Anyone starting a new business wants it to have a catchy name.
Sounds easy enough, but, as the saying goes, you don’t know how many people you dislike until it’s time to name your baby.
As if finding a name you like isn’t hard enough, it also has to reflect your identity, be available, unique, meaningful, and representative of who you are and what you do. In short, you have the makings of a monster headache in your hands.
So, check out the tips below and choose the perfect business name for your company. We are going to take you through several steps that will come up with a broad range of company names. you can then simply choose the one you like best.
Step 1: Who are you?
Think about your product. Think of your audience. Think of who you are. Then, write it all down.
The first thing to consider is the product or service you are selling. Your name has to reflect your identity.
First, think about everything that defines your business. Are you into ethical investment or ecological real estate? These need to go into your company name. Will you be a 24-hour plumbing service?
Again, find words which describe what you do.
If something in your line of business makes you stand out from the rest of your competition, mention it in your company name. Help people understand right away what you do.
To do so, start by writing down any adjectives or key words which match your business or service. Examine series of words which remind you of your business.
For instance, a tech startup may focus on unique services, breakthrough ideas, diversity, and difference. If you are a photographer, words such as camera, shoot, snap, capture, or lens are perfect for your line of work.
Don’t be afraid to try a bit of free association. Go on tangents. You will need those in the next steps.
Write all these words down until you’ve found the perfect ones to describe your business and capture its essence.
Step 2: Eliminate
Once you have your list of words, it is time to eliminate the ones you can’t use. Think of what your business stands for and how customers and clients will perceive it. Keep in mind any connotations that names and words have in people’s minds.
For example, ‘cuddly hugs’ could be a perfect name for a nanny service or a line of greeting cards but less so for a lawyer’s website.
Check your competitors’ names. This will give you some ideas about the type of business names in your industry. It will offer an insight into what might work and what your audience expects. Finally, it will allow you to think of ways to differentiate yourself from your competitors.
Finally, eliminate words with little or no appeal to your particular audience. Each target group has specific cultural and mental connotations. Your chosen name might ring differently to each of them.
A millennial will immediately understand what Snapchat is but a 75- year-old may not make an immediate association in their mind.
Your business name should speak to your audience unequivocally and without hesitation as to your profession.
You should end up with a handful of key words. Now, it’s time to think out of the box.
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Step 3: Use your name
One idea is to name your company after yourself. After all, many brands are built on their owners’ names. Think of Gucci (clothes), Ferrari (luxury cars), Benetton (clothes), Carrier (air conditioning), Boeing (planes) or Bayer (medicine).
However, think of how hard it can be to promote and advertise such a business name.
We know all those brands mentioned before but not how long it took them to become famous worldwide or how much it cost. It may take a long time for your name to become a recognisable brand in your industry.
A different approach is that followed by Ollie, the online dog food company which uses a simple, common dog’s name as its brand name. Its very name readily reminds us of a dog. The logo the company chose invokes images of what you would expect a good dog to be. All in all, it works well.
So, does your name (or even your pets name!) work for your business? If it does, write it down and move on to the next step. If it doesn’t move on to the next step anyway!
Step 4: Tell a story
Yet another approach is to tell a story. Many brands have been built around that. Perhaps you started your business after a specific event, a life-changing decision, or a challenge. Or maybe you are carrying on a company which your grandmother started during the war.
What do you think of when you hear of the Salvation Army? You just know there’s a story behind that name.
Telling your story through your business name would immediately differentiate you from your competition. Remember that people love to hear stories and identify with them!
Do you have a story to tell? If so, write down business names that would create the intrigue and lead people to want to know the story, then move on to the next step.
Step 5: Keep it smart. Keep it simple.
By now, you should have come up with a nice list of names. Weed out any confusing ones. The simpler the name, the easier it is for clients and customers to remember it and find it.
Before you continue, remember that you’ll need to balance simplicity with the need for a corresponding domain name. It’s nearly impossible to find a .com domain name available when it comes to simple words.
We live in the Google era. If there are too many spelling variations on your name, clients will have to make multiple attempts in search engines trying to find the right spelling. Some of them may lead to your competitors.
