What’s in a Name?

My daughter's name, Szaba, is from Szabo, a Hungarian surname on my dad's side.
My daughter’s name, Szaba, is from Szabo, a Hungarian surname on my dad’s side.

Names. They’re one of the first big decisions you have to make as a parent.

They’re also a big decision in business.

So, what’s in a name? In essence, it’s an inkling of who you are or what you offer. The same holds true for your business name, product name, or even your title.

What does yours say about you?


Is that was you want it to say? You know what they say about first impressions, right? They matter.

My prior employer, Cranium, drilled this into me. You remember the name of that game, don’t you? It’s quirky, memorable, and it gives you a clue to the game itself—fun for your whole brain: trivia, acting, drawing, and word play.

(It also hints at a certain cult classic film, which inspired it. Can you guess?)

CraniumCrewSimilarly, the Cranium company made a big deal about job titles. They were fun hints about what each of us did: Chief Noodler (the left-brain side of the cofounder team), Wizard of A-ha’s (game creation specialist), and Supreme Sorceress of Syntax (head of the copywriting team—that was me).

It made figuring out our titles a game of sorts, too.

When I went into freelancing, I kept Syntax Sorceress as my business name. I write copy, mainly for games. It’s fun, memorable, appropriate to the industry, and far less forgettable than “copywriter.”

Do you have a name in your life that falls flat: your business, title, book idea, Twitter handle, etc.? (Perhaps even “Mom” or “Dad” should be Ring Leader or Captain Adventure?) Or maybe you’re trying to narrow down baby names?

Here are the three main name types with pros and cons. If you’re in the market for the perfect name, hopefully it will help you track it down. Happy hunting!

Descriptive Name
Examples: Game Cube, CitySearch
The most common name. Describes the attributes of a product or service.


  • Provides immediate understanding of the product or service.
  • Minimizes confusion.
  • Requires minimal promotional support.


  • Limits communication to one specific aspect.
  • Tends to become outdated and inappropriate over time.
  • Lacks meaning in other languages.
  • Difficult if not impossible to register as a trademark or domain.

Associative Name
Examples: Little Einsteins, Hallmark
Conveys value associations about the brand’s core promise.


  • Offers more flexibility than descriptive names.
  • Tends to be more memorable and distinct.
  • Easier to secure and protect than descriptive names.


  • Increasingly difficult to register and protect with market influx.
  • May lack meaning from one language to another.
  • Requires promotional spending to seed meaning and imagery.

Freestanding Name
Examples: Adidas, Disney
Has no literal meaning, but over time, takes on the meaning you communicate.


  • Provides the strongest differentiation.
  • Tends to be the most memorable.
  • Transcends language barriers.
  • Typically the easiest to trademark and secure a domain.


  • Requires substantial effort to introduce.
  • Requires long-term effort to support and maintain.
  • Has the highest potential for confusion.

As you can see, there’s no right or wrong way. But chances are, one type will click best for you and your team, product, or service. Never underestimate the power of YOU (or your team) believing in your name. You are your best champion, after all, and while everyone will find a potential negative in any fledgling name, the vision, passion, and persistence behind a name is often powerful enough to propel it past such barriers.

Have a good (or bad) naming story? Share it below.

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