Checklist for Choosing a Great Business Name
So you have an awesome business idea, but your company needs an equally awesome name. Your business name is often the first aspect of your company that people are introduced to, and it has the power to drive customers directly to your doorstep or away to competitors.
You should only pick a business name once; changing your business name is costly, time-consuming and confusing for customers. We have some tips for getting it right the first time, from more obvious suggestions to little-known secrets of naming that many people fail to consider.
Is it Good?
Get to the Point: While it may be impossible to trademark a word from the dictionary (like “Trust Inc.” or “WebDesign.com”) you can certainly find a way to integrate words people know to drive the point home. For example, Compaq describes a portable computer with a slight variation on the word “compact”; its unique spelling makes it more memorable to customers (and easier to trademark).
Don’t Be Too Blunt: Yes, you may be a pizza shop in Los Angeles, but that does not mean your business name needs to be “Los Angeles Pizza.” This makes it more difficult for you to expand to other cities, and also isn’t very memorable.
Short is Good: Keep the name shorter than 10 characters if possible—if not, make sure there’s a shortened “nickname” version of it that rolls off the tongue. Make sure it’s easy to spell and pronounce.
Foreign Languages for Inspiration: Because so many great names are already taken, you can consider integrating a relevant word in another language. For example, Ubuntu is a Zulu term for a philosophy on human kindness, and has become one of the most popular free OS systems in the world.
Symbolism Creates Meaning: Culturally relevant symbolism can add a layer of meaning to your business name. For example, integrating “tree” to represent growth, “owl” to represent wisdom or “stone” to symbolize enduring strength.
Don’t Copy Competitors: Try to branch out from the names and styles of your competitors (without straying too much from your message). Don’t be like all the Pinkberry wannabe yogurt shops popping up around the country, who play off the “fruity” aspect of their name.
Themes to Build On: Come up with a name that can be aligned with a greater theme. Thematic consistency will be great for branding, and gives you something to toy with as your company expands. For example AppSumo has a playful Asian/Sumo/Ninja-style theme that has worked incredibly well for popularizing its brand.
Be Careful with Puns: Wordplay can work in your favor if it resonates with people (like a pho noodle house called “UnPHOgettable” or a couch store called “Sofa, So Good”). Just make sure that it doesn’t go over anyone’s head; this could seriously alienate customers.
Remember the Visuals: Words may not be visual by nature, but people usually conjure images when they read them. What font will you use? What visuals will your business name invoke? Does the word feel sharp and crisp, or round and smooth? How will what people picture tie into your potential logo?
Avoid Numbers or Initials: Both of these are somewhat impersonal, and harder for people to connect with. Make sure if you use them, it’s for a good reason.
Avoid All-Caps: Some assume making your business name fully capitalized will grab attention, but on paper it looks abrasive, as if you’re shouting.
Come Up With Several: Come up with anywhere from 3 to 5 names, and run trademark searches on all of them. Measure them against the criteria listed here, and run them by people who you trust won’t steal them. Ask them what reaction or image the name evokes, and decide if that’s the perception you want for your business.
Is it Viable?
Trademarks: Check to make sure that you are not violating another company’s trademark by searching this government database. If you’d like to learn more about searching and filing trademarks read this guide.
Domain: A website is critical for almost every business today, so don’t overlook it when picking your name; run a search for “yourbusinessname.com” at WHOIS to see if it’s taken. Keep in mind that almost every domain you can think of with five or six characters is already taken. Can you purchase it? If not, how can you be creative with the domain name, and do justice to your original business name?
State Filing: Check with your state filing office to make sure your business name is available, or if not, that it’s being used by a business that provides different goods/services.
Social Media: Check for the name on all social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Plus, Instagram, etc.) and if they’re available, create those accounts immediately.
Article by Rochelle Bailis
Rochelle is an experienced business writer, marketer and researcher. She is currently the Senior Editor and Content Producer at Intuit.