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How to Name Your Business – 3 Things You Need to Know

How to Name Your Business – 3 Things You Need to Know

Nomen est omen – the name is a sign. This ancient Latin phrase conveys an important truth: what we call something profoundly shapes how we see and understand it. The same is true when naming a business. The name chosen should adequately reflect the nature and values of the company.

Selecting the right business name is no small task. It requires deep thought and creativity. The name will appear on products, advertisements, business cards – everywhere the company has a public presence. It will be one of the potential customer's first impressions of the business. An apt, memorable name can attract people and help the company stand out from competitors. An ill-fitting name can repel potential patrons and undermine the company's image.

Beyond reflecting the company's services and products, the ideal business name also captures the brand's spirit. It aligns with the business's mission and conveys its personality. For example, a whimsical name like Zappos fits the playful company culture, while a name like International Business Machines relays the brand's technical expertise.

The name should also be unique enough to avoid confusion with existing companies but not so obscure that it seems inaccessible. And it must be flexible enough to allow for changes in the business over time. Companies live far longer than products.

Choosing the perfect business name requires balancing many factors. But when it truly fits, the title feels right. Ideally, it becomes impossible to imagine the company being called anything else. A great business name is memorable, descriptive, and timeless. It makes people feel something when they hear and remember it after it's said. When done well, nomen est omen. The name says it all.

A bad name can hurt your business

Brand Name Amazon

Believe it or not, “Cadabra” was the original name Jeff Bezos wanted for Amazon. He intended it to evoke “abracadabra”, the magical incantation. However, his lawyer misheard it as “cadaver”, which sounded ominous and was a red flag that the name might not be a good choice.

Bezos returned to the drawing board and came up with Amazon, intended to convey the size and scale he envisioned for the business. The name matched the company's first slogan, “Earth's Biggest Bookstore. Additionally, website listings were alphabetical then, so starting with the letter A gave a slight search engine ranking boost.

This story illustrates how a name that is difficult to hear, pronounce, or spell can negatively impact a business. It will hinder brand recognition and awareness if people need help saying or remembering it correctly. For example, in specific contexts, the letters “s” and “f” can sound nearly identical, and you don't want your business name to turn into an unintelligible garble.

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Had Bezos stuck with “Cadabra”, it's entirely possible the world's biggest and most influential online retailer would have ended up like a corpse – buried and forgotten. Instead, Amazon joined the ranks of iconic brand names like Chapstick, Kleenex, Popsicle, and Band-Aid – products so popular that their names became synonymous with an entire class of items.

The right business name can spell success, while the wrong one can be a curse. Choose wisely and clearly when naming your company. The history of Amazon shows how a simple misunderstanding can nearly kill a business before it gets off the ground.

Kleenex Brand Visibility

Many well-known companies today started with very different products and services than they are known for now. Brand names that seem generic or vague now were often much more descriptive and literal in the early days of these companies.

For example, Western Union was originally strictly a telegraph company that delivered telegrams. The name Western Union directly described their service delivering telegrams to the western United States. Nokia began as a company manufacturing rubber boots and tires in Finland. The name Nokia comes from the Nokia River near the company's founding. Shell started selling seashells to collectors before moving into the oil business.

Over time, these companies evolved and shifted their focus to new, often unrelated industries. Western Union transitioned from telegrams to money transfers, Nokia moved from rubber products to mobile phones, and Shell entered the oil and gas industry. But they held onto their existing brand names even as their businesses changed dramatically. As a result, words that used to be highly descriptive became more abstract and generic sounding as the companies grew beyond their initial products.

This demonstrates that choosing an overly descriptive name that locks you into a narrow focus isn't necessary when starting a new business.

While you want your name to connect to your products somehow, having room to pivot and reinvent yourself under the existing brand can be beneficial in the long run. Just make sure the name is clear enough that it could apply to any business.

