9 branding blunders to avoid when choosing a company name

7 min read
Marc Dussault

When choosing a company name, the best advice is to avoid the most common mistakes people make trying to come up with cool/fun business names. Assuming you want your business to thrive, there really is a lot riding on your company name. After all, you’ll (hopefully) be saying it for years to come.

Naming a company: 9 common pitfalls

Here are nine things to avoid when choosing a business name:

  1. Letting the “committee” decide.

  2. Employing the “Picasso” naming method.

  3. Trying to speak to everyone.

  4. Playing the name fame game.

  5. The Napoleon trap.

  6. Trying to be too clever.

  7. Stopping with dot com.

  8. Not rejecting a bad name soon enough.

  9. Being unable to make the decision.

Read our top business naming mistakes, then check out our tips on doing it right.

1. Letting the “committee” decide

We live in a democratic society, and it seems like the right thing to do to involve everyone — your friends, family, employees and clients — in an important decision like naming your business. After all, one never knows where a bright idea is going to come from.

Company Name Peacock
A company name is too important to leave to a group — no matter how much you like them.
Photo: Papaioannou Kostas on Unsplash

Anyone who’s ever tried to get a group to agree knows this is a lost cause. Sure, you can ask for input, but the ultimate decision has to be up to one person: you.

2. Employing the “Picasso” naming method

When forced to come up with a groovy, new-age, wild business name, many aspiring entrepreneurs simply take two-part words and mash them together in what appears to be a Picasso moment. In most cases, this results in something similar to what a fifth grader would conjure up.

3. Trying to speak to everyone

Another common naming blunder? Using words so plain, boring and generic they’ll never attract the clients you really want.

You know you’re in trouble when you think “YES! We’ve got the category covered because we have a really generic business name.”

4. Playing the name fame game

Let’s face it, no business entrepreneur wakes up in the morning to go to work to build a business no one will ever want to buy. But if it’s named after him or her, that’s exactly what’s happening.

Don’t play the fame game with your business name. The number of companies named after people that are bought (and persist) are rare — companies like Bloomberg and Turner Broadcasting are the exceptions, not the norm.

5. The Napoleon trap

Once past the literal, descriptive word choices, your thought process will most likely turn to metaphors. These can be great if they’re not overused to the point of being trite, but most of the time they are.

Company Name Peacock
Resist the tendency toward overblown metaphors (unless you can live up to them).
Photo: Sarah Kilian on Unsplash

For example, since many (usually small) companies think of themselves as the top in their industry, the world is full of names like Summit, Apex, Pinnacle and so on. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with these business names, they’re overused and are now seen as an attempt to sound bigger than you are — overcompensating for your lack of size. Savvy consumers can see through the charade and it often works against you.

6. Trying to be too clever

Avoid a business name idea so obscure or obtuse that customers will never know what it means. If it’s not directly obvious, don’t go there. It’s great for a name to have a special meaning or significance — it can be used to tell the company’s story and communicate a message. But if your strategies don’t support it holistically, you are probably creating an obstacle that doesn’t need to be there. Whenever you think you’re being clever, that’s a warning sign.

7. Stopping with dot com

Lots of businesses see being relevant on the internet as a key driver for their name. So much so that they end up with company name concoctions that even Campbell’s Soup couldn’t have imagined — all because the correctly spelled .com wasn’t available. There are exceptions that have worked out … Flickr, Tumblr and Scribd come to mind. But these are exceptions whose success was fueled by BILLIONS of marketing dollars.

If the .com or .com.au of your favourite company name isn’t available, consider one of the growing number of domain extensions listed here. You might find more to choose from here because they haven’t been around as long as .com. Read this post for tips on selecting domain names.

Check to see if the name you want is available:

8. Not rejecting a bad name soon enough

This is business — it isn’t personal. Often business owners know that they have a problem with their selected name but stubbornness or pride prevents them from changing it. Don’t be like them.

9. Being unable to make the decision

This is the single most detrimental of all business branding blunders. You are the owner, CEO or managing director. You have the responsibility to make the decision(s) that are in the best interests of the shareholders and other stakeholders.

You have the obligation to make sure your business name attracts the type of clients you want, rather than those who will simply waste your valuable time, effort and resources.

Company Name Indecision
Your business name is just the first of many decisions you’ll have to make.
Photo: Melanie Wasser on Unsplash

Branding has everything to do with positioning your company where you want it to be. You have to have the courage and foresight to know what that is and then name your company accordingly.

Tips on doing it right

Since I don’t want to leave you empty handed, here are a few tips on getting a company name you’ll be proud of. Read my related post “Business name ideas: How to pick one that sticks!” for more.

  • Use a company name generator like Wordnik, Anadea or WordLab Business Name Generator.
  • Start with a concept or idea then use an online tool to find synonyms for those words for company name ideas.
  • Think about what would make immediate sense to your future clients. You might also check out the names of other companies that offer similar products or services.

Many people do several of these, keeping a thesaurus open next to a company name generator and seeing where it takes them. Once you have a few names you like, check with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) to see if any of them have been claimed by another business. This might knock a few off your list.

Company Name Domain Search
To have a website or an email with your business name in it, you’ll need a domain name.

With your short list in hand, open a domain search tool like GoDaddy’s and type the business names you’re considering into the box. Within seconds, you’ll find out which domain names are available, along with dozens of related options if your favourites have already been registered.

Since your domain name will serve as your web address, it’s smart to have one that matches your company name exactly. You don’t want to run the risk of confusing customers by having one name on your shop door and a variation of it on your virtual door.

Be smart about your company name

As in all things, there are many wrong ways to go about naming a business and just a few ways that lead to success. So do your research, spend some time mulling it over, then muster the courage to make a decision. If you’re lucky, you’ll be living with it for years to come.