Shakespeare may have had a point when he wrote "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

But he wasn’t an app developer.

Your app will certainly have to be useful or fun if you expect people to use it, but choosing the right name is important too. When it comes to naming your app, there’s a lot to consider, and a well thought out name can make a big difference to your bottom line. It’s your chance to create a first impression with a potential customer and it can definitely influence whether they surf on past or decide to download.

In this guide we’re going to look at some practical considerations when you’re choosing a name for your iOS app. We’ll take a look at the limitations, the impact on search, the potential of keywords or other references, the importance of localization, and a whole lot more.

Grab yourself a drink, put your feet up, and let’s explore the strange art of picking an app name.

Finding the right name

There are lots of different ways to choose a name, but the best names have some common features:

  • Choose a name that’s unique
  • Choose a name that’s descriptive
  • Choose a name that’s easy to say and spell

As of September 2014 there were 1.3 million apps in the App Store. That’s a big crowd to try and stand out from. If your app is one of ten with the same generic name, or you try to piggyback on the success of a well-known app name, then you’re going to struggle to stand out. If you don’t have a unique name, then all of your marketing and promotion efforts could be driving customers to competing apps.

Ideally people will get a sense of what your app is about from the name. We’ll get to the importance of keywords when potential customers are searching in a moment, but, in simple terms, people are more likely to find your app and click through to your app presentation page if they have an idea what your app is all about from the name alone. That same logic applies to your wider promotion outside the App Store.

You don’t want people puzzling over how to spell your app name. If you get word of mouth promotions, which you’ll obviously be hoping for, it’s important that people can guess at the spelling of your app name after hearing it in a conversation. An obvious spelling and pronunciation will make it easier to find in general.

Checking name availability

Coming up with a name that you like isn’t the really tough part. Coming up with a name that you like that hasn’t been used is the real challenge. There are two elements to this:

  1. Check App Store availability
  2. Check wider usage and trademarks

You may imagine that searching in the App Store will reveal all the app names that are in use, but in fact some developers may have already claimed names before submitting their apps. The best way to be certain is to start the process of submitting an application in your iTunes Connect account by going to Manage Your Apps > Add New Application.

You also have to consider whether your app name has already been trademarked and if that might cause you problems or conflicts. You can search at The United States Patent and Trademark Office to see if anyone has trademarked your name. It’s also worth doing a basic Google search, and checking for domain name, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media accounts availability.

If you don’t want to do all the legwork yourself then try a site that searches multiple sources for you like Knowem or NameChecklist.

Reserving your app name

Once you have submitted a new record for an app you have 180 days to submit a binary. This means that the app name is effectively reserved for you, but it will become available to the general developer community again if you don’t submit your code within 180 days. Bear in mind that if you reserve the name and then fail to submit within the grace period you may be blocked from using that name again, even if no one else has claimed it.

Naming conventions

There are two places that your app name will be displayed.

  1. iTunes Connect App Name – this can be a maximum of 75 characters (although only around the first 25 characters are displayed) and it is the name that will be displayed in the App Store.
  2. Bundle Display Name – this can be a maximum of around 12 characters and it is the name that will appear under your app icon on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch.

The length limits are actually based on width, so your mileage may vary as some characters are wider than others.

The two names do not have to be identical, but they should be similar. Try to come up with a catchy, short descriptive name that you can use in both fields and then expand on it in the iTunes Connect App Name with relevant keywords that will help people to find it when searching. Even though only around 25 characters of your iTunes Connect App Name will be displayed in the App Store the keywords used in the rest of the name will have an impact in search, so there can be value in making it a bit longer.

If you want to get an idea of what your name will look like in the App Store on an iPhone or an iPad screen then try it out in the free LocalizeDirect web app. You can fill in all the fields for an App Store presentation page and make sure everything looks good before you submit.

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Target the right keywords

You need to figure out what keywords people type into searches that you would like to lead to your app and then use these keywords in your App Name and in the keywords field when you submit your app. The keywords field is a maximum of 99 characters and you want to make the best of them. Keywords should all be single words separated by a comma.

You can start researching popular keywords for online searches using Google Trends or the Google AdWords Keyword Planner.

There are also a lot of tools and services that are geared specifically towards optimizing your keywords in the App Store and beyond. You could check out Sensor Tower, Mobile Dev HQ, or Appnique. There are many others out there.

Once you have put together a list of keywords that relate to your app you can start to analyze them. If you try to target the most popular keywords then expect tough competition. The Holy Grail is a popular keyword that people are always searching for, but that few apps included in their keyword list. You can also learn a lot from checking which keywords your most successful competitors are using.

Localizing your name

It’s crazy not to include localized metadata, keywords, and screenshots for other languages. It will dramatically boost your downloads and it’s relatively easy to do in the App Details page in iTunes Connect.

If you have a descriptive name then you’ll want to translate that too, for the same reasons we’ve discussed above – it will make it easier for potential customers to find your app. That will be especially important for the iTunes Connect App Name where you’ve put work into researching keywords.

You should consult a professional localization service for this process because direct translations aren’t necessarily the right way to go. A name that sounds good or has the right connotations in English may not work so well in other languages. Professional translators will ensure you are conveying the meaning you want.

There may be some exceptions where an app name is marketed internationally, some app names may be trademarked or include a proper name, and perhaps those are best left the same across languages, but you’ll still want to localize your descriptions and keywords into as many languages as possible.

The language displayed in the App Store for customers is based on their device settings and a lot of people will not download an app that isn’t localized into their language.

When choosing which languages to target there are two important lists to refer to – top countries by download and top countries by revenue. You can find the top five of each for Q1 of 2014 via App Annie’s Country Index, but you’ll need to sign up or seek out more research to dig deeper down the list.

Obey the rules

You don’t want to give Apple any reason to delay or reject your app, so make sure that your name doesn’t break the App Store Review Guidelines.

It should come as no surprise that you have to avoid using profanity, but you also need to make sure you don’t infringe any trademarks. Don’t use brand names or company names. You also need to avoid using the name of another app in your name or your keywords. The reasons are obvious, but this can be easy to accidentally do, especially with your keywords, so watch out for it.

Even if you don’t directly copy a name, if your app name is too similar that could be grounds for rejection. Don’t repeat your own app name as keywords either.

If your Bundle Display Name and your iTunes Connect App Name aren’t similar then your app may be rejected. Any mismatch in your metadata will get you rejected, so make sure your name and everything else hangs together and genuinely describes or fits with your app functionality.

A word on the iTunes preview page

Selecting the right name and making sure it is descriptive extends beyond the search in iTunes. Google indexes iTunes preview pages in its search results and they include your app name, weighted with H1 tags, as well as your description and other metadata.

The URL is also important here and that’s a good reason to avoid certain special characters, such as the copyright symbol in your app name, because they prevent the name being listed in the URL of the iTunes preview page. If you’ve used the right keywords in your name and it’s in the URL, backed by a good description, then you’ll rank higher in the Google search results.

The final word

As you can see there’s a lot to consider when choosing your app name, so take your time and get it right. You want something unique, short, descriptive, and easy to pronounce and spell. After that you can research useful keywords and work them into your longer name, description, and keywords field.

Think beyond the App Store to the wider Internet for search and social media, consider the international market and localization to maximize your audience, and make sure you don’t break Apple’s guidelines.

There’s more in a name than Shakespeare would have us believe.