How To Come Up With a Business Name

Your business name together with your logo are the most exposed elements of your brand, yet many entrepreneurs disregard the power of naming.

Naming a business:

1. Stay objective
2. Do your research
3. Process is key
4. Types of names
5. Don’t rely on trends
6. What makes a good name
7. Getting creative
8. Evaluating names

Naming a business pose a challenge for many entrepreneurs, some of them realize that fact, others don’t seem to care much.

Coming up with a business name is a very important step in launching a company.

It’s easy to think anyone can come up with a good name, but it’s more complicated than that.

Naming can be one of the hardest parts of branding a business.

A name idea can come from anywhere, but getting buy in and seeing it through is tough.

Coming up with interesting name ideas isn’t usually a problem, but the challenge is to evaluate and judge those name ideas.

Many of them ends up in a trash can.

Entrepreneurs usually say something like this:

I will know it when I see it!

Which automatically implies that you want to fall in love with your name.

This is rarely the case because naming a business is a very rigorous process.

Staying objective during the naming process.
Staying objective during the naming process.

The key is to stay objective – subjectivity will not prevail.

If you don’t know how to approach the naming process, if you don’t have any framework in place – then it’s like shooting the ducks blindfolded.

What happens oftentimes is that clients schedule a free consultation with me just to ask this:

Which name is better? A or B or C – what do you think?

They tell me that they’ve been trying to find a name for several months but can’t make a decision.

They fill stuck and need help.

Stay objective

It’s virtually impossible not to infer your own personal experiences and prejudices on to the meaning and suitability of a name.

The hardest part of naming is staying objective.

If it takes long months to come a with a name or if you feel like you’re having a hard time arriving on something that you’re 100% satisfied with – this is most likely because you’re not being objective.

You’re all over the place: Hey maybe this, or maybe that one.

It’s not about “maybe” – you need to define criteria first.

If your gut feeling tells you it’s terrible, it probably is.

One of the most important, crucial, fundamental principles is to decide what you want your new name to do for you right as you begin, not later on in the process.

Answering these 10 questions will help you define objectives:

  • What’s the offer?
  • How will it evolve?
  • Who’s it for?
  • What’s distinctive?
  • What’s its personality?
  • How should it make people feel?
  • What should it make them do?
  • Is there a parent brand?
  • What’s the history?
  • What’s the context?

Don’t get me wrong – instinct has a rightful place at the table, but you have to stay objective.

Staying on brand and on strategy is crucial, because ultimately its about what works.

Do your research

Often a name candidate won’t be available as a url, or as a handle on social media or they name is just taken by one of your competitors.

You will have to do A LOT of research.

Anyone can freely and cheaply register a web address, meaning there are more owned than properly used.

The trademark repository is ever-growing too.

Trademarks can be held indefinitely and only need to be renewed every 10 years.

Once they’re secured and protected, they tend to stay that way.

That’s why doing the homework is important in the process of naming your business.

Process is key

Finding the ‘right’ business name is never easy, neither is defining what’s right and for who.

Lateral thinking is great, but rigorous process never goes amiss.

Naming is a creative process and different naming agencies use different methods.

The naming process: discover, brief, generate, filter, select.
The naming process.

It’s vital to have a structured conversations and establish clear parameters and process at the outset.

Here’s our naming process:

  1. Discover
    First, we experience. We immerse ourselves and act like the customers.
  2. Strategize
    Next, we synthesize everything we’ve learned and draw insights.
  3. Generate
    Then, we brainstorm a long list, using different thematic start points.
  4. Filter
    We filter to a short list using the criteria from the brief + research.
  5. Select
    We present the best options and select a winner with the client.

Developing ideas within boundaries and presenting a well-considered argument holds the project together.

Having a framework allows you to evaluate your ideas quickly and make decisions fast.

Check my Naming Guide if you’re for a framework that professional naming agencies use (with exercises and worksheets).

Once you have the overview of the process, let’s understand what are the different types of names and see some examples.

This will give you a lot of points of reference in the “generate” phase.

Types of names

There aren’t hard and fast lines between different categories of names and they apply to organizations, products and services alike.

Types of business names
Types of business names

Different experts/agencies categorize names in their unique way – for example in my other article I describe 5 types of brand names.

However, consider these as the three most basic name categories:

1. Descriptive

Descriptive names immediately conveys an idea of the ingredients, qualities or characteristics of the goods or services.

American Airlines, Toys R Us, General Motors, Ray Ban, Whole Foods, Crunch.

They just describe the service or product that you offer and the names are usually derived from product features or brand attributes.

Descriptive names - pros & cons
Pros and cons of descriptive names.

Here are some advantages/disadvantages of using descriptive names:

Pros:

  • Describes a particular feature or benefit.
  • If focused on a point of difference, it can set a product apart from competitors.
  • Literal, easy to get and not costly to build.
  • It can reinforce a master brand, when launching an entirely new name isn’t necessary.
  • Ideal for products with a short life cycle and low marketing budget.

Cons:

  • Might be restrictive for the organization or misleading for the consumer.
  • It can also be difficult to secure and protect.
  • Anyone can easily steal the name.
  • If it’s too literal it won’t sound special at all and won’t be remembered.
  • Works only so in one language, won’t work the same way in a foreign language market.

2. Evocative

Evocative names take a lateral leap and have symbolic value. They’re metaphors or mnemonics – shortcuts to bigger concepts

e.g. Yahoo, Apple, Virgin, Nike, Patagonia, Amazon, Bing, Google, Visa Dive, Uber, Slack.

They usually convey a bigger idea and stem from a positioning strategy.

