The unwritten rules for naming your company


Every industry has a number of unwritten branding rules or trends that are codified over time. Sometimes they can become clichés. Most industries have only a few types of names. This happens naturally: one company finds success and the next imitates it because it worked for the first. The next thing you know is that it’s a rule and no one remembers why it started. This applies to everything from the way businesses are run, the choice of color and typography, to their names.

My company’s name, Bullhorn, is a good example. There are general naming trends in the branding world that have become unwritten rules. The first is to use a modifier with the word “Brand”, like this:

  • Move brands
  • Interbrand
  • FutureBrand
The unwritten rules for naming your company
The unwritten rules for naming your company

I chose these companies because they are all big, successful agencies that do a great job. In many ways, they’re the agencies Bullhorn wants to be. But their names are unforgettable. In addition, they are undifferentiated. How would you remember if you had enjoyed the work of Moving, Inter or Future? The names are too similar.

  • Read: 3 Ways To Get A Name For Your Brand So Everyone Will Remember It

The second general trend is the law firm model, where the agency is named after the founder (s):

  • Landor
  • Lippincott
  • Wolff olins

While these names are unique, they don’t say much about the company. What they are doing is giving it historical weight. You sound established. You sound old. Choosing this type of name puts you on par with other professional service providers hence the “law firm model” description. These names tell consumers that providers are usually safe, traditional, and fairly expensive options.

We also look at advertising agencies as they often have branding functions. Many advertising agencies start with the law firm model until the name becomes too long and unwieldy. At that point they make it an initialism like this:

  • WPP
  • BBDO
  • DDB
  • You May Read: 4 Pointers To Help You Pick An Effective Company Name

Again, I play with these three because they are massive global companies doing the most well-known work in their industry. You can accept it. Without a doubt, these names are easier to use, but they are interchangeable.

So we’ve identified three general naming trends among our competitors: modifier with “brand”, law firm model, and initialism. What is important is what to do with this information.

For Bullhorn, we didn’t want the name to have the word “brand”. We didn’t want to name it after the founders either. This is partly because you can find a ton of florists on Google My Last Name, but that doesn’t matter. Finally, we didn’t want a name that would eventually become an initial. These are usually memorable, especially for a new venture that doesn’t have the benefit of familiarity.

  • Also Read: 7 Mistakes When Naming Your Company

When it comes to trade names, there is a limit to how far you can go outside of the unwritten rules. People prefer names that sound like they fit their category. But if the name is too similar to that of any other company, it gets mixed up with the noise. And if you go too far in the other direction, it won’t be recognized as being appropriate.

Fortunately, “Bullhorn” still makes sense here. Although they are a minority, metaphorical names are still used in the branding field and often have a huge impact. Consider these examples, all branding agencies like Bullhorn:

  • Matchstic
  • salt
  • Mumbled

These companies use metaphors in a similar way to our logic. Maybe Matchstic creates the spark that ignites the fire. Salt provides the spice that makes your brand delicious. Marbles uses a similar metaphor from an opposite perspective. It’s about communication too, but they don’t yell it in your face. They create word of mouth that travels from person to person. Hence marbles.

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Then. It is important to think about your industry. As with us, you are likely to have some unwritten rules. What are they and why do they exist? Can you break out some of them and stand out from the crowd, or is there a good reason to stick with them? Would you like to be perceived as established or as an upstart? This perception is heavily influenced by how you position yourself relative to the unwritten rules of your industry.

Practice unwritten rules

Make a list of around 30 competitors to see if there are any unwritten rules in your industry. It can be helpful to divide them into groups. What are the most established companies in your industry? Which companies are breaking the tradition? Are there any outliers that are just weird? Once you’ve identified the groups, there are most likely three naming trends to choose from. Circle the trends you want to follow and cross out the ones you want to avoid. This will help inspire some company name ideas.

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