10 Tips for Naming Your Startup or Small Business

Naming your company can be challenging and time-consuming.

Here are 10 proven tips that will help you name your new company:

1. Think about what you want your business name to convey.

Your business name is an important part of your company’s identity. The name will appear on your business cards, letterhead, website, promotional materials, products, and pretty much 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 (example: Friendly Dog Walkers or Bright Accounting).

2. Brainstorm to identify name possibilities.

Once you understand what you want your company name to convey, you should set aside some time to brainstorm.

Think about words that describe your industry or the products/services you offer. Think about words that describe your competitors and words 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.

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 – we went through MANY possible names). Don’t forget to leverage resources, including a dictionary, thesaurus, and any other resources that you think may help.

3. Keep the name short, simple, and easy to write and remember. Also – consider acronyms of the name.

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 easy to remember. (Examples: Apple, Google, Tesla, Slack).

Obscure business names are often difficult to write and even more difficult to remember.

This is a problem because, for most startups and small businesses, word-of-mouth advertising is the most successful form of marketing. If your customers can’t remember your name or can’t 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 unfavorable acronym – ASS.

4. Avoid names that are too narrow or too literal.

Think about how your company may evolve over time and make sure that the company name can evolve with the business.

For example, if you name your company iPhone Accessories and later expand to sell accessories for other products, your original name will be too narrow and restrictive.

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 start selling antique clocks and furniture.

5. Avoid decisions by committee but do “test” your company name with others.

It’s tempting to involve our friends, family, employees, and customers in finding a name for our company. Sometimes, this can work out really well. But there are risks. People might be upset if you don’t pick a name they think is great.

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.

6. 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 around the world when we started thinking about “crowdspring”. We knew that we would be expanding to many different industries (graphic design, web design, product design, and many more) and 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.

7. 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, then 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 their industry and the state of Minnesota, they needed to find a new name – 3M.

8. 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 if you’re 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 tremendous effort.

9. Avoid trends.

You’ll want your company’s name to evolve as trends evolve, so be careful to identify the trends and to avoid following them. For example, in the late 1990’s, it was trendy to use a .com after your company name if your company was an Internet business. After the Internet “bubble” burst, the “.com” became synonymous with having no business model and those companies who survived very quickly dropped “.com” from their names.

10. Consider whether you can register a domain and obtain a trademark.

It’s important to make sure that your competitors are not using the same name in your industry.

It’s not uncommon to find similar (or even identical names) in different industries, but this can result in confusion for 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.

So, look for a company name that is also available for registration as a domain (ideally, as a .com domain). You should understand that .com domains are very popular and you’ll struggle to find available domains that match your company name.

You’ll also want to make sure that you select a company name that you’ll be able to register for trademark/servicemark protection.

Trademark rights arise only through commerce (such as 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.