Apple, Uber, what's in a name?

It is a question every entrepreneur must answer, whether at start-ups like Greenbits (a point-of-sales solution for cannabis-retail stores) and school-lunch service Scrumpt, or at fast-growth companies including Houzz and Uber. Jeff Bezos and Howard Schultz did it. (Amazon and Starbucks, respectively.) How do you come up with a name that clicks?

Company branding
Olivier Le Moal | Getty Images

Naming is a complex, messy blend of science and art, a fusion of unstructured creativity and meticulous logic. The idea phase is elaborate; inspiration comes from abstract concepts, topical themes, sounds, different languages and more, and literally hundreds of names can be generated for each project. But if creating names can be challenging, selecting one name from many is even more so.

It's easy to get swayed by personal opinions in the murky territory of semantics; to avoid that, when developing names for clients we include a series of criteria in our naming process that make evaluating names objectively a bit easier. These include standard best practices, such as the following:

  • Is it unique? This is not just about ensuring trademark availability; it's about establishing a distinct identity to avoid market place confusion, lest a melt-down ensue, a la Breyer's ice cream versus Dreyer's.
  • Is it extendable? The ability to grow as a category evolves is crucial; when they can't, change is a must. That's why YouSendIt became Hightail.
  • Is it easy to say, spell and remember? While Fage may be memorable, the yogurt moniker fails the pronunciation test as the guide on every container — (pronounced: Fa-yeh!) — attests.

There are also criteria specific to each project, which can include tonality, thematic concepts, language requirements and length.

A reality of today's digital world also means that domain availability can be a crucial deciding factor. Many companies can build a strong digital presence with a modified URL, but it's important to determine if having an unmodified .com address is a mandatory at the outset of the naming process.

These criteria help us to narrow down with confidence but ultimately, selecting the final name comes down to preference. And the best name isn't always obvious. Below, our sagest advice for those embarking on the naming process. Good luck, name-seekers!

1. Sleep on it.

It's amazing what time can do to shift your opinion about a name (for better and for worse). Take at least a day before making a final decision.

2. Don't worry about the rationale being obvious.

Most big brand names have a deeper meaning or story behind them that the larger population doesn't know. That doesn't diminish the impact of the name; it merely adds another layer of meaning for those in the know. Take Venmo (vendere means "to sell" in Latin), Google (an accidental misspelling of googol, or 1.0 × 10100), or Nike (the Greek goddess of victory).

3. Don't attempt to sum up the entire brand in one word.

Names are almost never seen or heard in isolation. Whether through advertising, PR, word of mouth, or research, potential customers see a brand's name within context.The name should be rooted in the brand's most important qualities; trying to capture everything is impossible. For example, Apple focused simply on the exploratory nature of Internet browsing when choosing the name Safari. In a related space, Microsoft's Bing is based on the excitement of instant discovery.

4. Most importantly, don't wait forever for that "aha!" moment.

It might never come — and with good reason. A brand name comes to symbolize a world of meaning in just one or two words,but it develops that significance over time, within the context of the entire brand system, communications, products and services associated with it. It's easy to get paralyzed waiting for that "perfect" name, but the perfect name might already be in front of you, just waiting to have its brand world built around it.

Kristen Nozell is a Strategist at Red Peak Branding. Red Peak has named brands and products including Paymit (a peer-to-peer payment app for UBS), Bridgeforth (an EB-5 focused private equity firm) and You OnDemand (a leading Chinese video on demand service). Follow Kristen on Twitter and Instagram: @kristen_n