Your climate startup name doesn’t need to include the words ‘green’ or ‘eco’
By Scott Quill
The first naming project I led for Google went horribly awry. I mismanaged the process and landed on a name that never saw the light of day.
More mistakes and the occasional success have helped me develop a good naming process. I’ve learned that finding a name that fits your brand just right can even be fun.
Whether you’re excited or terrified by the prospect of naming your company or product, there are a few pitfalls to avoid and plenty of resources to help you get it right.
Editor’s note: This post focuses on environmental brand names, but the naming principles apply to any industry.
A case study in naming
At large companies, naming decisions, like all decisions, often involve many competing voices and other complexities. Take GE, for example. Last week the conglomerate announced the output of a six-month naming process.
The three companies that will result from its split are GE HealthCare, GE Aerospace, and GE Vernova. These names aren’t particularly interesting. So why examine them?
The announcement of GE Vernova, which represents GE’s energy portfolio, offers lessons for anyone interested in naming a company or product in the environmental, climate tech, or sustainability space.
I asked Jay Jurisich, founder of the naming agency Zinzin, for his take. “‘Vernova’ is about as ‘new’ (nova!) as using a green color (verde!) to denote “eco-friendly,” Jurisich said.
We’re not going to Monday-morning quarterback GE’s names; we don’t have access to all of the information that went into their decision-making process. Still, there are lessons to glean here.
How to stand out
1. There are naming resources available
As the naming agency PS212 puts it: Your name is the first word of your story. You want to get it right.
If you have a naming decision ahead of you and can afford it, hire a good agency to help name your brand. A naming partner with a rigorous process can help you avoid common mistakes.
If you plan to do it yourself, check out Zinzin’s free naming resources.
2. Names that blend in tell the world you’re not unique
“Most companies (and even agencies, oddly enough), don’t take this crucial step of thoroughly understanding their competition in terms of brand names, so they don’t see the pitfalls of plunging into the same kinds of traps that 80% or so of their competitors have fallen into,” Jurisich says.
This leads to a sea of names that sound alike and are impossible to differentiate or remember. An unremarkable name also means you’ll likely spend more time and money in the long run trying to convince the world of your uniqueness.
3. The climate space is saturated with words like green, eco, terra and re-
First, the GE prefix makes it sound like a product rather than a company. Given GE’s brand equity, they just couldn’t allow themselves to drop the GE, even though we’re talking about separate companies here, not divisions or products.
Second, GE had to explain the name in their press release.
“[GE Vernova] is a “combination of ‘ver,’ derived from ‘verde’ and ‘verdant,’ to signal the greens and blues of Earth, and ‘nova,’ from the Latin ‘novus,’ or ‘new,’ reflecting a new and innovative era of lower-carbon energy that GE Vernova will help deliver.” (GE.com)
“Whenever a company has to explain a name, they are mistaking the concept of a name having meaning with a name that is meaningful for their audience,” says Jurisich. “Just because we get it, doesn’t mean we won’t then just forget it.”
This is not to suggest you shouldn’t share the story behind your name. Great names offer layers of meaning to tell your brand story. The point is, your audience shouldn’t need to dig through all those layers just to make sense of your name.
4. Distinctive climate brand names offer inspiration
Climate journalist Emily Atkin’s Heated is “a newsletter for people who are pissed off about the climate crisis.” The name sets a tone for the publication (fired up!), and the domain name (heated.world) communicates the central issue (a warming planet).
Lonely Whale tells the story of 52 Blue, the world’s loneliest whale. Once positioned as a creative agency, this nonprofit is focused on preventing plastic waste from entering the ocean. Its name tells a poignant story that relays its brand purpose.