Office Hours: I named PayPal, Affirm, Concur, Ariba, and 60 products for Apple. I'm SB Master, founder of Master-McNeil and Naming Matters.Featured

Hi everyone! I am SB Master, founder of Naming Matters (, which automates and visualizes new name selection, so users make better choices and minimize risk. I’m also the founder of Master-McNeil ( We’ve created hundreds of new names including Concur, Ariba, Plenty, Affirm, PayPal, OneWorld, Eos, Pixo, Clarium, and over 60 names for Apple. Before that I was Associate Director of Corporate Identity at Landor and founding director of their naming division. Some names I’m responsible for there include Westin, Touchstone, and Principal. I have an MBA from Harvard Business School and a triple major BA from the University of California, Santa Cruz where I’m also a Trustee. Ask me anything about name creation, name selection, brand architecture, trademark, and being a Mom of 3 while founding and running a company!
Thanks so much for joining us @sbmaster!Elphas – please ask @sbmaster your questions before Friday, September 18th. @sbmaster may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
Hello and thank you for your time!Could you share some not-so-obvious naming mistakes, that you observe founders being prone to?
Hi Monika,This is a big question and I see it has gotten a lot of up-votes, so I'll try my best to answer succinctly and in an actionable manner.There are so many ways to go wrong, and I think founders can experience a confounding mix of full-speed-ahead, get it done-ness, and near paralysis. Here are a few checkpoints to minimize the craziness:- do not mistake URL availability for name availability. Just because you can get (or buy) a URL, does not mean that name, or even one similar but not identical to it, will be available for your use. URL availability and trademark availability are not the same, they are two largely-exogenous systems. Before you spend time and money on a name, and certainly before you fall in love and invest emotional energy in it, be sure to check its availability to be used as a trademark for your planned goods or services. This is the case, even if you do not plan to actually file an application to register your name as a trademark. Not understanding this or skipping this step is a big mistake many founders make.- do not assume that a small alteration of or variation on an existing name, already used by someone else in your sector, will eliminate trademark risk and make that name available for you. Depending on the precise situation, these often-not-helpful strategies include truncation (removing a letter), adding a letter, adding a prefix or suffix, or switching-out a letter, an "i" for a "y" for example (Smyle for Smile). In many cases these strategies will leave you with an awkward or bizarre formulation, and will still leave you open to an objection for trademark infringement based on similarity. - do not choose a name that is too narrowly descriptive, which can back you into a corner and create future problems for growth. This includes names that reference specific geographies, or narrowly describe a specific product or feature. - do not base a name on a pun, a joke, word play, or some oh-so-clever in-crowd reference. These names tend to age badly and can have trouble functioning internationally, beyond the language in which they were conceived.- I am not a big fan of completely made-up or purely arbitrary names. It is so hard to build a brand! Much better is to try and find a name that conveys or suggests something relevant to what you are doing, or who you are as a person or a company. Build your name around that, and it has the potential to be uniquely yours. This is in contrast to making your audiences and followers and customers try and remember some random string of letters that do not mean anything to anyone. Monika, there are so many opportunities to get into trouble, but I think I will stop here, that is more than enough red flags!
This is gold. Thank you so much for sharing; it gives me two action items right away.I have to admit I definitely underestimated the breadth of this topic!
I find the naming so, so interesting. Thanks for being here! What’s your perspective on a new business making sure they have the name perfectly as a dot com URL when building their company and brand? Meaning, if the company is named Lamp, for example, how important is it that the main URL is Same question for social media handles - how important to have the exact company name?Thanks!
Hi Laura,This is a complex question as we see the importance of URLs shifting, as search evolves. That said, a .com URL still is very desirable, as it carries a lot of weight as a signal of seriousness and power. That there are around 140M .com registrations today is an indication of this desirability. Even the most popular of the newer gTLDs have not achieved much adoption: 2.9M registrations for .top (amusingly, at the top of the newer TLDs), 2.2M registrations for #2, .loan, and 1.8M for #3, .xyz. The .ai you see is actually in another category, as it is a country code, for Anguilla.So, everyone still want a .com. But a short, real-word .com such as your example will almost certainly be unavailable, as either already in use or registered years ago by someone hoping to resell it for a high price. An option that is sometimes achievable is to add a descriptive word to your name in order to secure the URL, such as, or These URLs can be available, or at least much less expensive than an exact word .com. This is a reasonable solution.A better option in my opinion, though, is to select a name that is suggestive rather than descriptive. For example, if you like the idea of Lamp, or really are in the lamp business, you might explore names around the ideas of light, illumination, or cognition. For example:, or (not suggesting these, just examples of what can come out of this exploration). You can create a new name that actually has an available or inexpensive exact .com! This naming approach also increases the chance that your name will be protectable as a trademark. And -- in the cosmic convergence of brand creation -- be available as your desired social media handles as well.
Thanks for this! Appreciate the time.
