There’s a lot to do when you start a new business.
You can complete many tasks quickly and efficiently. But some things, like naming your new company, can take a lot of time and can be frustrating and challenging.
Your brand name is the mental trigger that helps customers and prospects think about your business.
When a person hears or sees a brand name, their brains create mental associations and reactions. These associations and responses can be positive (when you like the name or brand) or negative (when you don’t like the name or brand).
A strong business name can help differentiate your business from competitors, identify what you’re offering, evoke positive emotions and associations, inspire your team and others, and boost brand recall.
If you want to build a strong brand, a business name that captures your brand essence serves as the foundation for everything else.
Here’s everything you need to know to find a great business name for your new company.
How brand names are structured
Brand names can be structured in different ways, including real words (Staples, Amazon, Apple), truncated real words (FedEx, Cisco), alphanumerics (7-Eleven, 3M), compound words (Microsoft, DreamWorks, MasterCard), and coined words (Google, Zappos, Coca-Cola).
Five types of brand names
Nearly all brand names fall into several categories. You should understand these categories so that you can assess what type of business name you like most.
Descriptive names describe the goods or services being offered. These include names like Antique Lightbulbs or Jane’s Surfboards.
Descriptive names work best when you want to reach an audience that wants to know what your product or service does or when your product or service has a short lifecycle and a small marketing budget.
Descriptive names are tough to trademark because they use common words. So, if you plan to trademark your business name, you should look for names that are not descriptive.
Suggestive names are similar to descriptive names, but they are less clear about the goods and services being offered. For example, Fitbit is a suggestive name. It contains the word “fit,” which relates to fitness, but it’s not completely clear that the products or services offered are fitness products. Still, many people would guess that “Fitbit” is a name for a company that provides fitness products or services.
Arbitrary and fanciful names
Arbitrary and fanciful names have no apparent connection to the brand. They can be arbitrary names like Apple, Virgin, or Slack, or fanciful names containing made-up words, like Google or Kodak.
Arbitrary and fanciful names are easier to trademark because they are distinctive. But because they’re so unusual, they also require more marketing support to help people connect the brand names to the goods and services the company sells.
Names based on different languages
When you want to create a different tone, consider names derived from languages other than English. This is especially helpful if your target audience is primarily non-English speakers.
Names based on different languages can also appeal to English speakers. For example, Prego means “please” in Italian and is also a famous tomato sauce.
Acronyms & initialisms
Acronyms are words and pronounced as words. Initialisms are pronounced as their letters.
For most companies, names based on acronyms and initialisms are not ideal because they can confuse your target audience.
But there are times when a longer business name is easier to pronounce when shortened. International Business Machines Corporation is a good example: IBM.
At other times, a longer business name is too limiting and challenging. This was the case for Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, which renamed itself 3M.
Some acronyms can work well as initialisms too. For example, MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) works well both in the abbreviated and long-form.
The best business names have all or most of these ten elements
- Imagination. The name engages and sparks a customer’s or prospect’s imagination. Fun names like Häagen-Dazs do so for many people.
- Distinctiveness. The name differentiates your business from others in your target market. Think Microsoft Project, Teamwork, Zoho Projects versus Basecamp.
- Brand fit. The best names will capture the essence of your brand (examples: Tesla, Twitter).
- Short and concise. You want the name to be as short as possible. Shorter names are easier to remember and spell. Compare (Apple to Micro-Star International Co., Ltd.
- Lasting. Will the name remain relevant as your brand grows? If Amazon named itself OnlyBooks, it would have had to rebrand when it started selling other items.
- Sounds good. The best names are pleasing to the ear. Think Jamba Juice.
- Consistency. If you introduce products, follow naming conventions that connect to your brand name. You won’t see Apple introduce a phone called Starbase or a watch called Timer.
- Protectability. You should see if the business name you want is available for trademarking and whether you can get a matching domain name.
- Appropriateness. When you sell globally, make sure your business name doesn’t carry a serious negative meaning in another major language.
How to start the naming process
Whether you’re using a business name generator, crowdsourcing a business name, or hiring a naming agency, start by putting together a short creative brief that summarizes the critical parts of your naming strategy.
Here are some of the essential questions your creative brief should answer:
What are you naming?
Most people name companies and the answer to this question is easy. But sometimes, you are naming a product, and the answer is a bit more complicated. For example, is it a brand new product or an extension of an existing product line? The latter typically needs to connect to the rest of the product line.
Similarly, it would help if you considered whether you’re creating a suite of products based on this initial product or whether this product will stand alone.
How will you use the name?
If you’re looking for a business name, you’ll use it on your business cards, website, brochures, signs, packaging, and many other situations. Consider any particular uses that could potentially influence the type of name you’ll select.
What is your target market?
