App Naming – a Fun and Effective Way to Name Your App

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Mark Dabbs

28 Jan 2019 - 4 min read

It is often easier to describe something than to give it a name. That’s definitely the case in app naming or coming up with a name for your app. The name of your application may involve just one or two words. Those few words, however, can have a major impact on your application’s success. Frequently, the person who comes up with the idea of an app may already have a name in mind. In the earliest stages, that’s fine – heck, a lot of us just call our fledgling ideas things like “The App” or “Project X.” Once the app starts moving into development though, it will need a real name. Coming up with a good name can be very difficult without a solid process to follow. Here, we’re going to share a process with you, that can be used to name your app (or just about anything else). It’s a naming process that we’ve used many times before, to good effect.

App Naming Objectives

You have a lot to accomplish in an app’s name. Just as a great name can help make your app a success, so also can a bad name send it to an early grave. For starters, it needs to be short. Names of apps in App Store listings are limited to 30 characters. On Google Play, the limit is 50 characters. That can be a serious challenge when your app’s name should also comply with the following six objectives:

  1. Appeals to your target audience.
  2. Legally available and can be legally protected.
  3. Memorable and distinctive.
  4. Easy to say, spell and read.
  5. Consistent with your brand marketing.
  6. A “second level domain name” that matches the name of your business or app, with good “top level domain (.com, .bus, .io, .mobi, etc.)” options open.

Another thing to be thinking about is App Store Optimization if you plan to distribute your app commercially. It’s one of the last things to do when it comes to launching your app, but the name you select for your app will have an impact in that process, too.

A Fun and Effective Process for Generating App Names

The process for generating app and product names can be pretty easy, even fun. It can also be exceedingly tedious, boring and frustrating if you try to come up with a name all by yourself. Refrain from choosing a name simply because you like it or you think your market will like it. You simply don’t know until you get some feedback.

For best results, include as many people in the name selection process as you can. If time is an issue, set a deadline, but ask everyone for their ideas. To encourage submissions from everyone you can – employees, friends, family, maybe even customers, don’t hesitate to offer a small incentive for the winner. Make sure to keep a full record of everything that makes or is dropped from your list in the following process.

Step 1. Build a Keyword Cloud to Help Name Your App

The best way to start out in coming up with a name is to generate a list of words relevant to your app (or product). List everything and anything that you can come up with that is related to your application. Who will use it? What does it do? How does it help them? Who created it? Where was it created?

Step 2. Organize Your List of Suggest App Names

If you’ve asked others for help, you may end up with a long list. That’s a good thing. Transfer each list to a spreadsheet program of your choice, Google Sheets, MS Excel or otherwise. You’ll need one column for the list of name suggestions and one column so you can track who submitted it. You might want to alphabetically sort the suggestions so you can merge duplicates (associate everyone who came up with the same app name suggestion).

Step 3. Use Wordplay to Explore Creative App Naming Options

Once you’ve listed everything in your keyword cloud, you can start doing some wordplay. You have many wordplay methods at your disposal, here are just a few:

  • Personification: Create or use the name of a central character as with all manner of games.
  • Morphology: Use different spellings to replicate different sounds or form puns – WhatsApp, EZ Note, MegaFon.
  • Addition: Make a word different by adding a letter – iTunes, 4shared, Fiverr… Reinvently!
  • Omission: Remove a letter from a word to make it distinctive – Wanderlust Xtra, Pixlr, Micromax Vdeo.
  • Wordoids: Made-up words that look nice, feel great and are good for naming things – Häagen-Dazs, Accenture and Xerox are just a few surprising examples.

Your research may turn up other types of wordplay, too. If your list is still small, you might at least check out the Random Business Name Generator. Just add two keywords and it’ll auto-generate several thousand options. Expect anything from unbelievably bad to surprisingly good…

Step 4. Trim Your List of App Names

As you could end up with a very long list, you might trim out obvious “no-go” options or group very similar options into the same line. “No-go” options include names that might be offensive to someone, have a double but derogatory double meaning, and especially those that are already very closely associated with other well-known brands or products. Realistically for the next stage, you really want no more than one option for every two people who will be participating in the selection process.