The takeaway is that you should pick a name that reflects your startup's spirit and mission rather than being too literal about specific products. A brand name gives you flexibility for future evolution if it captures your business's essence without limiting you to one area or industry. Think long-term in addition to the present when selecting your company name.

Other business name mistakes that can hurt your company are:

Name Your Business Trademark

Failure to research your trademark and check whether a company with the same name exists.

Choosing the perfect name for your new business is an essential first step when starting a company. Before getting too attached to a potential business name, it's crucial to thoroughly research if the name is available to use legally and has yet to be trademarked by another company.

The easiest way to check if a business name is available is to search for it on Google. Look through the search results to see if existing companies or products use the term. Expand your search to include social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to catch names that may not appear at the top of a Google search.

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You'll also want to run official trademark searches using accessible government databases like the USPTO's TESS system or the Canadian Intellectual Property Office's database. Carefully review their records to confirm that your desired business name does not have an active registered trademark. This step is vital because trademarks don't always appear in a simple Google search.

If your research reveals that the business name you want is already in use or trademarked, it's best to avoid it entirely. Even if the name isn't legally registered as a trademark, the first company to use the term in commerce generally has common law rights. Using an already-taken name can lead to cease and desist letters, lawsuits, and wasted rebranding costs if you're forced to create a new name later.

Thoroughly vetting potential business names for availability at the start will save you headaches. The extra effort in conducting detailed searches puts you on a firm legal footing and ensures that the brand you build will be uniquely yours.

Similar Company Names

Picking a name too similar to a competitor is a kiss of death.

While it's standard advice in business to keep an eye on your competitors, there are ethical lines that shouldn't be crossed. Outright copying a competitor's established brand name is never advisable, even if you make minor tweaks, like changing a letter or two. At best, this approach is likely to confuse customers. At worst, it could open you up to potential legal issues.

When launching a new business, it's crucial to establish your own unique brand identity. Trying to piggyback off a competitor's existing brand recognition is unethical and counterproductive. Customers are savvy – they will likely see through shallow attempts at mimicry. To stand out in a crowded marketplace, you must offer something novel, not just a poor imitation.

Aim to learn from competitors without crossing the line into plagiarism. Study what they do well and what common pitfalls they encounter. Use these insights to inform your own branding and marketing strategies. But don't simply copy their language, visual identity or brand name. Create something new that reflects the distinct value your business provides.

Building brand recognition takes time and consistency. It requires conveying what sets you apart, not blurring the lines with competitors' brands. Be patient, creative and ethical as you establish your unique market location. You can develop an authentic brand that resonates with your ideal customers with focus and perseverance.

Not testing your name with your target audience is another costly mistake.

After brainstorming and narrowing down your options, the next step is to test each potential name with your target audience.

There are a few key factors you need to evaluate for each name you are considering:

  • Does it resonate with your target customers? The name must appeal to the demographic and psychographic profile of the people you want to attract. Test the name by surveying your potential customers or doing focus groups to see how it lands and what emotions it evokes. The right business name will create an enthusiastic response in your audience.
  • Does it communicate your core values and messaging? An effective business name expresses the essence of your brand identity and what you stand for. Make sure the name aligns with your mission statement, conveys your unique selling proposition, and signals what you offer customers. The title should reinforce your positioning in the marketplace.
  • Is it unique and memorable? You want a business name that is distinctive enough to stand out from competitors in your industry. It should be catchy and easy to recall while not being overly complex. Stay away from generic names that could apply to any business. Brainstorm creative options that will stick in customers' minds.
  • Is it scalable? A good business name works for a small startup but also has the versatility to remain relevant as your company grows. Ensure the title won't limit you down the road or need to change if your business expands into new products, services or locations.
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Testing potential names with your target audience will reveal which options have the most positive resonance and ability to communicate your brand values. Take your time with this critical decision – the right business name can significantly boost connecting with customers and driving awareness.

How to pick a good name?

