Brainstorming a Great Name for Your Startup

Les anonymes, par Franck VervialWhat’s in a name? Turns out, plenty.

Creating a great name for your startup involves more than just dreaming up something unusual and staking your claim. I know it, because I’ve started plenty of small businesses. Some of the names have been great, but some were duds.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about naming your business.

Do your research, and Google the name first. You may have a great idea, but someone as clever as you may have claimed the name before you. And if other businesses share the name, are you located in the same state or city? If so, you might run into potential legal issues when your business starts to get noticed. Plus, some names are just too similar and confuse your customers. Case in point — one of my businesses was initially called Nationwide Interchange. After fielding too many phone calls confusing us with Nationwide Insurance, I changed the name. Better to choose a name that is unique as possible from the very start. Lesson learned!

Make sure that the domain that you want is available.  These days, your domain is your business card, and it’s crucial to have a website address that people can easily remember. So even if you’re months away from having a completed website, think about your domain name and claim it now before someone else does.

When I’m starting a business, I search for potential domain names at If the name is unavailable, I might consider a variation. But in the end, I find that if you can’t get the domain name that you really want, you’re better off selecting a different name altogether.

Find a name that’s easy to pronounce. Remember when the Dunder Mifflin employees on “The Office” couldn’t figure out the correct pronunciation of their new parent company — Sabre? (Saber? Sabra?) You want customers to remember you for your excellent brand, not be puzzled over your unusual name.

Think of Ford, Apple, Google, Hallmark, Lego: Their names are short, and they roll right off the tongue. Easy to say, easy to remember, easy to buy from.

Play with the language. Use alliteration to create a memorable name, like Best Buy or Chuck E. Cheese. Steak-n-Shake used alliteration as well as rhyme to create their memorable name.

Take a risk — make something up. Zazzle, Chick-fil-A, Zulily, Google  — these are bold name choices that make the business stand out and demonstrate confidence, creativity, and fun.

Choose words with positive connotations. The “Ace” in Ace Hardware says that with the right tools, anyone can fix a toilet or install a cabinet. Because the name Nationwide Interchange was a source of confusion, I renamed it Top Echelon Network to make my customers feel like they were in the best of company. My company Patriot Software inspires thoughts of our country’s heritage and entrepreneurial spirit.

Inspire customers to think with their senses. Your business will be more memorable when you involve the customer’s imagination. Twitter is easy to associate with the short, quick chirps that birds use to share information with each other. Land’s End and Trek make you think of travel and adventure. Redbox and Square very quickly take up residence in our minds — Redbox is simply a red box that we rent movies from; Square is a square credit card reader. Hard to forget!

Use your family name to establish trust with your customers. Many venerable American institutions began with family names: JC Penney, Sears and Roebuck, Macy’s, Harley-Davidson. But you might need to add on a tagline until your business becomes a worldwide phenomenon: Even Wendy’s started out as Wendy’s Old-Fashioned Hamburgers.

On the flip-side, you are putting yourself (and your family) on the line if you choose your family name as your business moniker. (And we all know business names that are humorous without meaning to be — which can make it harder for your business to earn the respect it rightly deserves.) Make sure that your name choice doesn’t have unintended consequences!

Stay away from using your initials. Initials are boring and not meaningful to anyone but you. Same thing with generic names (One of my first businesses was Generic Computers. What was I thinking?) I renamed this business Synergy Data Systems — a much better choice!

Choose a name that will grow along with your business, one that will still make sense later on if you add another service or take a different tack.

Make sure the name is right before investing in branding. Wait and see how the name works before you order business cards or emblazon the new name on your new company vehicle. Test the name on your friends and family and see how they react. Defending your choice a little more than you’d like? The business name may need more tweaking. And, your family and friends are more likely to be honest about your name choice if you haven’t already sunk a lot of money in your branding efforts. Be open to their ideas!

Finally, don’t feel like you’re forever wedded to the business name that you initially chose. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. It may cost you to change it, but it’s worth the expense if the name is causing confusion or embarrassment — and costing you potential business.

So now it’s your turn: How did you arrive at your business name, and how is it working for you?

photo credit: Franck Vervial via photopin cc

Mike Kappel
Mike Kappel is a serial entrepreneur and president of Patriot Software, Inc., an online accounting and a payroll software company and one of five successful small businesses he has started in the last 28 years. Mike still enjoys the challenge of a start-up, and is passionate about supporting small business and helping others reach their goals. He shares his experiences in his blog, Small Business Expert. You can follow him on Twitter @MikeKappel and Google+.
Mike Kappel
Mike Kappel

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