You Name It

"Sorry, what did you say your name was again?" That's the one question you don't want people asking about your business.
Magazine Contributor
9 min read

This story appears in the December 2001 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Who's got the sweetest business name in America? We at Entrepreneur believe it's Lisa Rothstein, founder and president of Brownie Points Inc., a fast-rising business in Columbus, Ohio, that sells fresh-baked gourmet brownies as corporate gifts. Rothstein is the winner of the "Name to Fame" contest, co-sponsored by Entrepreneur magazine and Jane Applegate, president of Small Business Television Network Corp. (SBTV). Rothstein's entry beat out hundreds of other name-dropping entrepreneurs to win the top prize-a complimentary consultation with marketing expert and Entrepreneur contributing writer Kim T. Gordon as well as a library of business books and a free subscription to Entrepreneur.

Contest Winner - Brownie Points Inc., a Columbus, Ohio, gourmet brownie company that focuses on corporate clients

Brownie Points has been in the news before, with appearances on CNN's Business Unusual and NBC's The Today Show. "[That exposure] opened doors like you can't imagine," Rothstein says. "We had to get 10 new phone lines." She hopes winning this contest will garner media attention yet again and help to further sweeten sales-which she estimates will exceed $1 million.

What's in a Name?
Whether it wins a contest or not, a winning company name is one that hits home with your prime prospects and launches you toward profitability. That's why developing a great company name is arguably the most important marketing decision you'll ever make.

There isn't really a tried-and-true formula for naming your business. Some might hit the exercise bike and pedal into a deep state of naming nirvana. Others brainstorm with friends or family. (Rothstein's award-winning name was divined with help from a college roommate in the mid-1980s. The name works well because giving decadent brownies as gifts truly can earn brownie points for the giver.) Other entrepreneurs choose to spend big bucks hiring a name consulting firm to juggle linguistic units such as morphemes and plosives and assemble a unique, coined name.

In truth, stirring a little bit of naming science in with some creative brainstorming can combine to give you the best chance, say many experts. Morphemes, as explained by Ira Bachrach, one of the deans of the naming business and founder of NameLab in San Francisco, "are word parts that, when put together, form a name that offers the identity you want for your company." For example: "Acu," as in "Acura"-a NameLab original-means "precisely or with care." The suffix, "ra," transforms an abstraction into a physical thing. Bachrach, whose company also gave the world such names as Compaq, CompUSA, The Olive Garden and WebVan, says cobbling such word pieces together gives the name a meaningful distinction and, equally important, makes it more likely to sail through a lawsuit-averting trademark search for similar names.

Those willing to spend somewhere in the high five figures for that level of linguistic parsing just might end up with a unique and successful name. But what if you, like many entrepreneurs, don't have the budget? Luckily, there are some guerrilla forms of company naming available for all the do-it-yourselfers. We sought out a range of professional nameologists for a few answers as well as some caveats.

Other Names of Note

  • Work Behind Bars, a bartending training and placement service in New York City
  • Nine Lives Upholstery in Reynoldsville, Ohio
  • Open-Eye Cafe, a coffeehouse in Carrboro, North Carolina
  • D'Bug Lady, an exterminating service in Cincinnati

Naming Resources

One helpful Web source is The Namestormers, which offers an excellent online primer for the naming neophyte. It instructs you on how to think logically about the name you want, lay the groundwork, select the type of name right for you (such as a coined term, an acronym, a personalized name or even a place name), find helpful resources for "trigger words" that spark your imagination, and even assemble word parts like the naming pros.

For the new retailer, especially one starting off with a small marketing budget, there's an advantage to naming your business in such a way that it communicates where you're located. After all, potential customers often impulsively pick a merchant based on the street it's on, how close it is to them and how intuitively they know how to get there. So, for example, if you were opening a Laundromat near a university, you might want to call it College Avenue Wash 'N' Wait. A new health-food store? 74th Street Healthy-catessen. A bookstore? Titles on Tilden. Thus, with your name alone, you've immediately identified how convenient you are.

