Growth Insights for CEOs

Brainstorming Exercises to Create a Cool Company Name

Posted by Stijn Hendrikse

brainstorming exercises to come up with a cool company name.jpgThere is nothing more important than naming your company - and yet you could easily spend way too much time worrying about it. A rose wouldn’t be less of a rose if you called it "abracadabra." It’s a physical thing. Your company, on the other hand, is a made-up entity. If you were to introduce a customer to your company, you wouldn’t say: “Hey, there is this thing I’m working on, it has petals and it’s pink and smells sweet.” You have to call it something.

Pretend for a second that a rose has no name. Disassociate from it. Does the word mean anything to you without the context of the flower? It comes from Latin rosa, and you could dig deeper into the history of it, but ultimately you’ll discover the word itself has no meaning. It became attached to the flower, and that’s how we know what it is. The word acquires meaning when we ascribe it to an object. With this knowledge in hand, think about naming your company.

Don’t try to explain what your company does. Instead, pick a name that’s visual and that has nothing to do with what you’re making.


For example, does Apple have anything to do with computers? Does Amazon have anything to do with books or Virgin with airplanes? How about Yahoo? Sharp? Blackberry? Shell? And yet, these things call up vivid images in your head. They stick in your brain because they are colorful and memorable.

In the ideal world, you'd be able to pick out a nice sounding noun, like Dragon or Cadence or Grasshopper or Fire. Unfortunately, most of the proper English nouns have been already taken. If you were to Google ‘banana’, you’d see that is owned by someone. You have to make sure that when you first Google test your company’s name, it returns close to zero results.

To get a leg up for your business you have to acquire the right domain name. The traditional “.com” still carries a lot of weight for convenience’s sake, and it’s one of the first extensions people will try when searching for your company online. So what options do you have if that perfect noun is already taken? Come as close to a proper English noun or a name as you can. Either make up nouns, or combine words into deliberately impossible combinations.

Here are some brainstorming exercises to try based on the following successful examples:

Google – a misspelling of "googol." Or Pepsi – a misspelling of "pepsin." You can go this route, but be careful. Try to pick a name that isn’t hard to spell. Something like Aprico (from apricot) or Zeber (from zebra). Do an exercise. Jot down 10 nouns and misspell them.

Microsoft – a word made up of two words. It’s arguably not the best name, but brands can grow on people. Bridgestone and Lego (from leg godt, or "play well") are other examples. Try combinations of half words. Miniwhale or Bigmouse or Gumcloud or Staygo. Brainstorm. You’ll be sure to find combinations that haven’t been used before and that sound memorable.

Disney – a last name. In the same category are John Deere and Wendy’s and Arby’s. Try your name or the names of your team members. Play around with this idea and see what you can come up with.

Red Bull – a combination of two words that don’t belong together yet elicit a vivid picture in your mind. Try playing with colors and animals, like Purple Cow or Pink Kangaroo or The Green Ants. The possibilities are endless.

Sony – a made-up word, from sonus, Latin for "sound", and from the English slang word "sonny". Come up with your own made-up words, just make sure they’re easy to pronounce.

More things for you to consider. Try to come up with a name that starts with letters from the beginning of the alphabet, the earlier, the better. It will give you a leg up in many lists. Keep it to four syllables, if possible, and make sure it can be used internationally and doesn’t clash with any historical or cultural references that are unfavorable. For further inspiration, check out this list of fictional island names. Try to imagine which of the above tips & tricks the creators used to come up with them.

To recap, here is your to-do list:

  • Pick a name for your company that is a proper English noun or a name and has nothing to do with what you make. Keep it to four syllables or less.
  • Brainstorm several options. Try to write with your left hand to get your right brain half into creativity mode, and try to draw images about the names that you come up with.
  • Another trick to get the creative juices flowing is to put your brain into "panic" mode. You can do this by forcing yourself to write 10 sentences about your company with a word that makes no sense, for example "zebra".
  • Google the names to make sure they’re not used, write them down and review them after a week.
  • Test the name on all kinds of people: your grandmother, your neighbor, strangers on the street. Negative feedback? Repeat the process.
  • Don’t dwell on this too long. Trust your gut and move on.  


Topics: Brand Management

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