Learning how to name your business is no laughing matter!

Your company name is one of the first impressions your brand makes, so it makes sense that learning how to name your business would be a paramount interest for any and every entrepreneur!

When deciding on name, we urge you to take your thoughts and feelings out of the equation, and focus on a strategic approach.

To start, make sure you define your market, understand their motivators and evaluate the verbal language they use. This will help you figure out the most efficient way to communicate your brand and message.

The first step to name a business is to define the selection criteria. This helps make a subjective creative process become less subjective. A criteria is the list of things that you wish for your name to fulfill on and can vary from company to company.

Here are some sample criteria to name a business:

  1. Can it serve as an “umbrella” for other brands or products?
  2. Does the name have meaning? Does it help tell a story?
  3. Is it easy to pronounce?
  4. Is it easy to remember?
  5. Does it sound like a local or a global enterprise?
  6. Can you protect it and trademark it?
  7. Is the URL/domain available? If not available, is it for sale?
  8. Does it have any negative connotations or associations?
  9. Can it be confused with another company in your category?
  10. Does it adhere to your overall brand strategy?
  11. Does it work within languages other than English?

Next, and this is all about your audience. Figure out what kinds of names your clients will appreciate. There are many different kinds of names, so choose wisely:

Real Words:

Names like this are quite simply words from the dictionary. They are sometimes descriptive of the company, and sometimes simply chosen because they are distinctive.

Pros: Such names are usually succinct, and have associations from history already attached.

Cons: These names can be expensive domain names (in the Millions) if they are common, if they are uncommon, then they might be too uncommon or downright wacky.

Examples:

Yahoo!, Yelp

Misspelled words:

If you are looking for a distinctive word as described above, but can’t afford the domain or trademark? Misspell it!

Pros: This group is certainly memorable and has distinction built in.

Cons: You’ll be driving traffic to someone else’s company that owns the correct spelling of your word, inevitably. Although, this form of naming is so common these days, that people usually ask… “How do you spell it?”

Examples:

flickr (flicker), Google (googol)

Foreign Words:

If your company is foreign and looking to make inroads in America, this is an obvious choice, because you’ve probably got a foreign name already going for you! If you are looking to associate your company with a foreign culture, or a foreign take on a particular product, this type can also work toward your advantage.

Pros: Easily Trademarkable and protectable, with lots of .Com’s available.

Cons: Often hard to pronounce and remember, these names are also often meaningless outside of the native speakers’ language. If the name sounds distinctly Japanese, and you are selling a Japanese product or service, you are probably in the clear.

Examples:

Hyundai, Toyota, Santander, Lufthansa

Compound Words:

Take two entire words and mash them together, its that simple! If you like each on their own, you might like their combined connotation.

Pros: Your imagination is your limitation. These names are trademarkable, and the URL’s are endlessly available.

Cons: Sometimes compound words can get a little long or unwieldy on the tongue, but other than that, they don’t have many drawbacks, which is why they are so popular.

Examples:

BlueDot, Facebook, Wordpress, Coca-Cola, YouTube, Infusionsoft

Phrases:

This group is much like the previous group, only it is comprised of less original entrants, and that is on purpose. Our agency’s own name: Branding For The People falls into the margins of this category, as a blended phrase, combining Branding with the common phrase “For The People.”

Pros: Phrases are usually well known, so they carry whatever cache society associates with them.

Cons: These names are LONG, and if they are long, they are harder to remember! You are best off using a phrase that currently exists within the public consciousness rather than making up your own, as that will make it even more difficult for your customers to wrap their heads around.

Examples:

Branding For The People, Bed Bath & Beyond, The Container Store

Blended Words:

As you read above, blending is an art for the smart ones among us, and it is a path that should be approached with caution. If your audience appreciates riddles, this is the naming convention for you.

Pros: When done correctly, blended words are short, sweet and two the point. They can serve to tell a story in just a few syllables.

Cons: When done incorrectly, blended word names are unwieldy, overcomplicated, impossible to remember and pronounce, and hard to spell. Each of these things on its own is a death blow for a company, when put together, the results are nothing less than catastrophic for your brand.

Examples:

Microsoft (microcomputer + software), Zillow (zillions + pillow, with overlap of -ill-), Expedia (Escape + Encyclopedia + an X for good measure), Panasonic (Pan + Sonic), Comcast (Communications + Broadcast), Pinterest (Pin + Interest)

Tweaked words:

Many names are simply slight modifications of common words. Companies in the digital space tend to use the letters ‘i’ or ‘e’ to evoke interconnectedness and electronics. If a company is going for a younger audience, they might even consider ‘x’ to invoke the appreciation of generation x!

Pros: If people know the root word, your company can easily benefit from the definition of the word in concert with whatever you mean to combine it with.

Cons: If people don’t immediately recognize the intended meaning of your tweaked word, you’ve lost a major branding opportunity!

Examples:

ebay, iTunes, Intuit (abbreviation of Intuition), Zune (tune), xFinity (by Comcast, a combo of x & infinity)

Affixed words:

A subset of blended words, these handy combos serve to retain the meaning of the root word while adding a bit of action.

Pros: Keeping things short is a definite pro with regard to memorability.

Cons: These words can often read as a bit meaningless when they aren’t executed properly, as the affixed portion of the word can diminish the definition of the word that they are affixed to.

Examples:

Friendster, Napster, Mashable, Spotify

Made up words, or words with obscure origins:

If you have a sense of whimsy in your brand, a made up word can hit the mark. If you don’t have awe or wonder built into your branding, then tread lightly.

Pros: Often fast off of the tongue, and memorable.

Cons: There isn’t usually any meaning associated with a made up word, so you are going to need to rely on the other aspect of your brand to carry the weight of your message.

Examples:

Bebo, Garmin, Plaxo, Mattel, Tropicana

People’s Names (real and fake):

Companies are often named for their creators, or made up mascots. If you have a big ego, an outsized personality, or are just plain famous, this is a great direction to capitalize on your qualities.

Pros: Short, easily protected/trademarked, and easy to use when capitalizing on a founder’s renown.

Cons: If the name isn’t known, you are going to have a lot of work to do to define it, and create a proper perception within the minds of your clients.

Examples:

Jenny Craig, Mary Kay, Ford, Chanel, Disney

Initials and Acronyms:

Is the name you founded your company with farrr tooo longgg? Then take the first letters of each word, and build a brand around them!

Pros: Memorability. If your acronym rolls off of the tongue in a way that your words behind it do not, you are probably better off.

Cons: If you haven’t created a big business with a bad name in need of an acronym, then odds are you aren’t going to be able to build a brand around initials, they are, on their own, meaningless.

Examples:

AOL (America On Line), IBM (International Business Machines), GEICO (Government Employees Insurance Company), AFLAC (American Family Life Assurance Company)

Once you’ve decided on the criteria that you choose your new name by, and selected the style of the name that will work for your business, it is time to put together a list of options! After you’ve got a list you like, you can perform domain name searches and trademark searches to come up with a shortlist to choose from. Good luck, have fun, and please contact us with any questions that you might have.

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