The art of brand naming

By Tom Dougherty

Why worry about the art of brand naming?

art of brand namingIs there an art of brand naming? I don’t think it is an art so much as a process.

But, right from the start, choosing a brand name is not as crucial as most branding experts will leave you to believe. A well-conceived brand name is an intellectual activity. But the art of brand naming has more caveats than rules.

A brand name is not an end unto itself. When conceiving the brand’s name, it makes sense to pick a terminology that allows customers to remember it easily. But having them remember the brand itself is of greater importance.

The difference between a brand name and a brand

I have been preaching this difference all my career. A brand name is a label. When it works well, it is like a hook on a coat rack. Coming in from the outdoors, it reminds you that your coat belongs on it and not just dropped on the floor or slung over a chair.

“Choosing a brand name is not as crucial as most branding experts will leave you to believe...”


art of brand namingThe brand itself is all emotional meaning. It is not a thing, per se. It is an inspirational idea. When crafted purposefully, it tells the hook (from my earlier example) WHY the coat belongs here. That is a subtle difference from the WHAT.

That subtlety is the difference between a persuasive brand and an informative brand. Get it? The first tells you why it’s essential, and the second is a description of what it is. This is not the art of brand naming. But it is the science of persuasive branding.

Ok, back to the topic at hand.

The art of brand naming— broken down

art of brand namingA well-crafted brand name is a thing of beauty. Ideally, it is short, simple, and ignites interest. It may have historical meaning (such as NIKE or Starbucks) or oddness for the category (such as Apple and Google).

If you are building a branded house, name the product for a product need (like P&G and others — Pampers, Zest, Expedition (Ford), Sprite, Doritos, etc. The house of brands expects each brand to stand on its own. In defiance of the art of brand naming, these brands are not meant to become a mini-branded house.

art of brand namingBut it happens successfully when the brand name becomes a generic term for the product category. I often overhear a young couple in the grocery store, reminding themselves they need “pampers,” and they buy Huggies. Why? Because Pampers represent the category of disposable diapers as well as a branded product.

At times, this sort of category hijack is a form of brand dilution. But, in Pampers’ case, it has allowed the venerable brand to produce product extensions such as baby wipes and other baby care products.

I caution everyone when creating a brand that a branded house is a more efficient model. In the art of brand naming, this model anticipates further growth. They choose names for a family of products.


“A well-crafted brand name is a thing of beauty. Ideally, it is short, simple, and ignites interest.”

art of brand namingSometimes this happens organically. In my career, I have worked on many brands. I remember when P&G purchased Richardson-Vicks. Part of that purchase included the moisturizer Oil of Olay.

I think back on those times and believe it was a great learning opportunity for Procter and Gamble. It forced them to look beyond soap and to grapple with personal brands like Oil of Olay.

It struck me odd that they were selling Oil of Olay as the non-greasy “beauty fluid.” I would like to think I had some small part in dropping Oil from the brand name.

But P&G had purchased a juggernaut of a brand. A brand that caries Olay as the parent and a series of flanker brands all building a family of products.

Rules of the art of brand naming

Art of brand namingDon’t fret about the name. Brand names become essential and memorable because of the meaning associated with them. Not the word itself.

Consider Hertz as an example of this. If you were choosing a brand name, and it sounded like PAIN, no one would consider naming a rental car company Hertz. But I’ll bet you never associated it with pain. That is unless you were standing in a long line at the rental car counter.

Ideally, your brand name has meaning. But that is a secondary value. More importantly, the emotional associating with meaning is essential.

The art of brand naming is not fine art. The art of brand-building is.

Here is what not to do

art of brand namingDon’t choose a brand name that is a process or a thing. If you do, at some point, you will need to redo all that brand work.

What is an example of this failure in the art of brand naming? Pretty easy to find. Look for brand names that have added “more” or “plus.”

art of brand namingI love to tease my colleagues about the brand Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Just walk into the store and ask to be pointed to the “beyond section.” Identifying your brand will Bed, and Bath does not give permission for the brand to sell kitchen appliances.

Or, how about Precision Tune? Modern cars do not need tune-ups any longer. Or how about 7-11? You know the convenience store open 24 hours a day, just like everyone else in the category.

The moral of this story is to think beyond (no pun intended for Bed Bath and Beyond) what it is you sell or do. Think about the WHY you do so. The art of brand naming is a story of WHY.