What’s in a name? Variables to consider when (re)naming your program or organization

by Sarah Durham

Much like naming a baby, naming an organization (and sometimes even a program) can be challenging. How specific should the name be? How aspirational? What if the organization, in time, shifts directions?

Once an organization’s been around for a few years, changing something as central as a name gets complicated. There are more people to involve, stakeholders who’ll need to be informed, and other challenges. So how do you come up with a name that will work for the long haul whether you’re naming an organization from scratch or making a mid-course correction? Here are a few tips we find indispensible:

  1. Start with a clear strategy. In the Brandraising model, positioning and personality are the drivers behind everything. A good name should support the big idea you want people to associate with you (that’s your positioning), and have the right tone and style (that’s your personality). Even if you don’t subscribe to our model, start with some basic strategy everyone agrees on so you can avoid subjective decision-making.
  2. Consider the options. By looking at your peers or beyond, you’ll notice that there are lots of types of names: short, long, conjoined, etc. What structures are the most logical, practical, and appropriate for you?
  3. Use your values. Consider the name options through the lens of your organization’s values (which are often the formal expression of your culture). You’ll want a name that feels authentic when you hang it on the front door.
  4. Check your IP. Names are “intellectual property” and can be trademarked. Unfortunately, many of the most obvious choices might be taken already (especially if you’re hoping for a simple, one-word name). We prefer to search any names under consideration informally before they are presented. Downstream, vet your short list of options using an attorney with intellectual property experience.
  5. Think about the handles. How will the name adapt to a URL? Twitter handle? Email addresses?

These tips are equally relevant whether you’re naming a new organization, renaming one that’s been around, or developing program names. Got any success stories? Other tips to share? I’d love to hear them; please comment!

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