I’ve spent most of my career working on Version 1 products so I’ve done my share of product naming.  The only thing I’ve learned is that few people actually know anything about how to do it well and in the end you are generally picking the least offensive name from a collection of crappy names.  My best qualification for doing naming is that I at least understand that I know nothing about it.

Oh I know there are experts at this stuff and consultants that seem to get the whole naming thing.  But I’m working on a Version 1 product, which means we don’t have any revenue, which means we are broke.  The likelihood of me having budget to hire a naming expert is right up there with how likely I am to get budget to have Bono play at my launch event.

3 things to think about before you start:

  1. Make sure that you have your product positioning worked out.  I like names that associate with positioning but even if you don’t, you shouldn’t pick one that associates with something against your positioning. Don’t pick something with “bug” in it.
  2. Look at your competitors and names of products in adjacent spaces.  Ideally your name should be memorable.  It won’t be if there are already dozens of products with similar names.  Hint: If in contains “soft”, you might want to rethink that.
  3. If you are in a large company, have a look at your company naming standards. You might be tempted to dodge those rules but don’t forget that
    they’re there for a reason.  Customers searching your website will have a hard time finding your product among 1000
    other products called things like Banana and SeeSaw.  Product family
    names give customers a way to find you and a context to put you in.  That
    doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be exceptions but you should think about
    what you’re giving up if you decide to fight the power.

In my experience there are three types of names:

  • Descriptive Names – if you have a naming convention in your company this is probably the way they are forcing you to go.  The good news is that these names are easily trademarked, Google-able and people will know what your product is all about when they find you.  The bad news is that “The Apple Personal Music Player” isn’t nearly as memorable or interesting as “iPod”.  They are also stupidly long.
  • Made-up Word Names – Did I mention that all of the great names are already trademarked?  I recently did a brainstorming session where we came up with over 100 names and only a handful were available. This is why you get so many new companies with made up word names like Accenture and Avaya.
  • Something in the Middle – Personally I like the middle-ground between descriptive and made up.  Twitter is a great name.  It gives you an idea what it’s all about without calling it ‘Short Message Group Chatting” or something else lame like that.  The best names in this category are somewhat descriptive but still memorable and interesting.

I will also leave you with a warning.  People get really emotionally attached to names, both good ones and bad ones.  Don’t let your development team start calling your product “The Datelator 3000” or you risk having to talk them out of that one later.

Here are some other things to read:
I have no idea who Igor International is but I totally love The Igor Naming Guide to Creating Product and Company Names.  I don’t necessarily agree with everything but Igor clearly has thought about this a lot.  They also have a blog called Snark Hunting which is also great.
Write Express has a good post on Ten crucial question when naming your business, product or web site.
The Pragmatic Marketing folks have a post on Product Naming.
Wikipedia has a surprisingly good article on Product Naming along with the always popular list of naming faux pas such as never name your product after the Swedish slang term for female genitals.

So that’s all I am going to say on the subject.  And remember, don’t listen to me, I have no idea what I am talking about.