How to Choose a Name for Your Business
You have a great idea for a business. You’ve done the research, know the market and even have a solid business plan. What you’re missing is a name, and that’s where many people get stuck. In comparison to everything else involved in starting a business, finding a name seems like a short and simple process, but that is far from the truth.
Hiring Branding Professionals
Quick question: What is your budget? Ideally, you want to hire an experienced copywriter or branding firm for this process. They will guide you through it, do the heavy lifting, and come up with names based on research and their own experience and skills. That is something you will not be able to do on your own. If you can, hire a professional. It is the best way to ensure that your brand name will best represent your business and vision.
How to Choose a Copywriter or Branding Firm
Start with recommendations. Ask around, get feedback from colleagues, and see if you can make a list of a few good options. Next, search online for professionals and firms in your area. Before contacting anyone, take a look at their online portfolios, recommendations and testimonials on their site and LinkedIn, and see who they’ve worked with.
Try to get a short list of a maximum of 5 options and start calling. Start with a short phone interview to get a better idea of who you’re dealing with and ask questions about how they work, their process, their experience, and cost. Set up face-to-face meetings with the ones that seem most relevant to you and get more information on what they can offer. Here’s what you should look for:
- Extensive experience naming companies and products
- A process that makes sense based on research and experience
- Clear and logical explanations for each of the name options they provide
- Advice against bad name choices that you may have and their reasoning
- Experience with trademark laws and ensuring the names they offer are available
- Experience in your specific industry and with your target audience is a plus
The upside to hiring professionals is that you’ll get a better result. You’ll end up with a name that reflects your USP (Unique Selling Proposition) and vision while also being appealing and memorable to your target audience.
The only downside is, of course, cost. The alternative is to go through this process yourself, or together with your founding team/business partners. It will be less effective and the results won’t be as good, but it’s not always possible to start off with a big enough budget to hire professionals. Keep reading for a little guidance on how to start this process on your own.
There’s a first impression for everything, and it’s important. When someone first hears a word, it affects them in some way. It makes them feel and think of something. What do you want people to think and feel the first time they hear your brand name?
Don’t answer too quickly. You may be tempted to go for the quick “that we’re the number one store for electronics”, but it’s more complicated and deeper than that. Here are a few things you want them to know when they see your brand name:
- What you do
- Who you serve
- What makes you different from your competitors
Yes, all that is in a name. You also want to think about what they’ll feel when they hear your brand name. Does it make them feel confident, scared, worried, happy, amused? What is the character of your name? Is it professional, academic, childish, formal?
Keep in mind that the end result won’t always have clear answers to everyone who sees it. When you think of names like Apple, it doesn’t exactly convey “computer and electronics brand”. They decided to focus on what was important for them, their uniqueness. For you it may be the confidence that you instill in your customers, or your company’s emphasis on service above all. All this needs to be decided now. Not only will it help you choose a better name, but it will guide you through the design process later on.
What to Avoid
Here are a few naming options you will want to steer clear of:
Avoid putting names of cities, neighborhoods, or streets in your brand name (e.g. Riverside Cupcakes). This may limit you in the future if you ever need/want to move or expand your business.
Try to use real words as much as possible, or names that are similar to real words. You want people to understand what you’re offering without having to explain much when they see your brand name. Yes, there are great brand names out there like Apple, Sony, and Kodak, but it’s not the safe way to go. If you come with up with a made-up word that you really believe in, it’s easy to pronounce and remember, and you think it will resonate with your audience — go for it. Otherwise, don’t aim for made-up words from the get-go.
Try not to limit yourself by being too literal in your name. For example, if you sell accounting services, it’s best not to use the word “accounting” in the brand name. Or, if you sell cupcakes, don’t call your shop “Billy’s Cupcakes”. The reason for this is that you are limiting yourself to these services and products. Businesses evolve in order to grow and stay up-to-date with the industry and their target audience’s needs, especially when you are just starting out. You may end up providing more services and products in the future and names like these can be very limiting.
Too Long, Difficult, or Confusing
You want your customers to be able to say and remember your name easily. Don’t choose a name that is too long or is difficult to pronounce. Remember that you should always try to see things from your audience’s perspective. If you sell a new toy aimed at 8-year-olds, they are your audience. Of course, the parents are the ones that decide to purchase and pay for the toy, but if a kid can’t easily say and remember your brand name, they won’t ask for it!
Ideas to Start
If you still don’t know how to come up with your first few name options, these ideas may help you out.
Think of words that can be combined to represent your brand. Good examples are Italiatours and GameStop. You can get an understanding of what they do and offer from the name. Italiatours sells vacation packages to Italy, and GameStop is a place to stop and buy video games. More examples are: CafePress, LinkedIn, Facebook, Salesforce, TripAdvisor, SnapChat, and Herbalife. It can be two full words, like GameStop, or half words that sound good together, like Herbalife. Make sure you end up with something that is easy to pronounce, remember, and spell.
Mythology and History
Is there a mythical or historical character relevant to your brand? Nike, for example, is the Greek Goddess of Victory. It is a fitting name for a brand that sells athletic products. If there are a few options relevant to your business, see if you can play around with the spelling or pronunciation so that it is short and easy to say. Keep in mind that this can be seen as outdated since it’s been done before, so you should only do this if it is very relevant to your brand and target audience.
Some words look great with slight changes to the spelling or pronunciation. Flickr is a great example of something that is easy to say, it fits the brand, and the spelling looks appealing. There are many trends involving missing letters, using Z instead of S, and double letters. Some even change the word a bit, like Compaq, which is based on “compact”. Note that this may be seen as childish and unprofessional by some audiences, or even outdated and overdone.
I’m not mentioning made-up words here because they are difficult to come up with and there isn’t really a process on how to come up with them. Sometimes they remind you of a different word or suggest a certain feeling, but they are not easy to come up with, even for professionals. If you do have a few good ones, put them on the list for consideration and always think about what they convey and how easy they are to remember and pronounce. Also keep in mind that new words are usually associated with technology and complex products or services, so they are not a good fit for every brand.
There are a couple technical issues you’ll want to address:
- Is the name already trademarked? If so, are there slight changes you can make to ensure your name is available? You’ll want to check local and global trademarks so that even if there is no local trademark, you will know if your name is used internationally if you plan on expanding in the future.
- Is the domain available? If not, what is on the domain with your chosen name? Is it popular? In some cases, you’ll find that the domain is not available but there’s nothing there. You can try to buy it from the owner, or purchase a similar domain or alternative extension. If the domain does have something on it, it depends what it is and how popular is. You don’t want to constantly be mistaken for another brand.
Testing Your Name Options
You have a list of name options — now what? Here are few tests you’ll want to put each name through to shorten the list:
- Say it out loud. How does it sound? Does it roll off the tongue or is it difficult to pronounce?
- Ask someone to repeat it after hearing it for the first time. Is it easy for them? Did they get it right?
- How does it look on paper? Font and design aside, is the spelling short and easy to remember?
- Ask around; try it out on people. What do they think the name represents? What feelings or connotations come to mind? Are they in line with your brand and USP?
- Are you targeting more than one location? Does your target audience have a specific accent? See if it’s easy for them to pronounce and remember?
- Does your name mean anything negative? If you’re targeting more than one country, check its meaning in multiple languages to be sure.
Take Your Time
If you’re going at it alone, keep in mind that it takes time. Don’t expect to get through this in two days. Most professionals will ask for 3-6 months to complete this process for you. It’s likely you don’t have that much time, but expect to spend at least a month on the process.
Now you just need a good logo design.