Brand naming: The best and also-rans of 2019

With only 180,000 words in the English language, and over 35 million registered naming trademarks, there are a lot of people searching for names, and not a lot of words to work with. In a world with short attention spans and instant decision making, names are an incredibly precious resource.

We compile this annual list of the best and worst names of the year with a tremendous amount of empathy for namers around the world. Great names are shockingly rare and take a lot of hard work. But when you’re rooted in structure and strategy, you can draw a good map to a great name -- and more importantly, know when you find one. Here are some notable names from 2019.


We see what you’re doing there

The name of 2019 is Haven, the health care organization founded jointly by Berkshire Hathaway, JPMorgan Chase and Amazon. It works on two levels: one, it evokes a sense of peace and healing, where you can recover from whatever ails you, and two, it creates a stark contrast with the complexity and chaos of the rest of the health care industry. It couldn’t have been cheap to trademark, but great names rarely are.

bpm’online rebranded to Creatio, which comes as a tremendous relief. First of all, the unnecessary apostrophe in bpm’online defies global grammar conventions by making it hard to read and quirky to spell. Creatio is not only fun to say, it’s far more inviting for a customer to engage with, especially given their mission that states, “everyone can become a developer.”

You want to know about an apostrophe that works harder? Apostrophe. The dermatology experts formerly known as YoDerm rebranded this year to reflect a more sophisticated approach. The name has Greek roots, giving the brand a sense of timelessness.

There has been an explosion of new fitness brands over the last several years, which makes it hard to stand out. So kudos to “Pay as U Gym” for rebranding to Hussle, transforming from a descriptive, transactional brand to a more aspirational, value-based community.

When Colorado companies Tendril and Simple Energy merged, they chose to rebrand themselves as a combined utility customer data analytics and energy manager called Uplight. It’s a nice way to express an identity that’s more than an energy company, implying that the services are a level up from the expected.

Here in Seattle, we have strong opinions that sports teams should reflect a unique take on local culture. That’s why we tip our baseball caps to the Missoula Paddleheads, formerly known as the forgettable Missoula Osprey. A fun, memorable name that makes you want to watch a game and ride the local rapids? Sign us up.


We can follow the logic…maybe

Payment services are competitive, so we’ll give honorable mention to Windcave, formerly Payment Express. Anything with “payment” in the name feels impossible to differentiate, so coming up with a suggestive alternative that doesn’t have anything to do with payments…at least stands out?

Streaming services deserve their own section. With so many services trying to be both familiar and differentiating, it’s easy to come up with a solution that solves neither problem. Peacock is the new streaming service for NBC; a nod to heritage, easy to say, but prone to an unacceptable number of jokes. The jury is still out on HBOMax; it sounds like it should be a better version of HBO, but it complicates the brand architecture alongside HBO NOW and HBO GO. Disney +, sure, why not, but Apple TV+ could refer to an app, a physical object, or a streaming service: they’ve reinvented their iTunes problem after just solving the last one. And the less said about Quibi, the better. Netflix dodged a bullet by naming themselves in 1997, before the rush.


We’re lost and need a map

At Northbound, we believe that heritage is an important consideration when renaming. A name that’s been around since the Holy Roman Empire has some credibility. The Dutch disagree. They dropped the name Holland for the technically more accurate the Netherlands, which only dates back to 1579. I guess this means the url is available?

Some names are destined for the federal witness protection program, and the switch from Encana to Ovintiv is one of them. “[The name is] kind of a blank slate, which appears to be what they wanted to go for,” says Darren Dahl in a Global News article. We’ve already forgotten what they do.

Drillinginfo, a company with a perfectly good descriptive name, rebranded as Enverus. It’s not a great sign when a press release has to break down the play-by-play thinking behind your new name: “to represent the industry we serve (EN) the insight and vision we bring you through our solutions, (VER), and the collaboration within our team and our commitment to you (US).”

Playful names work! We’re big fans of Mailchimp, SurveyMonkey and other serious services with quirky names. So when Emailmonks (not related) changed their name to to Uplers Email, it lost whatever rooting interest their name had – and replaced it with something bland and unmemorable.


Bring on 2020’s naming challenges

Names are incredibly important – and increasingly difficult to find. If you’re thinking about a name for your company, product or service, it can help to talk through where to begin. Northbound has created names for some of the world’s top brands, and we can help orient you to some of naming’s biggest opportunities and pitfalls before you even get started. Drop us an email today.



Craig Motlong | Strategy Director


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