Which, by the way, is also why you shouldn’t choose a name which is too similar to a competitor’s. It will not just displease your competitor but also bewilder your prospective clients and confuse search engines.
Step 6: Don’t box yourself into a narrow name
Even though you may think that your business will be local or focused on selling just one particular service, you also want to future-proof it. Geographic and product expansion is possible—indeed, desirable.
If you register a business name with a geographical adjective in it, you risk limiting yourself if you then wish to expand to another town or country: ‘Northumberland Law’ may not be the best name should you expand into Sussex in the future.
The same goes for your line of business. You may be in accounting right now, but you could also spread into legal advice or investment in the future.
Companies need to be nimble to survive, and so do names. If your business name is too specific, clients seeking your kind of services may not think of your company.
Use these two criteria to remove any words which are too narrow and specific. Then, move on to the next step.
Step 7: Use the English language to your advantage
If you’re left with few or no words by now, it’s time to think out of the box and create the next household name.
First of all, consider creating your own words. If you go down this road, an easy spelling is a smart way to go. Kodak chose its name to avoid misspellings. The simpler the spelling, the better.
Don’t be afraid to use English to your advantage. English gives us infinite variations and puns to choose from.
Step 8: Idioms and expressions
The English language has so many witty idioms which can be used for your company name.
Can’t think of any? Just run a Google search for a list of English expressions. By carefully perusing through them, you may find one that matches your business.
For instance, ‘under the weather’ could be a catchy name for a doctor’s website or even a health insurance company. Or think of ‘call it a day,’ which implies it’s time to stop what you are doing. Wouldn’t it be a great name for a spa, a relaxation centre, or an after-work leisure centre?
Another approach is to think of one word which characterizes your business and make it the centrepiece of your business name. It can be short—something always useful when people search for you on the Internet.
For instance, ‘flipper’ can be a crafty business name for a swimming instructor. Simple and memorable, it astutely describes their business.
Step 9: Synonyms and similar words
Why did Pizza Hut choose hut rather than house? It’s because Pizza Hut sounds more exotic and exciting than Pizza House. Since hut and house are synonyms, this is a good example of how useful synonyms can be.
Check out the online Thesaurus if you can’t think of any good ones. Matching them to your business could lead to a witty, catchy company name.
Step 10: Add a little twist
It has also become fashionable to twist words into catchy business names. Lift became Lyft by switching one letter. Flickr cut off one letter, as did Tumblr. People already know the original words but associate the new spelling with your business.
Mixing two words is another popular trend in the business naming industry. Groupon combined ‘group’ and ‘coupon’ to create a new word; one which describes accurately what it does.
Similarly, Facebook linked ‘face’ and ‘book.’ You can mix the beginning of one word and the ending of another, as Pixar did by combining the word pixel and the initials of one of its founders, Alvy Ray Smith.
Make sure you say your chosen company name out loud. Not only will it make it more real to you, but it will also let you hear if it sounds clear and understandable or, well, just plain weird.
Step 11: Acronyms
An acronym is another possibility. Think of the BBC, HSBC, FIAT, or H&M. Acronyms can work if they are short and easy to say. If you are thinking of calling your business WZGT, however, you may wish to reconsider.
A long and cumbersome name can only work if you’re explicitly planning on building your brand on its awkwardness.
Acronyms are usually derived from the owners’ names, children’s names, business location, childhood pet, and any other meaningful combination that could make a snazzy acronym.
DKNY (Donna Karan New York) used her name and her location to build up her brand. Although it is hard to pronounce, the NY at the end immediately puts us in New York and makes it easier to remember.
Step 12: Try something completely unexpected
It has lately become in vogue to use made-up words as company names, especially in the tech industry and startups. Google, Yahoo, and Zynga are just a few examples of business names which basically consist of random letters. But their owners created a whole brand around these made-up words. Due to its enormous success, Google even became a verb.
Interestingly enough, Häagen-Dazs is a made-up name too. Even stranger is the fact that it’s both awkwardly spelled and hard to pronounce. Still, the Häagen-Dazs team wanted to build a brand that sounded Danish, traditional, and authentic, conjuring images of European creamy ice cream—and it appears that they’ve succeeded.
