How to name my company using poetry, fish, a front porch, and a set of made-up rules

One of the most interesting and challenging things our clients ask us to do is to name things – products, service lines, and even entire companies. A brand’s *name* is critical to its identity in the marketplace and the impression it gives to consumers.

While waiting in line for my first COVID vaccine shot, I was struck by the name of this business: Fishy Business Aquarium. It’s clever in that anyone who’s in the profession of trading in fish is, in fact, in a “fishy” business. Fishy is also a fun term because it’s playfully used as a reference to “suspicious” or “arousing in feelings of doubt.” Just ask Webster. Throwing in ‘Aquarium’ is also helpful in that it tells the story to those who don’t get the joke.

The problem with this name, though, is that it’s tough to trademark or “own.” It’s why Starbucks doesn’t call itself “The Daily Grind” (there’s one in every city) or why Apple doesn’t call itself “Cupertino Computer Sales and Service.” Can you imagine?

The temptation to do this is understandable. By default, we want brand names to tell the entire story about the product or company. But that’s too much to ask. A name can’t tell the entire story about a company, product, or idea, any more than a logo can. When we try to force that issue, what we often end up with is a name that doesn’t stand out, is boring, or lacks confidence. (Yes, it’s OK for your name to reflect a little swagger.) 

I recently heard former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins refer to the title of a poem as its front porch – an invitation of sorts A title of a poem is meant to invite and welcome the reader, not to serve as a summation of encapsulation of the entire meaning of the poem. I think we might use that characterization of a poem for how we might think about brand names: merely a brand’s front porch. 

Naming can be messy, confusing, and downright frustrating. Prepare to have lots of handwritten lists with most everything crossed off of them. Prepare to hear from your inner creative voice telling you that “these are dumb,” “these are stupid,” and “people will make fun of you.” Prepare to hear from your friends and family telling you all of these same things. Take it from a guy whose company is named “Findsome & Winmore” and whose tagline is Not a Law Firm. 

To guide you in the process, think of some guidelines – rules of sorts. Here’s what we encourage our clients to think about when it comes to changing or shifting a brand name: 

When working with clients who want to name things, we encourage them to think about names that shy away from the descriptive and lean toward the obscure, fishy or not. For some further insight, thought, and therapy on the issue, take a listen to Seth Godin’s podcast episode called “Entrepreneur’s Guide to Trademarks.”