How to Name Your Business
Your Name is Your Pitch
When entrepreneurs start a new venture, they can often be found at sites like Hover and GoDaddy, plugging in various URLs to figure out what they should name their company.
We can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard someone say, “we couldn’t think of anything so we just picked something where we could get a .com.”
It’s not really the best tactic. After all, how can you name your business perfectly if you’re relying on the internet to feed you its suggestions?
Let’s imagine we’re trying to name an app that helps brides create their wedding seating plans. We’d plug something like this in to Hover, a site where you can buy domains.
You have to admit-- these names are pretty boring.
Your name is literally the first thing anyone hears you say when you talk about your company. Your name is your pitch.
So, let’s get to work coming up with awesome names. Here are some best practices and ideas for success.
Make it Easy to Spell and Say
One of the reasons we changed our name from GotVMail to Grasshopper was because it was hard for people to spell. We do radio advertisements, so it’s important that people understand our name right when they hear it.
If your name is easy to spell and say, it makes it that much easier for people to find your website, connect with you on social media, and gush about you to colleagues and friends.
A lot of people run into trouble when they incorporate their last names into their business names because they can be hard to spell. If you believe it’s the right choice, go for it, but remember people might have trouble when it comes time to search you on the web.
Avoid numbers, letters, abbreviations, alternate spellings, and anything else that might trip people up.
Choose a Kooky Name to Get the URL You Want
Because so many URLs are taken, entrepreneurs are starting to pick out random made up words for their businesses. Kaggle, a platform for data scientists, is a good example. The word is completely random-- and its founders chose it for that reason.
Anthony Goldbloom of Kaggle wrote an algorithm to find a startup name. He wanted to find all pronounceable combinations of letters whose URLS weren’t already gobbled up. When his program spit out Kaggle and Sumble, he and his colleagues chose Kaggle.
You don’t have to create an algorithm, but it might be a good idea to make up a random (but pronounceable) word for your startup. Entrepreneurs who’ve done this are happy their name is distinct, allowing them to build a totally unique brand.
Use .co, .io, .net or Another Alternative
We’re all after the elusive .com, but tons of successful startups have opted for other endings such as .fm, .net, .co, .org, and others.
If you have your heart set on Lovebirds.com, try out Lovebirds.is or Lovebirds.me.
Clarity.fm, HelpScout.net, canary.is, and directr.co have all opted for alternative endings because many .coms come with hefty price tags or are simply unavailable.
Get creative-- sometimes you can incorporate your business name into your web domain. We know a guy whose name is Tim Willis. His personal photography website is TimWill.is. Clever, right? Makes us want to get Grasshopp.er.
Be Relevant and Relatable to Your Audience
Names like Kaggle are fun, and distinct, but … wait … what does Kaggle do again? If your company does something unique, then you might want to stick with a conventional name. Otherwise, you might confuse people.
When people hear or see Garment Valet, they get the hunch that someone’s about to do their laundry. The name Unbounce is another great example, as the company helps reduce bounce rates for landing pages (effectively unbouncing them).
You can try out Bust-A-Name to see if you can couple your specialties with an available domain name.
Change Your Name if You Have to
Changing your company name from CuteCoffeeCups to Camby is a huge undertaking, but don’t shy away from changing your name if it’s just not working for you. Just make sure you have a good reason (or multiple good reasons), as well as a PR strategy in place to get the word out about the change.
SEOmoz recently changed their name to Moz in an effort to rebrand and shed the weighted SEO label. Although Moz is passionate about SEO, they felt that their brand embodied so much more than optimizing websites for Google search results. They wanted a company name that would reflect that.
Not only did Moz make the change, but they launched a new product at the same time, and detailed their reasoning in a lengthy blog post by the CEO. The new product coupled with the transparent reasoning helped Moz to gain ground when they made the change, rather than lose it.
Beware: Changing your name is a huge to-do and not to be taken lightly. Make sure you have a kick-butt promotional campaign to go along with your name change.
Pick Names that Make People Feel Good
Your customers are the most important people in your company, so make sure you pick a name that makes them feel good. If they feel fun and free when they're using your product or services, they'll be happy they chose you.
You can pick a name that makes people feel cool, smart, fun, or kind. Consider using an animal in your name to boost happiness. MailChimp has Freddie, a monkey mascot, that pops up in the user portal. MailChimp is a B2B product, but it’s still fun, playful, and lighthearted. (We think Freddie really helps).
Choose a happy-go-lucky name that makes customers feel as though they’ve made the right choice.