Rushing into a choice based on short-term trends is not recommended. Instead, take the time to consider all aspects of your business and brand when brainstorming potential names.

The first step is thoroughly researching name availability by checking the Company Name Availability section on the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) website. This will confirm if another business in Australia already takes your preferred name. Getting this confirmation early is crucial to avoid any future legal issues.

Following naming requirements outlined in the Australian Corporations Act of 2001 is also essential. For example, if you are starting a proprietary limited company, the abbreviation “Pty Ltd” must be included in the legal name. Similarly, a limited liability company name requires the “Ltd” abbreviation. Failing to follow these rules could lead to your business name being rejected.

When ideating names, consider how it will impact search engine optimisation (SEO) and the ability to rank high in search engines like Google. An SEO expert can provide invaluable insight into choosing a name, words, and phrases that will boost visibility. Since SEO is complex, partnering with a reputable SEO agency early on is highly recommended. This upfront investment in expert SEO advice will pay dividends through greater brand awareness and website traffic.

With strategic thinking, research, and professional guidance, you can land the perfect name that fulfils legal requirements, reflects your brand identity, and positions your business for online success. The effort to select your name will establish a solid foundation as you launch and grow your company.

Now, let's discuss a couple of guidelines to help you navigate the maze of picking your company name.

Here are three categories of business names to give you a hint about where to start:

1 – Made-up names

New Google Logo Design

Finding a unique name for your business can be challenging, but exploring the realm of neologisms – newly coined words or phrases – opens up creative possibilities that will surely set your company apart.

A neologism is a novel term that names a new concept, product, or idea. Since these innovative word creations have yet to become mainstream, opting for a neologistic business name virtually guarantees an original, distinctive moniker. This inventive approach can capture attention and interest, priming your audience to be curious about the novel designation.

A famous example is Google, the ubiquitous search engine company whose name reflects its scope and capabilities. Google derives from the number googol, a neologism denoting the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeros. Googol was invented in 1920 by renowned American mathematician Edward Kasner to convey an unimaginably vast quantity. He then asked his young nephew Milton Sirotta to devise a label for this staggering figure, and the boy suggested Googol.

Decades later, the founders of Google adopted the name as a fitting descriptor for their search engine's ability to explore a seemingly infinite realm of information. The company's selection of this unique, memorable neologism has been integral to its phenomenal success and growth.

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Following Google's lead, feel free to brainstorm and select a business name that rings fresh and new. A neologistic title's unconventional nature and novelty value can pique interest, convey innovation, and propel your company into the future.

2 – Based on your or your business partner's name

Walt Disney Pictures Logo

Some of the most iconic and beloved brands were founded by dynamic duos who lent their surnames to the company name. Ben & Jerry's, the Vermont-based ice cream company known for its quirky flavours and progressive values, was started in 1978 by childhood friends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield. Johnson & Johnson, the pharmaceutical and consumer goods giant, traces its origins to 1886 when brothers James Wood Johnson and Edward Mead Johnson teamed up to create sterile surgical dressings and later expanded into consumer healthcare products.

The prestigious Wall Street investment bank Goldman Sachs was founded in 1869 by Marcus Goldman and his son-in-law Samuel Sachs. Though no longer a family business, the Goldman Sachs name symbolises financial power and influence. Walt Disney, the founder of the eponymous entertainment empire, joined forces with his brother Roy in the 1920s to build an animation studio that later produced Snow White, Mickey Mouse and Disneyland. And sportswear leader Adidas originated from a 1920s footwear company started by German brothers Adolf “Adi” Dassler and Rudolf “Rudi” Dassler before a family feud led Rudi to form rival Puma.

Pairing founders' names often makes for a distinguished company name that evokes tradition, legacy and honest personality. When woven into compelling brand narratives about the founders' visions, values and journeys, these storied names can successfully stand the test of time and connect emotionally with consumers across generations.

