There's an old question that has been asked for centuries and that's continually asked today: "What's in a name?"
Remember the days of team projects and the entrepreneurship-class mock venture? The group would gather around and focus on central idea. The first question was always the same: What will our company name be?
Arriving at an answer was usually somewhat difficult as group members often held conflicting opinions. Finally, the name was decided, perhaps by a popular vote or an unruly dictator. Either way, the choice was based on opinion and emotion.
Class projects about hypothetical businesses don't usually force you to examine all the legalities of naming.
But naming a real-world business should be based on much more than a vote and a promise. Here are three things to consider:
1. Figure out if a company name is in use.
Before you start printing business cards, be sure the name you're considering for a company has not been already registered by another entity. The best way to do this is by consulting the secretary of state's office for the locale where the business will operate.
Some states offer preliminary database searches, allowing for inquiries to be made online or through a formal mail-in request. If you're starting a company in Illinois, initiate an online name-availability check. The California secretary of state's office currently accepts only mail-in requests.
Determine whether you're conducting interstate or intrastate business. Registering a company in another state is required for those planning to conduct business, own property or issue W-2s there. Consult Nolo's article and visit the Small Business Adminstration's website to learn how to register a business to operate in more than one state.
2. Check if a preferred domain name is available.
Having a website is essential to a company's growth. Website names, just like company names, are an important piece of intellectual property and must be considered up front. Run a search to see if your preferred domain name is available.
Website and domain services such as GoDaddy sell domain names. Be prepared for competiton on certain handles. Are you willing to settle for a domain name with .org or .net if the .com version isn’t available?
Would you add words to your domain name if your perferred moniker has been snatched? If purpleblue.com is not available, adopting purplebluecoats.com might let you come closer to your preference, but will the website be harder for users to remember?
Related: How to Name Your Startup
3. Select social media handles.
In this digital age, having an active social media presence is vital. Consider which social media platforms best suit your company and do a preliminary search to see if a a given social media handle is available.
Search on Twitter, for example, to see if @purpleblue is available. If not, would you consider adding characters? Would it bother you to use @purpleblue1? If your Instagram handle had to be @purpleblue_, is that OK?
Determine how active you intend to be on social media and on which platforms. If a certain social media handle isn’t available, would you go back to the drawing board for the company name?
It might not be simple to bid on or purchase preowned domain names. I just tried to use GoDaddy's Domain Buy Service to purchase a certain domain name from an owner. I placed a bid for $100 but the counter offer was $5,000. For a startup owner faced with many expenses, such a price is mighty steep.