How to Choose a Business Name, Part 6: Length
In business, speed matters. It is why in 1981, Hewlett-Packard officially dropped their full name from their logo and embraced being known as HP. In 1982, The Coca-Cola Company realized that “Diet Coca-Cola” was too much of a mouthful, and branded their new drink using their nickname. And in 1994, Federal Express officially rebranded as the shortened phrase that their customers preferred: FedEx. Whether we are building computers, quenching our thirst or sending a package, speed is on our minds and the brands we use need to keep up.
The importance of length of a brand name stems from our ability as a customer to retain information. The sentence structure of most spoken languages groups important words like nouns and verbs together with less-important “glue” words like articles (a/the), conjunctions (and/or), prepositions (to/from) and pronouns (it/he/she). We are trained when listening to give our focus in spurts — we give brain power to the important words and let the brain relax in between. Because of this, most businesses choose a brand name made up of one or two words. Successful three-word brands exist, but are less common, especially since the beginning of the Information Age.
Memory and retention of a brand is critically important, but getting the information into our minds in the first place is not easy, especially when we are bombarded with information on a daily basis. This is why spelling and pronunciation are key.
Spelling: How fast can you read it?
Reading when we are moving quickly is hard, and making overworked eyes process a long brand name is just bad for business. Many three-word brands realized this and embraced acronyms as their business names: International Business Machines became IBM, Electronic Data Systems is known as EDS, and Kentucky Fried Chicken converted completely over to KFC.
For company names with two words, we tend to process each word separately, so the length of the longest word is what makes the most difference. When two words are joined together as one, visual symmetry is also important since we expect for the break to be in the middle. An example of this can be seen with the English words throughput (through put) compared to followthrough (follow through).
Syllables: How fast can you say it?
A brand name’s length is not only seen, it is perceived.
The amount of time it takes to say a name depends on the number of “syllables” it has, or its speaking pattern. Two syllables for a one-word name is the most common, and easiest for consumers to remember. Pepsi, Kleenex, Kodak and Google are strong two-syllable brands, and even Chevrolet often refers to itself as “Chevy.” However, the actual spelled length and the perceived spoken length should be a good match. Business names that are short with many syllables (Ikea), or long but with few syllables (BrightSquirrel) can be hard to recall, or hard to spell.
We recommend less than four syllables for a one-word name. For multiple word names, the ideal is two maximum per word (Coca Cola).
Domain Names: How fast can you write it?
The amount of time it takes to write or type a brand name may not affect customer memory as strongly as spelling and syllables. However, it is generally accepted that internet users prefer to type less, and because of this there is a premium placed on shorter names. A 3-letter .com domain name is rare and usually expensive, as are pronounceable 4-letter ones. The demand for well-structured 5-letter domains is growing as well; however, there are plenty of strong and memorable brands who have banked on 6 and 7 letters, such as Google and Kleenex that we mentioned before.
In general, we advise focusing on how your name is read and how it sounds, which should keep your domain name length in check.
Want more info on what to look for in a good name? Checkout our full series on how to choose a business name.