5 Smart Tips for Naming Your Startup Business
Updated: Apr 16
You're at a standstill until you get a name for your startup. Although this may not provide much comfort at the moment, please know you're not alone.
It can be frustrating that the majority of what remains on your to-do list can't be completed until you finally choose a name.
Over the course of the next several weeks, with the help of my branding team, I'm going to dig deep into the topic of naming your business.
We'll address many of the questions and concerns that tend to come up during the course of one of our branding projects.
However, today's post is an overview of some general business naming principles, and should be a helpful guide for those of you who are just beginning to ask, "How do I find the perfect name for my business?"
First, a quick summary:
5 Smart Tips for Naming Your Startup Business
1. Decide what role you want your name to play. What is the purpose of your name?
2. Create objective criteria for your name. Focus on a short list of objective, measurable requirements.
3. Make sure your name is easy to say, spell and remember. Does your name create a memorable connection?
4. Don't stress over your domain. Be flexible, and focus on a great name first.
5. Don't allow your name to limit future expansion. Avoid rebranding by planning ahead.
1. Decide what role you want your name to play.
What is the main purpose of your name when you consider your target audience?
Your what? If you haven't taken a good solid look at your target audience, you should probably take a few steps back and do some research first. Take what you learn and create a persona or two. Google persona to learn more - you'll find lots of great information about how to go about this. It will be difficult to craft a name for an audience you aren't familiar with.
When someone looks at your name, do you want them to know beyond a shadow of a doubt what industry you're in, or what products or services you provide?
Do you want your name to serve as a conversation starter, or as a way to capture the attention and curiosity of someone so they want to learn more?
Would you like your name to make the person who sees it do a double-take, then smile, or even laugh out loud when they see how clever or funny it is?
Do you want your name to be unique, so that it stands out from the other names in your industry?
Do you want your name to be perceived as smart? Would you like your chosen name to receive respect and admiration from your audience as well as others in your industry who wish they would have thought of it?
Takeaway: Focus on one main role for your business name. Putting too much responsibility on one little name is unrealistic and will result in frustration.
2. Create objective criteria for your name.
What criteria does your name need to meet in order to be considered?
First, keep your list short. I would suggest 3-5 items on your list.
Remember, don't put the weight of the world on your name's shoulders. Your name is just the beginning of your brand, and so it shouldn't be required to do everything.
You'll have fonts, colors, a logo, a tagline, a brand story, a website, social media, emails, and numerous other marketing collateral that will all work together to contribute to how your brand is perceived.
Second, keep your criteria objective.
By any chance, is the word "catchy" on your list of criteria?
Please replace it with something a bit more measurable. This is harder than it sounds, too.
Catchy to you might not be catchy to me.
Write down all the names you can think of that you feel are "catchy." Do they have similarities? What do you notice about your list?
Maybe most of them are under eight characters long.
Catchy = Under 8 characters long.
Maybe several of them use alliteration.
Catchy = Uses alliteration.
You may discover a particular style of name you're drawn to, like one word names, made-up names, metaphorical names, or blended names.
Another way to approach this is to make a list of names that you don't feel are catchy. What similarities do you notice about these?
Takeaway: Focus on a short list of objective, measurable criteria for your name. Be prepared to be flexible, though. You may get into the process and realize that what you thought you wanted isn't what you actually want at all. This is actually quite common, so don't fret. Switch gears, make a new list, and keep going.
3. Make sure your name is easy to say, spell and remember.
If you said your new brand name to a client over the phone, would he or she know how to spell it? Will people know how to pronounce your name when they see it? If not, you may want to think twice. This doesn't mean your name can't be made up or be a combination of words , but it will be easier on you if your name is spelled like it sounds, or if it's easy to explain how to spell it.
"Wickle. Just like pickle, except with a "w."
When you're at a networking event, meeting, or tradeshow, and you tell someone the name of your company, do you want the response to be a head tilt, a squint, and a "What was that again?"