Hi Laura, thx for reaching out. This seems like a long time ago that i responded to this AMA, so happy to hear people are still finding it useful. Maybe with all the extra pandemic time I should answer some more of the questions I didn't get to, back then. Best, SB
Hi @sbmaster. Thank you for joining us.My name is Jessica and I'm the CEO of Points North Studio. For the first time this year we worked with a couple clients in the role of consulting on their company renaming. It was an eye-opening process and from that experience I have a couple questions:Renaming can be a beast of an undertaking. Where should one start if they are looking to rename their company?In your experience, what is the most common pitfall or mistake that you see companies make when undergoing a naming process, and how do you avoid it?Thank you so much for your time.
Love this question @jesswatson! Building on do you know when a renaming is needed?
Hi Kylie,Sorry for delay responding, so many questions! Of course rebranding or renaming is an expensive and disruptive process, and so should be avoided. But sometimes it becomes inevitable. Here are some circumstances when it needs to be considered:-when the current name is no longer appropriate because it has come to have inappropriate, or offensive content or associations. Some very recent examples are the renaming of Uncle Ben's to Ben's Original, The Dixie Chicks to The Chicks, and the planned renaming of several sports teams. A local (SF) example by a young company was the renaming of the catering company Hasty. They meant their name to suggest health + taste, but were getting more a sense of rushed, with the taste message not coming through at all. We changed their name to Zesty. In these examples, closely new names that are related to the prior name can ease the transition.-when the current name is no longer accurate or is limiting perceptions. There are so many examples of this, particularly as industrial companies outgrow their original purposes or geographies. General Electric becoming GE, Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing becoming 3M, International Business Machines becoming IBM, American Telephone & Telegraph becoming AT&T.-when there is a merger or acquisition, and the companies can't accept each other's name. Sometimes this is due to inappropriate content or image, sometimes due to CEO pride or ego. While often hard to get the multiple players involved to agree on anything, especially as they don't know (or necessarily trust) each other yet, this is an opportunity to do something fresh and exciting to unite the new combined entity under an entirely new name.-when a division or entity is being spun off and can no longer use its former parent's name; or if entities are being spun off from several companies and combined. In this case it may be possible to reference the origin stories, making the transition a good story and more compatible for all. Our name Borealis, for the spun-off petrochemical divisions of the Finnish and Norweigian national oil companies, is a good example of this, referencing the Nordic heritage of both in a creative and evocative way. Of course, as discussed in some of my other answers, one way to avoid all these problems is to choose a name that is suggestive rather than descriptive, and thus has the ability to grow with you. I'm sure we can all think of companies that have expanded far beyond their original businesses, but have been able to grow their associations and meanings due to having chosen an ownable, defensible, personality-rich, and non-limiting name: Apple, Oracle, Tesla, Affirm, Stripe, Intuit, Intel, for example.
@sbmaster thank you so much for the response. You gave some great examples that help put it renaming into context for me. Seven years ago I started a non-profit called Chic Geek to build more community for women in tech. We're pivoting to engage more companies and are finding the Chic Geek name and brand might not resonate with. our new, corporate audience, so a renaming is something we're seriously considering.
Hi Jessica,Please take a look at my answer to RSadwick, above, which goes into some detail about the naming process. I'd be interested to hear how similar this is to what you did at your firm, and how it went. And agreed, always fascinating and challenging to take a client through this process. Every one is a bit different and always more to learn (that's why I'm still doing this, after all these years).
Fascinating! I think it's one of the toughest jobs within branding. What's the process to name a company? What's the most difficult part of this process? Thanks~
Hi Pik,Thank you for this question. I discuss the naming process in some detail, integrated into my answer to RSadwick, below. She asked about key datapoints in the naming process. Can you take a look at that answer?In terms of what is the most difficult part, I think it is being able to recognize when you've got it right, you're done -- and that it is time to stop work and declare victory. For creative people there is often a feeling that something better may be out there, somewhere, just within reach. This can exhaust everyone, cost time and money, and accomplish nothing. Another difficult moment is giving up a name that may be a personal favorite, but is just not the correct, best solution for a given set of Naming Objectives. Letting go can be hard.
Thank you so much for sharing your process. Recognizing when you got it right is definitely the most difficult part! When I tried to name my own business, I always felt that there were better names out there so I spent days and even weeks thinking about it, feeling that I would never get the right name. Sometimes I even felt helpless. I guess the process helps.
Thanks for sharing your insight @sbmaster! I'm curious whether there are certain data points or inputs that constitute "noise" in the naming decision - meaning, they complicate the process of finding the right name, while feeling relevant but really being distractions. Listening to the wrong customer feedback, or opinions of people too far outside your intended audience comes to mind as a possible one, but I'm curious whether you'd agree and your overall thoughts.Thank you!
