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Start Your Business Startup Basics

The Name Game: Choosing the Right One for Your Business

The Name Game: Choosing the Right One for Your Business
Credit: rangizzz/Shutterstock

Choosing the right name for your startup is perhaps the most important branding decision you can make as an entrepreneur. A catchy or even charmingly quirky name will make people curious about your business and want to learn more. A generic, boring one — or worse, one that's difficult to understand — will make potential customers pass by without a second glance.

"Many times when naming a company people go for original yet narrowly focused with a meaning that's only special to the owner," said Stacia Pierce, CEO of Ultimate Lifestyle Enterprises and a mentor for female entrepreneurs. "However, I often tell my clients to name their business in a manner that clearly states who you are and what you do. Keep it simple."

"Anytime you have to help people spell, pronounce or understand your name, you are essentially apologizing for it, which devalues your brand," added Alexandra Watkins, founder of branding firm Eat My Words and author of "Hello, My Name is Awesome: How to Create Brand Names That Stick" (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2014). "Many people also make the mistake of mashing two words together to form a name that ends up sounding clunky and forced."

In Watkins' recently released book, she advised entrepreneurs to put their potential company name through the "SMILE" and "SCRATCH" tests. A great brand name should make people "smile instead of scratch their head," she said. SMILE represents the qualities of a brand name that will stick:

Suggestive: Evokes something about your brand.
Meaningful: Resonates with your audience.
Imagery: Visually evocative to aid in memory.
Legs: Lends itself to a theme for extended mileage.
Emotional: Moves people.

SCRATCH, on the other hand, represents the most common (and deadly) mistakes a company can make with its brand name:

Spelling-challenged – looks like a typo.
Copycat: Similar to competitors' names.
Restrictive: Limits future growth.
Annoying: Forced, frustrates customers.
Tame: Flat, descriptive, uninspired.
Curse of knowledge: Only insiders get it.
Hard to pronounce: Not obvious, unapproachable.

Similarly, Agathe Blanchon-Ehrsam, executive director of branding firm Vivaldi Fifth Season, said that obvious brand name mistakes, like being too "cutesy" or catchy, are often caught early through internal and external feedback, but there are some that may be a little more difficult to identify. A name that is too literal will limit your growth potential, while a name that your team falls in love with because of an emotional connection may not convey the same message to your target audience.

While your startup name shouldn't be so complex that no one understands it, Watkins noted that consumers find overly descriptive names boring because they require no explanation or imagination. Vas Maniatis, CEO and founder of spa services franchise Seva, took this lesson to heart when his company rebranded under its current name, but he also learned that a brand name can reflect something much deeper than just what your business does.

"A name is a call to action that the business model and entire team aligns around," Maniatis said.  "Initially our company was called Simply Eyebrows and was centered around the business of vanity. When the opportunity arose to expand our business model, we took the opportunity to dig deep and change our name to something that would inspire us long term. When we chose the name Seva, an ancient Sanskrit word that means to 'serve selflessly,' we also decided that the context of our model should migrate from vanity to empowerment through beauty."

The other challenge of naming your startup is finding one that hasn't been copyrighted, trademarked or domain-parked. A great brand name is useless if you can't legally use it or get a website address to match. Before you launch any branding efforts or purchase a domain name, Watkins recommended doing some research and speaking with a trademark lawyer to make sure your "perfect" name doesn't already belong to someone else.

If the name you want isn't trademarked but the domain name is taken, Maniatis recommended spending the money to purchase your URL from a domain squatter. Many smaller companies don't have the funds for this, but there are other ways to get around the domain problem.

"If you don't want to fork over big bucks for a domain, adding a second word is the way to go," Watkins told Business News Daily. "This is a common and perfectly acceptable way to get an available domain name and help your customers find you through search engines. Bliss, the popular brand of skincare and spas couldn't get Bliss.com, so they got BlissWorld.com. Tesla doesn't own Tesla.com. They are TeslaMotors.com. If those big companies can add another word, so can you."

Once you've finally chosen the right name and acquired an appropriate website address, it's time to start telling the world about your brand. One of the easiest and most important ways to do this is through an active social media presence.

"Create social media handles that match your company name and use your accounts to show the company's day-to-day [activities] and interests," Pierce said. "People are moved by visuals, so whether you're selling diapers, flowers or candy, tell your story through beautiful and enticing photos."

When you're thinking about your branding strategies, be sure to connect your name with the elements that make your business unique, and share it consistently across all the different consumer touchpoints you use, Blanchon-Ehrsam said.

"Tell your story in a way that reinforces your name and brings your brand to life."

Originally published on Business News Daily.

Nicole Fallon

Nicole Fallon received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the assistant editor. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.

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