3 – Self-explanatory names

Via Rail Canada Logo Design

Some company names may seem uninspired or generic at first glance. Brands like United Airlines, Kraft Foods, and Barclays Bank are comprised of common words that directly describe their industries – air travel, food production, and banking. Though these names lack flair, they make up for it in clarity and memorability.

By using simple, descriptive language in their branding, these companies ensure customers instantly understand their core offerings. There is no mystery about what a bank called “Barclays” does. This straightforward branding eliminates confusion and aids recognition.
However, these brands also add unique touches to prevent complete genericness. United Airlines focuses on its mission of uniting people across destinations. Kraft Foods emphasises quality ingredients in its diverse products. Barclays highlights its history and expertise in banking.

So while some prominent brand names may seem tedious at first glance, they often contain thoughtfully descriptive language. Combined with a personal twist, this direct branding style can be highly effective and memorable. Companies don't necessarily need whimsical invented words to build strong identities.

Straightforward, descriptive names allow customers to grasp what a business does immediately. When enhanced with a distinct perspective, these simple brand names contain more power than meets the eye.

General Tips on How to Name Your Business

Even if the name you settled on seems cool and cute, it still needs a reality check.

Abbreviations

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Using abbreviations or shortened names can be an effective branding strategy for large, established companies like DHL, UPS, and IBM. These companies have built strong brand recognition over many years, so most consumers immediately recognise the abbreviated names.

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However, using an abbreviation instead of an entire business name can be risky for a new, lesser-known company first entering the market. When consumers see an unfamiliar abbreviation, they often need help understanding the company or product it refers to. This can make it more difficult and confusing for new customers to find and remember your business.

If your startup immediately uses an abbreviated or shortened name, it likely won't resonate with consumers just discovering your brand. It's better to start with your full company name to establish your brand identity. Once you've built strong name recognition and customer loyalty, consider shortening your name for conciseness and memorability.

For example, a new package delivery company called “Quick Shipping Logistics” would be wise to use their full name as they build their customer base. After a few years, if the company has become well-known, it may be able to rebrand to the abbreviation “QSL” without losing recognition. But using just “QSL” from the beginning could make it harder for new customers to remember who they are.

The takeaway is that abbreviations work great for established, widely recognised brands. But new companies need to put in the work of building strong name recognition before shortening their names. Jumping straight to an abbreviation when your company is still unknown won't resonate with consumers in that critical early stage.

Funny names and wordplays

Funny Business Names

Getting clever with puns or plays on words can be tempting when naming a business. For example, an Italian restaurant owner might think “Pastabilities” is a hilarious name. Or the owner of a fish and chips shop might come up with “Frying Nemo.” While these names are punny, using this humour when naming your business can backfire.

The problem with overly-clever names is that only some people share the same sense of humour. What you find hilarious and brilliant may come across to others as lame, confusing, or even offensive. For example, “Frying Nemo” could rub Disney fans incorrectly by making light of a beloved children's film. And for people who don't immediately get the pun, it just sounds like a random, meaningless name.

Additionally, opaque, pun-based names don't communicate what your business does. If you named your coffee shop “Central Perk” or your computer repair shop “Reboot,” that doesn't tell potential customers anything useful about your products or services. The name should inform people walking by or searching online, not just amuse the business owner.

So what kinds of names work best? Experts recommend choosing a simple, memorable name that conveys your brand identity or area of expertise. For example, a landscaping company called “Yard Aesthetics” tells customers exactly what they do. A bakery dubbed “Sugar” is short, sweet, and to the point.

The bottom line is that while punny names can be funny and clever, they often fall flat and fail to attract new business. When choosing a name, focus on clarity and communication rather than getting too cute. You aim to make your business easy to find, understand, and remember.

Think globally

Ubuntu Logo Design

When naming your business, thinking beyond your local area is essential. Avoid including the name of your town or city in the business name. Doing so will make your business blend in with all the other local companies that follow this same naming convention. If you have plans to grow and expand, you want your business to stand out in your hometown, regionally, or even nationally.

