The Complete Guide on How to Name a Business
When you start a new business, finding a name for your company can be challenging and time-consuming.
Some new business owners feel paralyzed by this challenge and can’t even begin to write a business plan until they settle on a business name.
Your company name (a “brand name”) is the mental trigger that helps customers and prospects think about your business. It’s a core part of your company’s brand strategy.
A strong business name can help differentiate your business from competitors, identify what you’re offering, inspire your team and others, and boost brand recall.
When a person hears or sees a brand name, their brain creates a mental association and reaction. These associations and responses can be positive (when a person likes the name or brand) or negative (when someone doesn’t like the name or brand).
If you want to build a strong brand, a business name that captures your brand essence is the foundation for everything else.
Over the past fifteen years, our team and community have helped thousands of entrepreneurs and small businesses develop unique and memorable names for their businesses. We frequently talk and write about naming businesses and have keynote webinars and conferences on naming. This guide shares the actionable insights, tips, best practices, and expertise we’ve developed after helping over one hundred thousand brands.
Here’s everything you need to know to find a great business name for your new company.
How brand names are structured
Brand names can be structured in different ways, including real words (Staples, Amazon, Apple), truncated real words (FedEx, Cisco), alphanumerics (7-Eleven, 3M), compound words (Microsoft, DreamWorks, MasterCard), and coined words (Google, Zappos, Coca-Cola).
Five types of brand names
Nearly all brand names fall into several categories. You should understand these categories to assess what type of business name you like most.
Think you can get a perfect score?
Descriptive names describe the goods or services being offered. These include names like Antique Lightbulbs or Jane’s Surfboards.
Descriptive names work best when you want to reach an audience that wants to know what your product or service does or when your product or service has a short lifecycle and a small marketing budget.
Descriptive names are tough to trademark because they use common words. So, if you plan to trademark your business name, you should look for names that are not descriptive.
Suggestive names are similar to descriptive names, but they are less clear about the goods and services being offered. For example, Fitbit is a suggestive name. It contains the word “fit,” which relates to fitness, but it’s not completely clear that the products or services offered are fitness products. Still, many people would guess that “Fitbit” is a name for a company that provides fitness products or services.
Arbitrary and fanciful names
Arbitrary and fanciful names have no apparent connection to the brand. They can be arbitrary names like Apple, Virgin, or Slack, or fanciful names containing made-up words, like Google or Kodak.
Arbitrary and fanciful names are easier to trademark because they are distinctive. But because they’re so unusual, they also require more marketing support to help people connect the brand names to the goods and services the company sells.
Names based on different languages
When creating a different tone, consider names derived from languages other than English. This is especially helpful if your target audience is primarily non-English speakers.
Names based on different languages can also appeal to English speakers. For example, Prego means “please” in Italian and is also a famous tomato sauce.
Acronyms & initialisms
Acronyms are words pronounced as words. Initialisms are pronounced as their letters.
For most companies, names based on acronyms and initialisms are not ideal because they can confuse your target audience.
But sometimes, a longer business name is easier to pronounce when shortened. International Business Machines Corporation is a good example: IBM.
At other times, a longer business name is too limiting and challenging. This was the case for Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, which renamed itself 3M.
Some acronyms can work well as initialisms too. For example, MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) works well in abbreviations and long-form.
The best business names have all or most of these nine elements:
- Imagination. The name engages and sparks a customer’s or prospect’s imagination. Fun names like Häagen-Dazs do so for many people.
- Distinctiveness. The name differentiates your business from others in your target market. Think Microsoft Project, Teamwork, and Zoho Projects versus Basecamp.
- Brand fit. The best names will capture the essence of your brand (examples: Tesla, and Twitter).
- Short and concise. You want the name to be as short as possible. Shorter names are easier to remember and spell. Compare (Apple to Micro-Star International Co., Ltd.
- Lasting. Will the name remain relevant as your brand grows? If Amazon named itself OnlyBooks, it would have had to rebrand when it started selling other items.
- Sounds good. The best names are pleasing to the ear. Think Jamba Juice.
- Consistency. Follow naming conventions that connect to your brand name if you introduce complementary products. You won’t see Apple introduce a phone called Starbase or a watch called Timer.
