Choosing a Company Name: the S.M.I.L.E. Test

It’s not easy to name an organization or a business.

Once you finally settle on a name, developing the branding to match must immediately follow.

Multiple questions arise when making the key decisions on naming and developing a brand mark. Here are just a few:

  • What’s trending right now?

  • What colors support the “tone” of your brand?

  • What would resonate quickest with your ideal customer?  

  • How to choose the correct fonts?

  • What immediately establishes credibility and clearly identifies the company?  

Start with the Name

Considering that your foundation is your name, let’s start there.

A good first question: how does your name connect the product/service to your ideal customer and their needs?

Ideally, if your name has a specific meaning and is carefully paired with a complementary mark, it will resonate with your customer upon introduction.

One of my favorite ways to illustrate how a name can add meaning is to use a playful combination exercise. For example, ivy league school names already have established reputations, so combining one of those names with a product or service would instantly add credibility. Yale Locks. Princeton Publishing. Columbia Marketing. Well paired names quickly become an asset.

Visualize your name and overall brand as a bridge between the marketplace and the identity/offerings of your company.  Be sure that as you describe your organization and what you do - you also consider the top challenges, needs, and pains of your ideal customers.  Your business name should be an introduction tool that fosters curiosity to learn more and creates compelling reasons why your customers would choose you.

There is no such thing as “the one right or perfect name.” It’s more a matter of being “aligned or misaligned.”  So take the time to be sure there is alignment on multiple levels: inside your organization, outside in the marketplace, and of course, with your ideal customers.  Don’t forget to roleplay using your new name while interacting with prospects that might work with your competition as well.

How to Test Your Name

About 10 years ago, I was introduced to a 12 step name selection process that has helped me and my clients immensely.  Once you’ve selected an initial name, leverage this process as a check step.

Featured in The Wall Street Journal, the SMILE & SCRATCH Test is based on a philosophy that a name should make you smile, instead of scratch your head. Use this test as a checklist for naming a company, naming a product, or even naming a baby. Go ahead. Give it a whirl and be honest with yourself…

SMILE if your name has these 5 winning qualities:

Suggestive – evokes a positive brand experience

Meaningful – your customers “get it”

Imagery – visually evocative to aid in memory

Legs – lends itself to a theme for extended mileage

Emotional – resonates with your audience

SCRATCH it if it has any of these 7 deal breakers:

Spelling-challenged – looks like a typo

Copycat – similar to competitors’ names

Restrictive – limits future growth

Annoying – hidden meaning, forced/pushy?

Tame – flat, descriptive (why would descriptive be tame?), uninspired

Curse of Knowledge – only insiders get it

Hard-to-pronounce – not obvious, unapproachable


Jason Manarchuck is the Founder & Growth Strategist behind SPROUT Consulting.  Jason gets jazzed when sharing his unique perspective with leaders so they can use it as a point of leverage in their lives, families, and organizations.

Jason brings over 20 years of consulting and leadership experience focused on the growth and development of leaders and brands in a variety of industries.  He seeks to share his creative and strategic perspectives with owners and stakeholders so they can add it as leverage for leading toward a desired future.

Jason Manarchuck