You must understand your target market to understand how the name fits that market. This isn’t always obvious because markets can be hyper-specific or broad.
What names do your competitors use?
In some industries, there are naming patterns. Other industries reward novelty and innovation when it comes to naming. In both cases, you’ll want to differentiate.
Who are your customers?
Are you selling directly to consumers (B2C) or selling to other businesses (B2B)? Are you selling to senior citizens of Gen-Z? The better you understand your target audience, the more prepared you’ll be to assess whether you’ve found the right name that will resonate with that audience.
How do you differentiate?
This is your unique selling proposition. What’s the special sauce that will prompt people to buy your products and services over your competitors.
Are words from other languages acceptable?
Other languages can be playful (Swahili, for example) or communicate better with a particular audience (French for an upscale audience). But remember that words can have negative meanings and associations in other languages, so think about your target markets and consider how your name would be interpreted in those markets.
What brand attributes should the name communicate?
This is tough to accomplish with most names, but you can sometimes communicate various brand attributes with a business name. For example, Sir Speedy’s name (professional printing and marketing services) expresses that the product is “fast.”
Do you prefer a specific tone?
Certain pronunciations have specific connotations. For example, the popular coffee chain Starbucks got its name in part because the founders thought “st” makes a strong vocal sound.
Can your product accommodate your business name?
Small products have limited physical space on which you can print the name. So consider whether you’ll want to print your name on products and whether you’ll be constrained with a longer name.
Will you need a matching domain name?
Domain names can be tough to find. But you can add a descriptor to your business name. For example, if your business name is clout and the domain is already taken, you can use joinclout as the domain.
Now that you’ve learned the basics, let’s look at ten proven tips to help you pick a strong business name:
1. Be patient. It’s possible to find a great name in a few hours, but this is rare. The process can take weeks as you explore lots of options.
3. Avoid decisions by committee. People rarely agree about anything. And when it comes to naming, this is always true. If a group of people decides on the name, at least one person won’t like it. So don’t look for a name that everyone loves. Pick a person who will ultimately decide, provide input, and then let that person pick the name. Otherwise, you’ll end up wasting a lot of time or will compromise on a name that’s weak but tolerated by everyone.
2. Give yourself options. Even when you find a name you love, consider other possibilities. Select at least several names that can work well for you and register those domains to have options. Don’t anchor yourself to a name prematurely before you’ve done some due diligence.
5. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t get a matching domain name. A strong and memorable name that requires a descriptor for the domain name is often much better than a less memorable name for which you can an exact match domain.
4. The name is only part of your brand identity. A memorable business name is essential. But your brand identity is so much more, including your logo, website, and more. Don’t expand your name to tell your company’s full story. You’ll need to build a complete brand identity.
7. Set a time limit. Some people can get bogged down naming their companies for months. Yes, it sounds crazy, but it’s true. Don’t get distracted. It’s impossible to find a unique name, so don’t set that as a goal. Find something unique, stands out in your industry, and doesn’t have much competition in search engine results. You have to differentiate, but you don’t need to find a name nobody has ever used.
6. Trust your target audience. Naming is an art and a science. Some names may have slightly negative associations, but that might not be a problem depending on your audience. Assume your audience is intelligent.
9. Be open-minded. If you want to find an unusual and memorable name, you have to be open-minded. And, you have to be brave. If you’re merely comfortable with some names but not excited by them, you can be sure that your target audience will probably feel the same way about those names.
8. Think like your customers. You should love the name, but it’s more important that your customers and prospects love it. You might have some personal reasons why a particular name isn’t perfect for you. But, if it’s ideal for the business or your customers, you should ignore the personal reasons.
10. Good is better than perfect. Let’s face it: we all want a perfect, short, memorable name that’s easy to spell, remember, and fun to pronounce. Plus, one that has an exact match domain available. But wanting something and finding it are different things. Few names are perfect when you first consider them. Few names will match all of your naming criteria. But if you look for perfect, you may spend many months trying to name your business instead of launching your business and working to grow it. Make intelligent, reasonable choices, and don’t let the search for perfection delay your launch.
How to check a name for potential problems
Although you won’t personally be able to do a full search and confirm that the name you want to use is legally available, there are steps you should check to identify any potential problems with possible names.
First, consider whether you can trademark the name. You can search the USPTO trademark database, for example, and search on Google to see if you can identify other companies using the name you’re considering.
Second, look at popular social networks like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and others, to see if your name is available for registration. In a perfect world, you can reserve the name on all relevant social networks. But most people will have to make some compromises since it would be very unusual for a name to be available on all networks.
We hope that with these insights and tips, you have the tools to come up with a terrific and memorable name for your new business, product, or organization.
We regularly update this complete guide on how to name a business. We last updated it on August 17, 2021.
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