- Protectability. You should see if the business name you want is available for trademarking and whether you can buy a domain that matches the business name.
- Appropriateness. When you sell globally, make sure your business name doesn’t carry a severe negative meaning in another major language.
We just emailed the info to you.
How to start the business naming process
Start by putting together a short creative brief summarizing your naming strategy’s critical parts.
Here are some of the essential questions your creative brief should answer:
What are you naming?
Most people name companies and the answer to this question is easy.
But sometimes, you are naming a product, and the answer is more complicated. For example, is it a brand-new product or an extension of an existing product line? The latter typically needs to connect to the rest of the product line.
Similarly, it would help if you considered whether you’re creating a suite of products based on this initial product or whether this product will stand alone.
How will you use the name?
If you’re looking for a business name, use it on your business cards, website, brochures, signs, packaging, etc. Consider any particular uses that could influence the type of name you’ll select.
What is your target market?
You must do market research to understand how the name fits your target market. This isn’t always obvious because markets can be hyper-specific or broad.
What names do your competitors use?
In some industries, there are naming patterns. Other industries reward novelty and innovation when it comes to naming. In both cases, you’ll want to differentiate.
Who are your customers?
Are you selling directly to consumers (B2C) or other businesses (B2B)? Are you selling to senior citizens of Gen-Z? The better you understand your target audience, the more prepared you’ll be to assess whether you’ve found the right name that will resonate with that audience.
How do you differentiate?
This is your unique selling proposition. What special sauce will prompt people to buy your products and services over your competitors? You can use a SWOT analysis to define your unique selling proposition better.
Are words from other languages acceptable?
Other languages can be playful (Swahili, for example) or communicate better with a particular audience (French for an upscale audience). But remember that words can have negative meanings and associations in other languages, so think about your target markets and consider how your name would be interpreted in those markets.
What brand attributes should the name communicate?
This is tough to accomplish with most names, but you can sometimes communicate various brand attributes with a business name. For example, Sir Speedy’s name (professional printing and marketing services) expresses that the product is “fast.”
Do you prefer a specific tone?
Certain pronunciations have specific connotations. For example, the popular coffee chain Starbucks got its name partly because the founders thought “st” makes a strong vocal sound.
Can your product accommodate your business name?
Small products have limited physical space on which you can print the name. So consider whether you’ll want to publish your name on products and whether you’ll be constrained with a longer name.
Will you need a matching domain name?
Domain names can be tough to find. But you can add a descriptor to your business name. For example, if your business name is clout and the domain is already taken, you can use joinclout as the domain.
Now that you’ve learned the basics, here are nineteen proven tips to help you pick a strong business name:
19 Tips for a Strong Business Name
- Be patient when naming a business.
- Think about what you want your business name to convey.
- Avoid decisions by committee.
- Avoid business names that are too narrow or too literal.
- Give yourself options.
- Don’t get discouraged if you cannot get a matching domain name.
- Consider whether you can obtain a trademark.
- Conduct a Secretary of State search.
- Avoid naming trends.
- Avoid obscure words.
- Avoid plain words.
- Be careful with geographic names.
- Keep the name short, simple, and easy to write and remember.
- The name is only part of your brand identity.
- Set a time limit.
- Trust your target audience.
- Be open-minded.
- Think like your customers.
- Good is better than perfect.
1. Be patient when naming a business.
Finding a great name in a few hours is possible, but this is rare. The process can take weeks as you explore lots of options.
Think about words that describe your industry or the products/services you offer. Think about words that describe your competitors and terms that describe the differences between your products and services and those of your competitors.
Also, consider words that describe the benefits of using your products or services. Finally, think about words (and phrases) that evoke the feelings you want your customers to feel when they see your company name.
Here’s a handy ideas guide for many different industries, like salon name ideas (and many others, including restaurant name ideas, consulting business name ideas, photography business name ideas, and much more).
While brainstorming, look up Greek and Latin translations of your words – you might find new ideas from doing that exercise. Look at foreign words too.
Expect this process to take lots of time (it took us about 40+ hours to brainstorm and then another 10 to finalize names for crowdspring – we went through MANY possible names). Don’t forget to leverage resources, including a dictionary, thesaurus, and other resources that may help. This terrific naming resources guide can help you get started.
