Removing the “e” from a name will make the name less robust. Think about this name lasting for 1000 years. Avoid dashes in names as well.

13. Logo concerns: Can your logo play off the name? A great example of this is “Hipmunk” with the chipmunk mascot. Pinterest is also a good example of how they built a pin into their logo. We put the lightning bolt into the “z” of the Heyzap logo.

14. Symbolizable: Square and Apple are good examples of not building the shape into the text part of the logo but having a symbol that represents the word. It helps if you have real word objects as part of your name. This symbol can become more powerful than the text based logo.

15. No negative connotations: Avoid names with any potential negative connotations or names that bring up negative emotions. E.g. “debt-bet” would be an awful name for a bank or “CrashPreventer” for a car safety technology. Those names are not abstracted either, which breaks rule 2.

16. Personal: As the person picking the name, you have to fall in love with the name.

Conclusion. There are exceptions to these rules but if you follow them you can’t go too far wrong with naming your company. This guide is also brand value agnostic, which is a wider topic. For example, you may want to put certain brand ideas into the name like “quality” or “integrity” with a name like “Lexus” or you may want the opposite and build in “cheap” or “value” with “Costco” or “Dollar Shave Club”.