In Defence of Descriptive Names

Choosing a name is one of the first decisions you’ll make when setting up a business. The easiest choice, and therefore the most popular, is a descriptive name, which simply tells customers what your business does.

Inqdrop co-founder Jim Boulton

Descriptive names get straight to the point, without relying on consumers to unravel the mysteries of your business. 

Often criticised as boring, lacking creativity and depth, descriptive names may struggle to differentiate a brand, or convey your brand personality. And because descriptive names already include existing words, they’re tricky to trademark and own.

Misspelt brand names

In a competitive market, descriptive names can all start to sound the same, meaning you’ll need to work harder to capture the attention of your audience. In these cases, it makes sense to introduce a misspell, as demonstrated by Traid® or Waze®.

Traid® is a charity working to stop clothes from being thrown away. The name is a backward acronym of Textile Recycling for Aid and International Development.
Founded in 2006 as FreeMap Israel, it was renamed Waze® in 2008, a misspelling of ways.

A suffix may suffice

A suffix can also introduce a point of difference, it certainly worked for Cornetto® and Shopify®

Cornetto® means little horn in Italian. Introduced in 1959, a layer of chocolate insulates the cone from the icecream, stopping it going soggy when frozen.
In 2004, Scott Lake, Tobias Lütke and Daniel Wein built an e-commerce site selling snowboarding equipment. Shortly afterwards, they shifted their focus from snowboards to e-commerce, launching Shopify® in 2006.

Or why not employ a misspell and a suffix, like Kleenex®?

Kleenex® was Kimberly-Clark®’s second cotton substitute product after Kotex®, from cotton texture. The tissue was originally a cold cream remover, hence Kleen. The ex is from Kotex®

Futureproof brand names

However, the main disadvantage of descriptive name is future-proofing. As a business evolves, there’s a good chance it will outgrow a descriptive name. Burger King® will struggle to diversify beyond fast food, and who knows what Carphone Warehouse® were thinking?

Founded in 1953 as Insta-Burger King, named after the insta-broiler used to cook the burgers quickly, creating a charred taste. The name was changed to Burger King® in 1954.
Carphone Warehouse® was founded in 1989, when portable phones were bulky and usually transported in cars.

Loud and clear

That said, descriptive names can be appropriate in a lot of cases, especially when it comes to products. Descriptive brand names deliver information fast, leaving no room for misunderstandings. This can be a distinct advantage if you don’t want potential customers to work too hard. Chapstick® and Mastercard® are good examples.

In 1912, John Morton bought the rights to an unsuccessful lip-balm product for $5. His wife had the idea to mold it into small cylinders like lipstick and Chapstick® was born.
The Interbank Card was launched in 1969 when several US bank card organisations merged. Ten years later, it was renamed MasterCard®

A descriptive name can also work well if it’s calling attention to a product feature. Mini® and the Co-op® have both stood the test of time with aplomb.

The Mini® was produced by the British Motor Corporation in response to the slump in sales of large cars due to the fuel shortage caused by the 1956 Suez Crisis.
Co-op® is an abbreviation of the Co-operative Wholesale Society. Formed in 1863, the Manchester based company provided goods to co-operative societies across the UK.

Brand versus product names

We avoided a descriptive name for our consultancy brand but had no such hesitation when it came to our naming product, NameDek. Expansion beyond naming is not an issue and, additionally, the search engine advantages of a descriptive brand name are significant.

Start-ups beware

Descriptive names have limitations that can impact your brand’s growth potential, falling short when it comes to making an emotional connection with your target audience but they should not be dismissed entirely, especially when naming products. A twist, like a misspelling or suffix, can sometimes off the best of both worlds.

Find out more

If you need advice on a name, or you'd like to find out more about our NameDek system, that reveals the secrets behind 100's of successful brand names, please get in touch.
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