Ask any new parents, and they’ll tell you naming your baby isn’t as simple as it sounds. It’s a big decision with lasting ramifications that will determine not only what people call them but how they think about them as they go through their lives.
And it seems that some ministerial comms teams face a similar dilemma. Before the budget, Philip Hammond’s team put it about that the chancellor had earned the nickname ‘Spreadsheet Phil’ within the Treasury. This is not a cool nickname (nor for that matter was his previous soubriquet ‘Box Office Phil’). But that’s not the point.
They want us to think he’s a safe pair of hands that we can trust to run the economy. And you can see the logic behind it. The fixation on the deficit over the last few years has left the public thinking of the chancellor as the nation’s accountant, trying to balance the books. And what better name could Hammond have chosen to show how good he is at it?
But it’s a double-edged sword. And he may feel more than a little embarrassed to have put competence right at the centre of his public persona only to be forced to make a massive U-turn within a week.
So names can be both a boon and a burden. And it’s just as true for brands as it is for people.
Google’s name (a play on the word googol, a number written as one with 100 zeroes) goes some way to reinforcing its image as the cleverest of companies. Would its original moniker, BackRub, have done the same?
How about Consignia? Rebranding the Royal Mail is still seen 15 years later as a colossal disaster. Again, that had much to do with the name, with one journalist at the time noting:
“Think ‘Post Office Group’, think trust, honour, gritty postmen braving blizzards to save a child's smile. Think ‘Consignia’, the name which replaced it. Think, um, Roman general? Footballer? Tummy bug?”
Yet still we see so many start-ups based on a great idea with names that don’t really reflect what they stand for. That don’t really engage their audience. And that let them get lost in the crowd.
So a simple piece of advice. Your brand name is absolutely central to your brand. It should reflect what your business is and what you hope it will become. Treat the process just as seriously as you would when naming your own child (that means no 20-minute brainstorm jobs).
After all, your decision will come to define not only what people call your company, but how they think of it. And ultimately its place in the world.
Dan George is the agency’s creative lead.