Naming a co-operative can be one of the more enjoyable parts of incorporating a co-operative. The naming process sometimes even piques the interest of those whose eyes glaze over at the thought of working with the Corporate Registry.

But there is a lot of diversity when it comes to naming a co-operative organization or business. Some co-op names describe the market they serve, such as Saskatoon Co-operative Association. Others focus on the services they provide, like the International Women’s Catering Co-operative. Still others are a bit more creative – take Sky Dragon Community Development Co-operative or Fourth Pig Worker Co-op, for example.

Here’s a few things to keep in mind when coming up with a name for a co-op.

Understand the message

The name of your business or organization carries a lot of weight. Like your own name, the name of the business will gain a history and reputation. It will cause associations and reactions in those that hear and see it. Naming a co-operative is both oddly arbitrary and immensely important.

So, while you can’t foresee every eventuality and work out all the possible consequences of choosing one name over another, it pays to keep your priorities and goals in mind when brainstorming a name.

Ask yourself, what kinds of thoughts and feelings should the name conjure? How does this name reflect our priorities and goals, our vision and mission? For example, Innovation Credit Union or Vancity Credit Union bring two very different, but relevant, ideas to mind. Innovation CU is a forward-thinking financial institution and Vancity is (not surprisingly) in Vancouver.

Say it out loud

It’s also not a bad idea to say the name out loud. How does it sound? Could it stick?

The human brain creates patterns every time it hears a sound (which is also a pattern, of course). To create a memory, the sound needs to be repeated. A simpler, catchy pattern will “stick” more easily than a more complex, less “sticky” one.

Take the time to make sure the name sticks.

Give it time

Once you have a short list of names, let them sit for a bit and come back to the list.

Taking a few days to step away from the creative process will provide you the opportunity to gain some perspective and come back with fresh eyes.

This is also a good opportunity to involve others.


Involve others

Not only is involving others a good idea for creating member engagement and loyalty, it’s just a smart move to include potential consumers or clients when testing names.

Moreover, the best way to ensure a co-op’s name resonates with its members is to include them in the process of choosing it. This can easily be achieved through a variety of forums, including a group or community meeting, online survey, through social media, or even posts on a community bulletin board.

To move closer to a decision, using a dotmocracy exercise to select a name is a great way to engage members or shareholders in a fun, productive activity.

Here’s how it works:

  • Members with an idea for a name write their suggestion on a post-it note and stick it to a board.
  • Once there’s a few ideas, members are provided 2-3 dot-sized stickers and place them on their favourite options.
  • Once voting is complete the name with the most dots is the winner.

Names that reflect the ideas, features, aspirations, and spirit of the organization will often be the most memorable. If members or shareholders want a community-focused socially responsible co-op, the name should probably reflect this. But if folks want to get down to business and keep it simple, that’s cool too. An authentic name will better support an authentic message. Involving others can help you identify that authenticity.

Consider the competition when naming a co-operative

Like brand positioning and business planning, considering your business’ name in relation to its competition is a good idea. (Also, FYI, non-profit or for-profit, you have competition – if you’re non-profit, you might just present a friendlier face to each other).

Naming is an opportunity to differentiate or indicate a difference. If your competitors are very corporate, maybe a less serious, grassroots name will make your organization more appealing and better represent your values and goals.

Understand the legal requirements

Each province outlines requirements for a co-operative’s legal name in their legislation as well as the corporate registry’s website. A co-operative is registered under a separate Act in most provinces and has specific terms it’s able to use in the legal name. (“Co-operative” generally being one, of course.)

You will also need to do a name search, check availability and register the name. This will cost you some (but not a ton) of money and time, so be prepared for both.

For the legal name, you may wish to include the co-operative’s structure in the name (worker, producer, consumer, etc). Be sure to use the appropriate wording. Some cases can be misleading. For example, a community services co-op that manages seniors housing should not refer to itself as a housing co-op as it does not follow legal provisions for housing co-ops.

It also pays to remember the difference between a legal name and a brand when naming a co-operative.


Legal name and brand name — there’s a difference.

To include, or to not include (a full legal name in branding), that is the question.

Remember that the name that gets submitted to the government does not have to be the name on the (virtual or physical) front door. Many co-operatives don’t use their legal name in their branding or advertising. Westlock Terminals is a terminal in Westlock, Alberta. It’s also a new generation co-operative. The ‘co-operative part’ doesn’t help explain much, so they operate simply as Westlock Terminals. Not a ton of creativity required, but effective nonetheless.

When it comes to operations, it often makes more sense to focus on consumer recognition and avoid the clunky parts of the business’ registered name. For example, your local co-op grocery store is most likely referred to as ‘the co-op,’ while its legal name might be Lake Country Co-op Limited. This is partly by design but is also a reflection of how consumers refer to the business.

On the other hand, there are times when including co-operative in the brand is a clear benefit. Housing co-ops, for example, are much more likely to market their structure as an incentive for customer participation. Being a co-operative in this case is generally a clear differentiator. The same can be said of some community service co-operatives, daycares and the like so that they appeal to a specific demographic or can manage prospective member expectations.

What’s in a name? (Mostly marketing and branding)

Our friends at Alif Partners Worker Co-operative Limited, a consulting firm in Edmonton, market themselves as simply Alif Partners. We refer to them as Alif. So, sometimes despite your best efforts, there’s a limited amount of control you can maintain over how people will use and understand your name and organization.

That said, taking the time to properly market your product or service and manage your brand across channels will help manage how people use your name and the associations they bring to it when they see or hear it.

With this in mind, if a business does not rely on its co-op structure to advance its market presence, it’s probably wise to simplify the name. (Remember the bit about repetition?). Home Hardware Canada and Agropur are great examples of dealer/producer-owned co-ops with recognizable brands that do not rely on their co-op structure for branding. Sunkist is another familiar brand, but not so familiar co-operative. All use simple memorable names.

Whatever way you land on a name, make sure it becomes a part of a conversation, remains relevant and engages members in an authentic and valuable way. No matter what sector the co-op operates in, for-profit or not, being present, relevant and valuable are essential ingredients to long term viability.

Need help coming up with a cool name? It pays to get some help when naming a co-operative. We’d be happy to join the conversation. Contact us.