I flatter myself that I'm a good programmer, and can get away with graphic design. But something I'm incapable of doing is coming up with good names - and it seems neither are the people I work with. We're now in the slightly ludicrous situation that the product we've been working on for a couple of years is being installed to customers, is well received and is making money - but doesn't yet have a name.
We're too small a company to have anything like a proper marketing division to do this thing. So how have people tended to choose names, logos and branding?
Names -- you can try yourselves or ask friends/customers about what they are thinking about when listen/use your product (I don't know correct English word for that -- if two things have something in common they are associated?).
Or, depends on what kind of product is it, ask someone with unlimited imagination -- kids are very good at it.
Logos and branding -- you need professionals.
And of course you need layer :).
When it's for something that "matters", I plop down the $50 and have the folks at PickyDomains.com help out. That also results in a name that's available as a .com.
For guidelines, here's an extract from my own guide on naming open source projects:
- If the name you're thinking of is directly pulled from a scifi or fantasy source, don't bother. These sources are WAY overrepresented as naming sources in software. Not only are your chances of coming up with something original pretty small, most of the names of characters and places in scifi are trademarked and you run the risk of being sued.
- If the name you're thinking of comes straight from Greek, Roman or Norse mythology, try again. We've got more than enough mail related software called variations of "Mercury".
- Run your proposed name through Google. The fewer results you get the better. If you get down to no results, you're there.
- Don't try to get a unique name by just slightly misspelling something. Calling your new Windows filesystem program Phat32 is just going to end up with users getting frustrated looking at the results of "fat32" in a search engine.
- If your name couldn't be said on TV in the 50s or 60s, you're probably on the wrong track. This is particularly true if you would like anyone to use your product in a work environment. No one is going to recommend a product to their co-workers if they can get sued for sexual harassment just for uttering its name.
- If your product name can't be pronounced at all, you'll get no word of mouth benefit at all. Similarly, if no one knows how to pronounce it, they will not be very likely to try to say it out loud to ask questions about it, etc. How do YOU say MySQL? PostgreSQL? GNU? Almost all spoken languages on Earth are based on consonant/vowel syllables of some sort. Alternating between consonants and vowels is a pretty good way to ensure that someone can pronounce it.
- The shorter the better.
- See if the .com domain is available. If it's not, it's a pretty good indicator that someone has already thought of it and is using it or closer to using it than you are. Do this even if you don't intend to use the domain.
- Don't build inherent limitations on your product into the name. Calling your product LinProduct or WinProduct precludes you from ever releasing any sort of cross-platform edition.
- Don't use your own name for open source products. If the project lives on beyond your involvement, the project will either have to be renamed or your name may be used in ways you didn't intend.
I second the recommendation of the Igor naming guide. Stay away from meaningless strings of alternating vowels and consonants: altana, obito, temora, even if it seems easy and the domains are readily available. Pick something with soul and meaning. Best example: "Plan B" (also known as the morning-after pill).
for a product, first read Positioning, the Battle for Your Mind and think really hard about what mental position you want to occupy
then find a word or two that conveys that position, and make up an acronym for it
for a (self-serving) example: my most recent product is a fine-grained application monitor for .NET applications. I want to convey the feeling of peace that you have when you know that your apps are behaving because they are continuously monitored, so 'no news' really is 'good news'. I chose CALM after a lot of false starts, and decided that it stood for Common Application Lightweight Monitor - which just also happens to be a very technically accurate description of the basic implementation
also, you might be amazed at how much 'better' users perceive an application to be when it has a name and a logo attached to it.