Small companies grow big

The 6 secrets of getting to a good company name


When organisations merge or are acquired, a name change is often required. Coming up with a new and good brand name is not simple. Let us explain how we do this – and what is a better example than merging preschools? You will soon see why...

Small locations become big organisations

In the past, a preschool was simply called The Magic Garden, The Butterfly or Dreamalot. It usually had one or two locations and a name matching the child's experience. The message to parents: ‘we understand your child and make sure he or she has a good time with us’.

But small child care organisations are becoming big! In Amsterdam, for example, you have Uk (“Tiny”), with over forty locations. Berend Botje in North Holland has more than twenty, plus 1,200 guest parents. Both organisations still bear the cute names from the days when they themselves were sweet and small, but now they are umbrella organisations that provide common policy, communication and management for the affiliated locations.

When you keep the cute location name

It makes sense for an organisation going through this development gradually to just keep its name – until a communication problem arises. Because if Berend Botje is the umbrella organisation behind locations with names that are in some sense the same, as in their case De Pierewiet and De Reigertjes, there is instinctively no hierarchy.

A naming hierarchy creates clarity and trust, both internally and with the outside world. Now it requires additional communication to make Berend Botje's role clear with respect to the locations.

What about the opposite: a distant sounding merger name

A merger on the other hand usually does involve moving on to a new name. As opposed to the sweet location names, these often become rather cold and businesslike, such as Raster, Combiwel or Catalpa.

But not always! More accessible names that still sound all-encompassing are, for example, LittleWorld, Partou and Allio. These lend themselves well to showing that behind a local branch there is a larger organisation; a company with personality that provides shared vision, standards and values.

What Raster and Catalpa lack is a "hook", a sound or association with relevance to parents and children that makes them stick in your memory with some positive promise. The name Combiwel does have that because it sounds like "good combination," and "well" also means “source”. Yet even in Combiwell the tone remains technical, while the message of good cooperation matters only to the affiliated locations. For the children and their parents, that is less relevant.

How to choose

In these mergers, choosing the company name is often preceded by a laborious process in which mostly abstract business names emerge that you can't really be against, but neither be really in favour of.

The fact that these processes are so difficult to steer is often a surprise. After all, most people experience a name as a given. We are mostly unaware of the feeling a name evokes. Most of us only realise how important the name is when it has to be chosen. Only when you have to decide, you start thinking about it.

It gets particularly tricky when people have to agree on the name. People have preferences, but don't know why. What criteria must the new name meet? How do you pilot your name proposal through various layers of management? And, once you are happy with a name, how do you avoid trademark problems?

To arrive at a good company name, it is necessary to establish a common frame of mind. A shared idea of what the name should communicate. To achieve that while staying ahead of trademark problems, it's good to adhere to the following principles.