Choosing a business name is an awful process. At least, I’ve always found it stressful. Adding to the pressure are a variety of articles telling you how you should do it, and none of them agree with each other. Here are a bunch of popular tips I’ve seen and tried to follow myself:
- The name should describe what you do.
- Choose a distinct name over a generic one.
- Don’t use the name of the place where you are located.
- Avoid using made up words.
- Keep the name short.
- Pick a name that is broad and not too meaningful or specific.
- Choose a name that appeals to your customers
- Avoid using puns
- Pick a name that uses wordplay
- Make it easy to spell and pronounce
- Consider available domain names
- Avoid trendy words
- Choose a name that stands out
- Don’t use your own name in case you sell the company later
And many others that are variations of the above. I think you get the point.
While conducting research for this post I examined a number of online articles related to business naming. Each one was overflowing with so many contradictions it was laughable. In this article from Entrepreneur.com the author states that a business name should not be geographic or generic.
… it is possible for a name to be too meaningful. Common pitfalls are geographic or generic names. A hypothetical example is “San Pablo Disk Drives.” What if the company wants to expand beyond the city of San Pablo, California? … And what if the company diversifies beyond disk drives into software or computer instruction manuals?
However, just a few sentences later, the naming expert blatantly contradicts this statement with a real-life example:
Consider “Italiatour,” a name that was developed by one naming company to help promote package tours to Italy.
Now I’m confused. Isn’t that both geographic and too specific? Oh, and not to mention it’s a made up word which is another naming no-no. What if the company wants to expand beyond Italy? What if they start offering more than tours by selling t-shirts or something? If I were trying to name my new business I would be even more frustrated now than when I started.
You need not worry though. A naming expert, Alexandra Watkins, who is the Chief Innovation Officer of Eat My Words, a naming company based out of San Francisco, has a great company name and also offers some comforting advice.
“People think that their names have a lot more equity in them than they do, so don’t be afraid to rebrand yourself,”
She states this about halfway through an article on Inc.com titled How to Choose the Best Name For Your Business. Of course, it too is full of confusing contradictions that are sure to make any new business owners head spin.
I wish I could give you a formula for generating the perfect business name. The closest you can get is to hire a naming company for $80,000 and they can do all the dirty work for you. If you don’t have that kind of money sitting around and your mother isn’t willing to mortgage her house to pay for it here are a few simple suggestions.
Shorter is usually better
Shorter names work well in a wide variety of applications. They are easier to spell, to type out, to expand upon and look better in logo designs. One word is better than two and two is better than three. Three words is starting to get a little long unless the words are all short such as Eat My Words. Also keep syllables in mind. The more syllables the more of a mouthful your name will be.
It’s really hard to choose a descriptive name
Although many people believe your name should indicate what you do, that’s a lot to ask. This is especially true if your company performs a variety of functions or your work is innovative and doesn’t make sense to a lot of people. Descriptive names are usually dull and I also rarely see this in practice with highly successful companies. It’s also difficult to pull this off if you are testing a business idea and know you might alter your product in the future. The name you choose, if too descriptive, might not fit the final product or service.
Most business have a tagline and this is where you should be describing who you help and how you help them.
Choose a name that suits your personality
If you’re very conservative and so are your clients then it’s perfectly fine to choose a boring name that won’t offend anyone. If you’re a little cheeky, your name can reflect this and it will be easier to attract the kind of clients you’d like to work with. The most important point is that you are comfortable with your name and aren’t ashamed to tell people about it.
Definitely avoid trendy names
If I convince you of only one thing please let it be this; Don’t ever create a name with a lowercase “i” in front of an ordinary word and think that makes you cool. It makes you look like the only original idea you could come up with was to copy apple, just like thousands of other people. Stay away from popular and soon-to-be-despised phrases. If you’re not sure if a word or phrase is trendy just ask someone under the age of 21.
Run the name by some advisers but in the end go with your gut
It’s fine to ask some people you know what they think of your name but choose them carefully. The best people to ask are those who are closest in profile to your ideal client. In other words, don’t ask your mother, unless she’s an investor.
You can change your name later
Even naming experts like Alexandra Watkins believe it’s possible to do. Let’s be honest here, most of us are not working on the next Facebook or YouTube. Our companies are itty-bitty and are likely to stay that way, relatively speaking. I don’t expect the Polisher to become a billion dollar company at any point in the future and that actually affords me a lot of flexibility. Even if you do grow beyond your expectations, it’s never too late.
Inc.com illustrates this well with a story about a video streaming company that started out as Mogulus and then later became known as Livestream. Oddly enough, the article is titled Your Start-up Name Matters (A Lot) which is funny because the story actually proves the title false. See what I mean about confusion?
To sum up, here’s why your name doesn’t matter that much:
- You’re probably a small business that most people will never have heard of.
- What you do matters more than what you call it.
- There are plenty of hugely successful companies with weird or even lousy names. How about Google or Starbucks?
- No one can agree what the naming rules are which means there are no rules.
- You can always change your name.
Shakespeare had it right when Juliet said,
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So, the lesson for today is: Be the rose but call it whatever you want.
If you’re having trouble with a name run it by me or you can brag about your brilliant company name in the comments below.