The definitive guide on how to choose your business name

The definitive guide on how to choose your business name

It isn’t easy to choose the right name for your business.

Just ask any parent who has ever named a baby. Most spend months poring through baby-name books with thousands of choices, comparing options and getting opinions from friends and family as they try to choose the right fit for a child they’ve never seen… keeping in mind the kid’ll be stuck with the name for nearly a century.

And some still get it wrong. Just ask Talula Does the Hula from Hawaii.

The same applies to your business name, unfortunately. It’s a difficult decision, and it’s easy to get it wrong. There aren’t any name books for businesses either, and the websites offering name generators that slap together unlikely options aren’t much help at all. Worse, the name you choose for your business has to:

  • Reflect your business brand
  • Convey a credible image
  • Be logical and reasonable
  • Be creative and catchy
  • Invoke emotional associations
  • Draw customers closer

And that’s just the beginning.

Finding the right business name for your venture takes time. Some people think it’ll just come to them in an hour or two, and sometimes that happens. Realistically, though, you probably won’t hit on your business name for days, weeks… maybe even months.

That said, all is not lost. I’ve put together a rather extensive, not-in-any-particular-order list of great naming tips that’ll help you figure out how to choose your business name… and make it a real hit.

Make It Short and Sweet

The longer a business name, the harder it becomes for your prospects to pronounce, spell, type, say, understand and remember. Aim for a business name of three syllables or less, like Quick Sprout, Reebok, Nike and Google.

Get Suggestive

Tipping the hat to what your business does, sells or offers is a good idea, as is hinting at a main benefit of your brand or product. For example, Copyblogger suggests their company might be about copy and blogging, and Duracell implies a battery cell that’s long lasting and durable.

Gone, But Not Forgotten

If your business name is hard to remember, you’re in trouble. People might not need what you sell right away, but you’ll want a name they can recall easily when they do. For example, someone who suddenly needs a marketing team might not have Chase and Staff at the forefront of their mind, but they’ll probably remember Marketing Marvelon in a flash.

Don’t be Clever

What’s the number one rule of good copywriting? Be clear, never clever. The same goes for business names. If a business name creates uncertainty, ambiguity, confusion and could have different meanings or doesn’t convey enough information, it falls flat.

That’s Catchy!

While you want to be as clear as possible with your business name, you also want to try to be catchy. Look for what might be a fun angle in your brand and play it up, or find some descriptive adjectives that might work well, like Damn Fine Words.

The Spelling Bee Test

The last thing you want to hear when someone goes to jot down your business name or site URL is, “And how do you spell that?” A complex name or non-traditional spelling can spell disaster for your business. If your business name is too difficult to spell intuitively, then it’s not a good choice for your business.

Breaking the Rules

Despite the warnings about a business name that’s easy to spell, you may just find the perfect option for your venture in a deliberate misspelling. It’s trendy to drop vowels or swap consonants with similar-sounding letters, like Flickr and Tumblr, but be careful – clever spelling can become frustrating for both you and your prospects long term.

Use Your Imagination

Sometimes being creative is the way to go. You can make up a word and call that your business name. You can choose a word from another language that means what you do, or shove two words together to make one. (Ancient Latin is great for that.) Either way, try to imagine up a word that evokes a sense of emotion, one that matches your business brand.

A Touch of Branding

A good business name reflects your brand and the mental associations you want prospects to make when they think of your business. For example, Jazzy Jammies immediately makes you think of upbeat, fun, spunky PJs – the perfect business name for the neon-pink polka dot pyjama pants you sell.

Don’t Fence Me In

Sometimes business names can be limiting, restricting growth. Can your business expand its breadth of services or activities, given the name it carries? Can it evolve easily with time, or will it be stuck forever in its niche? Try to think of evergreen names that allow your business to expand and grow.

Pardon Me?

You’ve finally got it: the perfect business name. You tell a close friend… who promptly bursts out laughing. Hadn’t heard the double-entendre or noticed that the acronym spells something unflattering? Didn’t realize the new name could be taken two ways… and one of them is definitely not what you want people to pick up on?

Watch out for what’s not obvious. We often become blind to what’s right in front of us, and our psychology uses its confirmation bias to justify our beliefs that this is a great name… until someone with fresher eyes, ears or a new perspective points out why it’s all wrong.

Is This Business or Personal?

You might think, “To hell with it. I’ll go for personal branding. John Jakes Inc. sounds just fine!” (Note: I don’t know John Jakes or any company that carries the name. Any resemblance is purely accidental.)

Personal branding works out authors, actors and singers, but take out the celebrity factor and you’ll notice that across almost all other industries, no one achieved success from personal branding. Invariably, today’s ultra-successful started under a business brand and grew from there.

Anyone Else?

Do your research. Does anyone else use that business name? Is there a similar version being by competition you weren’t aware of? Who owns the .uk or .ca version of your chosen .com? Or vice versa? Imagine thinking up a great business name, only to find out that a pornography publisher beat you to it with a slightly-different-but-close URL!

Sue Me

Do make an effort to check for legal trademarks and corporate ownership in the databases of registered business names before making your choice. Sometimes you can use a certain business name; sometimes not. It’s a mistake to think that if a real-world company doesn’t own a certain domain name, you’re free to snap it up and use it as you please – you might end up in legal hot water for doing so.

Once you’ve done your homework and settled on a good business name, champagne is in order! A well-chosen business name that checks all the boxes for success can set you up for years to come – maybe even for life.

And if it doesn’t? If you choose a business name and realize down the road it wasn’t the best? That’s okay; cut yourself some slack. You can change business names later if yours doesn’t work out for you, or you can rebrand completely if you want to shift directions.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.