When you decide to start a company, what’s the first logical step? You start with picking a name for your business. Now, I don’t know how you feel about it, but trust me, a name can make or break your business.
The name will be your customer’s first impression of you; if chosen well, it can convey reliability, quality or expertise, but it can also serve the opposite purpose.
We’re past the days where you can choose your own name as a business name or randomly point to a place on a map – these days, name-picking requires a bit of planning and research, too. However, you shouldn’t spend weeks trying to come up with the perfect name, because it will distract you from actually doing other things to get your business started. Sometimes young entrepreneurs get so wrapped up in this first step that they ultimately distract themselves and drag on the process of starting a company.
Therefore, we’ve tried to cover as much as possible in this article and give you all the knowledge you’ll need to speed it up and create a memorable name in a short amount of time.
Why a great name matters?
You can convey a message about yourself through your name, so it’s sort of subconscious marketing. The customer won’t really feel like you’re selling them anything just yet, but in reality, you are. You’re selling an impression about yourself, you’re conveying who you are in a subtle way.
Since a name is one of the key pieces of branding and will play a big role in future marketing, before you even get busy brainstorming ideas, you need to think about what you want the name to accomplish. Is it supposed to trigger an emotional reaction? Convey trust or quality to customers? Show your brand’s personality? When you are clear on this, it will be much easier to come to a decision later on, so make sure to think this through.
How to come up with a name for your Startup?
Let’s quickly go through all the possibilities you have. Most companies have a name that falls into one of the following categories:
• The founder’s name (Barnes & Noble, Campbell Soup Company)
• An invented word (Google, Yahoo)
• A word taken out of context (Apple, Amazon)
• A descriptive name (Goodreads, SoundCloud)
• Abbreviations (CBS, AT&T)
• Geographic names (California Pizza Kitchen, Texas Industries)
As you can see, you have a lot of options, so how to know which one is the best one for you?
Personal name vs. Made up name
A frequently asked question is, “Should I use my own name?”
We have examples like Donna Karan or Giorgio Armani who named their brands after themselves. That is perfectly acceptable unless you’re just being lazy and don’t want to rack your brain with a name. Although naming something after yourself might not be the most creative option, it’s a good idea if:
1. You are already well-known in your area
Let’s say that you are Adam Smith, a consultant that people are already familiar with. In that case, naming your business Adam Smith Consulting is a good idea. It sounds professional, communicates what you do and instantly earns you credibility, because customers have already heard of you.
2. You want to do unrelated projects in the future
If Armani used a name that points to, for example, suits, it would’ve been harder to introduce other projects. With just his name, he can make menswear, womenswear, perfumes, bags, glasses, make-up or just about whatever he wants.
It really comes down to personal preference, but if you’re planning to do different things in your career, a name that points to a specific service or product might not be the best. Your business will probably change and it might not even resemble what it looked like in the beginning. The only constant thing you’ll have is your name.
Note that you will still have to check if you have legal rights to use it, even though it is your own name (but we’ll talk about this a little bit later).
Side note: if you have a name that’s hard to read or pronounce, like Azhikelyamov, well, I’d start coming up with something else. Imagine if someone had to Google your company or find it on Twitter, it would be a mess of its own.
An invented word
Just because it worked for Google, doesn’t mean that it will work for you, as well. While invented words surely are unique, since they don’t have meaning and the audience can’t make a connection with the word, you are the one who needs to fill in the blanks. That means that you will have to invest much more in marketing, in order to get customers to respond to the name. You’ll have to add the meaning, which requires more effort, time and money. It’s something that we wouldn’t recommend if you are a small business and planning to stay that way.
A word taken out of context
When Steve Jobs named his company Apple, he wanted to stand out among similar businesses that had very obscure names people couldn’t connect with, mostly acronyms. “Apple”, a very basic word, was pushed so far out of context that it worked.
The good thing about choosing an existing word in a different context is that people are already familiar with it. They won’t have difficulty remembering or spelling it, which makes your job easier.
Side note: You don’t want the word to be too basic, because if it’s too common, it won’t be memorable. It worked for Apple because the basic meaning was so remote from what they were doing; doesn’t mean that it’s a good fit for you, too.
A descriptive name
Good descriptive names suggest value of the product, what the best feature is or what the company does. Dollar Shave Club hit the jackpot with the name – not only it makes sense, but it allows them to build their whole marketing strategy around the fact that they sell the cheapest razors on the market. Duracell instantly tells us what their best feature is – their batteries last for a long time.
This is a great option because it makes marketing easier. People can hear the name and know what the core value is, without you having to explain it further. But, if executed poorly, the name can sound silly or not professional enough, so if you want to take this approach, make sure that the end result actually sounds good and not amateurish.
While we have companies that use acronyms or initials as their name, if you are a small business owner, we wouldn’t recommend this. It’s similar to using an invented name – it doesn’t mean anything to the customer. Sure, it’s short and allows you to make changes to your offer, but abbreviations are not particularly memorable and being memorable is something every startup needs.
