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Naming A Business: Lessons in Storytelling From Top Brands

If you read about how to brand your startup, it is likely you will get advice on how to carefully choose the name of your company. Some will say that you should choose a name that represents what you do. On the opposite side, others will say your name should be completely unique—you have to claim those urls, handles, usernames, etc., and you can’t do that if there is already someone out there with a similar name, right?

There is an endless supply of advice out there about how to name your brand—and the 'experts' all have different opinions; however, there is one crucial piece of advice almost always overlooked: Honestly, it doesn’t really matter what your name is, as long you tell a compelling story. 


Tell Me a Story

Heed the advice of a master storyteller, whose words have survived for centuries:

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

In that one line, William Shakespeare gave the best piece of branding advice ever: You are not your name. Your name will not change how you do business, or why you chose to do what you do.

You are your story. And that is what your name should convey to customers. That is what your clients will connect with and remember you for.

What Does it Mean?

When we  first started, we had a generic company name , Anderson Marketing Consulting, which we changed to 41 Orange, Inc.. To us, it rolled off the tongue and encompassed our story—and those who we told ahead of time seemed to remember the name even months later. We thought that could be a good sign.

When we made the jump to the new name, we didn’t really know what reactions we were going to get. But it actually worked out to our advantage. As soon as I mention our business name, people ask right away, “What does it mean?”

We get a genuine opportunity to talk about our business, so we tell them our story:

“41 Orange is our startup story. We started our business at 4117 of off Orange Avenue, in a little house with a citrus tree. It is a reminder that even the largest trees with the juiciest fruit started small.

Memorable Brands Tell Great Stories

Weaving a story into your brand name helps build an emotional connection for your customers. Great brands have done this for ages:


Arguably one of the most iconic brands in the world, Google’s name was a happy accident (but what a story it tells!). In 1997 when founders Larry Page and Sean Anderson were contemplating names for their massive data-index, they named it Googol: a mathematical term for one of the largest describable numbers (1 followed by 100 zeros). You can see what they are getting at. They wanted to tell the world that what they have created is HUGE, a site that can index the largest amount of data ever seen. How they went from Googol to Google? As fate would have it, a spelling error.


Another globally recognized name, Starbucks also has a story to tell. Founded in Seattle’s historic Pike Place Market, Starbucks began as a single-store coffee shop with the goal of offering the finest coffee beans in the world. The name is inspired by a character in Moby Dick, first mate Starbuck, who one could describe as “preferring action not, words”—but also has a heart. The name was meant to evoke “the romance of the high seas and the seafaring tradition of early coffee traders.” Explains the logo as well. (psst… if you’re a little bit of a nerd like me and want to know more about Starbuck, check out this character analysis.)


Founder Jeff Bezos chose the name Amazon to describe what he felt would be an “exotic and different” way to shop. The Amazon also happens to be the largest river in the world, beating all other rivers nearly ten times over. That is Bezos story: We are not only different and exciting, but we are going to be massive. So large, in fact, that our competition will dwarf in comparison. And he was absolutely right.


Think About Your Story First

When it comes down to it, the best way to name your company is by first thinking about the story you want to tell. Your name should be a reflection of that story, not the other way around. Tell a great story, and your brand will be great.


About the Author: Samantha Anderson

Samantha Anderson

Samantha is the COO and co-founder of 41 Orange, inc, a marketing agency. She is also currently a member of the Board of Directors for San Diego Civic Youth Ballet, Balboa Park’s resident classical ballet school since 1945. Hailing from the agency world, Sam has worked with Fortune 500 tech, financial, and consumer brands, including Intel, Petco and LPL Financial, to shape their online presence and reach their target audiences more effectively through social media and beyond. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, emphasis in public relations from San Diego State University.