No need to tell it all

A problem that often stumps people when they’re naming their business is finding a word or combo that fully describes it.

This difficulty is added to by the fact that the new company may not be sure of its eventual direction. The result can be a name that sounds broad, vague and not particularly distinctive.

Here’s the thinking: “Yes, we fly passengers, but we also do a bit of cargo, and have a sideline in emergency medical supply flights for the state. Let’s call ourselves Air General. That way we cover everything, and also insure ourselves against business changes in the future.”

Not a great idea.


Business owners fear that if the name doesn’t include or imply the whole range of services, then people won’t choose the company because it sounds too specific. This, in practice, doesn’t happen.

A name is like a badge or emblem. It creates imagery – a picture in people’s heads. It need not cover all your activities. And usually it can’t.

wells fargo

I love the name Wells Fargo, which conjures up pictures of the gold rush, stagecoaches, bank holdups and the pony express – and it doesn’t matter that the company is now a financial services giant.

London Fog is another favorite, for a similar reason. Who cares that Britain has had a clean air act since 1956?

A current trend is to adopt a business name that doesn’t mean anything much at all, like Uber or Slack. That let’s you off the hook, if you can find a word that’s still available. But you’re missing out on the imagery.


Long-established companies often reduce their names to initials, because of the belief that the original handle is too narrow or outdated. This can work okay if you’re IBM or KFC, because these companies have been able to spend enough on promotion to implant their acronyms in buyers’ minds.

It can also be effective where the business initials are actually pronounceable as a word, such as Qantas or Audi.

For the rest of us, opting for initials is like a water hazard or bunker on a golf course. VMLY&R is the result of a merger between marketing companies Young & Rubicam and VML. Any easy name to remember? No. Search for the erroneous VLMY&R and you’ll find that even the company itself gets it wrong at times.

Not much hope, then, for the struggling customer.