What to include in a naming brief

The naming brief is one of most critical steps in creating a successful brand name. Brainstorming name ideas without first articulating what the ideal name looks like is a recipe for disaster—especially when a group of decision makers is involved. Writing a brief forces everyone to align on what the name should convey, what kinds of names to consider, and what's in and out of bounds.

Agencies and namers typically have their own, preferred formats for naming briefs. Agency-specific and project-specific differences aside, however, most naming briefs contain the same, basic information:

  1. Description of what's being named: This could—and probably should—be a simple, layperson's explanation of the product or company to be named or renamed. A few bullet points may be enough. More complex offerings might require images and/or a few paragraphs with links to a Wikipedia page or other websites.
  2. Ideas to convey through the name: Should the name make people think the product is fast? Premium? Are you trying to convey a more abstract concept like connectivity or expansiveness? Virtually every brand name expresses some underlying idea or emotion related to the product or organization it represents, even if only in a tenuous way.
  3. Name criteria (including approach and construct): Naming approach ranges from descriptive ("The Container Store") to abstract ("Apple"). Does one end of that spectrum make more sense for this name? The naming construct could be real English words, compounds like "JetBlue" (sometimes referred to as "composites" or "double-barrelled names") or coined/invented words, like "Kodak." The brief should also specify any additional words to be "attached" to the name (e.g., if it must be preceded by a parent brand name or followed by a descriptive modifier, like "Technology"). This section of the brief can also exclude constructs, e.g., "no alphanumerics" or "no Latin words." 
  4. Name tonality: Related to brand personality, tonality is the feeling the name should evoke. For example, "Javelin" and "Zippity" could both suggest a fast product brand, but the latter name is more playful and whimsical than the former. Even with coined words, sound symbolism can be used to evoke a tonality.
  5. Description of target audience for the name: What do we know about the people who'll be seeing or using this name?
  6. Competitor/peer names: What names might be seen "near" this name? To avoid confusion (and trademark challenges), it's important to know which names ours will compete against, as well as partner names, vendor names, or even client names that could cause confusion or other problems.

In addition to the essentials listed above, some naming briefs include the following information:

  1. Project overview (e.g., timeline, milestones)
  2. Previously explored/rejected names
  3. Other brand names (in or out of category) the decision makers like, and why
  4. Domain name requirements
  5. Lists of concepts, words, or word parts to explore or avoid
  6. Other brand strategy documentation (e.g., a brand platform or brand positioning statement)
  7. Company naming guidelines
  8. Trademark screening criteria (e.g., which International Classes to screen against)
  9. Linguistic/cultural disaster check criteria (e.g., which countries/languages to review)
  10. Additional materials/links to review for background information

Lastly, a couple of best practices for naming briefs:

  • Get some real names or name ideas into the brief: Including abstract ideas you’re hoping the name will express is a must, but it's best to give tangible examples (and counterexamples) as well, whether they're names in the marketplace today or illustrative name ideas.
  • Ensure every decision maker reviews and approves the brief: It'll save everyone some time and heartache.

To learn more about naming briefs and what to include in them, check out "How to Write a Naming Brief," by Fritinancy and listen to the beginning of Amanda Peterson's episode of How Brands Are Built. Episodes with Clive Chafer and Jonathan Bell also touch on do's and don't's of naming briefs.

Just promise me this: Before you get the team into a conference room with pizza, beer, and piles of sticky notes (if that's your chosen approach to name generation), take a stab at creating a naming brief that clearly articulates all the essentials listed above. Good luck, and have fun naming!

Rob Meyerson is a brand consultant, professional namer, and host of the How Brands Are Built podcast. He is also principal and founder of Heirloom, an independent brand strategy and identity firm in the San Francisco Bay Area.