Naming a business is challenging. Whether you’re rebranding or starting from scratch, you know it all starts with a name. A name can be powerful and memorable, or it can cause problems for potential customers.
We’ve been helping a few organizations produce ideas for names lately, and here are nine things to consider as you through the process.
- The URL – Your business name should have a matching URL — or close. Getting the exact match with a .com is not as easy as it used to be, so you may have to adjust the URL. As you create a list of potential business names, search for related web addresses. If your favorite one is taken but you still want to use that name, you might add “NC” or your state to the URL, or change words such as “the” to “your.” You can also consider extensions (also called top-level domains) instead of .com. While no one wanted .net, there are many more to choose from such as .marketing, .lawyer, and others. They are becoming more popular and your SEO won’t suffer, so even if your chosen URL is taken for .com, it’s OK to consider other options. (Of course, don’t choose .lawyer if you’re not a lawyer!)
- The Competition – What names, logos, and brands are already out there in your industry? Obviously, you don’t want to choose something already taken, but you probably also want to steer away from sounding too similar.
- Inappropriate Memes and More – Landmines are everywhere. If you have a name in mind, google it just to see what comes up. Try some variations on it, too. You might find another business with that name — or a meme you’d rather not associate with! You can even search for the name and “meme” to see if you unearth anything odd. Check the urban dictionary for the words you’re using. Plenty of harmless words have an alternate meaning, and that might be OK if it’s something obscure. Still, it’s better to know in advance!
- The Length – Longer names are harder to manage. Sure, you might be able to get the exact URL, but a longer name will clutter your website and business cards, and it’s harder to make into a hashtag. Longer names don’t roll off the tongue when your clients are referring you, either.
- Sound it Makes – Speaking of referrals, sound out your potential business names. Say them out loud in different tones and voices. Put the accent on different syllables. We realize this exercise sounds ridiculous, but you want to choose a name that people want to say, and this will help you determine how easy that is.
- The General Feeling – Words are powerful tools. Make sure your name matches the feeling, the level of professionalism, the price range, and personality of your business. A clown college might have a silly name, but your law office probably shouldn’t. Sure, that’s an obvious example, but if you’re a mechanic focusing only on high-end cars, your name shouldn’t be “Bob’s Auto Repair.” We went through this recently with a landscaping company. Some landscapers are those who come out and mow your lawn each week, doing little else. Others are the ones that manage clients in gated communities and turn their lawns into works of art. The name should reflect the level of your business.
- The Thesaurus – Still struggling to find a name that works? Run some of your words through a thesaurus and brainstorm the results. You want your business name to give a clue about what you do; search for variations on those words to mix it up a little. However, don’t get too obscure. You might find it cool to use a reference from science or mythology or even today’s pop culture, but if others won’t get it, reconsider. (See below for more on this.)
- Your Name – We often find it tempting to put our own first or last name on a business. And why not? It’s yours! But if you want to sell the company someday, it might be better to look elsewhere. If your name is hard to spell or say or something common like “John Smith,” you should find another option. Plus, we’re all used to lawyers using their names for their firms. Names evoke a feeling of law firms or other professional services such as financial managers. That’s not to say you can’t use it; names worked for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. However, it’s something to think about.
- Legalities – We’re not lawyers, but of course, when you start a business, you’ll need to make sure no one else has registered that name. Check with your Secretary of State’s directory or the federal Trademark office to make sure your name isn’t taken. In some cases, you can use the same name if your business is different and is located elsewhere, but it’s best to research this thoroughly.
Brainstorming Name Ideas
Now that you’ve considered some of the critical factors, here are some ways to get thinking about a name:
- Playful Slang – This approach relies on words relating to the industry, such as coffee or beans if you’re opening a coffee shop.
- Descriptive – These names describe exactly what your business does, such as “auto repair” or “The Weather Channel.” You hear it and you know what you’re getting.
- Suggestive – This approach is more subtle. For example, Amazon is named that way to denote its size and breadth of offerings.
- Arbitrary – It’s OK to choose a name that has no connection with the product or is a made-up word. Apple, for example, has nothing to do with computers!
- Synthetic – If you’re using a thesaurus, you might produce a synthetic brand name, which relies on word meanings and variations. Xerox comes from the Greek word xeros meaning, “to dry.”
- Founder-centric – If you want to include your name, you may go with a founder-centric approach. We mentioned Ben & Jerry’s, for example.