Naming your products and services is one of those business activities which are usually taken for granted. What many fail to realise is that the names you give your products can have a far-reaching impact on both the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns and product sales. Many business owners do not give much thought to naming their products. This is most evident in the titles of products from smaller companies which cannot hire branding or marketing agencies to fix this oversight for them. Poor product names like poor packaging may lead potential customers to question the quality of the product itself.

At the end of the day, naming your company’s products and services is still largely a creative endeavour. This means that there is no formulaic way of doing it. However, despite the lack of a fixed set of rules for coming up with names for your offerings, most names are the result of one or, most often, a combination of the following approaches.

Descriptive names

One of the most straight forward ways of naming your products is outrightly stating what it is or what it does. There are often several ways in which one can describe a product. The final choice of the name is the one that sounds the most appealing. You can use your judgement to gauge appeal or better still do a quick survey among your friends. Internet Explorer is one of the products that best demonstrates this naming strategy. The browser does exactly what its name suggests—it is used for exploring the internet.

Vernacular

The African continent has the greatest number of languages in the world—Zimbabwe alone has sixteen official ones. Using a vernacular word, term or expression is one of the easiest ways of coming up with a unique name for your service or product. You must, however, keep in mind that not every word rolls off the tongue. Choose words with as few syllables as possible—as a rule of thumb, these must not exceed three. A great example is Econet’s Kwese with its pair of syllables. Choose words that most people will be able to pronounce—examples of the words you must try to avoid include those containing clicks such as those used in languages like Ndebele, Zulu and Xhosa whose extreme rarity in other languages makes them somewhat difficult to pronounce among non-speakers.

Suggestive names

These are names that only hint at the nature of the product or service. Microsoft Office is a great example of this naming strategy. This was a software suite created specifically to computerise office tasks and its name cannot be more appropriate—in fact, several competing products have also incorporated the word “office” into their names e.g. W.P.S Office, Open Office and Libre Office.

Arbitrary names

Sometimes products are named using words that at first glance (or even subsequent ones) appear to have nothing to do with the product or service. Sometimes this seemingly random choice of name may involve a complicated backstory of how the name was inspired. However, in most cases, the name on its own does not say much about the product. One prominent example of this approach is the Apple computer. An apple and a computer are two very dissimilar items but the name has grown on to become one of the most iconic in the world. A more local instance of this naming practice is the Jumbo maize (or corn) snacks. There is also Unilever’s Sunlight line of detergents.

Note that this approach does not necessarily mean you can just pick any word without a second thought. Pick words that evoke the kind of mental imagery you want to be associated with your product. Surf is an excellent name for a washing powder as it evokes thoughts of seawater. Brown would be a terrible one as it would be difficult for your customers to associate it with anything other than dirt.

Made up words

Sometimes made-up words are used to name products. This practise is particularly common among the manufacturers of snack items targeted at children. The made-up word may be derived from or is merely a play on an actual word. However, in many cases, the word is completely made up. Cerelac and Cerevita are both derived from the word cereal which is what both of these products are made from.

Another famous made-up name is Google. We have become so accustomed to the word that it no longer seems strange but it was derived from the equally strange but otherwise real word googol (the number ten raised to the power of hundred).

When coming up with a name consider your target market. Some made-up words are so silly sounding that they are only suited for children’s products. However, there is plenty of serious-sounding made up product names—just walk into your local pharmacy and look at the shelves.

Alternative spellings

Sometimes alternative spellings are used in product names to make them shorter, unique or more memorable. The word “light” is often shortened to “lite” while there are many instances of “dry” and “high” being rewritten as “dri” and “hi” respectively, often as prefixes in longer made-up words.

Conflation

Many product and service names are derived from a combination of two or more other words. Two of our mobile network operators probably got their names in this manner. The name Telecel is probably the result of combining two of the words associated with mobile telephony: telecommunication(s) and cell/cellular phone. Similarly, Econet is probably derived from the terms economic/economy and network. Note that these are just guesses on my part, merely intended to demonstrate how this approach can be used to come up with names.

Give your brand or company name a nod

Telecash, Ecocash and One Money—all three of Zimbabwe’s mobile money services have names that pay homage to those of their parent mobile network operators. Such naming schemes align the names of the services with the parent company’s brand. These companies often take this practice even further e.g. Econet also has a funeral cover plan called Ecosure. Apple took the even bolder step of prefixing mundane words with “i” to name its products.

Naming after people and places

Mazoe orange crush was first made in Bulawayo but its name is derived from the Mazowe citrus estates from where its main ingredient originated. Lobels the company and consequently its products are named after the founders of the bakery. Naming products after places and people has rules similar to those of using vernacular—only use the name when it is short, easy to spell and pronounce.

Most product and service names use a combination of the above strategies. E.g. by combining suggestive naming, alternative spelling and conflation one can come up with the product name HiGro from high growth (this can be anything from fertilizer to a cream that makes your hair grow faster).