2. Think about what you want your business name to convey.
Your business name is an essential part of your company’s brand identity.
The name will appear in your company logo and on your business cards, letterhead, website, promotional materials, products, and everywhere in print to identify your company or your company’s products and/or services.
Service-oriented businesses should consider whether it will be easy for their prospective customers to recognize what services the business provides based on the name of the company (for example: Friendly Dog Walkers or Bright Accounting).
3. Avoid decisions by committee.
People rarely agree about anything. And when it comes to naming, this is always true.
It’s tempting to involve our friends, family, employees, and customers to find your company’s name. Sometimes, this can work out well. But there are risks. People might be upset if you don’t pick a name they think is excellent.
You’ll also find yourself trying to find consensus – which can lead to a very plain name. If you must involve others, pick a small group of people who understand you and your business (and pick a mix of right-brain types and left-brain types so that you can have some variety).
Once you’ve selected a few possible choices, you should share them with a few trusted friends, family, and customers to get some feedback about the name.
Pick a person who will ultimately decide, provide input, and then let that person pick the name. Otherwise, you’ll end up wasting a lot of time or will compromise on a name that’s weak but tolerated by everyone.
4. Avoid business names that are too narrow or too literal.
Think about how your company may evolve and ensure the company name can grow with the business.
For example, your original name will be too narrow and restrictive if you name your company, iPhone Accessories, and later expand into selling accessories for other products.
The same advice applies even if your company sells a niche product.
For example, if you sell antique lamps, you should consider whether you might sell more than lamps in the future. Naming your business Joan’s Antique Lamps may be too limiting when you later sell antique clocks and furniture.
5. Give yourself options.
Even when you find a name you love, consider other possibilities.
Select several names that can work well for you and register those domains to have options. Don’t anchor yourself to a name prematurely before you’ve done some due diligence.
6. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t get a matching domain name.
Look for a company name also available for registration as a domain (ideally, as a .com domain).
You should understand that .com domains are prevalent, and you’ll struggle to find available domains that match your company name.
A strong and memorable name that requires a descriptor for the domain name is often much better than a less memorable name for which you can exactly match the domain.
7. Consider whether you can obtain a trademark.
It’s essential to ensure that your competitors are not using the same name in your industry.
It’s not uncommon to find similar (or identical names) in different industries, but this can confuse your customers and vendors.
If your competitors are using the same name – you’ll expose yourself to possible litigation, and you’ll likely be unable to obtain trademark protection for your company name. Since intellectual property is valuable, this is not something you should take for granted.
So, select a company name that you’ll be able to register for trademark/servicemark protection.
Trademark rights arise only through commerce (when you offer items for sale and use the trade name or logo in your marketing materials or on the products). You are not required to register a company name – you can acquire common law rights simply by using the name in commerce.
8. Conduct a Secretary of State search.
You’ll likely want to register your business with the Secretary of State. Most states require some form of registration for you to operate a business lawfully in the state.
Most entrepreneurs and business owners register their business as an LLC or corporation to insulate themselves from personal liability.
You can search your state’s records to ensure no business registrations with identical or similar-sounding names.
This is especially important if you operate your business under an assumed or trade name that differs from your company’s legal name. In such cases, you must register a DBA (doing business as) with your Secretary of State. For about DBAs, take a look at this comprehensive DBA guide.
9. Avoid naming trends.
You’ll want your company’s name to evolve as trends evolve, so be careful to identify the trends and avoid following them.
For example, in the late 1990s, using a .com after a company name was trendy if it was an Internet business. After the Internet “bubble” burst, “.com” became synonymous with having no business model, and those companies who survived very quickly dropped “.com” from their names.
10. Avoid obscure words.
Company names that help tell stories can be powerful and memorable (think about Google, for example). But obscure words or references might be difficult to spell or pronounce. Be especially sensitive when trying to reach a mass audience (such as on the Internet).
Obscure or invented names can work – Xerox is a great example – but this often requires a huge marketing budget and effort.
11. Avoid plain words.
Plain words make it very difficult to differentiate your company from your competitors.