Twitter is another example of a random word serving as company name. Its owners allegedly chose its name by flicking a dictionary, then built a brand and a logo around it. Just like Google, it has now become both a household name and a verb—and a successful example of utter disparity between business name and actual business.
Before you go down this path, however, remember that meaningless names will take time and money to brand.
The examples cited above are just the successful ones. They were founded by business owners with access to deep pockets, who could blast their brand name across multiple platforms and turn them into household names.
Unless you have that kind of time and money, it will be hard to catch your customers’ eye with a meaningless word.
Peculiar company names require you to educate and train people to recognize them and identify with them. While they might eventually lead to a big success and a story worth telling in the future, keep in mind they demand extra patience and persistence.
Step 13: Expand your search in the world and beyond
You can also look beyond the English language when trying to find the perfect business name for your company. Altavista (meaning high view) used Spanish for their company name. And advertising company Publicis Latinized its name to create a certain kind of gravitas.
You can also combine one word from a foreign language with an English one, or even twist a foreign word into sounding more English.
Use history to your benefit. There are many historical words with strong connotations that people will understand. Nike used the name from the Ancient Goddess of Victory.
Hercules is a great name for a gym, but Digitalhercules could be a digital security firm. Just don’t find historical or mythological names which are too obscure, or people will miss the connotation.
Finally, you can use a world map as your inspiration. Adobe was named after the Adobe Creek, running close to the founder’s house, Amazon was named after the largest river in the world, and Fuji was named after the highest mountain in Japan. These were chosen not at random but because of their significance to the company’s owners or vision.
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You might think that you’ve come up with the perfect name, but what it’s already been taken? That’s why you need to check with Companies House to confirm the name you are planning on using is still free.
There used to be a time when that’s all you’d need to do before registering it, however, times have changed. Nowadays, you also need to avoid the following pitfalls:
Check that your chosen name is available as a .com or .co.uk domain name.
A .com extension is the most common one, and the one most people expect to find. Your business name and your Internet domain name should be the same to avoid confusion for your clients or customers. Also, it will be much easier to do SEO when the two names match.
You can also use your domain name creatively.
Extensions like .to (for domain names registered in the Kingdom of Tonga) have been used to create URLs such as “http://welcome.to/paradise.” Use them to come up with some really catchy addresses. These can then serve as the cornerstone of your entire marketing.
Google your chosen business name and check what suggestions Google offers.
Sometimes a name or word has been used in unusual ways. You don’t want to discover there’s a Korean adult entertainment site with a similar name to yours. It’s a small world with many languages. That’s why you also need to…
Double-check that the name you find does not mean something distasteful or vulgar in another language.
Mazda found it hard to sell its MR2 cars in France because MR2, when pronounced in French means, well, merde. And who would want to buy a crappy car?
Make sure that your name is available across social media.
Check Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and other social media where you plan on being active to verify that your name is available.
It is unprofessional and confusing to have a different business name, a different Internet domain name, and yet another social media handle.
Conformity and uniformity throughout your branding are essential. Even a small difference in writing can be confusing and will put people off.
Think of your future logo.
Your company name should effortlessly match your logo. The simpler and clearer your name, the better and easier your logo will be.
Remember that people are becoming more visual in their perception of the world, and a logo which matches your name will stand out and be remembered. The perfect logo will also work in black and white (think photocopier or fax machine).
If you are selling goods…
Search Amazon, eBay, and Etsy using your business name as a keyword and see what the search brings up. It could show products similar to yours or others completely different. Consider what this means for your business.
It has never been easy to come up with the perfect name for a new—or relaunched—business. Today’s digital environment has made it even harder, but it has also presented you with exciting new opportunities.
And if it all sounds like too much, don’t despair. Your company’s official name doesn’t have to match your trading name. Even if you’re called ABC Ltd, you can trade (and market yourself) as XYZ.
So, don’t miss the wood for the trees. It is far better to get your business registered and start trading than to delay launching because you cannot decide on the right name!
And don’t forget to check out other articles designed for businesses just getting started.