Pick a Word You Like and Add an Ending
This principle is how we came up with our Startup Name Generator. So many companies are cropping up with -co, -biz, -able, -ly, and -ify tagged on.
These tags are cute, easy to say, and allow you to use a relevant word with a creative ending. Consider going beyond the conventional endings and giving yourself a totally zany and unexpected one. (We haven’t seen many names ending in –zo, -eep or -hopper).
A word of caution: The use of these suffixes has become a popular trend, and some startups are getting a little flack for relying on these conventions rather than coming up with creative names. If you use one of these endings, you risk sounding like every other startup out there.
Avoid Being the Butt of a Joke
Ever hear of the automobile named Chevrolet Nova? Sounds like a good name, right? Well, think again. The Spanish translation for “no va” means “it doesn’t go.” Ouch, not the best name for a car.
With over 35 million Spanish-speaking people in the United States and more throughout Latin America, “Nova” clearly isn’t the best name choice, despite Chevy’s starry-eyed intentions.
Analogic is another example of a so-so name. It’s hard not to see the first four letters when reading it, despite best intentions (tee-hee).
Check to make sure the name you choose works in different languages, especially if you plan to market your products and services globally. Be sure to look into any unexpected and compromising meanings and connotations when selecting your business name.
Rely on Testing & Real Data
Will Mitchell, serial entrepreneur and founder of StartupBros recommends that you A/B test a couple of different names to figure out what really resonates.
“It seems everybody thinks they should get their naming advice from friends, family, and Facebook friends – I suspect out of desperation. That is a stupid thing to do. I would much rather A/B test my possible business names to find out exactly how much more or less receptive my target audience would be with each name.”
Will tested StartupBros against a host of others to see which ones were best. He recommends using Unbounce‘s free trial and making quick logos using Creatr.cc.
Ultimately, Will found that StartupBros performed 13% better than his original name idea, IncomeLabs.
Take a hint from Will. Taking the time to test a name can make all the difference.
Get a Web Domain, Vanity Email, and Phone Number
Get a Matching Domain Name
Some argue that you should check and see if you can get the domain name before naming your business. Some decide on a name based on what they can get online. Go to hover.com and figure out if the name you want is available. If it is, buy it! Whether your business is a brick-and-mortar location or an online service, you’re going to need a searchable domain name.
Example options for WeBuildApps:
And a Vanity Email Address…
Don’t use your personal email account for business purposes - it’s unprofessional, confusing, and archaic. Get a vanity email to match your domain. (You can get them easily through Hover). Be email@example.com instead of firstname.lastname@example.org
Add a Phone Number…
If you want people to be able to contact you, you’ll need a phone number. You can get local and toll free numbers that complement your business and its services. A vanity number with your business name can help, too. Having a phone number on your website actually increases conversions.
Phone numbers for WeBuildApps:
Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Your Actual Name
Many people name their business after themselves. For example, a marketing consultant named Alison Canty might name her business The Canty Agency. This is practical and immediately aligns the business with you, but it is not always a good idea.
- Business is immediately associated with *you* and your expertise.
- Practical for sole proprietors and professionals such as real estate agents, architects, accountants, lawyers, and consultants.
- Unlikely that the business names has been trademarked or used already.
- Domain names are more likely available.
- Associates the business with an entire family.
- Promotes an intimate, handmade company culture.
- Names can be hard to spell and say.
- If the business grows, services may no longer be touched by the owner, creating a disconnect.
- Customers and clients may always want to work directly with the owner.
- These names make a business seem small, intimate, and person-to-person, suggesting it will not grow into a large corporation.
- Not appealing to investors looking to take a business to the next level.
- Can appear self-interested and indulgent.
Check for Trademarks
A trademarked name protects businesses from being copied. The good news is that if you trademark your name, others can’t steal it or pose as you. The bad news is that many businesses have trademarked their names, making it impossible for you to use theirs. These trademark issues can limit your options, but it’s extremely important to look into trademarks so you don’t get into trouble down the line.
- To get going on trademarking, visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's Web site.
- Make sure someone else hasn't already snapped up your trademark by searching the Trademark Electronic Search System database on the same website.
- Don’t try to add a .com or .net to differentiate your business name.
A name might sound great in your own head but seem kind of stupid to someone outside your circle. Ask people what they think.
Many entrepreneurs and startup founders turn to Quora and reddit, where you can post your name and ask for suggestions. Amusing and helpful discussions have unfolded on both of these sites.
Check out these threads and discussions if you’re looking for input: