Changing names is tricky. At the very least, a name change is going to leave you changing signage and ordering some new business cards; often it implies an entirely new direction for your company.

We’ll be honest: name changes are a big part of our business. It’s relatively rare that someone gets it right the first time (witness the startup graveyard littered with vowel-deficient company names), though we’ve worked with savvy first-timers who came to us for advice. But whether you’re a newly-minted startup in need of a name or your current moniker isn’t cutting it anymore, we have a few pieces of advice that apply. Let’s look at two recent, high-profile name changes and see what they can teach us about naming.

 

Not rocket science. Still really hard.

 

First, we have Snapchat. The company, now valued at billions of dollars, announced a name change to Snap Inc. in December. Their rationale? Vanishing photo messages are no longer the company’s sole product. With the launch of Spectacles, a line of sunglasses with a built in camera, the Snapchat app isn’t the only game in town. Snapchat’s solution to the problem makes business and linguistic sense: set up a holding company, trim the offending suffix, and embrace the relative abstraction of Snap.

Then there’s Tesla Motors. Did you know that was their name? Did most people? The electric car company registered under that name, perhaps wanting to double down on their claim to be a real player in the automotive industry. But with a business model that sees the company churning out batteries and rooftop solar panels, they’re outgrown the full name; now, Tesla is just Tesla. The fact that consumers never remembered  the “Motors” suffix likely made the decision easier.

These two aren’t exactly cautionary tales. Snap and Tesla will probably do just fine for the foreseeable future. But name changes always have complications and costs, so most companies would do well to get it right the first time. And therein lies our lesson:

Your name doesn’t have to draw a circle around what you do. A question we often get asked is “But how will people know we [sell frozen peas/provide doula training/troubleshoot SaaS platforms]?” Well, because you’ll tell them, and because Google exists. For a name to be successful, it has to do something different: something better. It has to start a conversation that gets people past the point of, “Oh, that’s nice” and on to “Tell me more.”

Descriptive names will never get people as interested as evocative ones. They come with another pitfall, too: they don’t handle change very well. When your company moves beyond chats, Snapchat starts to seems like a pretty awkward name. Great names are built to last in part by avoiding these kinds of limitations, setting you up to succeed whether you pivot in two years or gradually expand over twenty.

Feeling boxed in by naming? Drop us a line.