It seems like I’m discussing brand naming a lot these days with clients while either helping them reposition their brand or while helping them pick the right brand name for their businesses. Brand naming is always a fun topic, yet it’s one that often causes both confusion and misconception for businesses. What type of name should we use? What names are still available? Can we use a name like Best (insert whatever you do here) Shop? Or how about the name of our town + our service? Well, if you want your brand to stick around for a bit and to even scale as you grow, it’s best to think through the differences of each and consider what type of name might best suit your business.

Before trying to decide on the right brand name, it’s important to understand the different types of naming styles and conventions. These include generic, descriptive, suggestive, metaphorical, neological, historical, or arbitrary, and within these there are others, such as acronyms, puns, affixed words or compounds. Let’s look at the differences with each:

Generic Brand Names

Generic names are sometimes used when a business wants to be found in the search engines or other times it’s the best they could come up with. A generic business name is simply a common name for the goods or services that business provides. This type of brand name takes very little creativity or insight to conjure up.

Descriptive Brand Names

A common mistake many businesses make is in the thinking that their brand name should describe their products or services. “But I want people to know what we do/we offer.” Unfortunately what they end up doing is making it easy for customers to find other businesses who do what they do/offer and have likely been around longer. Descriptive names are also difficult to trademark.

Suggestive Brand Names

These are the names that take some foresight and imagination to come up with. They require time to analyze the differentiators of the brand and find a relationship between a name and the nature of the business that helps people actually “feel” something by suggesting an association, benefit or differentiator without spelling it out. To come up with these names you want to think about the secret sauce of the brand and ask “What’s that thing we do that makes us, well, us?”

Metaphorical Brand Names

Metaphorical names are fun. Since metaphors are figures of speech that express an idea through another object, metaphorical brand names are often boiled down to one strong name that expresses an entire idea. There is an element of intrigue in these names that help people pause and want more from it. It is important to consider that some metaphors will resonate with certain folks but not others. Careful examination of the metaphor and how it connects with and associates to your market is important. Consider Amazon. Does it make you think of abundant and constant supply, or of jungly predators that might sting or bite? Another is Jaguar. But, you get the point. Good branding (logo, supporting colors, solid messaging and a good reputation in the market) can help provide context and communicate the originally-intended association.

Neological Brand Names

Neological names are essentially made up and don’t have much meaning aside from the brand you’re associating them with. Neological names use a new word either on its own or using morphemes. With some good marketing and branding behind them, these names are typically unique and effective.

Historical Brand Names

Historical names are names that are true to the brand’s history or of its founders. There are times when these names are what are required and can work if the words or history work well. A few examples are Smuckers or Johnson and Johnson.

Arbitrary brand names

Arbitrary names are words used in a new way that create an unfamiliar association to the name. These names are distinct and forge an entirely new connection with a brand. Think Apple, Yahoo or Yelp.  They’re also often short, easy to say, and have colorful, rich, and often multiple, associations. The trick is to ensure the association is far off enough that a new association can be drawn. You may have some difficulty trademarking an arbitrary name due to alternative associations that may exist, as well as finding an affordable URL, since they’ve all pretty much been squatted by now.


Seems like a lot, I know, and there are even a few more based on the morphological structure, such as acronyms, like IKEA, phrases, like LinkedIn or MySpace, compounds, like Firefox or Facebook as well as puns and affixed words.
In today’s saturated market, where our business is oftentimes not the first to market, it can be difficult to find new names. Sometimes you’ve got to get in your most free-thinking creative space and see what you can come up with. Often the craziest names will be the most memorable, own-able and scalable for your business.
Get out there and go name crazy with your next startup or brand endeavor. When you’re all thought out and hit the inevitable creative wall, give us a call, we’re happy to help.

Christina Brown – Creative Director, Savy

Written by: Christina Brown

Latest comments

  • Rys March 30, 2013, 2:53 pm Reply

    Very informative. Thanks for the post.

    • Christina Brown April 15, 2013, 2:02 pm Reply

      Thanks for the response, Rys! Have we left anything out?


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