Making your business a success is one giant puzzle, and choosing a business name is one of your first tests. The right name is memorable and provides the foundation for a great brand.
But working with a weak (or just plain bad) name is a constant struggle. It can make your company forgettable or unforgettable for all the wrong reasons. It can drive away customers who don’t understand what you do. And your entire marketing strategy will likely fall apart when you try to piece together a brand.
What makes a great business name?
The one thing all great business names have in common is longevity. They stand the test of time, so you can expand your product line or rebrand without changing your name. Remember how Apple Computer, Inc. simply became Apple, Inc. when the company branched into the wide world of electronics?
Beyond longevity, winning business names are as varied as the hairs on your head. Some are great because they trigger a clear image of what the business offers. Think Home Depot, Quaker Oats, or Netflix. Other names are light-hearted, clever and put a smile on your face. Imagine Google. Dunkin Donuts. Chick-fil-A.
What about ultra-basic names like General Motors and General Electric? Many older companies are market leaders founded when few competitors were around. So their simple names have the support of strong branding and history.
As a 21st-century small business owner, you’re competing with local and online sellers. You have to choose a business name that is:
- Easy to spell
- Easy to search for online
- Attractive on a business card
- Clear and tasteful when spoken aloud
- Memorable without copying another brand
- Easy to translate into a website domain
Seems like a tall order, right? Start off with a strong business idea to weed out all the wrong names, and let your brand values be your guide.
How to brainstorm business name ideas
To brainstorm business name ideas, ask the right questions to create a list of keywords.
- What is the core product or solution you offer? Think of words that describe who you are, what you do or how you do it. Ray-Ban sunglasses keep sunrays out of your eyes. Groupon provides coupons that depend on a large group buy-in.
- What do you want customers to know about your business? Imagine the feeling you want customers to get when they think of your brand. A business name can range from conservative to playful to risqué. What’s your personality? What’s your mission? What do you stand for?
- What images do you associate with your business? Thinking of images and symbols instead of words can help you break away from overused terms. Chances are, your first ideas will be weak or already taken, so aim to be different. Blue Ribbon Sports became Nike in 1971. The new brand was based on Nike, the Greek goddess of victory and Zeus’s charioteer. More than 40 years later, it still captures the glory of pushing to reach incredible goals.
- Does your first or last name have creative word or image associations? While names are often overused, you shouldn’t overlook fateful wording. Imagine a flower shop owner named Lily Bloom. A hunting goods trader named Martin Bear or Chris Pelt. A pastry chef named Stacy Baker. Take advantage of personal names that have other meanings as well. Moore and more. Goode and good. Green. Clay. June. Pearl. Hunter. Will. Penny. A great personal name can be priceless inspiration.
- Who is your audience? Make sure your name speaks to the right customers. You wouldn’t name a fun, youthful company like a financial corporation. And a homegrown, creative business shouldn’t sound like a futuristic electronics company. The people buying your products have to be confident in your values and expertise.
Think about the future
When your business is young, it’s hard to envision how big it might become someday. But it’s important to think ahead and avoid limitations when creating a business name. The most common limitations are:
- Locations: Let’s say your business is called White Plains Woodworks? What happens if you move, open new locations or franchise your business? Customers may choose competitors because they think you only serve a limited area.
- Specific Products: To survive, most businesses have to expand their product offerings. Does it still make sense to call your business T-Shirt Shack if you start selling hats, bags, lanyards, and hoodies? Will customers come to you for bags if they think you only sell shirts?
- Personal Names: Names are a gray area; they can be good or bad. But think twice about names if you have ambitions to franchise or sell your business. Buyers don’t always want to keep the original owner’s personal name. That means your business is worth more if the buyer doesn’t have to fund a rebranding.
- Trademark: Make sure you aren’t violating any existing trademark. You can hire a trademark lawyer or use the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) for research.
Choosing a business name with impact
Whatever you do, stay away from trends. An idea isn’t good just because a lot of people are doing it. Right now, it’s common for business owners to force together words that don’t really fit. You end up with decent, but awkward names like Academitech or AmericAccounts. As always, keep it simple and short. The top global brands have names with 12 letters or less.
You can avoid many bad business names by simply stating them out loud. Share your top picks with others, and compare them to competitors. Say them fast. Say them slow. Sit with the names for a few weeks.
If you say your business name in passing, customers should be able to closely guess the spelling. For the same reason, it’s also wise to leave out numbers or symbols when possible.
In many cases, other people can spot flaws you don’t. On the sitcom “New Girl,” two characters were excited about the business name “Real Apps.” Then someone pointed out that the name sounds like “relapse.” Not so great. Your intended meaning may be obvious to you, but not to everyone else who hears it.
Although some experts warn against coined names with made-up words, they can work with the right branding. Look at the success of companies like Marketo, Hulu, and Etsy. Not to mention, Google’s name has defined our entire relationship with search engines.
When all is said and done, your gut feeling should matter, too. If a name passes all your tests and still feels right, it might be a winner. Your company is your baby. And you want to feel proud whenever people ask: “What’s your business name?”
> If you’re brainstorming business names, think about how it might look on a logo. Try out our logo maker to test different layout and designs.