What is a Brand Name?

Sherry Holetzky

A brand name distinguishes one product from another. There are several different types of brand names, and many benefits associated with having a good one; because of this, businesses spend a lot of time and effort choosing them. Even the best name might not translate into another culture though, so companies may choose to localize a name when they enter a market in another country. There are also a variety of branding strategies, including making families of products under one brand or choosing different names for products from the same company.

The McDonald's brand is one of the most known internationally.
The McDonald's brand is one of the most known internationally.


Brand names can be made up of just about any word or series of letters. Companies may name the brand after a founder, as in the case of the car company, Bentley, or they may choose to use a series of letters to make the name easier to remember. Some companies also use wordplay, or name the product after the place it comes from. Foreign words can sometimes be used successfully to make brand names, but this only works as long as the word is pronounceable by the people in the target market. Additionally, some people choose to make up a word completely, as in the case of the Nintendo Wii®.

Bentley is an example of a brand named after a founder.
Bentley is an example of a brand named after a founder.

How Names are Chosen

An ideal brand name is unique, memorable, easy to understand, and creates an emotional connection with a target audience. It should also imply consistency: by choosing products with that name, people should feel that they're getting the most innovative, fun video games; the most refreshing sodas; or the most responsibly sourced cosmetics. Companies often come up with names by brainstorming about the qualities of their product, the functions it's meant to fulfill, and the type of people that they want to buy it. For example, a company trying to brand a soup may want to come up with a name that makes the product seem healthy, filling, and traditional. This could appeal to a range of consumers, including those that are looking for healthy food, those on a budget who need to make filling meals from few ingredients, and those who may not have time to cook, but still want a "home-cooked" feeling to their meal.

The brand name for Nintendo Wii® is a completely made up word.
The brand name for Nintendo Wii® is a completely made up word.

Once the company has an idea of what kind of ideas they're trying to convey and which consumers they're trying to reach, they try to come up with creative names that make an emotional connection with the consumer. They may test several names with focus groups before deciding on a final one. After a name has been decided and a company associates its products with that name, it's often difficult to change, so companies usually try to get the best one the first time.

Brand name clothing is typically more expensive.
Brand name clothing is typically more expensive.

Effects of a Brand Name

Having a recognizable brand name is very valuable for a company, as it can lead to higher sales. If consumers have positive associations or feelings about a certain brand, then they'll typically be more likely to buy products in that range than generic products or products from other brands. This is often because the consumers trust the company: they know the quality is good, and that they won't have trouble obtaining a refund or replacement if for some reason the product is damaged or otherwise unacceptable. Additionally, having a brand name also makes that product appear to be unique from other products. Though there may be 20 types of dish soap available in a grocery store, a brand can make it seem like one particular dish soap is different, and perhaps better, than all the others.

The effects of a good brand name can benefit more than one product. Once a name becomes recognized and consumers have positive associations with it, they are often more likely to be loyal to the brand and buy other products with the same name on them. Having branded products often opens up a company's distribution options as well, as many stores are more open to selling them than non-branded products.


Though it's often best to keep a consistent brand name wherever the product is sold, sometimes a name doesn't work in another culture, and companies have to change it. The name may translate into an obscene or unsavory word in another language. Other names simply don't make sense or make unwanted associations, like the name of a car translating to "doesn't run." Additionally, people in an international market might have trouble pronouncing the local name, which can lead to low sales. In any of these situations, a company usually has to modify the name or rebrand a product entirely.

Family Branding and Multi-Branding

Many companies take advantage of the idea of brand loyalty and create a family of products that are all sold under the same name. For instance, a person who feels comfortable buying a brand of lotion may be more likely to buy shower gel, shampoo, or loofahs from the same range. This is also known as umbrella branding.

In other cases, a large company that makes many different types of products may choose to create individual brands for different products. This is often the case when a company makes very different goods, such as tires and ice cream. Since it would be difficult to get people to associate both tires and ice cream with the same name in an appealing way, a company would likely brand them separately.

Many types of medications have both brand name and generic versions.
Many types of medications have both brand name and generic versions.

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Discussion Comments

Marcus Grehag

Good background. So if I generate a new name here today which is unique and good, but still totally unknown to the public of course, when does it become a brand name? Is it first when/if it's a leading icon on the market, and in that case, what is it called before it reaches that status?


@yntern – Trademarked names and brand names are somewhat related concepts. Brand names are bound to be trademarked and/or copyrighted. A “trademark” just describes a legal status. Those who have trademarked a given product have legal control over the name or product etc. A brand name however, has more to do with marketing. Brand name products are those that have become culturally accepted as icons of a certain kind of object. For instance, Doritos are a brand name of tortilla chips and Coca Cola and Pepsi have become brand name soda drinks. Hope this helps.


How do we distinguish brand names from trademarked names and registered trademarks?

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