Five Tools for Naming a Startup

Think about it: Most customers will hear your business name before they know anything about your products or services.

Like all first impressions, you only get one, so you better make it count.

Leonard Green, professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College, suggests that a name be quick, unique and easy to remember. “You have 10, 15, 20 seconds to catch people’s attention,” he says. “Just get in there and do things differently than what everybody else is trying to do, because that’s where the home runs come from.”

That sounds simple, but the job of naming a business can be complicated. While there’s no formula to follow, here are five tools that can ease the creative process.

1. Google
If you aren’t familiar with the acronym G.I.A. (“Google It Already”), you should commit it to memory. The search-engine behemoth has a number of applications that are perfect to kick off your startup name search. Google Adwords’ Keyword Tool provides detailed information about the popularity of certain words and terms, including specific traffic numbers associated with them. Google also provides a patent search function that searches the entire U.S. patent database. Google Trends allows you to search through current and past search trends, so you can see when and why people have searched for your proposed business name. Most importantly, Google as a whole is a tool that gives you a macro view of the words and images associated with your idea. See what happens when you run your proposed business name through Google images, videos and even its translator.

Related: Five Tools for Social Entrepreneurs

2. Free worksheets
The Internet is a penny pinchers’ nirvana. You can find plenty of branding companies willing to dish out a little free advice for the opportunity to serve your company in the future. Companies like Wow Branding, Brandings and Brands For The People offer worksheets and e-books aimed at helping you brainstorm, focus your ideas and create a stellar brand name.

3. Your community
After you have come up with some ideas, turn to those you trust. Your friends and family make a great initial test group. Organize your potential ideas, present the concept and create a survey to keep the resulting feedback organized. Andy Smith, principal of Vonavona Ventures, an early stage enterprise consulting group and co-author of The Dragon Fly Effect, a book about brands, advises against long surveys that will turn off friends. “Make it focused and ask the bare minimum number of questions,” he says. “Take the extra step to make it interesting and fun somehow.” Pop Survey and Survey Monkey are two free websites where you can easily create your own professional online surveys.

4. NameChk.com, Domain Registries
Once you have narrowed the field to a few potential names, it’s time to start researching availability. NameChk.com is a tool that can save hours of research time. Just plug in some potential names into the search box and it will simultaneous check almost 100 different online networks and communities, giving you instant feedback on username availability. You might even find a few helpful networks you’ve never heard of before. Also check domain registries, such as Go Daddy, Register.com and DomainRegistry.com, that will allow you to check availability and secure your URL.

5. The Government
One of the last steps in the naming process is making your entity official. Searching the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database will reveal if your name is already in use (something you should have already Googled, remember?). If there’s a similar name registered, information will be available regarding what products it’s associated with, and if the company holding ownership is still active. Make sure to follow the trademark process outlined on the USPTO website and consider legal counsel before submitting an application. The cost associated with filing an online trademark application varies depending on the class of product, but generally falls in the $275 to $325 range.