Igor – a naming agency in Sausalito, CA – published a process for developing a name. They start with a taxonomy that includes a spectrum that goes from functional to invented to experimental to evocative. Igor’s taxonomy spectrum closely resembles the spectrum of distinctiveness in trademark law.
The spectrum of distinctiveness goes from generic to descriptive to suggestive to arbitrary to fanciful. Generic terms are nouns for things and receive no trademark protection. Descriptive marks immediately describe a feature, function, or characteristic of a good or service. Descriptive marks can acquire trademark status over time. Suggestive marks are like descriptive marks except that the mark suggest instead of immediately describe something about the good or service. Arbitrary marks are known words used in an uncommon way, and fanciful marks are make up terms.
As you move from left to right on the spectrum of distinctiveness, the more conceptually strength the mark possesses. You also expect to have fewer marks that may pose an issue to your proposed mark. Regardless of whether your mark is fanciful or descriptive, a trademark search must be conducted. However, knowing where on the spectrum your mark falls can at least set the expectation about what the search results may look like.
For example, if you are choosing from a list of “functional” – as characterized by Igor – or “descriptive” marks, you stand a better chance of getting a red light from BOB, than if you are choosing from a list of “inventive” – as characterized by Igor – or “fanciful” marks. The reason is that there are likely more trademark owners using or incorporating descriptive marks in their branding.