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The Name Game

From your home to every household in America, how to make your company name ring clear

What's in a name? Plenty, when it comes to marketing your business, according to Kathleen Allen, a professor at USC's Greif Center of Entrepreneurship.

Just look at Starbucks, the coffeehouse chain that pulls in business with its name alone. Starbucks just happens to be named after a character in Moby Dick, though not every entrepreneur should head for the classics when looking for a company name.

Allen says the first step in making your name a powerful marketing tool is to consider your business. If, for instance, you're selling a product or consumer good (e.g., toys), you'll want to come up with something clever and descriptive like, say, Toys "R" Us. If, on the other hand, you're selling yourself as a consultant or expert in a particular line of work, you may want to use your own name, as you are the brand you're selling.

"I would instruct people to carry around a notepad at all times so they can start brainstorming and making lists," Allen says. "The important thing about this process is to let ideas flow and not evaluate. Get other people to offer suggestions. Just don't get so carried away that you come up with something so quirky or clever that people have no idea what you do."

When you finally narrow down that list, you'll need to check to see that no one else had the same brainstorm for their business. If you're the company's sole owner and your last name doubles as your business name, you're likely to be exempt from filing a fictitious name statement or DBA. Otherwise, this is a necessary step.

Among other things, the DBA protects your name from being duplicated. In other words, if you and another entrepreneur each want to call your business "The Mighty Mac Guru," state regulations say whoever files the name first has the sole right to it.

Of course, the other thing to remember when deciding on a company name is that, while your own name may add value to your business, the choice may also come back to haunt you if you should happen to lose your business. A failed business carrying your name can stigmatize your name and any business you name after yourself. Also, if you plan to grow your business and hire other employees, but then get taken over by a larger company, you may lose the right to your name.

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