Starting a Business

How to Choose a Great Name for Your New Business

How to Choose a Great Name for Your New Business
Image credit: palo | Flickr

In their book Start Your Own Business, the staff of Entrepreneur Media Inc. guides you through the critical steps to starting your business, then supports you in surviving the first three years as a business owner. In this edited excerpt, the authors offer smart tips to help you choose a name that really works for your new business.

When choosing a name for your business, start by deciding what you want it to communicate. To be most effective, your company name should reinforce the key elements of your business. So the first and most important step in choosing a name is deciding what your business is—knowing what makes your business unique will help you choose a name that communicates that.

Remember, the more your name communicates to consumers, the less effort you must exert to explain it. According to naming experts, you should give priority to real words or combinations of words over fabricated words because people prefer words they can relate to and understand.

Naming experts also caution about choosing a name that's too narrowly defined. Common pitfalls are geographic names or generic names. Take the hypothetical name “San Pablo Disk Drives” for example. What if the company expands beyond the city of San Pablo, California? Or what if it diversifies beyond disk drives into software or computer instruction manuals?

Specific names make sense if you intend to stay in a narrow niche forever. If you have any ambitions of growing or expanding, however, you should find a name that's broad enough to accommodate your growth.

Before you start thinking up names for your new business, try to define the qualities you want your business to be identified with. If you’re starting a hearth-baked bread shop, you might want a name that conveys freshness, warmth and a homespun atmosphere. Immediately, you can see that names like “Kathy’s Bread Shop” or “Arlington Breads” would communicate none of these qualities. But consider the name “Open Hearth Breads.” The bread sounds homemade, hot and just out of the oven. Moreover, if you diversified your product line, you could alter the name to “Open Hearth Bakery.” This change would enable you to hold on to your suggestive name without totally mystifying your established clientele.

Namestorming

Begin your brainstorming search for a business name by 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.

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 business name, they'll avoid saying it. 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 your new name has no negative connotations in other languages. On another note, 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 doodling makes you snicker, it’s probably OK.

Naming firm Interbrand advises name seekers to take a close look at their competition: The major function of a name is to distinguish your business from others. 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. If any of your potential names is too close to that of your competitors', you should probably eliminate it.

After you’ve narrowed the field to, say, four or five names that are memorable, expressive, and can be read by the average grade-schooler, you're ready to do a trademark search. Must every name be trademarked? No. Many small businesses don’t register their business names. As long as your state government gives you the go-ahead, you may operate under an unregistered business name for as long as you like—assuming, of course, that you aren’t infringing on anyone else’s trade name.

But what if you are? Imagine either of these two scenarios: You are a brand-new manufacturing business just about to ship your first orders. An obscure little company in Ogunquit, Maine, considers the name of your business an infringement on their trademark and engages you in a legal battle that bankrupts your company. Or envision your business in five years. It’s a thriving, growing concern, and you are contemplating expansion. But just as you are about to launch your franchise program, you learn that a small competitor in Modesto, California, has the same name, rendering your name unusable.

Enlisting the help of a trademark attorney or at least a trademark search firm before you decide on a name for your business is highly advisable. After all, the extra money you spend now could save you countless hassles and expenses further down the road.

Final analysis

If you’re lucky, you’ll end up with three to five names that pass all your tests. How do you make your final decision? First, recall all your initial criteria. Which name best fits your objectives? Which name most accurately describes the company you have in mind? Which name do you like the best?

You could just go with your gut. Or you could do consumer research or testing with focus groups to see how the names are perceived. You could ask other people’s opinions. Or you could doodle an idea of what each name will look like on a sign or on business stationery. Read each name aloud, paying attention to the way it sounds if you foresee radio advertising or telemarketing in your future.

Once your decision is made, start building your enthusiasm for the new name immediately. Your name is your first step toward building a strong company identity, one that should last as long as you’re in business.