Step 5. Shortlisting App Names

In the final stages of the selection process, you are getting everyone to vote on the app name they like best. You will want to provide everyone with some selection criteria – as outlined above in “attributes” of a good name. The goal here is to reduce what might still be a large list down to a Top 5 or 10 options. There’s a chance that the shortlisting process may identify a clear winner… but there’s a little more work to do.

Step 6. Due Diligence for the App Naming Process

This phase involves doing Trademark, Competition and Domain Name availability research. For Trademark Research, you will need to consult with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to make sure any name you select is not the same as (or confusingly similar) to any Trademarked name. If you are outside the United States, you’ll need to check with your corresponding government office. This is fairly easy to do and the USPTO web site provides clear if basic instructions.

Even if there is not a trademarked name preventing you from using one in your list, do a search on Google to see what the competition is like for your app’s name. Do the same on Google Play and the App Store. At the very least, you want to avoid using a name that is very similar or the same as another app or product to avoid confusion and simply to avoid direct competition out of the starting gate. Domain name availability is not so much an issue unless you insist on having a .com, .bus or .net suffix. There are hundreds of top-level domains available and many more pending release.

If any name looks like it may have issues, simply remove it from your list. If you intend to market your app internationally, the process is more complex. In particular, you will want to research whether your app name options have any derogatory meanings when translated into markets you intend to enter.

Stage 7. Final Vote in the App Naming Process

Just like you did in Step 5 – Shortlisting, send your final streamlined list of app names to everyone in the selection process for a final vote. If you have a tie, then you may conduct a run-off with the top contenders, or let the CEO decide. A good name should fit your goals and avoid the following pitfalls:

  • Avoid names confusingly similar to other legally protected names.
  • Make it easy to say, spell and read.
  • Avoid naming it after yourself.
  • Do your best to arrive at a name that you can legally protect.
  • If you intend to reach multiple geographical markets, review whether your name has any negative connotations or different meanings in their local languages.
  • Avoid hyphenations if you intend to have a web site based upon the name of your product.

There’s always a small chance that confidence may be lacking in the final selection. In that case, my recommendation would be to re-do Steps 4 through 7 but limiting participants to people in your target market and/or likely user groups. You might ask your customers, set up a survey or if really unsure, consult with a professional naming agency. Don’t forget to thank everyone for participating and make sure that the individual submitting the winning entry is acknowledged and/or receives their prize.

We’ve Used This Process for More than Naming Apps

This naming process can be used for just about anything – company names, product names, domain names, just as easily as it can for app names. Artem, our CEO, shared that this process is how our company name was selected,

We were looking for a name that combined our creative capacity and smart, result-driven approach to mobile products. The process took a few months. Everyone in the company was encouraged to submit their ideas and we received a lot of good names… and some zany ones, too. But, everyone voted and Reinvently came out as the clear winner. In my view, it really captured what we do in developing and designing smart mobile products. Mobile technologies frequently reinvent the way people do things and sometimes how entire companies do things.

This is also the same process I used many years ago when starting a company newsletter for EG&G and LSI while in Iraq. Over a hundred ideas were submitted and after two rounds of voting, the LSI EGGspress was born. While some thought the name was not professional enough, it was a hit with the audience (our fellow contractors) and the corporate office for offering a bit of morale-boosting humor in an otherwise harsh environment.

Final Words of Advice

Just as a great name can help make your app a success, so also can a bad name send it to an early grave. Whenever starting on a project, keep this process in mind and apply to it as you go. Then you’ll avoid needing to rush the process. Do your best to not get caught up in relying entirely upon “inspiration” for a name. That frequently ends up with selecting a name that only “the boss” likes. Include it as one of the options, just make sure that all options are treated equally throughout the entire selection process.

Trying to come up with the PERFECT NAME can be a trap. “A good plan executed now is better than a perfect plan next week,” as General George Patton would say holds true with names, too – especially when you’re dealing with a deadline. The problem with seeking perfection is that by the time you find it, your expectations for it will have changed.


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