While mentoring a startup founder last month, I was asked to comment about using their personal name as the company name. I did not share what I thought about it, but instead offered thoughts on how to critically think about using their name. First, I asked if their name was well known in the industry for the unique service they were building the business concept around. If the name was not known, then critical marketing time and money would need to be spent to build the personal name as the “brand”. Second, I asked what their exit strategy was. For instance, if the founder sold the company at some later date and the new owner created negative PR, would that cause a negative reflection on the founder personally.
An early critical decision any startup faces is to choose a name for the business that is reflective of the brand, product or service. Coming up with that company name isn’t an easy task, especially with the pressure of making it unique and memorable. The best brand names I’ve seen just wander unnoticed into our subconscious. They assimilate smoothly into different parts of our lives and take on real meanings, whether you’re talking about jumping into an Uber, going to a Zoom meeting, privately searching for information on the web using DuckDuckGo or looking for funding on platforms like GiveSendGo or GoFundMe. Those names donʼt just sneak into our sentences; they stick in our minds, and roll off the tips of our tongues.
Still, there is more to a name than just being memorable. A great name needs to offer the right foundation for a company to build upon. It also needs to be available considering that there have been more than 6.7 million trademark applications over the last three decades. So, how can you choose a business name that makes your brand slide into our subconscious? Here are some thoughts about creating a company name.
Thinking of the perfect business name is hard work; after all, it becomes the central focus of the brand and should therefore embody everything about it. However, it cannot be too complex because this will make it difficult to remember and search for and it also needs to be creative and catchy to leave a lasting impression. This is a lot of pressure to put on just a few words; however, it could make or break a business. This is why some founders use online name generators. Not only do they provide businesses with a variety of options, but they also streamline the process so that entrepreneurs can move onto the next phase of getting their business up and running. Name generators work by utilizing a set of keywords that are provided by the user; they then use these words to generate a set of industry or location-specific options (not all tools provide this option). Entrepreneurs can then pick the best name and go about the rest of the registration process. However, you will pay for this service.
Another way that I personally like to avoid choosing a name that bombs, is for the founder to start by identifying what they want their name to represent about their brand. Start with a clear idea of exactly what message you want to send, and to whom. For instance:
- The company name needs something thatʼs modern and really implies it is the best.
- The name needs to be elegant and immediately sound like a high-end brand.
- The name needs to reinforce a modern professional image.
The next step in this process might be to come up with different ideas and images that convey in the name those things which are inherently linked to your brand. Instead of focusing on the descriptive element about what you sell, you might focus on expressing one or two other core concepts. For instance, when I started my second company, I needed a name that conveyed a professionally developed product. My white board was a real mess of words and phrases but I finally chose two simple basic words and added Corporation to yield the Dental Research Corporation. I would suggest instead of starting off with a white board resembling my mess, you might refine your ideas down to three to six of the words or themes and styles that are most essential to your brand.
Once you select a style, theme and purpose, be sure to identify areas to avoid. With so many trademarks out there and only about 172,000 words in the English language, the freedom to use any particular English word has been diminished. The common areas to avoid are:
- Single English words
- Power words — like force, united, omni, icon
- Symbolic words — like bridge, spring, sage, rocket
But just because you canʼt use a stand-alone word does not mean you canʼt combine these words into something original. Types of names that have been attached to powerful brands have included:
- Blends — Groupon, OptinMonster
- Compounds — SnapChat, WordPress
- Symbolic — Haute and Bold, Crate & Barrel
- Transmutations — Zappos, Zumba
- Visual — Ice Mountain, Red Bull
While compounds and transmutations are great, I recommend that you say the words out loud to make sure they stay within the following three guidelines:
- Is the name easy to say? It should roll off your tongue, rather than twist it.
- Is the name easy to hear? Consumers should be able to hear your brand name, then quickly tap it into Google or DuckDuckGo to find you.
- Is the name easy to spell? Simple misspellings such as Flickr, Xero and Lyft are much easier to trademark, but if they are hard to spell, problems might result.
After creating a shortlist of potential brand names, think about seeking outside input to help you choose the best of the refined name list. Try to choose impartial evaluators that match your target market. Then, present the evaluators with a shortlist of four to seven names that meet your initial criteria. At this stage, it is important not to overshare or influence their decisions. Simply ask which brand they would be most interested in learning more about, and which name best aligns with your core principles.
These are just some thoughts that might be help you come up with a company name that will capture attention, stick in peopleʼs minds and stand the test of time. Remember: When it comes to naming a brand, choosing the business name requires patience and creativity.
For more thoughts about starting a business, read Business Startup Checklist and Branding Mistakes.
Copyright ©John Trenary 2022