Coming up with a business name is one of the most important decisions you’ll make for your company. While your business model and high-level strategic decisions are equally important, without a strong business name, they may never reach their full potential.
Business names are important because they’re responsible for establishing each business’s reputation, supporting its marketing activities, and allowing it to develop. Typically, a name is your first introduction to a business—and it can instantly make or break your impression of that business. It’s what you need to remember if you’re going to find the business again or buy from it. And it’s what you’re going to use when you recommend the business to other people.
Of course, it’s not easy to come up with an impactful, memorable business name from scratch. So how can you do it?Table of Contents:
- How to Name a Business: What Makes a Business Name Work?
- What to Avoid When Coming Up With a Business Name
- Business Name Ideas: How to Brainstorm Names
- What to Do With a List of Business Name Ideas
You want to come up with a great business name, but what exactly makes a business name great? You can’t effectively brainstorm if you’re not able to identify the factors that make a name effective. Essentially, a “good” business name should:
- Create an identity. First, a good business name should establish an identity. When someone hears the name for the first time, they should form an immediate impression of your business. This is tricky to pull off, but it’s much easier to do if you consider word associations. For example, does the name of your business imply the industry in which it operates? Does it evoke a specific emotion? Does it sound like anything familiar?
- Be memorable and easy to recall. Your business name should also be memorable and easy to recall. When someone sees an advertisement for your brand, they should walk away with a clear and distinct memory of your name; they shouldn’t be forced to write it down, and they shouldn’t confuse it with the name of one of your competitors. Snappy, concise, and clever names tend to be easier to recall—as do entirely original ones.
- Be easy to search and find. There are more than 3.5 billion searches per day on Google, and most customers turn to search engines when they’re ready to make a purchase or follow up on researching a customer. If it’s hard to find your business, in any way, you’re going to lose potential customers. Accordingly, your business name should be easy to search and find. To achieve this, your business name shouldn’t be commonly associated with other concepts or ideas, and it shouldn’t conflict with your competitors. For example, naming your company “Go” could be a problem since “Go” is such a common word in heavy use; in addition to being a frequently used verb, it’s also a board game, a programming language, and a domain owned by Disney.
Before you dive too deep into the brainstorming process, you should spend some time focusing on critical mistakes to avoid. Instead of trying to come up with the perfect name, you can start with something easier—avoiding bad ones. These types of business names should be avoided in nearly all cases:
- Names that are hard to spell or pronounce. If the name is too hard to spell, people are going to search for it and end up finding nothing. They may also be unable to convey your business name over text or may be frustrated when they discover they actually have no idea how to spell your business name. Something similar holds true if your name is too hard to pronounce. If your customers have a hard time pronouncing your name, they’re not going to easily remember you, and they’re certainly not going to go out of their way to tell their friends about you. They might even pronounce your name wrong unwittingly, leading to further confusion down the line.
- Names that are too “narrow.” You want your name to be scalable; in other words, your name should allow for some degree of business growth. If it’s too narrow or tightly focused, you’re going to restrict your long-term potential. Even major brands can run into this issue; for example, Dunkin’ Donuts recently changed its name to Dunkin’ because it wanted to distance itself from the image of being a donut company.
- Names that are too long. If your name is too long, it’s going to be hard to write down, hard to say, and hard to remember. Ideally, your business name will be one or two words. In some industries, you may be able to get away with a few additional words. But if it occupies a full sentence, it’s definitely too long. Additionally, if your business name is a single word, make that word short: “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” isn’t going to cut it.
- Esoteric or obscure jokes, puns, and references. Some business names are brilliant puns or perfect references to an old piece of media—but these names don’t typically work. If your name requires a history degree or a detective’s mind to fully understand, it’s not going to work. Puns, jokes, and references are completely fine—but they have to be positioned in a way that the average person is going to understand them.
- Business structure designations (prematurely). For the most part, you’ll want to avoid tacking on business structure designations like “Inc.” or “LLC.” Only consider these after you’ve finalized your business structure.
Now, you’re ready to start brainstorming business name ideas. The idea here is to generate a list of many possible names; don’t fixate too much on any single idea.
