Abstract or dead simple? Clever irony? Cute and playful? There are endless paths to take when brainstorming your new business name. But for many small business owners and entrepreneurs, the naming process is fraught with uncertainty and doubt.
Yet, the stakes couldn't be higher. A business begins with a name — the cornerstone of company identity that shapes branding, company tone and first impressions. Whether you'll be name-brainstorming yourself or have hired a branding firm, here are a few tips to help you pick the right name for your new business.
1. Set the tone. Your business name sets the tone for all that follows. Think about what's important to you and your business. What's the first thing you want a customer to think in regard to your business? For example, a young company breaking into the financial advising field may be more concerned about credibility, and thus forgo the edgy, attention-grabbing name. Your own tone can be playful or academic, edgy or professional. Just make sure it reflects what your business is and what you want it to be in the future.
2. Simple is strong. A powerful name is easy to spell, pronounce and remember. After all, what good is word-of-mouth if your customer tells a friend, "You really should look up my caterer for your next event. I think their name begins with an A…"
If you need to explain a business name, you've failed to make an impact. One creative marketing consultant selected a variant of the name Agora for her business, loving the connection to the ancient Greek word agora, meaning marketplace. She quickly abandoned the name when a colleague's first reaction was "I get it. Sometimes I feel agoraphobic when I've got a big project too."
3. Do not use initials! We all know the business landscape has an affinity for acronyms, but try to avoid using initials for your company name. A random collection of letters doesn't inspire an emotional connection. And you can run into legal and branding headaches by juggling two different business names (the initials and the name spelled out).
4. Opt for a descriptive name. A descriptive name helps frame your company better than a generic one. For example, consider Speedy Electronics vs. Speedy, Inc. Adding this qualifier instantly tells potential customers what your business is all about.
5. Don't box yourself in. While descriptive is good, you don't want your name to be too descriptive, in case you end up expanding your offerings down the road. Imagine if Target still went by its original name, Dayton Dry Goods Company. You need to consider where your brand is today, as well as where you want to go in the future.
6. Watch out for language pitfalls. A word in English may have a negative meaning in another language or culture. And enthusiastic business owners can be blind to awkward puns and double entendres. The best way to avoid creating an embarrassing or damaging brand situation is to test your name on your target audiences; they may see something you missed.
7. Give any new name time to sink in. It can take some time for a new name to feel right, and you may need to use your name for several months before it starts to feel natural. This is particularly true when a name is off the beaten path, which is often the case for some the industry's most memorable and impactful names. Just imagine the initial reaction to the name "Google."
Along these lines, a strong brand or product can overcome a potentially ill-conceived name. When Apple first unveiled its tablet, I was skeptical of the choice in name. I was far from alone. Yet fast forward a few years and the word "iPad" is a natural part of my daily vernacular (and I never think of feminine hygiene).
8. Don't finalize too soon. The most important lesson is not to get too attached to any one name during the brainstorming process. When inspiration strikes, it's all too tempting to start envisioning your company logo, web design, signage, business cards, etc. But you've got to make sure that perfect name is legally available for you to use — no one wants to be on the wrong end of a trademark dispute.