How to choose a business name

What’s in a name? A lot, when it comes to business – it’s the very first point of entry to your company. First impressions take a split second to make, and the wrong name can completely turn would-be customers off.

Naming is personal, and divisive – some experts say that it’s best to have a clear, descriptive name, while others prefer to coin new words. Whichever way you decide to go, here are some factors to consider.

Where to find name inspiration

  • Jot down words and play around with them. Start with key words for your business, then add descriptors, synonyms and similar-sounding words that come to mind.
  • Think about your USP – maybe you make the fluffiest cheesecake in town, in which case you could play on ideas of airiness and lightness.
  • Reflect on yourself and your team – if you’re all-female or a family, you might want to highlight that.
  • Look at competitors – you might notice there’s a pattern of words that are used and avoided. Try to think of something that fits in with their names, but isn’t too generic.
  • If all fails, a name generator might spark inspiration – it worked for Childish Gambino.

Check whether your name is already taken

First try googling your name and any phonetically similar words, like photo and foto. Once you’re clear try searching with the authorities:

It’s also worth checking across social media and with Whois for domain names and handles. You should be able to register the same name across the board so that it’s clear that it’s you.

What makes a good business name?

It’s clear and relevant

A good business name will give an immediate idea of what the business is about, or at least relate to it in some way. Even an invented name should feel tied in to the concept.

It evokes emotion

Some names play on humour or nostalgia to create positive feelings in their customers. Think about how many cupcake shops use 50s imagery or throw back to grandma’s baking – it’s an easy shorthand for ‘the good old days’.

It’s easy to pronounce

It should be immediately clear how to pronounce your business name. If you aren’t sure, try testing it with friends and family. You might find that a different pronunciation reigns – can you live with that, or is there another spelling that will make it clearer?

It has good SEO

Having a name that’s easy to search ensures that both new and returning customers can find you. Names that are too generic will pull up thousands of unrelated Google search results rather than your business – the best will ensure that you come out on top.

It fits neatly into conversation

I used to write for a green living guide called If You Want To, writing taglines like ‘If you want to buy clean, ethical beauty’. The SEO was terrible, but the name worked brilliantly because it was such a ubiquitous phrase.

What makes a bad business name?

It’s too obscure

Avoid jargon or pop culture references that your target customer won’t understand. Geek culture works great for comic book shops and merchandise sites, but not necessarily a logistics company.

It’s pretentious

I knew a guy who named his venue The Invisible Wind Factory. Apart from the obvious fart jokes, it was overly flowery and didn’t mean anything.

It’s cheesy

Puns can be a winner, but they can also be embarrassing. Do you really want your multimillion bakery chain to be called Absolutely Muffin?

It’s derivative

Starting your company off by inviting comparison against an established brand makes you look unoriginal and as though your products don’t have any value of their own. Copycat brands rely on their consumers wanting to buy the more expensive brand, not their own.

Obvious plays on other brands’ trademarks can (and often do) invite legal action. Apple aggressively pursue businesses that use their i prefix, while eBay have issued cease-and-desists to other retailers using the word Bay.

It’s offensive

Your business name probably isn’t the place for crude language, political statements or anything gross – leave that for your metal band. Words with racial or class connotations are also good to avoid.

There are unfortunate connotations

So you have a poetic, meaningful name… but the first Google result is for Urban Dictionary, and it is not good. Short of interviewing a panel of twelve year olds, the best you can do is search all permutations of your name and think about how it will look as a URL and social handles. Does it read the same way when it’s all lowercase and one word? Does it translate badly in any other languages?

Other things to consider

  • Can you stand to say, hear and see this name dozens of times a day for the foreseeable future? Something that sounds cute and quirky now might end up feeling embarrassing.
  • Will you have to spell it out to other people?
  • If it’s easy to spell and pronounce in your own language, what about abroad or for non-native speakers?
  • Don’t be too specific – if you might expand your locations or product offering, leave some room for growth.

Your business makes the name

If you’re really set on a name, don’t lose heart. Ultimately, your product or service will do the speaking – and if you do it really well, people will recognise your name as its own entity.

Now that you’ve found a name, read more about starting a new business.

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