Evocative names - pros & cons
Pros and cons of evocative names.

Here are some advantages/disadvantages of using evocative names:

Pros:

  • Multi-dimensional, suggestive and pack more emotional punch.
  • Useful when a product is differentiated from competitors for functional reasons,.
  • Effective for early entrants in a business sector and tend to be easier to trademark.
  • Open, allowing room for business development in a number of directions.

Cons:

  • You need help people understand what you offer (in contrast to descriptive).
  • Require initial marketing spend and careful messaging planning.
  • Value proposition isn’t instantly clear.

3. Abstract

Abstract names are invented words that aren’t obviously linked to a product or offer.

e.g. Verizon, Kodak, Skype, Exxon, Xerox, Vivo, Hulu, Zappos, Marketo, Spotify, Tinder, Tivo

They might be either totally made up words, or sometimes they origin in something relevant or combine words to create a new, fabricated word.

Abstract names
Abstract names

Here are some advantages/disadvantages of using abstract names:

Pros:

  • It’s proprietary so it’s easy to trademark.
  • Can work in different languages.
  • An empty vessel ready to be imbued with meaning.
  • Once established, it can come to completely define a category.

Cons:

  • Requires significant spend to get embedded and understood.
  • Tend to be so overly engineered to the point they become bland and cold.
  • There’s nothing much to get hold of, no emotion to piggyback into your brand.
  • When they don’t work, they’re horrible.

Once you’ve seen what’s possible, it may inspire you in your creative process.

However, keep in mind that following what other do may or may not be a good thing.

When someone breaks the mould well – others will follow.

Like anything, naming trends come and go.

If you follow trends you may find out that there’s little difference between names.

Naming trends: Founder, Attitude, Location, Invention.
Naming trends.

Here’s the history of the naming trends:

  1. Founder
    At the end of the nineteenth and start of the twentieth century names were linked to ‘who’ e.g. Ford, Channel, Tiffany.
  2. Location
    Geographic names became more common in the sixties, especially when places had positive associations e.g. American Airlines, DKNY, Cisco.
  3. Attitude
    At the end of the twentieth century, attitude-based names took hold e.g. Virgin, Apple, Orange.
  4. Invention
    Proprietary names are easy to protect, like misspelled, compound or mimetic words e.g. Skype, Facebook, Youtube.

A name should live as long as the brand does, so it’s important to avoid and anticipate fashions.

First of all, you need to understand what’s the definition of a good name.

What makes a good name

It’s hard to define what makes a good name if you don’t have any criteria against which you can judge your naming ideas.

Understanding what’s the message you must communicate is the key.

The best naming projects began by laying out objectives and determining what the name must convey.

You must link measurement to the specific objectives in the brief and stay strategic, not emotional.

What makes a great name.
What makes a great business name.

Here are four elements that make a great name:

  1. Semantics
    Does it convey the right idea or attitude?
  2. Strategic
    Does it align to your business objectives?
  3. Phonetics
    Is it easy to say and pronounce?
  4. Availability
    Is it legally protectable? Can you own that name?

Use this to create criteria against which you can judge your name candidates.

6. Getting creative

Start broad

When brainstorming business names don’t get too specific right away.

It’s always helpful to start very broad.

So try to come up with names from every category.

Brainstorm a long list, using different thematic start points:

  • locations of the offices and production facilities
  • communities of people who’ll use the product
  • outcomes that relate to the thing you’re naming.
  • tools that link to the experience
  • actions the product facilitates
  • moments that are somehow pertinent
  • names, which can be useful when trust is key
  • numbers, which can link to a neat little story
  • acronyms or initials, which can be tactically useful

Bring lots of heads together to brainstorm as many name ideas as possible.

Lead thinking in unexpected directions, but keep it short and on brand.

Write everything down – you will filter that later.

Spark intrigue

If nobody objects, you’ve probably got the wrong name.

A name should spark intrigue and polarize people.

It takes a brave CEO to run with a bold name, and it’s not easy.

I recommend running naming workshops internally to get all key stakeholders aligned.

It requires a disciplined approach and an experienced facilitator to make sure the team stays on point.

The process can be long and exhaustive if you let the conversation go off track.

Be unique

Begin the brainstorming by reminding yourself of the basic principles of a solid name, but also strive to be creative.

Try to be creative and think outside of the box.

An effective name is quick and easy to pronounce, spell, and share with others.

Don’t worry about coming up with any names you don’t like right away – it may lead to something better.

The more different name candidates you have to cross off of your list, the better your name will be.

Evaluating names

Once you’ve exhausted your list and you have a lot of strong candidates – start judging them against your criteria.

Does it look the part? Does it need explanation? Does it fit the bigger picture?

Now it’s time to start crossing off the names on your long list that won’t work for your business.

Eliminate weaker name ideas and focus on stronger candidates.

Keep crossing off the names until you only have a list of five or ten favorites.

In addition, trademark validation can be a helpful tool to value that your business name is available.

All you need to do is perform a quick trademark risk test to double check that your name isn’t already in use by a similar business.

Also check my youtube video with a simple naming evaluation exercise I run online with one of my clients.

Conclusion

Overall, coming up with the perfect startup name can feel like a daunting task for many entrepreneurs.

Names are so key to a business’ success.

Although it may feel like all of the best brand names are already taken, if you just follow these simple strategies you WILL find the perfect business name.

Naming is a creative process so there’s little common practice.

At Lexicon, it’s about breadth of input.

NameLab digitally combines morphemes and calls the process ‘constructional linguistics’.

At Ebaqdesign I use my proven naming framework to run workshops with my clients.

I hope it helps. Leave a comment below if you have any questions.