How Far Will A Name Travel?

If you ever want to play a good party game, try the one where you have people attempt to guess a name or word that still has its .com address available. There’s nothing more exciting than checking on GoDaddy, Network Solutions or similar sites and having that “Congratulations” pop up to salute your ability to find a name that can still be registered. It’s not easy.

It’s estimated that over 252 million domain names have already been registered, and they say that every four-letter .com address (all 456,976 of them) has already been gobbled up. That’s every conceivable four-letter combination whether it results in a pronounceable name or not. Can it be long before the five-letter variations (all 11,881,376) are gone, too?  

The name landscape is pretty well ravaged, so it’s easy to understand why it’s getting so hard to find a name for a new company or product. 



Looking across the scores of current travel products and recent launches, you see a variety of quirky, mostly made-up names, many of which you’d be hard pressed to guess what they mean or what their companies offer: 


















Imagine these names were all typed on a page and presented to you without context before any of these businesses were ever launched. About how many of them would you have said, “I love that name!”?

When you look at brands that have now become household names, you have to wonder what people were thinking when they made their decisions. Could they have anticipated that the word Apple would stand for innovation and technology leadership, or that Google would grow to become a verb?  

Would you have grasped the brilliance of naming a chain of boutique hotels W? And how would you have reacted to someone telling you to call your online travel agency Orbitz, especially if you were chewing a well-known gum sporting nearly the same name (Orbit)?

Having worked early in my career for Sonesta Hotels, I can tell you that many consumers thought the name had to do with taking a siesta. In actuality, Sonesta came from combining the names of the company’s original founder A.M. “Sonny” Sonnabend and his wife Esther. 

According to a 1930’s article in The New York Times, the St. Regis Hotel name comes from a lake in the Adirondacks. Apparently, John Jacob Astor was tired of naming hotels after himself so he turned to his niece for her ideas on what he should call the newest luxury hotel he was building. She suggested he name it after a spot that she often frequented that she felt was filled with great beauty. Interestingly, the lake had originally been named for a French monk, John Francis Regis, known for his hospitality to travelers.

The recently launched Belmond Hotels is a made-for-the-marketplace name that is supposedly derived from the Latin word for beautiful and the word for world. 

No matter where you find your inspiration, whether it’s rooted in history, nature, language or totally concocted, names don’t live as flat letters on a page. They need to be thought of in context and with dimension in how they’ll be used and brought to life through graphic design, a brand story and the accompanying product, services, features and functionality that will define them. 

Ultimately, whatever name you choose will come to stand for your brand and, as I’ve written before, your brand is literally everything you do. It’s what happens in every interaction you have with customers, and it’s wrapped up in people’s rationale and emotional feelings about your brand.

A board member for Coca-Cola once said, “A brand name doesn’t live in a company or on a product, it lives in the brain cells of the consumers.”

So worry less about the fact you might have to settle for an unusual or quirky name, and worry more about how you develop, communicate and deliver on your brand promise and give your name meaning.

Because over time, your name will travel only as far as you take it.

1 comment about "How Far Will A Name Travel?".
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  1. Kirby Winfield from Dwellable, December 8, 2014 at 3:45 p.m.

    Fair and true points. For another level of specificity, IMO this blog post from Zillow's Rich Barton (link goes to his blog, FYI) is the definitive text on branding for startups:

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