How to Choose Names for Your Products

Written by Nicole Kohler on July 22, 2015 Blog, Managing products.

How much time will you invest in choosing names for your products?

Whether you’ve invented life-changing technology or are just planning to introduce a new item in your line of fashion accessories, naming a product can be tough. Get the name right, and you’ve got a good chance at going down in history (or at least making some money). Get it wrong, and you’ll be hard-pressed to attract any customers.

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Today, we’re sharing some tips that will help you choose an effective, clear, and memorable name for your newest product. Read on to learn why product names are so important to your business before diving right into our ideas!

What’s in a name: why product names matter

In business, “a name is the easiest thing to hate.” And according to the CMO of Landor, a firm that’s named everything from Apple products to ice cream, consumers feel “instantly qualified” to judge product names — and base their initial opinions of a brand on them.

Here are just a few of the things that help make great names. (Image from The Atlantic)
Here are just a few of the things that help make great names. (Image from The Atlantic)

Whether you’re naming a single item in your catalog of thousands or the core product on which your entire business will be based, what you call it is strongly linked to its success.

Consider this: based on name alone, would you be willing to buy a product called “Cat Crap”? Probably not, but it’s actually a highly effective anti-fog cleaner for lenses and visors. Great product… horrible name.

A name also determines whether or not your product is perceived as memorable. The names in the chart above aren’t ones you’re likely to forget. Would Pop-Tarts be just as successful if they were called “Toaster Pastries”? They might succeed based on taste and convenience, but no one’s going to remember a name like “Toaster Pastries.”

These are two of the biggest reasons why you should carefully consider what you name the products you sell. Though it might take a little time and deliberation — and we all know time is limited for store owners — it’s worth it to choose a good name.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can decide how to name your products, starting with one method you can rely on for your first burst of inspiration.

Look for similar products — and don’t use their names

First things first: do an online search for similar products. You’ll need to immediately know which names you have to rule out.

If you have a revolutionary new product the likes of which the world has never seen before, this step likely won’t apply to you — the world is your oyster, so brainstorm away! But for the rest of you, it’s best to do a little research to avoid stepping on any toes.

Start your search for similar products. (Image credit: Bart van de Biezen)
Start your search for similar products. (Image credit: Bart van de Biezen)

Pull up some similar items and take a look at how they’re named. First, take note of which names are out of the question. Then ask yourself a few questions, like these:

  • What do you like about these names? Are they clear, direct, or memorable (ex. they use alliteration or onomatopoeia)?
  • What do you dislike about them? Could they be clearer or shorter?
  • How are the names used online, on packaging, or on other branding materials?
  • What are customers saying about these names? Do a Twitter search — can you find anything positive or negative?

Asking these kinds of questions will help you pinpoint exactly what it is you want in a product name. You might realize right away that all of your competitors have named their products poorly, giving you a great opportunity. Or you might think “these names are very long, I’d feel more comfortable with something shorter.”

Your brain will likely spring into action at this point, so grab a pen and paper and start jotting down whatever comes to mind, no matter how silly. You can eliminate names as you go along, so try to avoid self-editing at this early stage.

One caveat: avoid the temptation to use a similar-sounding or otherwise referential name. While you might find it clever to call your new tablet an “iSlate,” Apple might not be too amused, nor will your customers be fooled.

Think about search engine potential

With a cursory look at your competition, you should have a few ideas (or at least names to avoid) jotted down in front of you. The next step is to consider names that will perform well online.

Search engine optimization isn’t all that matters when you’re naming a product or introducing a new line of items on your website. You can always optimize a page or your copywriting rather than the product name itself. But the more potential you have, the better, especially if you’re still working to build up brand name recognition.

Here are a few SEO tips specifically for product names:

  • Be specific. If a woman searches online for “striped dress,” she might not find your “Arissa Dress.” Consider calling it the “Arissa Striped Dress” instead.
  • Do a little research. Do more people call it a “bookcase” or a “bookshelf”? (Or something entirely different?) Make sure your name opts for the correct phrasing or keyword with highest traffic or shopping potential.
  • Think about your customers. If you’re trying to attract a specific kind of customer, use the words they would use in a search. For example, “business computer” vs. just “computer” to attract those buying for their organization.
  • When in doubt, be clear. We’ll circle back to this later, but search engines don’t have the brains of human beings. Unless you provide other clues on the page, they have no idea that something called, say, “Cat Crap” is lens cleaner.

Being memorable is better than being amusing

It’s a hard truth: customers will judge your names. And if they think they’re silly, you will hear about it.

What's wrong with the name -- ? Oh. I see.
Bounce? More like Flop.

