So you’ve come up with a fantastic idea, done a ton of research to see what your competition looks like, and reigned in just enough cash to start your dream business. The only thing is, you can’t exactly refer to it as “your dream business” forever. It's time to call a spade a spade and give it a name!
This can be a stressful, painstaking process for some entrepreneurs, more painful than being called on your bluff. After all, many people strongly believe that the name of your business can make or break you.
As someone with a relatively rare name, I know how big a part it can play in your personal identity. I also know that it doesn’t have to define you. Take Ben & Jerry’s for example. Not one thing about their name has to do with ice cream, but because of word of mouth marketing and a product that never failed to deliver, the name has become notorious.
This idea interested me: how much do names really matter when it comes to the success of your business?
I took some business names from a few select industries and entered them into my Business Name Showdown, then graded them based on their pros and cons. Of course, these grades are just my opinion, so feel free to let me know if you disagree.
Company Name: Starbucks
Reason behind it: Named after a character from Moby Dick.
| Pros | Cons | | Unique | Has nothing to do with its industry | | Easy to pronounce | Not a real word, hard to remember | 'Bucks' connotes spending money |
Conclusion: This company’s name clearly does not dictate its success. Rather, its marketing and quality of product, consistency in branding and atmosphere are what makes a Starbucks a Starbucks. Although it’s a unique name, it’s not particularly pleasing to the ear, nor is it easy to remember if you hear it in passing.
Rating: C +
Company Name: Cafénation
Reason behind it: A play on words about coffee and caffeine.
| Pros | Cons | | Very clever play on words | Adding an accent onto the 'e' makes it harder to standardize | | Relates directly to its industry | | Brief and concise |
Conclusion: I’m a sucker for wordplay, so this one really got me. It’s charming, short, and unique. The name contains the company’s main product, its playful nature evokes positivity and it will inherently attract its target customers. Although I don’t know how profitable Cafénation is, its Yelp review (4 stars) and UrbanSpoon rating (93% like it) suggest it’s not going anywhere (but up!) any time soon.
Athletic and Lifestyle Companies
Company Name: Nike
Reason behind it: Named after the Greek goddess of victory.
| Pros | Cons | | Association with victory appeals to the customers the company wants to attract | Hard to pronounce if you’ve never seen the word before | | Unique and clever | | Brief and concise |
Conclusion: This is a very strong name, and I believe it has played a big role in the company’s success. The genius lies in the name’s simplicity; what other connotation would a sports brand want or need besides winning? In providing that implication from the get-go, Nike is conjuring an aura of achievement for its customers. Nike isn’t just a name: it’s an experience.
Company Name: Instant Replay Sports
Reason behind it: It is a new and used sporting goods and clothing store.
| Pros | Cons | | Has a clever and recognizable double meaning | Not very unique | | Simple, easy to remember | | Relates directly to its industry |
Conclusion: I like this name. It’s simple but clever, and it immediately engages the company’s ideal consumer. Straightforward and to the point, this name does exactly what it is supposed to do: make a great first impression with no conceptual obstacles.
Rating: A -
Office Supplies and Consumer Electronics
Company Name: Staples
Reason behind it: It’s an office supply chain, and staples are a, ahem, staple item within that market.
| Pros | Cons | | Has to do with the company’s products and industry | A little boring | | A simple, strong word that's easy to remember | | The word itself has visual appeal because of its symmetry, which makes for a great |
Conclusion: So it’s not the most creative name in the book, but it gets the job done. Not only does it connect the company with its industry immediately, but it’s uncomplicated and stable. When searching for the perfect name, don’t discount something because it seems too transparent or elementary...it could end up being your Staples!
Rating: A -
Company Name: CompUSA
Reason behind it: It sold consumer electronics, computer services and technology products in the United States.
| Pros | Cons | | Relates directly to its products | Boring, unoriginal | | Simple, easy to remember | It’s unpolished, unpleasant on the ears |
Conclusion: While CompUSA is a blend name which can be a great way to go (Microsoft, Netscape), it combines two very generic words that aren’t particularly descriptive of the range of products the company offers, or where they offer it. This inherently weakens it, as does its awkward juxtaposition. I’m not too surprised business didn’t last for these guys, who suffered continually low profit margins due to the high competition level of stores like Best Buy.
Rating: C -
Real Estate Agencies
Company name: Sotheby’s Realty
Reason behind it: Named after one of its founders, James Sotheby.
| Pros | Cons | | Distinctive and unique | Has nothing to do with the industry | | Has a regal air, capturing the spirit of luxury home buyers | Not that easy to remember | | Doesn’t limit potential growth by being overly specific | Hard to pronounce |
Conclusion: There are obvious risks associated with naming a company after yourself or a person you know. Customers may favor a company whose name promises some kind of solution to their problem, such as Market Basket vs. Wegman’s. A good product will help your name literally become a brand, which can open up lots of opportunities for your business. It can also tarnish you directly; if your business goes under, a part of your personal identity does as well. Sotheby’s is an example of a brand that has stood the test of time, and it remains an industry mogul despite being named after a person.
Rating: B +
Company name: Redfin
Reason behind it: It’s an anagram. If you mix up the letters, you can make “finder” and “friend” which emphasize what the founders would like you to see their company as: a friend who will help you find what you’re looking for.
| Pros | Cons | | Unique, interesting | The anagram only works if you know about it | | If you know about the anagram, the name has a positive association | | Easy to pronounce |
Conclusion: Having a name that can also be rearranged into something related and meaningful is a cool idea, but it’s more of a conversation starter than a good company title. Consider how many people the anagram is lost on; the only reason I knew about it was by accident. If you’re going to use a name that’s also a pun or a play on words, you need to make sure that it’s obvious. Otherwise, most of your customers will miss it and you will be left at a disadvantage.
Rating: B -
And The Winner is…
...Cafénation! I just love this name. It’s light, funky and it definitely makes me want to stop in for a cup o’ joe.
Although this list is by no means conclusive, I think it’s safe to say that a name can indeed play a large role in the success of your business. It can also play a medium role, or no role at all. The most important thing is that you provide your customers with premium products, use great marketing strategies and keep your brand and company values consistent.
That way, whether your business name is a cool word you stumbled upon in the dictionary, a term you made up, or something pulled from Greek mythology, people will have no choice but to associate it with success.
Your Turn: What do you think makes a good name? Do you agree with my ratings? Let me know what you think. If you want, I'll even rate your company name!