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The good name – naming tips and trends


A name gives a brand an audible signature, a sound, a tonal equivalent. A good name makes a brand likeable and motivates us to tell our friends about it. That’s why proper naming is an important part of branding. However, it is not the same as the development of the brand itself. Because a brand is much more than just a name. Brands can be words, letters, numbers, images, but also colours and sounds. A brand is a complex mix of actions and experiences. The brand name therefore is not the only factor that determines the success of the brand. But it is an important one.

The good name

Suitable names can be descriptive names, proper names, neologisms or even compound names. But what actually makes a name good? Good names – as all experts agree – are understandable, easy to pronounce, usually short and easy to remember. This limits the choice of possible terms quite a bit. That’s the problem, says Reto Paul Grimm, brand expert from Hamburg. ‘The difficult question is not how to come up with a good name, but whether I can still register it.’ A total of 77,427 national and international applications were filed with the German Trademark and Patent Office (DPMA) in Munich for approval in 2022. This shows just how high the density of applications is. And finding a name that stands out in this crowded space and is memorable and protection-worthy requires creativity. The number of rejections shows that this is not exactly a trivial task. Likewise in 2022, more than 21,400 of 75,053 completed registration procedures (including applications from previous years) could not be approved.

  • Around 77427 applications

    were filed with the German Trademark and Patent Office (DPMA) in Munich in 2022.

Current trends

One of the long-term trends in naming is the intentional incorrect spelling of words associated with the respective businesses. Examples of this are Flickr and Tumblr. The sport streaming provider DAZN takes this even more to the extreme. The abbreviation stands for Da Zone or The Zone. According to Wikipedia, this refers to the tunnel vision that players have when concentrating on a game.

Brand expert Grimm also employs these methods. He forms new words on large paper rolls using terms originating from the company's actions or derived from the properties of its products as starting materials. He shortens and adds to individual syllables, creates logical connections, combines, discards, develops further and further and further. However, the trend towards ‘misspelled words’ is an act of desperation, according to Grimm. Because many terms are already in use, name developers took this route to use catchy names without running the risk of confusion. However, this method only has limited usefulness: ‘Apart from a visual similarity and conceptual agreement, a similar pronunciation can lead to the protection of another brand being compromised and your own brand registration not succeeding,’ says trademark lawyer Markus Thomas Gronau.

Checking is good; expertise is better

Made-up names in principle offer a better chance of being distinguishable and therefore being registered. But the same thing applies here: there are already many terms in the register. Grimm therefore recommends checking a long list of terms in two ways: First by doing desk research on the web with a rough idea as to whether certain terms are already used in a certain or similar way. The class of goods must also be considered. If a brand is registered in a particular goods class, protection does not necessarily apply in another goods class. Focus, for example, is a brand in the magazine market, but car manufacturer Ford also uses this brand for one of its models. Because there is no risk of confusion, the same word mark can be used in different classes of goods.

However, the online survey is no substitute for a legal collision check. So, to err on the side of caution, you get the short list with selected names checked by specialised law firms. This is cheaper than living with the legal uncertainty, warns trademark expert Gronau: “A trademark dispute can be expensive. If an injunction is sought, marketing has to start all over again with a new term. All investments made up to that point were then for naught."

Think about the target group

Secondly, Grimm recommends carrying out a test on the target group, including native speakers of the target region. Products that sound attractive here can have a completely different, negative meaning in other countries. That possibility should be ruled out. Any child visiting Italy for the first time and hearing its parents order cozze (plural; mussels), pronounced like the German word ‘Kotze’ meaning ‘vomit’, can understand this. No German would ever write this on a menu, let alone name a product after it.

The meaning, sound and protection-worthiness can generally be achieved through positioning claims that integrate the product description and strategic elements. For example, if the product is supposed to express dynamism and the customers expect dynamism, that must be reflected. As a positive example, branding expert Grimm mentions the Audi brand. The former claim Vorsprung durch Technik (means roughly: Ahead through technology) already clearly shows who Audi is trying to reach with its communication: Audi drivers are technically savvy. The simple technical nomenclature for the models (A1, A2, A3 etcetera) fits in with this. If Jil Sander were to use this system in her collection, the luxury fashion house might have significantly more men as customers – or a huge sales problem.

What comes next?

The expert offers another tip: for product series, choose the theme or naming scheme carefully. At VW the names range from Bora, Jetta and Passat to Santana, Scirocco and Vento. At some point, however, there are no more options left within a theme. Then there can be quite a lull in sales.

In the future it seems that the protection-worthy terms in the original languages and in English, even the misspelled words, will become rare due to the high number of registered names already in existence. Creatives will then turn to naming schemes in other, less common languages and add them to the mix.

Overview of tips

  1. Start with the product characteristics or corporate values and write down the attributes with the highest priorities.

  2. Use creative techniques – brainstorming, mind mapping, picture cards etc. – and inspirations to generate more terms and thus starting points for your naming.

  3. Define a sufficiently broad search field or theme so you have ample choice if you need to find more names in the future for a product series or brand world.

  4. Create a long list by shortening, adding to or combining the selected terms or by developing new terms. Numbers can also flow into the combinations. Think about your message, but also the target audience: What expectations do you need to meet? Which names are appropriate?

  5. Do desk research to avoid collisions early on, but also to gain further inspiration. Scratch names that are already being used or are dubious and do a second and a third round with time intervals in between.

  6. Perform a check with the target audience. What does the target audience associate with the name? What sticks? What sounds good and what doesn’t? Also involve native speakers.

  7. Register other favourites as backups.

  8. Check whether your desired domain is still available for the name/names.

  9. Have your favourites legally reviewed to rule out similarities and avoid costly licence violations and failed investments. This will also help ensure that you are registering the brand in the correct class of goods or class of service.

Sources / Interview partners

Reto Paul Grimm

Lawyer Markus Thomas Gronau

German Patent and Trademark Office

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