Sure, the above example is a bit silly (we presume Bounce gives your clothes some bounce and life, not that the dryer sheets themselves literally bounce) but it’s just one example of how consumers might react to a name that, while catchy, can also be seen as a little misleading or downright ridiculous.

Also, consider some fashion brands’ habits of naming their clothing cleverly or with puns. Yes, it’s quite cute that ModCloth called this dress “All is Palm.” But will you remember that name when you want to find it again?

A clever name is not always memorable.
A clever name is not always memorable.

Memory is crucial when it comes to new products. Ideally, you want someone to remember the names for your products. If someone can’t remember what your product was called, they’re going to search for it online in vague terms; if those vague terms don’t return a result, they’re probably going to give up.

Consumers are trying to stuff as many things into their brains as possible. If you call your revolutionary new product by a made-up word or term, it’s probably not going to “stick” without some advertising and repeated exposure. So try to find something that can be remembered instead of something that’s going to make your potential customers laugh.

Finally, if you do insist on using clever names, remember to give context clues. “All is Palm” works out because it’s a palm-patterned dress, and there are keywords on the page to lead those searching for “ModCloth palm dress” back to the right page. You might not be so lucky if you call your similar dress “A Leafy Experience” and forget to mention the word “palm” in the copywriting.

When in doubt, be clear

Sometimes the best name for a product is the obvious one. Why call a fork anything but a fork?

little-mermaid
Unless you legitimately don’t know what to call a fork, in which case “dinglehopper” will do.

If your product is something that’s been in existence for a long time, is created by multiple manufacturers, and your version doesn’t add anything new, it might be wisest to call it what it is. This will prevent confusion while helping you rank for obvious search terms.

You can, of course, still get creative with the name. Clothing and home good manufacturers do this all the time: a striped dress become the “Arissa Striped Dress,” or an elegant mirror becomes a “Baroque Style Mirror.” As long as you’re saying what the product is, there’s no reason you can’t lengthen the name a bit to separate multiple like items.

Final step: do your due legal diligence

As you’re narrowing down your list of names and picking out a few that sound suitable, try not to get your heart set on anything until you’ve checked it out legally. Even if you don’t need or want to register or trademark your items, you’ll need to make sure you’re not infringing on any rights with your names.

If you’re located in the United States, the Patent and Trademark Office has an online search designed to help you find current and past registrations of names, trademarks, and so on.

Find registered product or brand names in a snap so you know what's not safe to use.
Find registered product or brand names in a snap so you know what’s not safe to use.

Make your best attempt to avoid infringing on another’s rights or trademark claims. When in doubt, seek legal aid — a lawyer can always give you clearer recommendation on what is and isn’t safe to use, and when you should and shouldn’t register the names of your own products.

Have fun naming your products!

These are a few important things to consider when you’re picking out product names. But remember to have fun with the process. You don’t often get this opportunity, and while it’s definitely a crucial step, it doesn’t have to be boring.

Consider turning naming items into a group activity. Get your company involved — have team members submit name ideas, or brainstorm together — or perhaps ask your customers for ideas. You can even set up a vote between the top finalists to see what the collective prefers.

One final thought: at the end of the day, a product’s name is important, but what matters most is what that product does for its user. So don’t feel defeated if you don’t get it perfect on your first few attempts — just learn from the experience and move on.

We hope these tips have helped you get a better idea of how you can name your products. Have any tips of your own to share? Any brainstorming ideas or methods that have served you well in the past? If you’ve got a minute, we’d be pleased as punch if you shared them in the comments.

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4 Responses

  1. Pete
    July 28, 2015 at 11:22 pm #

    Hey Nicole,
    I really enjoyed your article about naming. This is a very hard task. I’m a programmer, so I know ;).
    As Martin Fowler said, naming and caching are the hardest things in computer science. Especially when you consider a name for a broad audience. I would like to hear more about naming for different (language) target groups, this would be a really excellent improvement.

    Thanks and bye from Hamburg,
    Pete

    • Nicole Kohler
      July 29, 2015 at 3:23 pm #

      Thanks Pete! That’s a great idea, perhaps we can expand on the subject a bit more in a future post. Cheers 🙂

  2. Lenard Rusty
    August 20, 2015 at 11:20 pm #

    Hi, there! Thnx for this article:)

    My opinion, that your app or product name should relate to its functions. Choose a name that most closely describes the app. Also make it easy for users to remember and pronounce. This will increase your app’s/product’s chances in the marketplace.

    Also, check if there is already an app by the same or a similar name in any of the app stores, before submitting the same to an app store. Take care not to have too similar a name for your own product, as it may run into copyright issues at a later time. It will also create unnecessary competition for your app.

    Regards, Lenard.

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