One of the steps in starting a business is choosing a name. This is one of the most important choices you’ll make as a business owner. Your business name is the face of your brand and conveys what it stands for.
So how do you go about selecting a memorable one? If you have $50,000 to spend with a top tier naming company, go for it. But if you don’t, here are a few tips I’ve gathered from my experience naming five businesses (and renaming my own consultancy).
Step #1: Brainstorm Ideas and Seek Inspiration
First, think about what you want your company to be and what your brand to represent. Next, let your imagination run wild. Think of your favorite words (going through a dictionary is totally fair game) or words in foreign languages (though these may already be taken by others in that country). Go back to Greek mythology, history books, and English literature. Think of your favorite phrases, concepts, etc.
If you have some time, you can even keep notes of names you like – a street, a place, another business, etc. These days you can even combine words to form something new. For example, the NYC neighborhood SoHo came from “South of Houston Street” and is now one of the trendiest areas in the city.
Step #2: Test for Pronunciation, Spelling, and Memorability
Once you have a list of potential names, run through the checklist below. Your name doesn’t have to meet every one of these criteria, but it’s good to at least hit most of them.
- It’s easy to spell, so customers can find you online and share your name with others.
It’s easy to pronounce. Do you know how to pronounce Fage or Guerlain? Do you want people mispronouncing your company name all the time?
- Someone else hasn’t already named their business this.
- It’s easy to type on a mobile phone.
- It’s memorable. You want people to remember you, right?
- It starts with a letter at the beginning of the alphabet. Should you be featured in an alphabetical list, you’ll automatically be at the top!
- It doesn’t mean anything strange or inappropriate in a foreign language. This is especially important in today’s globalized world. Check out some of these for what NOT to do.
- It doesn’t have negative or controversial connotations, unless you’re going for it. For example, my friend John’s hiring company Credo used to be called HiredGun, which I thought was great at first, until he told me people disliked it because it included the word gun.
Step #3: Check URL and Social Media Availability
Now take the words and names that made it through the checklist and see if they are available as a URL. A strong, simple, and memorable URL is key for a successful business.
These days it can seem like every decent URL is taken or being squatted on. Super frustrating. To get around this, people now use .io, .co, .vc and a whole host of other domains. While not as good as .com, the use of these is becoming more popular.
Be careful where you search though. I’ve heard horror stories with about how if GoDaddy sees you or multiple people interested in a URL, they’ll automatically buy it, and then sell it back to you for a higher fee. I’ve found Instant Domain Search to be a super-clean and easy-to-use interface for searching URL availabilities.
Once you decide on a name and buy a .com URL, you may want to consider buying the other common domains associated with it, for example, such as .co, .net, or .org domains. You may not use it, but if you grow to a huge brand, you may end up needing these in the future.
A URL is also important for the long term SEO of a product. For Diapers.com, a baby e-commerce company acquired by Amazon for $540M, having the word “diapers” in the URL gave the company an automatic SEO boost with Google and Bing.
The next step is to check the availability of relevant Facebook pages, Twitter handles, Instagram names, and so on. While not as vital as your URL, these are still important, as potential users will use them to find your business.
If all the basic names are taken, you can consider adding “Group,” “Team,” “Media,” “Labs,” “-ly,” or other terms after the name to get your desired URL that are related to your website. Facebook started out as www.thefacebook.com before it became www.facebook.com and Flatiron Health started as www.flatironhealth.com before it became www.flatiron.com.
Step #4: Collect Relevant User Feedback
The next step is to take your list of possible URLs and ask your friends and family to rank their preferences. You can go through your list in person when you see them or ask them via email. You can even post your list on Facebook and tag friends whose advice you respect in order to get their thoughts.
Finally, if you have a specific audience demographic, you can use one of the above and pay to have random people who fit your target demographic answer a survey about their thoughts on your potential names. For SurveyMonkey, it’s about $1-2 per response depending on how targeted your audience sample is.
Step #5: Conduct a Trademark Search
If you have any plans to grow your business into a major brand, no matter how distant, this is an important step to ensure you don’t get into any legal issues in the long run. You can run a simple search on TESS, the U.S. Trademark and Patent office’s website trademark directory to see if another company in the same space has your name.
If someone else has your name, don’t lose hope. According to trademark rules, two firms can have the same name if they are in very different fields and there is no risk of confusion. For example, there are 50 live trademarked companies with the word “popcorn” in their names that are in different enough spaces that they were all granted trademark protection.
After checking the trademark database, you should also check with your state to ensure there aren’t any other active businesses doing business as with your name. For example, here is the state of New Jersey’s page where you can do a quick search.
After you’ve done all the above and narrowed all your names down, congratulations! You’ve now found a great name for a new company. Now go celebrate this important step in the life of a business owner!
Any other tips? Or favorite company names (or disaster stories)? Feel free to share them in the comments below.
*Originally published on Adelyn’s LinkedIn profile.