How to Name Your Business

Begin brainstorming business names, looking in dictionaries, books and magazines to generate ideas. Get friends and relatives to help if you like; the more minds, the merrier. Think of as many workable names as you can during this creative phase. Professional naming firms start out with a raw base of 800 to 1,000 names and work from there. You probably don't have time to think of that many, but try to come up with at least 10 names that you feel good about. By the time you examine them from all angles, you'll eliminate at least half.

The trials you put your names through will vary depending on your concerns. Some considerations are fairly universal. For instance, your name should be easy to pronounce, especially if you plan to rely heavily on print ads or signs. If people can't pronounce your name, they will avoid saying it. It's that simple. And nothing could be more counterproductive to a young company than to strangle its potential for word-of-mouth advertising.

Other considerations depend on more individual factors. For instance, if you're thinking about marketing your business globally or if you're located in a multilingual area, you should make sure that your new name has no negative connotations in other languages. On another note, Master points out, if your primary means of advertising will be in the telephone directory, you might favor names that are closer to the beginning of the alphabet. Finally, make sure that your name is in no way embarrassing. Put on the mind of a child and tinker with the letters a little. If none of your doodlings make you snicker, it's probably OK.

Chuck Brymer, president of naming firm Interbrand U.S.A., advises name seekers to take a close look at their competition. "The major function of a name is to distinguish your business from others," Brymer observes. "You have to weigh who's out there already, what type of branding approaches they have taken, and how you can use a name to separate yourself."

Making Up a Name

At a time when almost every existing word in the language has been trademarked, the option of coining a name is becoming more popular. Perhaps the best coined names come from professional naming firms. Some examples are Acura, a division of Honda Motor Co. coined by NameLab, and Flixx, a name CDI coined for a chain of video rental stores.

Since the beginnings of NameLab, founder Ira Bachrach has been a particular champion of the coined name. He believes that properly formulated coined names can be even more meaningful than existing words. Take, for example, the name "Acura." Although it has no dictionary definition, it actually suggests precision engineering, just as the company intended. How can that be? Bachrach and his staff created the name "Acura" from "acu," a word segment that means "precise" in many languages. By working with meaningful word segments (what linguists call morphemes) like "acu," Bachrach claims to produce new words that are both meaningful and unique.

"One of the reasons a new company is formed is that it has new value; it has a new idea," Bachrach contends. "If you adopt a conventional word, it's hard to express the newness of your idea. But as long as it's comprehensible, a new word will express that newness." Bachrach also admits, however, that new words aren't always the best solution. A new word is complex and implies that the service or product you're offering is complex, which may not be what you want to say. Plus, naming beginners might find this type of coining beyond their capabilities.

An easier solution is to use new spellings of existing words. For instance, CDI's creation: "Flixx." "Flixx" draws upon the slang term "flicks," meaning movies. But the unusual spelling makes it interesting, while the double "X" at the end makes it visually appealing. Just as important, "Flixx" is more likely to be available for trademarking than "Flicks," a factor that's especially important to a chain operation interested in national expansion.

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