Out-of-the-ordinary names certainly attract attention — but are they good for branding a business? Learn from these success stories.

“The giving of names is no small matter, nor should it be left to chance.” So said Socrates, who also believed that a name should “possess some sort of natural correctness … and if a letter is added or subtracted, that doesn’t matter either, so long as the being or essence of the thing is in control and expressed by the name.”

Imagine! Over two millennia ago, Socrates nailed the quality of a good name. He also cut a wide swath of approval for names “completely different from convention,” adding, “I myself prefer the view that names should be as much like things as possible, but I fear that defending this view is like hauling a ship up a sticky ramp.”

It’s almost as if Socrates foresaw the day when names would be kneaded into unusual forms to pass trademark, domain name and Web search hurdles — and when downright weird names (like Big Ass Fans, Skullcandy and Zappos) would label many, if not most, 21st-century marketing success stories. So how can you make an unusual name work for you and your business?

Advantages of an unusual name
Finding a good business name is no easy feat today, so there are some advantages to straying from convention:

- Unusual names are most likely available as domain names.
- They’re easier for consumers to find in organic searches, where conventional names get buried among a deluge of results.
- They demand explanation and commitment, requiring levels of brand definition and management that fuel market awareness — a first step toward brand dominance.

5 success stories
Let’s take a look at some individuals and brands that have maximized the benefit of an unusual name:
1. Lady Gaga: “I was performing in New York and my friends started to call me Gaga,” Stefani Germanotta told Barbara Walters. “They said I was very theatrical … you’re Gaga.” And, as the story goes, a stage name with “natural correctness” was born.
2. Smucker’s: When Jerome Monroe Smucker was pressing and selling fruit from Johnny Appleseed’s tree plantings in 1897, no one guessed his label would evolve into one of the more unusually named international brands. A “naturally incorrect” name that rhymes with both “yuck” and “pucker,” it gained not just acceptance but fame through the slogan “With a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good.”
3. iPad: In 2010, the name iPad was panned everywhere from the Twitter universe (“Come on iPad, clearly no woman was in the room when the naming decision was made”) to the business press (Fast Company: “Apple’s iPad Name Not the First Choice for Women. Period.”) to Business on Main’s community boards (“Stupid product names. iPad? Come on!). People questioned if the name would break the product.

Well, this just in: Industry tracker iSuppli predicts Apple will ship 43.7 million iPads this year and 63.3 million in 2012, up from an estimated 14 million in 2010. The name may have seemed odd, but its “natural correctness” with Apple’s brand architecture won over brand loyalists and, obviously, many others.
4. Urban Decay: Using the word “decay” in an industry dedicated to eternal youth would be a self-defeating anachronism if the “essence of the thing” — in this case dramatic, offbeat nail, lip and eye colors with names like Lip Gunk and Urban Camouflage Concealer — weren’t so “completely different from convention” and so thoroughly “in control and expressed by the name.”

5. Lisa Murkowski: You’d think a name people mispronounce and misspell would doom a write-in election, but Lisa Murkowski’s campaign proved otherwise. “Alaskans can’t fill in an oval and spell M-U-R-K-O-W-S-K-I?” she asked, before launching a longshot campaign featuring a high-stakes spelling bee that ended in a Murkowski victory.

Takeaway lessons
If your name is weird, unusual or just difficult to understand, pronounce, spell or remember, consider these steps:

- Turn the negative to a positive, like Smucker’s.
- Use humor and education to help people say, spell and remember your name, like Murkowski.
- Make your name the platform for every aspect of your brand message, like Lady Gaga and Urban Decay.
- Stay true to your name — and your product — without wavering, like Apple.
- Consistently build upon your name to kindle the imaginations and affections of your customers.

As a parting note, change a “weird” name only if you can’t find a way to use it to your advantage. As Socrates said, naming is no small matter. But one last word to the wise: Renaming is even harder.