What about "out-of-the-box" names-does their catchiness aid success? Fuddruckers, a restaurant chain, would say yes. So would Banana Republic. A Hundred Monkeys, another naming firm and an obvious proponent of this approach, brazenly puts its moniker where its mouth is-and, indeed, among the dotcoms left standing are those with names such as, eBay, and Yahoo!. Proponents insist that if you don't want to be just another tree in the forest, you've got to go for it. Those against the tactic wonder: Isn't it better to have a name that immediately implies what you do vs. one that requires frequent explanations?

Many of the best names adorning corporate letterheads are hatched in advertising agencies. There, copywriters favor puns and other wordplay when concocting memorable monikers with a marketing bent. But theirs are hardly the only fertile minds that can have a lightbulb moment. If your own conference room or kitchen table brainstorming sessions yield a name that plays on a familiar expression and-as a bonus-addresses a specific product benefit, well, you get lots of brownie points for that. In fact, many of the company names that gave the "Name to Fame" winner some extremely close competition were from this category.

For example, we also loved the entry Work Behind Bars, submitted by Brad Lau, founder of a bartending training and placement service in New York City. And then there was the durability that bespoke Nine Lives Upholstery, from owner Sheri Buckley of Reynoldsville, Ohio. Scott Conary got our attention with his Open-Eye Cafe, a coffeehouse he operates in Carrboro, North Carolina. And with D'Bug Lady, Carol Kauscher of Cincinnati proved to us that you can get attention for your pest control company without a huge tarantula on your truck.

The Elements of a Great Name

What characterizes a truly great name? According to Brad Shaver, president of Ashton Brand Group in Charlotte, North Carolina, "it's emotional hang-time"-which is just a punting metaphor to describe a name that stays high and long in your mind. Shaver's company developed the moniker for Pontiac's latest SUV, Vibe. The brand is intended to resonate with the younger demographic group the car company was newly targeting. Shaver also believes strongly in the power of subliminals, pointing out that in the FedEx logo, the space between the capital "E" and the "x" forms an arrow, signifying speedy delivery to consumers.

Finally, if you've been calmly waiting to learn what the aforementioned "plosives" technique is all about, your patience is rewarded. According to Jim Singer, president of Namebase, a naming consulting firm in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California, plosives occur when a speaker builds up air in his or her mouth and forcefully expels it, as in "ex-plosives." "It gives names extra power when you say them," Singer explains. He may be on to something. Put your hand in front of your mouth when you say "Priceline" or "Kool-Aid" vs. the newfangled "Accenture." Is the force with you? Namebase demystifies plosives and other naming techniques-including how to run an employee naming contest-in a toolkit available through its Web site for entrepreneurial naming efforts.

While it would definitely be desirable to come up with the perfect name-both catchy and forceful-for your business, it won't necessarily be the death knell if you don't. Consider the word parts for one of the most powerful companies in the world, Microsoft. "Micro" means small, and "soft" could be considered weak. Clearly, those minor details didn't stop Bill Gates.


1. Begin with great materials. Design your cards, letterhead, brochures, sell sheets and presentation tools with a unified look so they function as a family. Choose coordinating colors, typefaces and paper stocks, and use your logo consistently throughout to create a high-quality image.

2. Network smart. Join organizations where you can meet prospects and build relationships with them. Always attend with a goal in mind, and come prepared with a memorable introduction that makes what you do easy to understand.

3. Master telephone techniques. Cold and warm calls are a vital part of launching a new company. For B2B sales, create your own prospect list and make cold calls to initiate contact. When marketing to consumers, use advertising, PR or direct mail to generate leads and follow up by phone. Build a prospect database using contact management software, and keep in touch via sales and marketing.

4. Tell your story. Develop a press list and tailor your stories to the readers, viewers or listeners of each media outlet. Get involved in community-related causes or activities that offer higher visibility for your company. If you're an expert at something, try your hand at writing columns or articles that will position you in your field.

-Kim T. Gordon

Jerry Fisher is a freelance advertising copywriter and the author of Creating Successful Small Business Advertising.

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