Names that are connected to a geographic location are one of the easiest choices, but it doesn’t mean that they are the best. The first reason is that you will face difficulties if you at any point choose to expand your business. If your name suggests that you only do business in a specific area or state, you will need to do a lot of explaining in case you choose to broaden your horizons.
The second reason is that it’s a pretty common method of naming. Even if you know that you will never expand, when you look at the list of companies in that particular area, there will be at least a dozen that include the location in the title. That makes it harder to stand out from everyone else, so be sure to see if there are companies with similar names to the one you chose, prior to making it official.
Now that we’ve gone through all of the different types of names, you have probably narrowed down your choices. Still, you don’t have a specific name in mind. There is a great exercise that you can do that will actually help materialize all the ideas that you have in your head right now. We call it an Idea Board; it’s simple and it speeds up the process, so why not try it? After all, it won’t do you any harm.
Write on a piece of paper as many adjectives as you can think of that describe your business. Don’t overthink it, just write anything that pops into your head. When you’re done, pick a few most important characteristics – these are your key values that will serve you as guidelines of sorts.
Then, think of a way to incorporate these values into your name. A good way to do this is to think of synonyms for each of the words. Look them up in the dictionary or online; the more, the better. After that, it’s your creativity that kicks in; whether it’s choosing one of the synonyms, combining two words together or coming up with a brand new word, it’s completely up to you. It’s always better to have a few options than trying to get it right on the first try.
Take your ideas and compare it to these 6 characteristics.
Is your name catchy? A catchy name can spark interest in the customer. You want to stand out from the crowd and express how creative you are, but be careful with this. Too much creativity can result in a silly name, one that doesn’t really show that you are a serious business.
Is your name pronounceable? Will the customer be able to easily say it out loud? The best way to establish this is to tell a few people about your new name. If they can repeat it without difficulty, it’s a winner.
Is your name simple? Simple beats complicated every time. Even though you might think that something too simple won’t attract attention, a complicated name can be harder to remember, mispronounced or misspelled.
Is your name memorable? If customers can’t remember you, you won’t be a very successful company. Memorability is one of the key elements, so choose a name that is not only likable, but also stays with the customer for a long time.
Does your name communicate what you do? A name should say something about a product, even if it’s not too obvious. If there’s a hidden meaning, an inner joke that only you can understand, it will leave your customers puzzled. It should mean something to them, as well, not just you.
Is your name adaptable? Often you will start with a specific product or only conduct business in a certain area, but if you achieve success (which we sincerely hope you do), you will probably expand. A name that isn’t flexible will limit you to your original concept. If you outgrow it, you might have to change it at a certain point, which can be done, but it will complicate things for you. Get it right from the start and you won’t have to go through any additional trouble.
When you can say “yes” to all of these 6 qualities, you have a winner.
So you’ve finally come up with a great name; it’s catchy, makes sense and you love it. All of your brainstorming has paid off and now you want to register it, but oh no – the domain is already taken.
What do you do? Well, it all depends on the name itself and how much you actually want to stick with the name, but there are several options.
• Should I change the suffix?
Most businesses use .com as their suffix, but if that’s unavailable, you can try with .org, .net, .biz, .info or hundreds of other extensions that are available. However, there are certain advantages to using .com. People are used to typing .com into their search by default, so with this extension, it’s much easier for customers to find you. This brings me to the next option…
• Should I add a dot or a dash to the name?
Let’s say you wanted to name your business techbloke.com, which is obviously unavailable. You can also try with tech.bloke.com. Here’s the problem, though – when you say to someone, “Look me up at tech dot bloke dot com”, they will most likely type it into the search engine without the first dot. Your customers usually won’t remember the dots and dashes, so keep that in mind before you make a choice.
• Should I add an additional word to the name?
If the first two options don’t sit well with you, I would suggest adding a word before or after your name. Sometimes, a simple “the” before your name can make all the difference in the world. You can also try with a location (techblokelondon.com) or your area of expertise (techblokeconsulting.com). Avoid long words, though, simplicity is key, otherwise, people won’t be able to remember the whole name.
Adding a word doesn’t work well in all cases, it still has to make sense. This is individual and depends on the name itself, so if you want to add a word, you have to consider whether it will stray too much from your original idea.
• Should I change the spelling?
No, absolutely not. Adding an extra letter will confuse the customer. If you want to name your business amazon.com, there’s no point in changing it to amazzon.com, people will use the correct spelling and end up at a completely different website.
It’s even worse to name your business something, but change the spelling because the domain is unavailable. It’s will be hard to make the connection between the two and, consequently, it will hurt your business.
• Should I buy the domain from the owner?
