It’s one of the most important decisions you will make for your business—its name! Just like naming a human baby, naming your business can be stressful and challenging. You don’t want to pick something boring, or common, or overused, or offensive, or…the list goes on and on.
But what should you actually be debating when considering a company name?
The answer is yes…to all of them. Here’s how and what to consider:
For a business owner, especially a new business owner with a limited marketing budget, there is a definite advantage to naming your business in a way that includes the location. For example, a bar might call themselves Tipsy’s on 10th. A billiards hall could be named Broadway Billiards. A new pet grooming business? Grant Avenue Grooming. You get the idea.
The obvious benefit to this is stating plainly where you are located so there is no confusion. People often look for companies that are geographically close to their home or work, and stating where you are, in your name, will help identify exactly how close and convenient you are to them.
The only real downside is if you end up changing locations. No one will ever find 5th Street Book Depot if it’s located on Washington Avenue.
Stating the Obvious
Think Seattle’s Best Coffee or Lake Placid Pilates Studio. These are names that tell it how it is. They give a place and a product and leave very little to the imagination, but they are clear and on-message, always.
Some might consider this a little boring, but not every business name needs to be flashy. Sometimes simple and straightforward is best.
You should always avoid naming your company or product in a similar manner to your competitors.
At first you might find some obvious advantages (such as gaining clients from a name mix-up), but in the end this only causes brand confusion, dilutes the effectiveness of your advertising, and leaves you at the mercy of possible negative reviews from your competitors confused clientele.
Acronyms have been saying it all, quickly, since the beginning.
KOA – Knockout Athletics (also a tribute to the owner’s Hawaiian roots)
SCUBA – Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus
CNN – Cable Network News
NBA – National Basketball Association
Acronyms can offer the benefit of brevity while supplying the details of a longer description. The downside is that some letter groupings could mean absolutely nothing to most people (making them forgettable) or could, thanks to our text-heavy world, be translated into something unexpected and unwanted (DTF does NOT stand for Dang, That’s Funny).
Does using a random or unique word or words help aid in marketing and brand recognition? I’m guessing Starbucks would agree. Or Oreo. Or Amazon.
Choosing a name that is more “out-of-the-box” means taking a risk, but it’s also easier to trademark and easier to distinguish in your market. If you want to call your publishing company “Sunshine Kitty” just go for it. There are no rules.
The negative here? Having a completely obscure name could detract from what you do and you may not want to constantly explain the name and its origin or significance.
Who remembers the character “Dong” from either the movie Sixteen Candles or the recent TV show The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt? In both cases, there is a humorous association with a name that translates awkwardly.
Do your due diligence. If you are opening a restaurant in Hawaii…maybe don’t call it Okole Eats…even if your name is Robert Okole. Or if you do, be aware of the connotations and use them to your advantage.
I love a good pun! In fact, my fictitious shoe store (located in a shopping district with countless law firms nearby) was going to be called “So Shoe Me.” See what I did there?
If you can capitalize on a funny word play or expression, I say go for it. Just remember you need to approach your business and marketing with the same humorous irreverence that your name suggests.
Edward Jones. Wulfgang Puck’s. Ernst & Young. Linking your business with your name can be a pro and a con. On the one hand, it sets you up as an authority, or can capitalize on already established fame. On the other hand, what happens when you want to pass the business on or sell it? It’s also difficult to protect if you happen to have the same name as someone else.
Before you make any final decisions, be sure to check for domain availability. This goes right along the lines of checking for competitors and similar trademarked names. It’s not a total dealbreaker, but you want a business name that can translate easily to a web address.
Terms to Know
- Legal Name – the official name of the entity that owns the business
- Trade Name — a name a business uses in public
- Fictitious Business Name — sometimes referred to as a DBA (doing business as). This is used when a legal name and a trade name are different.
- Corporate Name — when a legal name is required to register with the state in order to be legally created. Can also be called an LLC name or Limited Partnership Name.
- Trademark — also called a “mark,“ and in some cases a “service mark” is a word, phrase, symbol, or design used to market a product of service.
- Business Name — this is kind of the catchall. It can refer to any of the above.
Whoa, that’s a lot of names. And totally confusing. Here’s a cheat sheet to help:
Legal Name: McDonald’s Corporation
Trade Name: McDonald’s
Trademarks/Service Marks: Big Mac, Golden Arches symbol
Legal Name: Kraft Foods, Inc.
Trade Name: Kraft
Trademarks/Service Marks: Cheez Whiz, “Good to the last drop” slogan for Kraft Maxwell House Coffee, JELL-O Gelatin
You get the idea.
How did you come up with your business name?