A business name is more than just words; it is a representation of your company and brand. Having a name that resonates with your consumers can save you money, since you won’t have to spend advertising dollars clarifying a muddled message. A good name can also lift you above competitors, help you reach new markets and open doors to further growth.
The process of choosing a business name may seem simple at first, but there are many factors that play into creating a successful one. Below is a guide to choosing a name your customers won’t forget any time soon.
While there are various rules and exceptions on what should be included in a good business name, experts agreed on some common elements. First and foremost, a business name should focus on the message you want to portray.
David Poulos, president of Granite Partners, LLC, thinks the creation of your company’s name should not be taken lightly. It should be something you are proud of and willing to live with for quite some time, he said. While you’re never trapped with a name, choose one with the intention of maintaining it for years.
“The name chosen should reflect the attributes that you want to transmit to the customer,” Poulos said. “The best names are so indicative of a customer’s needs that it seems obvious.”
A good name should be short – two to four syllables – and easy to pronounce. Warren Diggles, president and creative director of Diggles Creative, said short names are ideal because they tend to be very brandable and easy for consumers to remember.
While your name can include new or existing words, there are pros and cons with each option. Invented words – think Exxon – reduce the risk of confusion with competitors, but it can take a lot of time and marketing before a name’s meaning is established with customers.
Existing names come with established meanings, but those terms are also likely to be used by some of your competitors. A paramount concern about using a common term as part of your business’s name is whether trademark and domain names are available, and many common words are already taken in these areas.
“If someone in a similar industry to yours is already using a particular business or organization name, you should not use it, nor should you want to,” said Diggles. “You should also avoid any name that is confusingly similar.”
An ideal business name is short, dissimilar to other business names in your industry, and reflective of your values and unique selling points.
To help business owners identify the main elements of a good name, Alexandra Watkins, founder and chief innovation officer of naming firm Eat My Words, developed a 12-point evaluation checklist: the Scratch and Smile Test. Her philosophy used to develop the checklist was built on the idea that a business name should make you smile rather than scratch your head.
SMILE: The five qualities of a super sticky name
SCRATCH: The seven deal breakers of a name
There are a variety of methods you can use to devise a name for your company. These approaches are outlined below.
Poulos and his team found the most successful approach to be a customer-centric naming method. He recommends starting the process by gathering an aggregate of various department staff or consultants to develop a list of characteristics that you want your company to stand for. This can be similar to the values you name in your mission statement. Your brainstorming session should result in a series of on-brand character traits that you can then match with a set of words that are implied by each trait.
With the implied words, craft a series of word combinations that bring out the various character traits, and work them into a name that has meaning for the customer. This should evolve into a long list of first-round business name ideas.
After you have your first set of potential business name ideas, Poulos suggests polling potential customers to rank each name from 1 to 20, based on how well they fit or describe your business. Use the consumer poll to narrow your list down to the top five candidates. Verify that these top candidates, culturally and linguistically, will not create a conflict in the countries where you want to operate.
A critical next step that many business owners skip is to research each of your top names for corporate registry, trademarks, patent and domain name availability. Diggles said you should choose a name with an available .com domain.
“Unless you are a government, educational institution or a nonprofit, you definitely want a .com,” said Diggles. “Your customers will automatically assume that your website is a .com because it is the most widely recognized name on the internet.”
Diggles warned against choosing a .net or .biz domain when the .com version is already taken by someone else – it confuses your customers and will likely send them to the wrong website. He said the best option is to choose a name that allows you to register for all versions (.com, .net, .biz), if possible, to protect your company name.
Choose a business name for which a .com domain is available, especially one for which you can also register for all possible domain extensions.
After researching your top potential business names, you may have one clear winner or a few viable options. Either way, create a focus group comprising friends and family to analyze your top names and verify the final result. Diggles advised incorporating the four tips below when addressing members of your focus group.
Business names matter a lot. While a great name can spark a successful breakthrough, the downside of choosing a poor business name or one that doesn’t resonate with consumers can be significant as well. There is a fine balance you must achieve when creating the name of your business. Below are some common mistakes you should avoid.
Many owners name their businesses after a specific product or service they provide. However, this can create issues later when the company offers goods or services unrelated to its name. Similarly, if the name of your business seems completely unrelated to the goods or services you provide, that too can have a negative effect. Unless you have a large marketing budget to build your brand, an obscure name can take your target audience a long time to remember and understand, and it won’t be easily visible on search engines.
“[A name that is] too literal or plain can only work if the logic holds and the business doesn’t plan to evolve or change direction under that name,” said Poulos. “Too fancy, and the audience won’t know what it means or what business they’re in. Too inside, and you limit your target audience and push away those outside the core business, even if they have a use for your products or services on a peripheral basis.”
Along the same lines, creating a name with an odd or uncommon spelling can also be troublesome. Names with unusual spellings can cause issues, particularly with online searches. You can potentially miss out on new leads if consumers try to look you up online and can’t find you.
When you finally come up with the perfect business name, you’re not done. It is important to do extra research on available domain names and social media handles before registering your business name.
“The No. 1 mistake that we see is choosing a business name before finding out if the .com domain is available,” said Diggles. “People register their business name with the state, set up bank accounts, and then search for a domain name and realize it is not available.”
When branding your business, it is important to maintain consistency across all major online and social media platforms. Since domain names and social media handles are a commodity, you can’t assume that your desired business name will be available for use.
It is unlikely that the perfect business name will come to you immediately. Evaluate names for their potential rather than choosing one based on personal preference. Although the process of naming your business can be a challenging one, the end result will be worth the effort.
“You have to live with [your business name] for quite a while, so it should be something you’re proud of, comfortable with and that makes sense to the audience you’d like to reach,” said Poulos. “Don’t pick your first choice without working through some sort of process to research and vet its viability in your market.”
Sometimes, a great business name can come to you in a dream. In other cases, it’s something that comes from lots of work and patience. Your dream name, though, might already be in use elsewhere, and while disappointing, that’s not the end of the road. Go back to the drawing board with all the above tips, and the perfect business name will emerge eventually.
Max Freedman also contributed to this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.