What’s in a Name? How to Decide What Your Business Should be Called

You have an idea for an amazing business – you have so many ideas for what you want to sell, who would be excited about your product or service, and all the problems that will be solved now that you’re going into business for yourself.

There’s only one BIG problem: What will you name it?

Until you have a name for your business, you can’t secure a domain for your website, figure out your logo, or set up social media accounts – your business can’t even formally exist until you name it.

Just like naming a child or a pet, naming your business will have major significance – it’s a name you won’t want to change, which people will be saying and reacting to for years, and which will essentially set your business in motion.

Apple wouldn’t be able to exercise such minimalism in their branding if they were called XYZ 123 Super Complex Computer Company. It just wouldn’t have the pizzazz. McDonald’s may not have the golden arches if their name didn’t start with an M.

Think about how quickly Coca Cola was shortened to Coke because their original brand name was just too long. Your business’s name will be your first impression to other businesses, consumers, and the general public so it HAS to be good, and it should reflect who you are right away.

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Try these tips for finding the perfect name for your business:

Choosing a Name For Your Business in 8 Steps

Know Thyself

Before anything else, you should know who you are and who you want consumers to perceive you to be. If you are a soft, peaceful spa you might not want to go with a name that sounds ferocious, overly energized, or messy – a name that might be perfect for a trampoline park.

Think about your mission and how to reflect your values and goals in a few words. While those words might not end up in your name, they can motivate the words that you DO choose for your business.

Make a brainstormed list of all of the adjectives and phrases you would use to describe your business, your products or services, your customers, and yourself as the founder.

Exercise Your Creativity

To get your creative juices flowing and spend time thinking about your business in new and different ways, try some branding exercises. We like this booklet from 99Designs and the 20 questions from Lean Labs to get you thinking.

Make a Mood Board

Sometimes creating a visual collage for your business – the mood you want to convey, the brick and mortar space of your dreams, the websites you like, and the products or packaging you’d like to emulate, and more – can help you to define it.

Grab images from a Google search, Pinterest or Instagram, or out of magazines and go to town creating a collage of the ones that speak to you. Once you’ve made your collection, try to name it – like a piece of artwork. What words or phrases come to mind.

Search the Web

For domain possibilities, that is! You can test for open domain names by searching for them on your hosting site of choice – try Bluehost – or by typing them in. If YourBusinessNameIdea.com is available, it might be a sign that you should snag it before someone else does! If it’s not available, you can try to switch it up a little, go with a .net instead, or take it as a sign that you should pick something else!

Feel Out Competitors

There’s two reasons to know your competitors intimately – to know what you should do and to know what NOT to do. Keeping up with (and surpassing) your competitors is a tenuous balance of doing your own thing and keeping a watchful eye on the others.

What are your competitors’ business names? Do they have anything in common? Which ones do you like? What about companies that are NOT your direct competitors but which are in the same space or which share an audience with your business?

Write down anything you want to avoid “sounds too stuffy, too long to say out loud” as well as things you like “Sounds speedy and efficient, this one is clever!” These notes will help you critique your own ideas.

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Ask Around

No one can name your business except for you. However, you can illicit some feedback from the people you trust – or from random people you meet! If you have your name narrowed down to a few, get feedback without context and see how people react. If you’re nowhere near the narrowing-down phase, put people on the spot and see what comes out – it might not be branding gold, but it could spark something!

Consider the Details

When in doubt, consider that many businesses are named after their founding members or their families (like Wendy’s) or their brand promise and offerings (like Best Buy or HomeGoods). You don’t want your brand name to be forgettable, vague, or boring but you may be able to derive some inspiration from the basics about your business.

Do you have an interesting street address, someone you could honor, or an interesting product offering that might make your business stand out? Make a list of maybes and see what happens!

Test it

Once you have a great business name – or a few favorites – test them against Fortune Magazine’s Top Ten Rules for Business Naming:

  1. Is it unique and unforgettable?
  2. Is it obvious to spell correctly?
  3. Will it be pronounced correctly?
  4. Is it simple enough?
  5. Does it make sense WITHOUT an explanation?
  6. Does it hint at what you do?
  7. Is it available as a business name or trademark?
  8. Can you snag the .com?
  9. Are you free to change locations or product lines and keep your name?
  10. Does your target market like it?

If you don’t pass all ten items on this list, decide whether YOU can live with the ones you missed. A 10/10 business name is probably a great choice that won’t confuse, mislead, or offend potential customers and you’ve got yourself a winner!

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