Playing The Name Game

Your company name should make a statement. Bold. Memorable. Aspirational.

If only it were that easy.

Remember when Arnold Palmer was a famous golfer and Amazon was a river? Now they’re known as a lemonade and online empire.

Ideally, your name defines your mission. MTV was Music Television.  Elon Musk’s ‘The Boring Company’ digs underground tunnels. Burger King’s Whopper is huge.

Then there are those who get it hopelessly wrong. I’m talking about you Isis Nails, Pepsi Pickle and Ayds Candy. A reducing plan, indeed.


Can you succeed with a bad name?  Sure. But it slows the impact, like driving with the emergency brake on.

Bob Pittman inherited the name ‘iHeart’. But I doubt that would’ve been his first choice. Nintendo gambled on naming their Wii gaming system. I was in the meeting when their execs revealed it to the team.

Silence. Then gasps, cringing, furrowed brows. You get the idea.

So, how do you choose the right name?

Here’s my take:

Years ago, I ran KISW-FM in Seattle. It was low-rated station with a weak identity. We competed against stations with iconic call letters like KJR & KING. Asking listeners to remember K-I-S-W would be a tough putt. So, we pivoted and focused on owning the word “Rock”. We aimed to tap into a lifestyle and give rock fans a voice. Our fire-breathing Rock stickers were worn like badges of honor on thousands of cars. While other stations couldn’t give away theirs, we charged a quarter per sticker and raised a ton for charity.

Owning the word Rock galvanized fans, and not just in Seattle. Our logo was ‘adopted’ by dozens of stations across America.

Is it too late to call a lawyer?


Next: Why Things Go Viral

Beau Phillips is President of Rainmaker Media. 
He’s a creative marketing consultant, strategist and speaker.
Reach him at 203-256-9347 

4 thoughts on “Playing The Name Game”

  1. Great post Beau! Hilarious. It seems self awareness is a powerful design skill to have. I’d imagine the absolute worst thing your company or brand could be labeled as- is “tone deaf’. And I love your simple approach in Seattle asking “what do we do best? What do people want? ” to form the brand.
    Got anymore of those stickers?? 🙂

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