Creative business names and how to find yours

7 min read
Tanya Abdul Jalil

Coming up with a creative business name often starts out as a playful adventure, but can quickly turn headache-inducing when you realise someone else nabbed your dream name first. If you’re lucky, the perfect name may just appear in your mind and you’ll know it’s the right one straightaway. But for most business owners, it takes a little time and fiddling to find a creative business name that suits their brand.

The best company names:

  • Come across as professional
  • Are relevant to what you do
  • Are easy to remember

It’s the first impression people will get of your business so it needs to have instant appeal.

Have a name you like? Check to see if the matching domain is available now

Brands you know with creative business names

We’re surrounded by business names all day, every day. Here are a few of the most iconic company names, along with a little background on each:

  • Nike comes from the goddess of victory in ancient Greek religion.
  • Jeff Bezos chose Amazon because he wanted something exotic starting with an A and his first idea, Abra Cadabra was too close to Cadava.
  • When the team at Coca-Cola were asked to brainstorm a name for a new drink, they were told to ‘fantasie,’ which is German for use your imagination. One of the salesmen responded, Fanta.
  • “Leg godt” means play well in Danish, which led to the name Lego.

Sometimes a business name needs to be changed, even if it’s a well-established brand. Like for the refurbishment brand ISIS, which officially changed its name to SHAPE in 2015.

How to come up with your own breakthrough name

Woman Holding a Fiber Optic Light to her Forehead

Staring at a blank screen waiting for the perfect name to pop into your head is the worst way to come up with a business name. Think about all of your best ideas, where did they happen?

Often, people get sudden inspiration:

  • In the shower
  • When they’re out walking
  • While chatting with a friend

It helps to focus on the task for a period, then “look away” for a day or two. Your mind will keep working on it even if you’re not actively thinking about it.

Jot down all the words that come to mind

Start by writing down all the words related to your business and industry. Just spill it all onto the page.

Then think about what you want to be known for and add that in too. Next, think about the types of feelings you want your business to be associated with, for example strong and loud or soft and nurturing.

For inspiration

If you’re stuck with how to define your business, doing a Brand Archetypes quiz can be a great way to get started.

After answering a few questions about your business values, you’ll get a list of characteristics that you can use to come up with a name that fits.

When you brainstorm, it creates space for new ideas.

Each word or phrase you come up with starts to make connections and suddenly you can’t write your ideas down fast enough. Now try:

  • Mashing two words together
  • Creating an acronym for your industry

Sometimes coming up with the catchphrase or tagline first can help get your creative juices flowing.

Let’s do some word play

Now that you’ve got a feel for what you’re looking for, it’s time to search for the word that sums it all up.

Group Having a Business Meeting
When you’re brainstorming the more heads, the better.

Here are some clever ways to make a business name that might one day make the list of the world’s best company names:

1. Look at the words for your business in a foreign language

This is a fun exercise, but know that you need to be aware of cultural sensitivities. Make sure you check that any words you choose from another language are respectful to that culture before you use them in your business name.

2. Consider geography

Take inspiration from places — this could be neighborhoods, towns or countries. For example, an Italian restaurant located in Perth might name itself for a town in Italy known for this type of food.

3. Make an acronym

Did you know that H&M stands for Hennes and Maruitz? Or IKEA is a blend of the founder’s name (Ingvar Kamprad), the farm he grew up on (Elmtaryd) and his hometown (Agunnaryd)? Inspiration is everywhere.

4. Mash two words together

Blend two words together (known as a portmanteau) like seashell and football. For example:

  • Microsoft is a portmanteau of microcomputer and software
  • Groupon blends group and coupon

This tactic coins a whole new word that hints at your product or service.

5. Try homonyms

These are words that have two meanings but are spelt the same, such as current, which means both water moving in a certain direction and happening now.

6. Have a favourite character?

Man with Umbrella Walking by Restaurant Named Arch Duke

Fictional character names can be used — as long as they’re not trademarked or you have trademark permission.

For example, Crusoe may be safe as the author has been deceased for a long time. This might be a great name for a shop that provides camping supplies.

7. Consider an anagram

An anagram is a word made by rearranging the letters contained in another word. These work well as long as they’re easy to pronounce. Anagram your name and see what you get.

8. Be literal

Another trick is to focus on the elements or tools used in the business, for example:

  • Toys R Us
  • It’s a Grind
  • Total Tools

If you’re completely stuck, there are loads of free online business name generators to try such as Wordoid.

Related: The difference between a trade name and a business name

Before you fall in love with a name

When you’re ready to settle on a name, you’ll need a few resources at hand to make sure it’s available. ASIC (the Australian Securities and Investments Commission) makes this easy with their business name availability tool.

ASIC Online Business Name Search Tool
Once you have a few names you like, check ASIC to see if any are in use already.

Next, visit IP Australia and the USPTO site to see if the name you want is trademarked in Australia or the USA.

To be really thorough, it’s worth getting a lawyer to look into it as well.

What to do if you strike out

Sadly, many of the best business names have already been snapped up, especially in industries just crying out for pun-based names like hairdressers and florists.

One of my favourite ways to find a unique name is to get onto Google Translate and find different variations of industry-related words.

This opens up a world of languages, and if you have a special connection with a particular language, it can add a new dimension to your brand story.

Some languages that are close to the English translations offer great alternatives. For example, hairdresser can become:

  • Kapper (Dutch)
  • Frizer (Croatian)
  • Huluhulu (Hawaiian)

Flowers could become blumen (German), fleurs (French) or flori in Romanian.

You’ll want to make sure that your potential name isn’t going to offend anyone so try searching for the name online, with different spellings and test it out on different cultures before you get too far into your branding.

Last step: make it official

Once you’ve got the perfect name, it’s time to make it official!

Get your lawyer to check for any trademark or IP issues with your chosen name
Head over to ASIC and register the name so no one else can use it
Register the matching domain name, including any variations you want to keep away from potential competitors

Now you’re ready to order your store signage and shipping labels!

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