For example, there were hundreds of thousands of logo design businesses worldwide when we started thinking about “crowdspring”. We knew we would be expanding to many different industries (graphic design, website design, product design, and many more). So we didn’t want to name our business Great Logo Design or manyDesigners – it would have been descriptive but not memorable and certainly not sufficiently unique.
12. Be careful with geographic names.
Some people use their city, state, or region as part of their company name.
If you plan only to work in your city, this might serve you well. But a geographic name could hinder you later.
One great example is Minnesota Manufacturing and Mining. Initially, the name worked because the business was focused on Minnesota. But once the company grew beyond its industry and the state of Minnesota, it needed to find a new name – 3M.
13. Keep the name short, simple, and easy to write and remember.
Think about the names of companies you admire. They typically have a few things in common: their names are short, simple, easy to write, and remember. (Examples: Apple, Google, Tesla, Slack).
Obscure business names are often difficult to write and even more challenging to remember.
Plus, obscure names typically make it harder to design a company logo for your business.
This is a problem because word-of-mouth advertising is the most successful form of marketing for most startups and small businesses. If your customers can’t remember your name or spell it for others, it will make it difficult for them to help promote your business.
While it might be tempting, avoid using a “K” in place of a “Q” or a “Ph” in place of an “F” when coming up with your company name. Such letter substitutions make spelling the name very difficult.
Also, don’t forget to consider the acronym of your company name (an acronym is composed of the first letter of each word in a phrase). You might not use an acronym, but your customers might refer to your business by an acronym. A name such as Apple Support Services can result in an unfortunate acronym – ASS.
14. The name is only part of your brand identity.
A memorable business name is essential. But your brand identity is much more, including your company logo, business website, and more.
Don’t expand your name to tell your company’s full story. You’ll need to build a complete brand identity.
15. Set a time limit.
Some people can get bogged down naming their companies for months. Yes, it sounds crazy, but it’s true.
Don’t get distracted.
Finding a unique name is impossible, so don’t set that as a goal. Find something unique that stands out in your industry and doesn’t have much competition in search engine results. You have to differentiate, but you don’t need to find a name nobody has ever used. And if you get stuck, you can always try a business name generator to generate ideas.
16. Trust your target audience.
Naming is an art and a science. Some names may have slightly negative associations, but depending on your audience, that might not be a problem.
For example, many people love “Chilean Sea Bass”. This is an invented name for a fish called “Patagonian toothfish.” Few people want to eat a “toothfish,” but sea bass sounds excellent.
17. Be open-minded.
To find an unusual and memorable name, you must be open-minded. And you have to be brave.
If you’re merely comfortable with some names but not excited by them, you can be sure that your target audience will probably feel the same way about those names.
18. Think like your customers.
You should love the name, but it’s more important that your customers and prospects love it.
You might have some personal reasons why a particular name isn’t perfect for you. But, if it’s ideal for the business or your customers, you should ignore personal reasons.
19. Good is better than perfect.
Let’s face it: we all want a perfect, short, memorable name that’s easy to spell, remember, and fun to pronounce. Plus, one that has an exact match domain available.
But wanting something and finding it are different things.
Few names are perfect when you first consider them. Few names will match all of your naming criteria. But if you look for perfection, you may spend many months trying to name your business instead of launching it and working to grow it. Make intelligent, reasonable choices, and don’t let the search for perfection delay your launch.
How to check a name for potential problems
Although you won’t personally be able to do a full search and confirm that the name you want to use is legally available, there are steps you should check to identify any potential problems with possible names.
First, consider whether you can trademark the name. You can search the USPTO trademark database, for example, and search on Google to see if you can identify other companies using the name you’re considering.
Second, look at popular social networks like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and others to see if your name is available for registration. In a perfect world, you can reserve the name on all relevant social networks. But most people will have to make some compromises since it would be very unusual for a name to be available on all networks.
We hope that you have the tools to come up with a terrific and memorable name for your new business, product, or organization with these insights and tips.
We regularly update this complete guide on how to name a business. We last updated it on February 26, 2023.
Design Done Better
The easiest way to get affordable, high-quality custom logos, print design, web design and naming for your business.Learn How to Grow Your Business With Beautiful Design