Company Naming

What Makes for Great Company Naming?

Every day more than 6,000 new company names enter the global marketplace. When it comes to company naming, each entity is competing for a piece of the pie, a slice of attention, a sliver of immortality.

Some of these company names are good. Some are just okay. But very few company names can claim the mantle of greatness.

Here's why:

Whether the new company name is for a start-up, spin-off, merger, acquisition or a strategic re-branding, the right name matters.

That's because the difference between a good enough name and a great name is often the difference between organizational success and failure.

9 Company Naming Principles

  1. Target Market Driven. The target market drives the company name change decision. The company name needs to speak to them first and foremost.
  2. Vision. It's not where you've been, but where you are going. The new company name should reflect the journey ahead.
  3. Compatibility. The new company name should relate to the company's products and services. Be prepared to explain the how and why.
  4. Sensitivity. Names are personal and can often evoke strong feelings. Consumer attachment to the company's heritage and existing name should be considered when developing a new one.
  5. Employee Buy-In. Your employees know the business - and the customers - better than anyone. They are the company's ambassadors and their buy-in is critical.
  6. Less Is More. In today's vernacular, less is more. Today's attention spans are shorter. This is likely influenced by Twitter and text messaging, so making a long name short is a good idea. This is what we would term a 'namectomy.'
  7. Visibility. Secure a spot on the web by making sure the company name is available as a .com domain.
  8. Think Globally. The corporate world is littered with companies that have stubbed their toe in translation. Check the new company name globally for any offensive association culturally or linguistically.
  9. Persistence. Don't expect the first, second, or third name idea to be available. It's not uncommon to develop 1,000 names to find that fewer than 100 are trademarkable and only a handful of those fit strategically. And make sure the name is available on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.

Check out our 9 Company Naming Principles videos to learn more.

Changing Your Company Name

A company's name makes a first impression that lasts for the long-term. When company naming makes the wrong impression, it's time for a change.

Every year, more than 1,900 companies change their names in response to a change in their business environment. Just as consumers adapt to new technology and a changing economy, companies must transform themselves to capitalize on new growth opportunities and markets.

Some of these changes are the result of introducing innovative products or services, while others completely alter the direction of the company. These new company identities require names that speak to the target market and linguistically reflect their new image.

It's critical for a company that is transforming itself to make sure its B2C or B2B customers and investors get a better idea of who they are and where they are going.

For example, take the following list of 14 Company Name Change Genres that many different organizations have utilized over the years to better represent themselves:

1) Name-ectomy® - A surgical removal of one or more syllables from an existing company name

Former Name(s)
New Company Name
Company Logo
British Petroleum
BP Logo
Consumer Value Stores
CVS Logo
Federal Express
FedEx Logo
The Y
The Y Logo
Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company
3M Logo
Lucky Goldstar
LG Logo

2) Much Ado About Nothing - Look twice or you could miss it

Former Name(s)
New Company Name
Company Logo
Apple Computer, Inc.
Apple, Inc.
Apple Logo
Dell Computer Corporation
Dell, Inc.
Dell Logo
CA, Inc.
CA Technologies, Inc.
CA Technologies Logo
Sci-Fi Channel
SyFy Logo
Starbucks Coffee, Tea and Spice
Starbucks Corporation
Starbucks Logo

3) Divorcing the Past - Running away from a name that has done wrong

Former Name(s)
New Company Name
Company Logo
Blackwater USA
Xe Services LLC
Xe Logo
Xe Services LLC
Academi Logo
Andersen Consulting
Accenture plc
Accenture Logo
Philip Morris Companies Inc.
Altria Group, Inc.
Altria Logo
ValuJet Airlines
AirTran Airways
AirTran Airways Logo
ACORN International
Community Organizations International
COI  Logo

4) A Marriage of Equals - When two become one

Former Name(s)
New Company Name
Company Logo
Anheuser-Busch + InBev
Anheuser-Busch InBev N.V.
AB InBev Logo
Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway + Burlington Northern Railroad
BNSF Railway (Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway

5) The Golden Rule - He who has the gold rules the company name

Former Name(s)
New Company Name
Company Logo
Marshall Field's Kaufmann's, Famous Barr's and others
Macy's Logo
Northwest Airlines
Delta Air Lines, Inc.
Wells Fargo & Company
Wells Fargo Logo

6) First Names that Don't Last - It's nothing personal, it's just business

Former Name(s)
New Company Name
Company Logo
Pete's Subway
Macy's Logo
Brad's Drink
Pepsi Logo
David and Jerry's Guide to the World Wide Web
Yahoo Logo

7) We Are the World - Putting on a global face

Former Name(s)
New Company Name
Company Logo
Nissan Logo
Canon Inc.
Canon Logo
Guinness + Grand Metropolitan
Diageo Logo
Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo K.K.
Sony Corporation
Sony Logo
Kraft Foods
(Snacks Division)

8) On Second Thought - What were they thinking?

Former Name(s)
New Company Name
Company Logo
Amazon Logo
Google Inc.
Google Logo
Sound of Music
Best Buy Co., Inc.
Best Buy Logo
Enron Corporation*
Enron Logo
*No longer in business

9) Addressing the Issue - Losing a name that's geographically limiting

Former Name(s)
New Company Name
Company Logo
St. Louis Bread Company
Panera Bread
Panera Logo
The College of New Jersey
Princeton University
Princeton Logo
Pacific Aero Products
The Boeing Company
Boeing Logo

10) You Are What You Tweet - Formally adopting an informal name

Former Name(s)
New Company Name
Company Logo
The Y
The Y Logo
Federal Express
FedEx Logo
Washington Mutual, Inc.
WaMu Logo
*No longer in business

11) The Child is Father to the Man - Adopting the name of the most prominent progeny

Former Name(s)
New Company Name
Company Logo
Binney & Smith
Crayola LLC
Crayola Logo
Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd.
Panasonic Corporation
Panasonic Logo
Dayton Hudson Corporation
Target Corporation
Target Logo

12) A New Way to Look at It - Keep the company, change the name

Former Name(s)
New Company Name
Company Logo
Carlson Marketing
Aimia Logo
Bell Atlantic
Verizon Logo
National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis
March of Dimes Foundation
March of Dimes Logo
Ally Bank
Ally Bank Logo

13) Latin Lessons - Names that use and abuse the Latin language

Former Name(s)
New Company Name
Company Logo
Aimia Logo
Abbott Laboratories

14) About Face - Turning back the clock after realizing a mistake

Original Name
Current Name
Company Logo Logo
Royal Mail
Royal Mail
Royal Mail Logo
Netflix Logo

Why Companies Change Their Names

Some of the most common reasons for company name changes in the U.S. are:
  1. Recombination - A merger or acquisition often creates the motivation for a new company name.
  2. Expansion - Extending product lines or entering the global market can cause a company to outgrow its original name.
  3. Spectacular Success - Sometimes a company offers one brand that is such a winner that it takes over the entire focus of the company - including its name.
  4. Revolution - Some companies will decide on a completely new business direction. Changing their name becomes a necessary part of the process.