Domains can be bought or sold like any other asset, so you could buy it from the current owner. You can look for contact information on a website and reach out to the owner. This can be tricky, though, because more often than not, the owner will give you a completely unreasonable price for the domain or won’t even want to talk to you, so often it will be easier to just change it, rather than go through the hassle of negotiating with the owner.
To see if a domain is available, you could start with doing a web search for it. If nothing pops up, the domain is probably available, but don’t get your hopes up just yet. You should also go to ICANN.org, a website that has a database of used domains and do a search there, as well.
Legal Issues with Naming
As an entrepreneur, it’s very important to acquaint yourself with legal aspects of naming. If you don’t do your research, it could be problematic, so it’s definitely something to thoroughly research.
Firstly, we need to understand the difference between a legal name, assumed name and trademark. For example, if Mike wanted to start a company in Dallas and named it DM. Inc (which is a really bad idea for a name, but just stick with me), he would have to fill a certificate of incorporation, thus making DM. Inc his legal name.
However, to customers he’d be known as Mike’s – that’s a name he’d use on his store sign and website. In that case, Mike’s will be his assumed name.
By advertising his business under this name, “Mike’s” also becomes a trademark. But before he can use it, he needs to check if there aren’t any other companies in Dallas named Mike’s. What he needs to do is contact the Secretary of State in Dallas who will check the state’s records and see if the name is, in fact, available, but that’s only the first step. Just because the state allows him to use the name, doesn’t mean that he has trademark rights to it. He’ll have check with Trademark Electronic Search System or visit namechecklist.com and see if he can use the name.
It would be wise to consult an attorney about this, even if you’ve done the research. Since it is a sensitive subject, it’s always better to ask an expert for advice than face a lawsuit somewhere along the way.
Commonly Made Mistakes in Naming
It’s better to learn from the mistakes of others than from your own, right? For this reason, we want to look at some of the most common mistakes new entrepreneurs make when they are trying to name their business.
Using a name that’s too long
It’s important to mention that the world’s most successful brands have a name that has less than 12 characters. Why is that? Because a long name is more difficult to both pronounce and remember. The point is – make it memorable.
Involving friends and family in the decision
This might seem like a good idea at first, but you’ll soon realize what a mess it becomes. We all have different tastes and opinions, so there’s no way you could possibly come up with a name that pleases everybody. You’ll only end up offending someone because you didn’t agree with their suggestion. It’s much better to present your idea to your family and friends to get their feedback, but try not to involve them in the creative process.
Choosing a cliché name
Surely you want to stand out from the crowd and convey excellence, but it could go to a point where it becomes too much, a cliché. Avoid names that directly suggest that you are the best, they feel overworked. Instead, a name that suggests reliability and trustworthiness without sounding to banal is a much better option.
Purposefully misspelling a name
Misspelling a name on purpose often happens when the original idea turns out to be unavailable, but please don’t do this. It not only creates confusion with the customer, it could also make the name sound unprofessional or immature. Don’t be lazy – a good name sometimes takes time, so commit to it.
Using a name that’s too trendy
You want to be memorable, so you could be tempted to use a name that has slang in it or refers to something that’s trending. This is great at first, it makes it catchy and relevant, but if you want to be around for a long time, it’s not a good option. After a while, people will completely forget about what was in style last year or a couple years ago, so you’ll end up with a name that doesn’t make much sense anymore. Timely and classic names are way better, trust me on this.
Refusing to change the existing name
Sometimes, entrepreneurs will choose a name, realize it doesn’t work after a while, but still refuse to change it. Don’t be afraid of change; it’s better to make changes early on than two years down the road. If there’s a problem with the chosen name, don’t expect it to miraculously resolve itself – it won’t. You’re the one who has to take care of it, so if it doesn’t work, fix it.
If all else fails, there are numerous online name generators you could try that will help you figure out what the name of your startup should be.
GoSpaces is really easy to use, you simply type a keyword that is related to your business and they will show you all the different names available with that keyword.
Dot-o-mator lets you type the words you want to use at the beginning and end of your domain, click the combine button and you’ll get a list of available names. If you like something, you can put it in the Scratchbox and try with other words, just to have some options.
Impossibility! allows you to choose to add either a verb, noun or an adjective to the beginning or end or your keyword and than shows you which domains are available. It’s works pretty fast, too.
Bust a name is a name generator that offers you synonyms for the keyword you choose and combines it with different prefixes. You can see what’s available and save something for later, in case you like it.
Domainhole is great for generating new ideas, because it has options like Brainstormer, Name Generator and Name Spinner, so even if you feel stuck, it will create some new ideas for you.
Although it’s a creative process, coming up with a name is a decision as serious as any other business decision you’ll make.
Having said that, don’t get stuck on it and forget to move on to other tasks. After all, what matters most to customers is the quality of your service and products. Being a great business is what counts more than what you’re called, so once you pick a name, focus on creating a great experience for your customers, because that’s what will keep you relevant.