Naming a company or product or service is hard.

We are good at naming our children because we have a list of names to choose from, but we don't have this for naming businesses or brands. In fact, we have the opposite. We have a list of competitors. And we cannot sound like any of them. Or we shouldn't.

Most attempts fail because we try and make a name do too much. We try and make our name sound like what it is we do (SuperScrubber). Or we try and load it up with lots of descriptive sounding words (FastDeliverySystems). The reasons we do this make sense. We want people to know what it is that we do. Especially when we launch. And no one knows us.

Naming your company Blue Ribbon Sports makes a lot of sense. You are creating athletic gear for winners. But who would argue against Blue Ribbon's decision to rename their company to Nike? No one. Nike wins.

What is going on here? What is wrong with Blue Ribbon Sports? It makes so much sense. You can imagine the meeting where the name is decided. People will know what we do. Sports. People will know we are for winners. Blue Ribbon. Sold. Print it.

Then, why is Nike so much better? Because it passes the 7 Tests of a Great Brand Name (well, 6 of them at least).

If you are creating a new name for a product, service, brand or organization, then here are seven tests you can give your new name. Passing all seven is best, but there are instances of those who failed one test and went on to succeed anyway. (like Nike and IBM)

7 Tests of a Great Brand Name

1. Memorable. Can people remember your brand name? This is first and foremost. Can people remember what your name is? Eveready and Energizer ran into trouble here. No one could remember which was which when it came to that pink bunny. Is it the Eveready Bunny or the Energizer Bunny? Turns out it was both, but that only proves the point.

So, what kind of names are un-memorable? Names that are too generic for their category are trouble (think CarMart, CarMax Names that are hard to pronounce never enter our long term memories either. Which leads us to the second test...

2. Pronounce-able. No, that's not a word. But it makes the point. If no one knows how to say your name, then no one will say your name. And you want people to talk about you. Nike ran into this trouble initially. I remember when Nikes first came out. Our playground at school was divided over Nike as two syllables (Ny-Key) or one syllable (rhymes with Mike). My cousin Mike swore they were one-syllable Nikes. Nike overcame this failure, but many don't.

Cacique is a retailer of women's intimate apparel. Owned by successful Lane Bryant. But they had to put a pronunciation key beneath their signs on stores. That should be a signal that something is wrong. Yellow Tail wines found success in the opposite direction. Their brand name is easy to say in a category full of foreign words. Make it easy to say and people will say it. Speaking of people saying your name...

3. Conversational. You need to think about how people will use your brand name in conversation. The big issue here is number of syllables. Blue Ribbon Sports is four syllables. People don't want to say more than two. They will tolerate three. But just barely. That's one reason why Nike beats Blue Ribbon Sports.

Federal Express famously realized this when they went with the vernacular FedEx. Their customers did that work for them. Thankfully the management at FedEx had the foresight and good sense to go along with their customers. Many people do not.

International Business Machines is one of the rare exceptions who was able to simply shorten a long name into its initials – IBM. But they are the exception. And they have decades of equity poured into those initials.

If you are launching, then do yourself a favor. Have conversations using your proposed brand names. See how each works in conversation. If it doesn't, then move on to a new solution.

4. Emotional. What does the new name make you feel? While you don't want to load up descriptors onto your name, having the word evoke some kind of feeling is a good thing. Especially if that feeling is surprise. Apple is a novel name for a computer company. Hearing it for the first time makes you smile. Hagen-Daaz sounds and feels luxurious. Nest feels cozy and safe. Pinterest makes you feel smart when you discover the pin + interest meaning.

Nailing an emotional name is a hard test to pass. And many great brand names don't do this at all. But if you can, then it is just one more power you have loaded into your new entity.

5. Meaningless. This is the one test that I work hardest to have clients understand. The best situation you can be in when you create a new name is for that name to be an empty container. What does this mean?

A brand name is a container. It exists in the mind of your consumer. It sits on a category shelf – hopefully alone. And it is your job to fill that container over time. You fill it with great product experiences and great content.

You want to begin with a container that is empty. If there are connotations or existing associations to your name – like using Edge or Tech in your tech company – then you should ditch those and find new associations. Or new words. Words that are unique to your category.

This is not a vote for coined words. I like those and they work great in many instances. This is about finding words and language that are unique and fresh and unexpected. And meaningless – for now. Because you are going to fill that container with all kinds of meaning.

6. Defendable. Can you legally protect the name? Before you get wed to it, do yourself a favor. Hop over to and do an initial trademark search. If it looks clear in your product or service category, then you can tentatively fall in love. But still restrain yourself until your lawyer says your are okay.

Registering a trademark costs a couple to a few thousand dollars. Finding out that your name is already taken when you've launched into the market costs hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars.

Do the work up front. Especially if you intend to build value into the name. And if you don't intent to build value into the name, then...well, that's another post altogether.

7. Google-able. Yeah, not a word. But really important. When you are working on names, I'd have a laptop open in the room. Every name you like. Google it first. See what you find. We recently fell in love with a name. Saw that it was clear on the trademark side. Then Googled it. It was obscene in another language. Had a hashtag on twitter – that was obscene. And had videos. Yup. Obscene.

Google the name. It will help you avoid disasters. But it will do more than that. It will help you understand if you are dealing with an empty container.

Okay, that's the 7 Tests of a Great Brand Name.

Are there exceptions? Absolutely. Share some in the comments.

Are there other tests? Certainly. Would love to hear those as well.

(Photo Credit: Erik Mallinson, flickr CC: Attribution)