Naming Your Business: Process and Pitfalls

Company names like Apple, Amazon and eBay evoke an image of success and cutting-edge technology. They make an emotional connection with consumers, resulting in the kind of brand recognition that many companies dream of.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of a business name. Not only is it the first thing that customers see, it also sums up the company and its unique take on an industry. “When a name is the face of the brand, getting it right is absolutely crucial,” Adam Fridman writes in Inc.

Getting your business’ name right could mean the difference between “Blue Ribbon Sports” and “Nike.” Here are some tips for how to come up with a business name.

When Naming a Business, Think Like a Consumer

Ideally, your business name should be short and easy to spell while covering key elements of your company.

Unique spellings such as “Chick-fil-A” can be acceptable, “but don’t make your company’s name so unconventional that it’s hard to remember,” cautions Inc. staff writer Graham Winfrey. An eccentric or long name can undermine your audience’s ability to search for it. “Not every company can have a short, simple, one-syllable name like Box, Dell, or Lyft, but if you come up with a great long name and a great short name, you should probably go with the short one,” he adds.

A business name that identifies what your company is about is crucial. The name will also set your company apart from the competition. Appeal to the kind of customers you are trying to attract. “Choose a comforting or familiar name that conjures up pleasant memories so customers respond to your business on an emotional level,” Entrepreneur says.

For example, a name like “Italiatour” for a company that promotes tours to Italy can instantly excite audiences about foreign travel. The name helps customers understand what the company offers.

You should also know what to avoid when choosing a business name.

  • Avoid made up words or acronyms with no apparent meaning. Anything too obscure will be a problem for your audience. Coined words can be powerful in certain situations, however. “Acura” has no definition but suggests precision engineering, according to Entrepreneur. The term is from “Acu,” a word that means “precise” in many languages.
  • Avoid overused metaphors. Names like “Summit,” “Apex,” Pinnacle” and “Peak” are overworked, says branding expert, Phil Davis. Combinations of positive words and metaphors can work. Data storage company Iron Mountain conveys strength and security in its name.
  • Avoid words with negative connotations. Be careful with terms that have possible suggestive, embarrassing or otherwise negative meanings.
  • Avoid geographic words. You might encounter problems if your business expands beyond the region. This is why Minnesota Manufacturing and Mining became 3M in 2002 and why Kentucky Fried Chicken adopted KFC in 1991.

Research and Test Your Business Name Ideas

Online Research

A large portion of your company’s audience will find your business on the internet, making online research a smart place to begin testing business names.

  • Perform keyword research. See if the ideas will have a strong online presence. If you target a common word, it might be difficult placing on the first or second page of search results for Google.
  • Consider business URLs. Your business’ “.com” or “.org” is perhaps more important than any other online presence. Make sure your domain name is available. Consider how short and memorable it will be.
  • Search social media. Like your domain name, you’ll need to make sure your business name is available on Facebook, Twitter and more. You’ll be able to tell if competitors’ names will be too similar on these networks.

Trademark Research

“Not every business name needs to be trademarked, as long as your state government gives you the go-ahead and you aren’t infringing on anyone else’s trade name,” Entrepreneur says. “But you should consider hiring a trademark attorney or at least a trademark search firm before to make sure your new name doesn’t infringe on another business’s trademark.”

Consider performing trademark research once you’ve identified four or five names you like. This step could help your company avoid costly litigation in the future.

Audience Research

Focus groups can help you determine how people respond to your favorite business name options. “Survey as many people as you can,” Bridie Loverro, co-founder of QuadJobs, told Winfrey. “The name to choose may not necessarily be the one people like best, but the one they remember most.”

Make sure your naming extends beyond the local market. Anthony Goldbloom, an Australian-born data scientist, asked family and friends whether they liked “Sumble” or “Kaggle” better for the startup he co-founded, The Wall Street Journal explains. They chose “Kaggle,” but when Goldbloom moved the company to the United States from Australia, he noticed that people in the Midwest tended to pronounce “Kaggle” as “KAY-gel.”

This is the same pronunciation for “Kegel,” an exercise strengthening the pelvic floor to help with urinary stress incontinence. “In other words: It’s probably not the best name for an online data startup,” The Wall Street Journal says.

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