How to pick a name for your AI startup

What’s in a name?

A name starts the story of your company or product. A great name won’t make a lousy product soar. And a terrible name won’t necessarily drown fantastic technology. But in this world of exploding innovation in the AI industry, a great name paired with a great product will make your technology rise above.

Before naming your AI technology or company, you should consider several key factors that may help determine the right naming strategy:

  • Is this technology front and center with its users or powering an existing brand or experience?
  • How early in development is your AI, and when will it be genuinely differentiated from others?
  • Where should you be driving brand attribution and awareness long-term?

Should you use “AI” in your product or company name?

Let’s start with “AI” itself.

In this world of exploding innovation in the AI industry, a great name paired with a great product will make your technology rise above.

The acronym AI is used in many of the new names in the market, from established frontrunner OpenAI to Elon Musk’s newly launched xAI. This term is less likely to be a naming fad that will fade out of fashion because of its tangible nature.

“AI” will likely follow a similar trajectory with another trending tech term thanks to its tangible nature: “cloud.” At first, many naming experts feared the term would eventually sound dated and overused — but more than a decade after it began spreading as a naming word-part, “cloud” has proven it’s here to stay. It is still used in creative and descriptive product and company names (just read any tech product press release!).

Incorporating “AI” into your technology or company name can be done in a few different ways. For example, you may integrate it more creatively into your name (e.g., Clarifai, AEye). While this creates more distinctiveness and is a clever approach, it can also be tricky to create a word that is pronounceable and relevant to your value proposition.

Another option for using “AI” in your product or company name is to append the term to another word or your existing brand (e.g., OpenAI, Shield AI, SAP Business AI). This naming style is, admittedly, less distinctive but accomplishes a lot for you and your brand — signaling to your audience that you have an AI technology or an expansion of your existing brand, and they can expect to experience AI-powered features. What it lacks in creativity, it more than makes up for in clarity and brand strategy, which is often half the battle.

Should you name your AI technology something more evocative?

Whether or not to create a branded term (e.g., Bard, Lensa, Einstein) for your AI is a more complex question to answer.

Briefly put: You should create a brand for your AI if it suits your parent brand and is at the right time.

If you want your parent brand to accrue the benefit and brand equity that AI features deliver, use a descriptive name like [Parent Brand] AI. But if you want your AI to grow and evolve as a separate product and entity, you may name it something cleverer, as Google did with Bard.

However, Google’s early launch of Bard is a fitting example of the consequences of launching a creative name too early.

Google launched “Bard” as a brand when the technology was still in beta mode. The overall user reaction was that Bard is not as good as ChatGPT. It thus accrued brand attributes of not being as powerful as competitors. While still considered in beta and to be an “experiment,” the initial perception tied to the Bard name and brand will take time to shake. Google could have avoided these early negative associations if they had launched their beta mode as “Google AI” and launched the Bard name and brand when it was more fully functional.

If you are initially launching an AI technology in beta or simply enhancing your existing features, using a more descriptive term might be wise. It tells your audiences that you’re also in the game and offering AI-related functionality, much like your competitors. However, suppose you are ready for your AI technology to be a unique and interactive user experience that might be differentiated from competitors. In that case, it might be a suitable time to consider developing a more creative or evocative name for your AI technology.

Which path is best for you?

There is no single correct answer for everyone. Your decision on when and how to name your AI technology will be influenced by many factors.

How are you connected to or extending an existing brand or tech experience?

New technologies are often named or branded without first considering how they fit into the larger landscape of the parent company or brand context they will live within. Ask yourself: What user experience do we want to promote long-term? How can this AI technology help deliver on our parent brand’s promise to its customers? This may mean not creating fanciful naming or branding for the AI technology but instead using messaging or other marketing cues to signal the enhanced parent brand experience because of an integrated AI.

Where do you want to drive brand attribution?

If your AI technology is a stand-alone experience and you want your users to build a relationship directly with the technology, then consider developing a unique name and brand. However, if the AI experience itself is not robust and distinct from the product experience it enhances, consider a more subtle ingredient branding approach, such as “[Product Brand] is newly enhanced with AI.”

How differentiated is your AI functionality?

Many companies will implement AI technologies to match the market trends and keep pace with their industry’s use of AI. As you get ready to implement a new AI technology in your user experience, consider whether it is on par with what competitors are doing as a baseline experience enhancement or truly differentiated from what other AI experiences offer. If the former, there may be better opportunities for assigning a name to your AI, whereas the latter might be an opportune moment to consider branding your AI.

Where in the product life cycle are you?

As the world rushes to launch new AI products and integrate AI into existing products, another factor affecting your branding decisions is how early in the development cycle your AI project is. If you are in the conception or development phases or planning to roll out a beta version, there may be a better time to settle on a name or branding decision. It is better to wait and launch an AI technology’s name alongside the whole product experience. Announcing an AI name or brand prematurely could lead to your users having a half-hearted reaction to its incomplete capabilities.

Whatever the case, remember these naming paths, as they tend to result in valid, tested outcomes that allow a product or technology to scale with growth (and likely eliminate the need for a costly, future rebrand). Which is right for you depends on your product’s or company’s unique circumstances.