While working on a recent renaming project for a mid-size client, I was concurrently reading Naseem Javed’s book, Naming for Power: Creating Successful Names for the Business World, published in 1993. Javed’s website describes him as “a world-renowned authority on corporate nomenclature” and in the 1990s he was Canada’s go-to corporate naming guru.

It’s always interesting to read books like this one decades after they were written, noting what has stood the test of time and what now seems embarrassingly dated.

For the most part I found Javed’s notes and observations to be very relevant to modern marketers, and indeed the challenges of corporate naming that he outlines are no doubt even more daunting today than they were in 1993.

On the subject of coined names for companies, such as Kodak and Xerox, he wrote:

The reasons for the explosive increase in coined names are numerous and critical: American businesses have expanded at an unpredicted rate, making good, new names increasingly difficult to register… The downside, for a change, was not a limiting or stultifying quality to these names, but merely the fact that it was increasingly difficult for companies to find three- or four-letter combinations which had not already been registered, or were pronounceable, or were not easily mistaken for other alpha-combinations which were already in use.

You can say that again, Javed.

According to the World Bank, 933,000 new businesses were registered in Canada alone between 2004 and 2009 (the only years for which the data is available). When you extrapolate those numbers to the rest of North America, then consider how many Canadian corporations are doing business internationally and therefore need names that are globally unique, discovering that perfect name that says it all in one cute little package of letters seems impossible.

But what Javed neglects to mention in his book is that names don’t exist in a vacuum, and even with coined names you’re never really starting from scratch. The layers of association and differentiation that endow your “alpha-combination” of choice with meaning and that you refine and extrapolate through the subsequent branding process—that’s where the real magic happens.

Are names important? Absolutely, and when your business is your baby (as is the case with so many of our clients who own and manage their companies) it’s only natural for its name to carry deep emotional significance as well as strategic importance.

The process of developing a new corporate name should only be undertaken with due consideration and reverence. That means establishing a robust set of naming criteria, conducting a thorough competitive analysis and assembling a top-notch team that combines creativity and deep industry knowledge. But until you develop your brand, the best a name can do is look good on paper.

So if you ever find yourself in the throes of a corporate naming or renaming process, convinced that there really is no such thing as a new idea, remember:

Your new name doesn’t define your brand. Your brand brings depth and meaning to your new name.

Do you agree? Have you ever been part of a corporate naming or renaming process?