Why Weird Words Make Great Brand Names

When creating a truly great company name, the number one consideration should be the level of “engagement.”

“Engagement?” you ask incredulously.

Yes… engagement.

While there are all sorts of naming strategies… metaphors, acronyms, coined/invented, key attributes, positive connotations, etc., the one common denominator that separates the mediocre from the memorable, is the degree to which the name engages the mind of the consumer. Most new business owners opt for company names that inform and describe, leaving nothing to the imagination. They often fail to realize that the context surrounding the name (the ad, the store sign, the proposal, the brochure copy, etc.) will define what they do, so the name can be free to describe how they do it. In other words, no customer will hear or see the name in a mental vacuum. Yet this is the way we often judge names when “brainstorming”. And it’s why focus groups are such notoriously bad judges of good names. It’s not the people that are flawed, it’s the process itself. Most of the feedback takes the form of free associations, all in an effort to determine if a name is “good” or “bad.” It goes something like this…

Interviewer: “What do you think of the name Monster?” Respondent: “Ew! They’re scary and dangerous!”

Interviewer: “What about Amazon?” Respondent: “Jungle… drowning… snakes… piranhas…”

Interviewer: “Apple?” Respondent: “A bad apple spoils the whole bunch.”

Interviewer: “Caterpillar?” Respondent: “Squishy, soft, and squirmy.”

Interviewer to new business owner: “I think we can safely assume these would be bad brand names…”

So if it’s not a matter of free associations, then what determines a good name? Again, it’s that all important element known as “engagement.” Engagement is what causes you to lean forward, ask twice, invite more information and pursue the conversation. A good name should invite a discussion, start a conversation and “engage” the other person’s interest and attention. That’s why Amazon, even though it says nothing about what it does, works better than Books-A-Million. Amazon is open and inviting and Books-A-Million is literal and descriptive. Amazon speaks to the process…flowing, easy, abundant. Books-A-Million speaks to the products… books. And while Amazon leaves room for the company to grow in any number of directions, Books-A-Million leaves the company in a bind. I once heard an ad for a company called Just Brakes. Since they had outgrown this narrow niche, they adopted a new tag line… “We’re more than just brakes.”

Let’s take another example. Linens & Things is needlessly redundant since most people, after seeing a newspaper ad, or walking by the store window, will know the company sells linens and things. It would be better to use the name to capture some key strategic position or advantage, or to evoke a feeling or emotion. Is Linen & Things the best, the fastest, the biggest, the most service oriented, the trendiest? We simply don’t know. They have described but they haven’t evoked. They’ve explained but they haven’t engaged.

The objection I routinely hear is “But with names like these, no one will know what I do!” And that’s when I explain that trust is needed… trust in the power of context to fill in the blanks. That way the name is freed to paint a picture, engage the senses and position the brand to reflect not what you do, but how you do it.

So will any weird word work?


Weird for weird sake will just leave the customer scratching his or her head in bewilderment of moving on in indifference. Bold, engaging names will create the desire to know more, and that’s where you need to be ready to tell the story. The name then becomes a segue to a larger story. It starts with the name and tagline and then continues to the:15 second elevator speech and beyond.

One of our clients we named was TKO Surgical. When asked if that’s a boxing reference, our client gives an emphatic “yes,” explaining that they have a mission to both defend and fight for their clients’ needs. They’ll champion their cause and remain in their corner until the last bell sounds. Their tag line? “Technically Superior.”

So whether a name is based on a metaphor, a key attribute, an acronym, or a positive connotation, the overarching goal is to create a name that engages. Perhaps that’s why Albert Einstein asserted that “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” If given the choice of engaging vs. informing, opt for a name that begs for more. It may seem weird, but the results can be wonderful.