10 tips for naming a business or startup

10 min read
Ross Kimbarovsky

During the past 22 years, I’ve founded several companies and talked with thousands of entrepreneurs and small business owners. Here’s one common trait we’ve all shared: each of us struggled to come up with a great name for our new company. Whether you’re naming a business or a startup, you just might find yourself cursing under your breath.

If you’ve never named a company, you’ll quickly learn that naming is typically time-consuming, aggravating and frustrating. Still, a strong name is important. After all, 77 percent of consumers make purchases based on a brand name.

We spent more than 50 hours in 2007 when we came up with “crowdSPRING.” Some entrepreneurs easily spend more searching for a perfect name only to hit a wall. And even when they do come up with a perfect name, they still need to tie it to a domain name.

Naming is hard.

That’s one reason why we added company naming as a project category on crowdSPRING. Today, instead of spending dozens of hours looking for a name for a new company, I post a naming project on crowdSPRING and let the community of 200,000+ creatives find a great name (and domain!).

Afterwards, it takes me just a few minutes to register the domain with GoDaddy. That’s how I’ve come up with names for my other businesses. But if you’re looking to first take a stab at naming a business on your own, here are 10 useful tips to keep in mind.

10 tips for naming a business

  1. Think about what you want your name to convey.

  2. Brainstorm to identify possible names.

  3. Keep the name short, simple and easy to write and remember.

  4. Avoid names that are too narrow or too literal.

  5. Avoid decisions by committee, but test your name with others.

  6. Avoid plain words.

  7. Be careful with geographic names.

  8. Avoid obscure words.

  9. Avoid trends.

  10. Consider your competition and whether you can register a domain.

1. Think about what you want your name to convey.

Naming A Business Nike

Your company's name is an important part of your identity and brand. The name will appear on business cards, letterhead, promotional materials and more — not to mention your website.

Your name should identify your company and its products and/or services.

Service-oriented businesses should consider whether it will be easy for their prospective customers to recognize what services they provide. Examples like “Friendly Dog Walkers,” “Bright Accounting” or “Quickly Legal” all inherently point to the services available at that company.

Even if you’re freelancing and don’t yet have a separate company, you should consider creating a brand around your work.

2. Brainstorm to identify possible names.

Once you understand what you want your company name to convey, you should set aside some time to brainstorm. Consider words that:

  • Pertain to your industry, products or services
  • Describe your competitors in your field
  • Highlight the benefits of your products or services

Pro tip: Look up Greek and Latin translations of your words, as well as foreign words (Swahili is often a great choice) — you might unearth a few good ideas ideas.

Expect this process to take some time. It took us about 40+ hours to brainstorm and then another 10 to finalize names before we picked crowdSPRING. We went through many possible names.

GoDaddy’s domain search tool can be very useful when brainstorming.

When you do a search using that tool, you’ll get different extensions, such as .com, .net, etc., at the end of the web address. Plus, you’ll see names that are already taken, but available for sale or auction.

You can test out the tool here:

3. Keep the name short, simple and easy to write and remember.

The companies you admire typically have names that are short, simple, easy to write and easy to remember — Apple, Tesla, Virgin.

Obscure business names are often difficult to write and even more difficult to remember.

This is a problem for most small businesses because word-of-mouth advertising is an advantageous form of marketing. If your customers can’t remember your name, can’t spell it or can’t properly pronounce it for others, it will make it difficult for them to promote your business.

Don’t forget to consider the acronym of your company name. You might not use it, but your customers could refer to your business that way. A name such as “Apple Support Services” can result in an unfavorable acronym — ASS.

4. Avoid names that are too narrow or too literal.

Think about how your business could evolve over time, and make sure the name can transition with your company. For example, if you name your company “iPhone Accessories” and later expand to sell accessories for other products, your original name would be too narrow and restrictive.

The same advice applies even if your company sells a niche product.

Antique lamps could transition to antique furniture. Something like “Joan’s Antique Lamps” might be too limiting if you ever move into clocks or end tables. This is particularly relevant when choosing a domain name. Domain names can play an important role in search engine optimization (SEO), so if you pick a name that’s too narrow, you’ll negatively impact your SEO strategy.

One way to combine a more general name with a more specific extension is to look for extensions beyond the popular .com. Check out this helpful collection of articles for naming ideas specific to a variety of industries.

5. Avoid decisions by committee, but test your name with others.

It’s tempting to involve friends, family, employees and customers when finding a name for your company. Sometimes, this can work out, but there are risks. We’re all unique and naturally like different things — and different names. People might be upset if you don’t pick a name they think is great.