It's actually okay to have a misspelled word if the majority of your marketing will be visual. Your audience will become so familiar with your awesome logo, they'll have no problem remembering that your name ends with i instead of y. I don't, however, recommend going hog wild with crazy spellings so you end with a brand name like Phungcki Qychn.
I'm pretty sure you'll be the only one pronouncing it Funky Kitchen.
There's nothing wrong with made-up names, and these can actually come in quite handy when it comes to trademarks, securing a domain and SEO.
Try to make sure that there is something about the name, though, that will give everyone's overloaded brains something to grab on to. Your target audience needs to create some sort of relationship with a brand name in order to remember it.
Let's say you are selling a new brand of dog toy. Which name is more memorable - Zingly or Zark?
Zingly doesn't really give my brain anything to grab on to, but Zark reminds me of Bark, plus, as a bonus it's related to dogs.
I am going to remember Zark the next time I'm in the market for a new dog toy because my brain has connected an unknown term (Zark) to a known term (bark).
Takeaway: Make sure your name is spelled like it sounds, and that there it something about it that will make it memorable.
4. Don't stress over your domain.
If you haven't noticed, domains are like real estate, and the supply of available domains continues to decrease, while the demand for domains continues to rise.
A 3-letter domain, Flo.com, sold last weekend for $127,258.
If you're looking for a 4-letter domain, they're gone. No, really.
Every single 4-character domain has been registered. You might be able to convince a domain investor to sell one of these to you for thousands and thousands of dollars, but many domain owners are in buy and hold mode for the foreseeable future. Five-letter .com domains are still available, but - they're going fast.
Our most successful (and fun) branding projects are the ones that are "idea-led" as opposed to "domain-led." Exact-match .com, domain-led projects often squelch amazing ideas because they don't fit into the tiny box of requirements.
AHEM: "The domain must be exactly 6 characters, must have two syllables, must start with the letter b, must be easy to say, spell and pronounce, must be available as an exact match .com, and must express our company's focus on rodent fitness as well as equal rights for gerbils."
Good luck with that.
An idea-led project means we are free to let creativity lead, and focus completely on finding an amazing name for you. Once we have a semi-short shortlist, then we get busy finding suitable domains.
Add an industry definer to a name to secure your domain. If you're selling skateboards for hamsters and you love the name Wheelie, Wheelie.com may not be available, but WheelieHamster.com or WheelieBoards.com might be.
Alternative extensions are also a great option, and even though some of the most popular ones, like .net, .org and .co are becoming quite competitive, being open to using something else besides .com creates many more affordable and available domain options.
Many new businesses purchase an alternative extension domain or add definers or modifiers to secure a domain, while planning to acquire the more costly exact match .com later on.
Please understand, though, that acquiring a domain is not the same thing as registering a trademark. A trademark attorney can run a comprehensive clearance search on your name to determine if there is anything standing in the way of a successful trademark registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
Takeaway: Be flexible, and focus on a great name before you focus on a domain.
5. Don't allow your name to limit future expansion.
I get it. Right now, 100% of your focus is on creating the absolute best hamster skateboard on the market. Brilliant. But - what about 5 years down the road? What if you decide to start selling hamster roller skates? What if hedgehog hoverboards become a thing and you want to get in on the trend?
If you go with WheelieHamster as your name, that will make it tough to expand your brand to hedgehogs or to other pet products without wheels.
Take some time to think carefully. Will your new name still be a good fit for you five years down the road? What you want to do is avoid rebranding if at all possible. It's a huge pain, and is also quite costly. It pays off later on to take a bit of extra time to make sure the brand name you choose will cover any potential expansions or changes that might be a possibility.
Takeaway: Make sure the name you choose is flexible enough to expand with you.
Whether you're rebranding your company or just starting the search for a great business or startup name, these 5 tips will prepare you for the process of building a powerful brand.