I’ve started several companies in my 30 years of business. Currently, I’ve got five up and running, though that says nothing of all the businesses I’ve seen flatline or get renamed. In all, I’ve named dozens of businesses and products, and folks, I’m here to tell you, naming a new startup business or product is not easy. It takes a lot of time, originality, an understanding of the market, and no shortage of creativity.
Here’s a quick list of dos and don’ts on how to name your business something that you can really be proud of!
Pick a memorable name. First, the obvious–pick a memorable name. Why? Because people will buy from a name that they remember. There are a zillion companies with forgettable names; you don’t want to be one of those. You want to be memorable, duh.
Look for unclaimed real estate in the end user’s mind. Here’s what I mean: People’s brains need an easy way to compartmentalize stuff so they can retrieve it later. For example, when you look at a coffee cup, your brain says it’s a cup or a mug. It’s a simple, discrete object. Your brain doesn’t say it’s a liquid holder that’s eventually going to pour hot liquid down your throat. So, if you can find a phrase that already exists in the end user’s brain, that isn’t already someone else’s business name, to attach to your company, you win!
For example, the phrase “top echelon” was already in educated people’s minds, but nobody had claimed it as their own. So, I claimed it and renamed one of my companies Top Echelon. Ironically, the first week that I renamed my company, I had numerous people tell me, “I’ve heard of your business before.” No, they hadn’t! However, there was unclaimed real estate in their brains, and I managed to put my sign there and instantly claim it as mine.
Be “strange.” You could pick a strange name that’s memorable (e.g., Yahoo!, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Digg, Yelp). One fellow I knew 20 years ago named his company “The Extended Forehead Group.” That’s strange, but memorable. Another woman named her firm “The Black Leopard.” Again, memorable.
Nowadays, naming your company with a bold name shows that you are confident in your business. It shows you’re so confident that you can be playful with your business’s name. A strange name makes people want to click on it or stop in and see what you’re up to.
Use familiar words. While trying to figure out how to name your business, it’s a great idea to use familiar words that are solid and trustworthy, yet easy to remember (e.g., Patriot Software, Stone Mountain, Great West).
Alliterate. Names that use alliteration are great because they are easy for a potential customer to recall (e.g., Becky’s Bananas, Bob’s Burgers, Big Biller, Carrot Corner, Dunkin’ Donuts, Hilton Hotels, Dirty Dog Wash).
Keep it in the family. Using your family name is often good, especially if it’s memorable. Who could forget Marriott Hotels, McDonald’s, Charles Schwab, or Wendy’s? Using your name shows that you’re confident in your quality and you’re willing to put your own name on the line, which can be leveraged in marketing efforts.
Less can be more. Shorter names are much better than longer names because they’re easier for the customer to remember and spell. Key Bank is a great company name. It’s simple to remember, easy to spell, and the logo (a key) doesn’t need an explanation. People know that it’s Key Bank, and the logo plays well in an industry that dispenses home loans.
Find a memorable name for your service business. Naming a service business or a service is tougher because there’s usually an action involved. If you can, find something in the end user’s mind that already exists and that their brain can grab onto. For example, if you own a plumbing service, name it something friendly, like “Dolphin Plumbing.” Everybody knows what a dolphin is, and everybody loves dolphins. They’re friendly and memorable. By the way, a dolphin is a noun. And, what does a dolphin do? It swims. It’s in water. It does tricks, backflips, etc. With a name like that, you’re well positioned to create a clever tagline for your company.
Don’t be overly complicated. Avoid names that are hard to spell, hard to remember, or even intellectually above your audience. Part of conducting a market analysis is figuring out who your target customer is, and making sure you can meet their needs. For example, when I came up with Top Echelon, I knew it was hard to spell, hard to pronounce, and intellectually above some people, but the name fit my customer base exactly. The name means “the very best” or “the cream-of-the-crop,” which represents who my customers are and who their customers are. So the name was an instant winner with my customers and their customers, too.
Stay away from generic names. Names like “Quality Service Professionals” are boring and forgettable. And, especially stay away from the word “generic” itself. I actually named my computer hardware business Generic Computers, Inc. I did that because my prices were low. But, how dumb was I? People attributed the word “generic” with a lack of quality.
Don’t cause confusion. You’ll want to avoid names that people will confuse with another company’s name. I once named a company Nationwide Interchange Service, Inc. At first, 90 percent of the phone calls I received were from people calling the phone company’s directory assistance and asking for Nationwide Insurance. Yes, I got a lot of phone calls, but I didn’t sell insurance!
Avoid initials. It’s bad to use initials; however, if you do, plan on spending millions to get people to remember those initials. IBM is memorable, but they’ve spent a ton of money to get their initials known. Stay away from initials because they’re only memorable to you.
I prefer to do the brainstorming for new business names on my own. But, in a vacuum, anything sounds cool and “salesy,” so it’s good to keep a few trusted opinions around to help ground you.
Once you come up with a name, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s available. When I come up with a name, the first thing I do is go to www.GKG.net and search for variations of the name and to see if the Internet domain name is available (e.g., CharliesPizza.com). If the domain name is not available, I’ll try to come up with a different name.
By the way, most domain names are taken, so this is a very tedious task that takes time.
It’s also better to be a little general so that you have room to morph your business if later you need to. There’s a huge probability that your business will be doing something totally different in a few years from what you’re doing today. You want a name that will give you that leeway.
I’ve named a company incorrectly before, changed it’s name, and then I’ve even changed it’s name back again–that’s three names for one company. Renaming will more than likely require you to apply for an EIN again, and cause a mountain of administrative work. So, while you can rename a company if you make a mistake, it’s a whole lot cheaper to name it right the first time.
The chances of you finding the perfect name with the perfect domain name are rather slim, but don’t get discouraged. Find a name that you are comfortable telling people, a name that you can hold your head high with when people ask you, “What’s your company name?” A name that you won’t be embarrassed by.
But remember, if you make a mistake, you can always rename your business later, like I did (several times)!