- Focus on clarity and conciseness. Don’t spend too much time expanding or elaborating; you want your ideas to be as clear and concise as possible. You can always add more content if you need to, but for the most part, shorter and more straightforward name ideas will serve you better.
- Capture the image of the brand. Consider the core idea behind your business. What are you hoping to sell? Who are you hoping to sell to? What kind of personality do you want the brand to exhibit? Try to capture these concepts in your business name if you can. Start by writing down words directly associated with your business, then modify those words in slight ways to make them more unique. Then, consider making up words that evoke specific feelings or abstract ideas you want associated with the brand.
- Be distinct and unique. If you’re entering an industry that’s already filled with competing businesses, it’s tempting to look at their names and attempt to replicate their success by following a similar model. However, it’s much more effective to be distinctive and unique. Your business name should be as original as possible, unlike anything else in your industry.
- Play with acronyms and synonyms. If you’re having trouble coming up with something unique that also conveys the idea behind your business, consider playing with acronyms and synonyms. Acronyms allow you to pack more information into a business name without sacrificing conciseness; for example, GEICO stands for “The Government Employees Insurance Company,” which by itself would have been too long to be an effective business name. Synonyms allow you to explore unique variations of keywords and phrases associated with your business directly.
- Experiment with word associations. Similarly, you could experiment with word associations. Write down words associated with your company and words associated with those words. Create a web of ideas and see if anything jumps out at you.
- Try alliteration and rhyming. If you have some keywords or phrases you want to include in your business, consider playing with poetic techniques like alliteration or rhyming. Alliteration is including words with similar consonant sounds—like in Best Buy, Coca-Cola, or PayPal. Rhyming is including words with the same ending sounds—like in Steak n Shake, 7-Eleven, or Mellow Yellow. These techniques make your name much easier to remember.
- Include visual elements. As you get further in the business name generation process, think about visual elements you might associate with each name. Do you have an idea for a logo, or a mascot that could represent the company? Does a strong image come to mind when you see this name?
So what do you do once you have a list of solid business name ideas? For starters, you can choose a business structure. The type of business structure you’ll operate under will determine what your next steps should be. If you choose to operate under a formal business structure such as an LLC or Corporation, your business name will need to conform with the naming guidelines of your state. For example, most LLCs require a designation such as “LLC”, “L.L.C.”, “Ltd”, “Limited Liability Company”, etc. at the end of their name to denote that they are an LLC. If you were to come up with the name “Tom’s Wonderful Widgets”, the legal name of the LLC could be registered as “Tom’s Wonderful Widgets LLC”. Formally registering as a limited liability company (LLC) or a corporation will immediately render the name unavailable to other similar companies.
Next, you’ll need to see whether your intended names are available. You don’t want to get further into the naming process, only to realize that some other business already took that name. For each name in your final rounds of consideration, you’ll want to:
- Conduct an internet search. The first step is the easiest. Give your business name a search in Google and see what comes up. This is what your customers are likely going to see if they decide to search for your business. Are there any word associations or topics that could be bad for your business? More importantly, are there any businesses you can find that are currently using this as a name?
- Check the State Secretary of State (SOS) website. Next, check your State Secretary of State (SOS) website for registered businesses (if available). Even if you don’t find a website for a company with the name you’ve chosen, there’s a chance that one has already registered with your state. This will allow you to find out.
- Search for domain names. One of the most important steps to take after finalizing your business name is getting a domain that matches it. Accordingly, before settling on a name, you should spend some time searching for domains. Are you able to get a .com domain with your business name? If not, who currently owns the domain? Can you buy it from them? Are they using it for their own business? What alternatives could you consider? It’s usually not a good idea to purchase a domain name that’s significantly different from your business name, but in rare occasions, it can work. If your domain name is unavailable for your current business name, consider coming up with a different business name.
- Conduct a federal trademark search. Finally, conduct a federal trademark search to see if any other entrepreneurs have taken this business name or used this name for products, services, or other trademarked items. If you find a conflict, you may be forced to make further changes to your business name.