What’s in a Name? Plenty.

A Rose by any other name would be a Sowthistle Weed. Can you imagine giving your loved one a dozen long-stemmed Sowthistle Weeds for Valentine’s Day? Unusual as it is, do you think a Sowthistle Weed would have become the symbol of romance?


A Rose by any other name would be a Sowthistle Weed. Can you imagine giving your loved one a dozen long-stemmed Sowthistle Weeds for Valentine's Day? Unusual as it is, do you think a Sowthistle Weed would have become the symbol of romance?

We are programmed to think, organize and connect by name, starting with our own, one of the first words we learn. Names are special words that hold magic. The very best names are easy to pronounce, appealing to the ear, sticky to the memory and whenever possible, link us to an associated emotion. That means the very mention of a name should be a complete mini-selling pitch of your brand. Pretty efficient.

Identifying the right name for your credit union is critically important. Not only is your name the first line of communication with an existing member, but often it makes a substantial impression before a potential member learns about the products, services and experience your credit union offers.

A name must define an institution's place in the market, be persuasive and pique curiosity for trial. With all of these roles, it's imperative to have the right name that communicates on both overt and subliminal levels. A great name involves not only the art of poetry and the science of linguistics but also a good measure of old-fashioned business sense.

It's not an easy task to craft a new name. Great names:

  • should embrace the brand position – and visa versa
  • are short, preferably three or fewer syllables
  • should be easy to pronounce and spell
  • are well balanced and intuitive
  • resonate… when a great name sounds right, you just know it
  • often imply speed and dominance
  • are durable and elastic
  • are memorable and unforgettable
  • should achieve separation from competitors
  • should demonstrate that the credit union is different
  • propel themselves and become self-sustaining
  • should create a positive and lasting impression
  • are available as internet domain addresses

Credit union name changes often present an additional layer of complexity not found in other business categories. Often, the impetus for a name change among credit unions is triggered by the organization changing its charter to serve the larger community in addition to legacy employee groups or single sponsors. The challenge is to acquire new members with a more community-oriented name and brand without alienating the existing member base.

The solution is a balance between the past and future. Some brands have found that balance better than others. There are great examples of names that serve "double-duty" including:

  • Hewlett Packard FCU re-branded as Addison Avenue FCU. Addison Avenue is the street in Palo Alto, California where in a small garage Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard launched the startup that would grow into Hewlett Packard. Diehard HP employees and fans recognize the connection, yet the community "hears" a pleasant sounding "place."
  • Class Room Teachers FCU in Louisville, KY adopted the new name Class Act FCU. Though similar in name to maintain continuity, the new name eliminates any confusion as to whether the institution is "just for teachers," while also carrying a very positive connotation about the organization's service commitment.
  • IBM Texas Employees FCU became Amplify FCU. Amplify pays tribute to electronics but also reaches the realm of personal finance, suggesting the credit union can help consumers increase wealth and financial security. Amplify is a great electronics-oriented moniker but also offers tremendous branding potential in discussing personal finances.
  • FAA First FCU to SkyOne FCU. This is different than the other examples because the credit union didn't "go community," but it expanded its field of membership from FAA employees only to the broader nationwide transportation industry.

Finding the common ground between the past and the future is not easy. You don't want to undertake this critical endeavor alone or solely within the board of directors. Using research for name development is imperative, but institutions often choose between qualitative or quantitative when they should ideally use both approaches in the quest for the appropriate name. Too many naming companies either rely solely on focus groups, or create hundreds of computer-generated derivatives for you to evaluate.

Both methods can be dangerous if used alone. Focus groups can weed out weak names but do not guarantee a winning selection. After focus groups provide directional guidance, the credit union should seek statistical validation. Ideally your approach would involve management, members, potential members and associates during the qualitative exploration of the new names. Then, market surveys can quantifiably confirm the leading options.

So, what's in a name? My favorite example was a story that first appeared in The New York Times. It was about an obscure South American fish called the Patagonian Tooth Fish. It was delicious and plentiful, but the market for it was nil because nobody wanted to eat a Patagonian Tooth Fish, let alone see one… until someone renamed it Chilean Sea Bass. The rest is food service history.

The right name is your most powerful single tool. If your company's name is doing a great job selling your organization, than a dozen Sowthistle Weeds to you.


About Bancography:
Bancography provides consulting services, software tools and marketing research to financial institutions to support their branch, product and brand positioning strategies. To help institutions with positioning in the marketplace, our brand strategy service creates names, logos, identities and brand positions that distinctly reflect each institution's product and service proposition.



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Dec. 14, 2009


  • sage advice and strategy. This is a great example of a "hands-on" article with practical direction that I can give to my marketing director.
  • h
  • One criteria for a new credit union name is missing from the list, and it is very important. A new name must be legally available and not already trademarked. With over 250,000 registered financial trademarks, finding a name that someone isn't already using somewhere is extremely difficult.

    Anyone interested in credit union naming should check out The Financial Brand's naming article library:


    There are over 60 different articles on naming, name changes case studies and trademark law.
    Jeffry Pilcher