Everyone has a personal reaction to names.  This means that, like it or not, everyone will have a reaction to your business name.

When a great name doesn’t fall from the sky (as it did for Jeffrey Harkness, founder of Hark Digital), startups turn to creating an attention-getting name.  Common pitfalls are names that sound overly fabricated, or names that sound “clever”.  Not everyone may think your name as witty as you do.  Your name can reflect on your marketing chops, your savvy, even your business plan.

An interesting way to conquer these naming demons is a name that sounds great and is fun to say but whose meaning is not readily apparent.

Don’t cherry-pick a word from another language for its meaning parts.  Mere etymology is meaningless in creating brand emotion – and will land you squarely in “clever” territory.

Pick a name that allows you to tell a story.  Like Sangamo Biosciences did.  The word ‘Sangamo’ is pleasing to say.  It has strong first-syllable stress, a pattern that English speakers like.  The consonants roll off the tongue (and lips).  The final –o resonates with a sound that often ends English words:  mow, glow, toe.  In other words, English speakers intuitively ‘get’, and like, the sound of the word.  And Sangamo has a great story behind it.  Unlike technical-sounding biopharmaceutical company names, the sound and the story behind Sangamo enable the company to create memorable name recognition within its industry.

My reaction when I first heard the name Sangamo:  “That sounds like Sagamore, a word for ‘chief’ in an Algonquian language spoken on Long Island, NY.  Nah, couldn’t be.”  Turns out I was right.

Edward Lanphier, founder and CEO of Sangamo Biosciences, took the name from Sangamo Electric, his grandfather’s company in Illinois …. Algonquian language territory.  Family lore attributed the name to the Sangamon River in Illinois as well as possibly to an Illinois chief from the area.  I consulted Algonquian language expert Michael McCafferty at Indiana University who, via rigorous linguistic analysis, suggests Sangamo may be traceable ultimately to a Proto-Algonquian word meaning ‘powerful being’ – connected also to my NY Algonquian word ‘Sagamore’ – a being that sometimes took the form of a snake … reminiscent of the twists and turns of the Sangamon river.

The particular details don’t matter for the industry presence of a biopharmaceutical company.  What matters is that Edward Lanphier gets to tell a story when someone asks him about his unusual company name.  Will people remember the details?  Maybe not.  But they’ll remember Sangamo.

People like to hear stories.  Your story is what your brand is all about.