Does the Founder’s Name Always Provide for a Good Company Name?

Naming article in USA Today got this brand strategist’s blood boiling

Last week, my niece, Robin, forwarded me a naming article that ran in USA today which clearly advocated on behalf of using the founder’s name. I wasn’t sure whether to thank her or curse her. I think I wound up doing both. But before we dig into the relative merits of the eponymous company name (there are many), I’d like to raise three other points.

  1. Do we really think the fields of branding and brand naming readily lend themselves to one-size-fits-all answers? I’d like to suggest (remind, proclaim, shout) that these disciplines are about as far away from the binary as you can get.
  2. Do we believe our branding and naming questions should be answered with or without the benefit of context? For me, asking questions about a company’s name would be akin to asking an accountant, “What should I put on Line Twelve? No, you can’t look at the rest of the form… or the entirety of the financial situation, for that matter… just gimme an answer!”
  3. If we are going to engage in that perilous pursuit of determining definitive answers, then, before we solve, for once and for all, the age-old question of “What should we name our company,” shouldn’t this process begin with a shared definition of a name? What are its objectives? What should a business name do for the company?

For stickiness and differentiation, the founder’s name will most likely under-perform.

But for credibility, as the article’s writer points out, there’s absolutely something to be said for “putting one’s name on it.” I not only don’t disagree with this, I believe in it so much I actually appended my company name with my personal name.

So, as mentioned, the purpose here isn’t to say the argument is without merit. Naming after the founder should always be a consideration. But to do this in a vacuum… or to fail to consider all of the other naming approaches… which just may speak better to your current business and marketing objectives, that’s a mistake. A big one.

Some of the reasons why naming the company after the founder may prove to be a disappointment

  1. In certain fields, such as law, finance and, to a lesser extent, manufacturing, there is a long tradition of founder names. Standing out (for me, a prime branding objective) will be all that much tougher. A few years ago, I was actually interviewed on this topic of using the owner’s name as the company name.
  2. Everything we do in branding and naming should be driven by an overarching goal to simplify the buyer’s journey. This includes aiding the brain’s memory. The Smith Firm, The Jones Company and The Williams Brothers may sound unique in each of their individual boardrooms, but I assure you: in the minds of prospects, they all get clumped together. Very few will remember whether it was Smith, Jones or Williams who ran which ad, made which headline, etc. This may sound like a small point. Now multiply that lack of recall and ineffective awareness across all of your marketing spend.
  3. The cost of missed opportunity – is what we’re doing here, growing the business, more about you or should it not be more about them? This doesn’t mean necessarily that the business’ name has to be a direct promise, but it’s great when it can hint at the uniquely valuable experience in store.
  4. Creating greater distinction between the company and the person behind can be a very good thing. When what we, as marketers, most want is for our prospects, customers and employers to co-own the brand experience, I think making the company more yours than theirs stands in the way of forging deeper, emotional connections.

In the company names agency business, you work like Hell to make the whole thing look easy.

Think about today’s leading brands. Seriously. Challenge yourself (and your team) to make a list of the 20-30 brands that come to mind.  Now add them all together. My guess is that no more than 5-10% of these will be founder names. The other 90%?  Creative names that were generated with the specific purpose of accelerating growth, facilitating memorable and meaningful customer connections and increasing perceptions of  unique value. That said, if you want to read the article that triggered this rant, please feel free:  https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2017/08/28/whats-brand-name/599143001/