“If I’m gonna tell a real story,” said Kendrick Lamar, “I’m gonna start with my name.” Seems like a logical place to start, especially if you’re telling the story of your brand. On the other hand, Shakespeare questioned the importance of names. That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. So said the bard, but would it?

As it turns out – and no disrespect to Billy – the name is hugely important in business. I wrote about names here.  There are three key reasons they’re important.

The first, as I wrote about, is that when people can’t easily pronounce something, they tend to avoid it. They do not form positive impressions and jump on board. Quite the opposite: they judge it harshly as a risk, whether it’s a snack food, an amusement park ride, or a company name. I didn’t make it up; the research is from a 2009 study by Song and Schwarz – the full reference is below. (So I wonder whether XeeMe’s incarnation, Appearoo, has fared better….)

Names are always important.
Names are always important.

Anyway, an entrepreneur acquaintance – Geoff – asked some smart questions about changing his business name, solidifying his branding, and retaining his identity in the process, which is why I’m talking about the importance of names. He was feeling tied to the name he started with. Thankfully, most people are articulate enough to know that Geoff is “Jeff” and not “Joff” or “Jee-off,” but he was hesitant about doing much with his actual name. His original business name was chosen because it reflected his work. I understand that, and maybe some of you do, too. You chose the name for a reason, after all, and you’ve got something invested in it, ya know?

Now, Geoff has skills I don’t have: he can juggle, for one thing, and he’s got mad coordination skills. He can also do a bunch of other things, some of which form the basis of his business. At any rate, his original business name didn’t really allow for a lot of wiggle room, which is why he felt roped in. He was in knots about it. (Sorry, I’ll stop with the rope jokes.)

So first, I untied the guy.
So first, I untied the guy.

And this is the second key reason it pays to think carefully and long-term about your business name. Like if you named your business “Bob’s Bagels” but then decided you wanted to add croissants to the menu. Could you live with Bob’s Bagels and Croissants? What would happen if you later added doughnuts? It could put you in a bind. Or, you could just change it to Bob’s Bakery….

There is still the third key issue to consider. Just like naming a child or pet, a business name needs to be approachable without being too trendy or too unique. It has to stand the test of time and still reflect the people and concepts behind it. So I reminded Geoff that he needed to consider what he knew worked in his field. Names produce impressions, before you even see a person. Let’s face it, Bertha doesn’t sound like the name of a petite ballerina; it creates a humorous mismatch. And we’ve all heard about “Ditcher, Quick & Hyde,” humorous names for mythical divorce attorneys.

Tied to the wrong identity?
Tied to the wrong identity?

In the end, Geoff did a brave thing, cut the strings (hahaha!), and made a subtle change. This wouldn’t be the right choice for everyone! I’m an example. I know my name is tough: Adina Wollam. Right? But it’s what I got when I was born and I’m not gonna dumb it down just to make people like me more. In an industry full of ultra-common names, mine tends to stand out!

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P. S.  Here’s the reference, in APA format and everything:  Song, H., Schwarz, N.  (2009).  If it’s difficult to pronounce, it must be risky: Fluency, familiarity, and risk perception.  Psychological Science, 20(2), pp. 135-138.   doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02267.x


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