You’ll also find yourself trying to find consensus, which can lead to a very plain name.

If you must involve others, pick a small group of people who understand you and your business (and pick a mix of right-brain types and left-brain types for variety). Once you’ve selected a few possible choices, share them with a few trusted friends, family and customers to get some feedback.

Pro tip: Don’t just ask them which name they like best. Ask them why certain names ring true over others.

6. Avoid plain words.

Plain words make it very difficult to differentiate your company from your competitors. When we were naming crowdSPRING, there were many logo design businesses in the market. We wanted our name to grow as we expanded to other products, and we also didn’t want to go with “Great Logo Design” or “Many Designers” — it would have been descriptive, but not memorable and certainly not unique.

There are exceptions. General Electric is one of the most successful companies in the world, and its name is composed of two plain words. But General Electric was one of the first companies in its product/service category, and they were able to get away with a plain name by spending billions of dollars on marketing and advertising.

7. Be careful with geographic names.

Some people use their city, state or region as part of their company name. If you plan only to work in your city, this might serve you well. But a geographic name could hinder you later. One great example is Minnesota Manufacturing and Mining. Initially, the name worked because the business was focused on Minnesota. But once the company grew beyond their industry and the state of Minnesota, they needed to find a new name — 3M.

8. Avoid obscure words.

Company names that tell stories can be powerful and memorable (think about Google, for example). But obscure words or references might be difficult to spell or pronounce.

Be especially sensitive if you’re trying to target a mass audience.

Obscure or invented names can work — Xerox is a great example — but this often requires a huge marketing budget and tremendous effort.

You’ll want your company’s name to evolve as trends evolve, so be careful to identify trends and to avoid following them. In the late 1990s, it was trendy to use a “.com” after your company name if your company was an internet business. After the internet bubble burst, the “.com” became synonymous with having no business model, and the surviving companies quickly dropped “.com” from their names.

10. Consider your competition and whether you can register a domain.

Before solidifying anything, check your competitors’ names. It’s not uncommon to find similar, or even identical, names in different industries, but this can result in confusion for your customers and vendors. If your competitors are using the same name, you’ll expose yourself to possible litigation, and you’ll likely be unable to obtain trademark protection for your company name.

Look for a company name that’s also available for registration as a domain.

The good news is that while .com domains continue to be popular, they’ve become less important for SEO purposes. There are many great alternatives, and it sometimes makes sense to consider different extensions.

With more extensions to choose from, there are now more options to extend your brand to more specific verticals. When purchasing a domain, it’s important to consider the different variations of the domain and extension to make sure that a competitor cannot directly copy your company and confuse your customers.

In addition to brand protection, extended domain ownership gives companies the opportunity to own product specific domains, giving companies the ability to differentiate and uniquely target their products/customers.

I’m not suggesting you register every variation of your company’s name — there are simply too many possibilities. But be strategic. And whatever you do, don't make the mistake of operating under one name, but having a URL pointing to a completely different name. Company names that differ from their domains creates confusion and frustration, ultimately hindering the brand.

In conclusion

So there you have it. 10 tips for naming a business or a startup. Let’s recap:

  1. Think about what you want to convey. Make your industry and/or your products and services known.
  2. Brainstorm. Dedicate plenty of time to naming your business — you don’t want to do it twice.
  3. Keep it short, simple and easy to remember/spell. You want customers to spread the news about your brand, so make it easy with a simple name.
  4. Don’t be too narrow or too literal. Even in niche industries, the last thing you want to do is box yourself in. Make sure your name encompasses your potential business growth.
  5. Avoid decisions by committee. The peanut gallery is great — when used strategically. Only select a specific few to help you solidify your name.
  6. Avoid plain words. Even if you’re being specific to your products or services, going too broad will only hurt your chances of being found.
  7. Be careful with geographic names. Unless you only plan on doing in business in one set location, steer clear of set regions within your name.
  8. Avoid obscure words. Obscure words are hard to spell and remember. See tip No. 3.
  9. Avoid trends. You want your business name to stand the test of time. Don’t fall prey to a trend and be forced to change it later.
  10. Consider your competition and domain registration potential. Having a presence online is incredibly important, and you want that to tie into your company name.

If you keep these naming tips in mind, you’ll be sure to find yourself a great company name. And if you need a little extra help, consider visiting crowdSPRING for help with naming.