When to Change a Name.

To change or not to change a name.

How do you know when to change a name?

Where can you get help with deciding whether or not to change a name?

Sometimes the answer to the above questions is simple and obvious. If you have to change a name for legal reasons, there is no debate. You change the name. If a product or service name did not come with the goods you licensed, then you have to name it. Similarly if you are spinning off a separate entity and it cannot keep its old name, you will need a new name.

But what of the less obvious cases. For a product makeover or repositioning or new push campaign, do you stay with the old name or change it? Common basic wisdom of branding says don’t change it unless it is seriously damaged. In other words, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But how do you know if it is broken? In a land of mergers, takeovers and cross-licensing, a good name under one corporation’s master brand may not fit or function as well under another owner. Similarly, if your name does not stand out from the crowd, or is difficult to use and your marketeers waste hours explaining it, then it might be time to change a name. Some might argue, lets survey our constituents and see what they say. Interestingly enough, however bad or inappropriate your name is, repeat users of the product or service will almost always vote to keep it. They know it. They don’t even think about what the name means or stands for. And after ninety days of usage, consumers embrace the weirdest and worst of names, provided they like the product or service itself.

So you are surveying the wrong people! And if you do try survey the prospective users instead, they won’t like any name until they like the product itself, so name choices will drop to the lowest common denominator because they don’t know the product yet.

Better still, run yourself a name audit. Use internal or external professional branding consultants to do a short but thorough audit of your name. Firstly, revisit the legal issues. Do you have clear rights to the name? Have you got a registered trademark approved? Are there no competing or similar products with the same name anywhere (and not just first page of Google).

For coined names, visit the linguistics and phonetics to see how the name is playing in different business languages of the world. While you are about it, check the roots and derivative details to see what the hidden or implied messaging strengths (or weaknesses are).

Make a comprehensive list of the competing products or services, then measure your name against the top twenty. Do you stand out from the crowd or get lost in it?

Finally, listen carefully to the advice of naming and branding consultants that have been studying and tracking good names for many years, as well as to the personal opinion of your CEO.

By running professional audits for a number of names over the years, we have found that in about half of them, the name is not the problem. The logo, the positioning or the rest of the message might be wrong or disjointed, but the name is not the problem per se.

In many other cases, there is often just a gut feel that the name is not right or has maybe even a problem with it, but no one can put their finger on the specific issue. An audit will help bring this issue to life and help with the awareness of the right values to be included in the new naming campaign.

As Ries and Trout said in their seminal work Positioning: The Battle for the Mind, “Your name is your most important weapon in the battle for the mind.”

Your name is not your brand, but it is the verbal and written shorthand for your brand promise. Make sure it is strong and healthy to accurately represent the brand. See also Brighter Branding: Branding for the Average Small Business by Foden Press.

See web page on famous business and product name changes with examples of how Diet Delux became Healthy Choice and went from non-seller to category leader thanks to the new name and packaging – but with the same food in the boxes!

See web page on famous people name changes… and the few who refused to change their names.


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