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Choose a business name that is unique and memorable no matter where your customers are located. This will help set you apart from competitors and position your company for broader reach and recognition. The name you select should communicate what you do and the value you provide, not just where you are located.

A geographically limiting business name makes sense if you only plan to operate in a tiny area. However, most entrepreneurs have bigger dreams and goals for their ventures. By picking a name without geographic constraints, you leave the door open for future growth into new territories when the time is right. Don't box yourself into just your local neighbourhood or community. Craft your business identity and branding to appeal to a broader audience immediately.

Avoid hyphens when you name your Business

With the proliferation of advertising and marketing messages in the modern world, it can be incredibly challenging for consumers to remember specific business names and brands. Studies show that the average person is exposed to between 4,000 and 10,000 advertisements daily. With such an overwhelming amount of messaging competing for attention, it's no wonder that brand recall presents a significant problem for companies.

One factor that can make a business name even more challenging to remember is the inclusion of hyphens or other punctuation. While punctuation may help with search engine optimisation or branding efforts, it adds a layer of complexity that makes the name less intuitive and more problematic to recall later. For example, a name like “ACME Widgets” is likely to stick in someone's head better than “ACME-Widgets” or “A.C.M.E. Widgets.” The clean, simple format improves memorability.

This principle also applies to web addresses and social media usernames. Experts recommend consistency wherever possible rather than using different handles on each platform. Maintaining the same name across your website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc., reinforces recognition and avoids confusing customers. If someone can easily guess your Instagram handle because it aligns with your official business name, that's far better than making them struggle to remember multiple variations.

In today's crowded marketplace, every detail matters regarding branding. Aligning your business name, web address and social media presence as closely as possible takes advantage of the power of repetition. The easier you make it for customers to find and remember you, the higher the likelihood they will ultimately choose you over the competition. A consistent, concise, intuitive brand identity is crucial for standing out and developing an emotional connection in your target audience's mind.

Emotional connotation

British Heart Foundation Logo Design

While you may have a name you love in mind, don't just rely on your own opinion. Getting feedback from others before settling on a business name is critical. Ask trusted friends, family members, advisors, and even potential customers what they think of the terms you're considering. Get their gut reactions – does it evoke the right image and emotions? Does it communicate what your business is about? Is it memorable and distinct?

You want to choose a business name that resonates with your target audience, not just yourself. Run each potential name by a diverse group to get a range of perspectives. Look out for furrowed brows, confused looks, or lacklustre reactions – signs a name may not be effective. If the name elicits positive emotions like excitement and intrigue, it's likely a winner.

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It's also a good idea to search online to see if the name is already in use, as you want to avoid potential trademark conflicts. Check domain name availability as well. The goal is to find a business name that is unique, memorable, emotionally resonant with your audience, and available for your use across branding and marketing channels.

Picking the perfect business name requires time, effort, and input from others. Following these tips will help you navigate the naming process successfully. A firm business name is invaluable in making a great first impression and connecting with your customers.

Wrapping Up

Choosing the perfect name for your business is a big decision that requires creativity, strategy, and vision for your company's future. By brainstorming meaningful names that connect to your brand identity, researching to avoid legal issues, and testing potential names with your target audience, you can find a business name that resonates with customers and sets your company up for success.

Though it may take time to land on the ideal moniker, putting in the work upfront to select a memorable, distinctive, and brand-aligned business name can pay dividends for your venture. Your business name is your calling card to the world, so take the time to craft a name that supports your brand story and leaves a powerful first impression. With a clear sense of who you are and knowing how to name your business, you'll have a brand name that will serve your company for years.

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Stuart Crawford

Stuart Crawford is an award-winning creative director and brand strategist with over 15 years of experience building memorable and influential brands. As Creative Director at Inkbot Design, a leading branding agency, Stuart oversees all creative projects and ensures each client receives a customised brand strategy and visual identity.

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