Hi RSadwick,This, like so many of these questions here from elpha members, are complex ones which could justify a long essay. I'll try and focus here on a few key inputs that get to the gist of your question.It is important to agree upon and establish a small team that will drive your naming process and manage the eventual decision. This would ideally be no more than five or six people. More than that and it is just too hard to reach agreement. Be sure, however, that this team includes the range of viewpoints and opinions represented in your larger group, including outlier views.This group should fully explore and then agree on a specific set of Naming Objectives, which define what your name needs to convey or suggest. This is hard, because to do this you need to leave out a lot of also-desirable messages. Ideally there will be no more than four or five Naming Objectives; potentially in priority order.Your creative exploration, by your team or including a larger group working to the same Naming Objectives, can easily yield hundreds of candidate names. Your key datapoints to determine which names move forward will be how well these candidate names perform against these Objectives.A key complication at this stage is input from people who have not been involved in the process offering their opinions, favorites, and hates. Partners, spouses, colleagues, putting a big list of names to a vote -- these will lead to delays and confusion. This is where you might hear a comment like "I had a dog named that and he died" (true story). You need to avoid opening up your process at this stage in this way. Once you have a smaller group of names that are performing well against your Naming Objectives, they need to be subjected to preliminary trademark screening. This can be done by hand, by an attorney, or our Naming Matters software is designed to quickly get a roster of names through this stage. There is no point thinking any further about a risky name that has a chance of garnering a cease-and-desist order or getting you sued.Only at this stage does it make sense to get wider input or feedback on your best surviving names. And that feedback should assess how well the candidate names perform against your desired Naming Objectives. "Like" or "Not Like" is not as important a datapoint as whether the names make sense, that is, do they convey or suggest what you need them to? You can get your audiences to fall in love later, but you cannot change their objective, rational opinions that a name is just not right for what your are trying to say.
Wow, thank you so much for this thoughtful insight @sbmaster, I really appreciate it and look forward to re-reading and incorporating your thoughts.Thanks for this informative AMA! I know that we all really appreciate it.
How much should founders care about the URL/TLD when choosing a name? Is it okay to take on a suboptimal domain if it means choosing a name that we really like?(And does your company offer consultations? We'd love to talk to an expert before making such a big change to our brand)
Hi Akshaya,Please take a look at my answer to Laura in the second question, above. In that response I talk about the role of URLs/TLDs in name selection.And yes, happy to consult, email me at [email protected] and we can arrange. Or, our Pro subscription at provides unlimited ability to research the riskiness of alternative names.
Hi @sbmaster - thanks for offering your time! 👋 I'm curious if you've ever worked with the renaming of an already existing product or company. Were there any roadblocks in adoption with the organization? How do you balance the emotions of those with sentimental ties to the previous brand + desire for change? Thanks so much!
Hi VK, Please take a look at my answer to Kylie (kyliewoods), above, which is nested below my answer to Jessica (jesswatson), also above. There I address a number of renaming scenarios including when justified or required, and some of the organizational and emotional issues involved.
Hi @sbmaster! Would love your advice on how to think about branding and naming products and features, and how to do the same for new products as they get added to the suite, without sacrificing brand unity.
Thanks for sharing your time. Can you share more information about how you approach brand architecture and any frameworks you apply that you can share :)
I am curious about your experience being a Mom of 3 while founding and running a company!1. Do you delegate/outsource the majority of housework/ childcare?2. Is there a support system you rely on? 3. How do you make decisions about when to work on a project versus spend time with your kids?I ask as a first time parent, and working mother. I want to be successful in my career, and don’t mind getting help. But I’m curious to learn what you outsource versus do on your own in both work and at home!
Thank you so much for offering your expertise! I've been through naming projects several times on the corporate side and am now doing it for a startup -- I find the process so fascinating. I have two questions: 1.) Trademarks -- the trend is towards creative spellings of words to obtain URLs. How close is too close to another mark, assuming it is in a different category of goods? I assume this is OK because the same word mark can be used in multiple classes of goods. I did look at your site and that seems to give a lot of guidance.2.) Consumer/user input -- it's almost always a good idea to get outside perspective; however, even if you explain what your product is/does, customers may not fully appreciate what you are trying to achieve with you product positioning or branding until the product is launched. How do you balance what are you/your team's brand objectives with meaningful and actionable customer feedback?
Wonderful to meet you, @sbmaster! When taking on a brand architecture project for a brand with many, complex features and products, what are the top questions you ask to help drive to clarity? And what are your 3 all-time favorite brand names in or out of your portfolio?!
This is valuable knowledge you're sharing. Thanks for doing this AMA!About marketable names, can you describe your approach to finding names that are easily marketable and adopted into common vocabulary? An example: Google - everyone on the planet knows the name regardless of native language, the name became a verb, etc.
Hi @sbmaster! I have a couple of questions1. How has naming trends changed over the years?2. What was your journey like in becoming an expert on naming?
Thank you so much for sharing your skills and knowledge! What an existing topic related to branding. Was there ever a name that you didn't recommend but your client went with anyways and was successful?
How does the importance of the name itself compare to that of the logo for building brand identity?
Hi @sbmaster. Curious about your own business model and how you think about pricing what you sell 1) when you were in the services model vs. now 2) in a more product/tech-driven model. How do you think about how to value/price what you offer since creativity involves both outsized success and failure --> what turns out to be the "right" name for a startup that becomes a PayPal is worth 1000x more in value to that company compared to the YC company you gave the perfect name to but failed. If you charge the same for those services, it doesn't quite seem right and there'd be a huge amount of value un-captured.Another way to get around that might be some performance-based system of flat fee + how well the name takes off, yet that would be hard to measure...Curious how you thought through your revenue model.
Hi SB! Great topics & advice!