The Complete Guide to Business Names

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Some startup ideas come with the perfect business name, but most new businesses need a process to find the right one. Like most parts of running a business, it’s not magic; it’s hard work. 

At the same time, choosing business names can be a fun, stress-free process–it’s all about how you approach it. This stage of branding is a chance to think big, play, and experiment.

Let’s start with some basics. A great business name is easy to remember, spell, and pronounce. It should feel new but also comfortable. This is because most people say they want something innovative, but only 16% are willing to click on an unfamiliar brand in an online search. Your business name should show your audience that your business is like what they already know, but better.

A fantastic business name will help customers quickly connect your brand to the products or services you sell. They create anticipation for your business and set the stage for growth. 

Why Your Business Name Is So Important 

Choosing a business name is a big decision. It can be tempting to run through name selection so that you can complete the necessary forms and the other paperwork that makes a new business official. Investor Bill Gross credits 42% of startup success to timing, so the rush is easy to understand. But a strong brand is the first step to marketing success, and surveys say that consistent branding translates to a 10-20% increase in revenue. 

A business name creates the first impression. 71% of buyers are more likely to buy a product or service from a name they recognize. 

A great brand transforms a business into an identity that customers want to promote. Think about how your given or chosen name makes you feel. Your business name is what people will call your brand, so it is as important as your name is to your identity.

There’s another reason this decision is so crucial. The bigger the business, the more difficult it is to change the business name. 

Brand trust grows over time, and a name change can feel jarring to users. Most companies can’t follow the example of popular brands like Amazon, formerly Relentless, or Google, once known as BackRub. 

A name change means an extreme rebrand of the business and may have to include a new domain. This is why it’s smart to strive for the right business name before launch.

Quick Tips To Find Great Business Names Today

Naming a business is a process. A shortlist of business names should include at least 20 names, so the initial list should be around 100 names or more! It’s important to build a good size list of business names when you start brainstorming.

Try not to play favorites, and don’t narrow down your ideal business name until you have a long list. The ideas and tips below can help you double-check that you’re on the right path before you nail down a decision. 

1. Approach it like you’re naming a baby

The process of choosing business names is like picking the name of a child. It has many of the same pitfalls, like unfortunate nicknames or blunders with initials and acronyms. The baby naming process also offers some great clues for where to begin when you’re naming your business.

Take a cue from would-be parents everywhere, and keep these tips in mind. 

Classic or obvious names aren’t as boring as they may seem at first glance. In fact, these names are often the clearest way to communicate what your business is selling and why. Your family history and local culture are other great places to look for inspiration. 

Remember that cultural consciousness is essential when choosing a brand name. You’ll also want to be sensitive to how different cultures use specific words and names. Over 20 brands made name changes in 2020 to address bias and equity in their branding. 

Think twice about intentional misspellings like AmericInn Hotel or Qwikster, unnecessary punctuation like Jos. A. Bank or Mini Moo’s, and trendy pop culture references. While these names sometimes succeed, they might just confuse your customers. 

If you plan to use a foreign word or name that you’re not super familiar with, it’s a good idea to research all possible meanings and pronunciations. As you research, don’t just stick to traditional dictionaries. Crowd-sourced sites like Urban Dictionary can give you a sense of what younger audiences might associate with your new business name.

2. Try a business name generator

Name generators like Oberlo are incredibly useful if your brainstorming session gets stuck after the first four or five names. You’ll add a keyword and other details in the generators, and these mostly free tools offer suggestions. It’s good to try a few different generators because they will vary by style and niche. 

If a business name generator doesn’t sound right to you, these tools can also help spark ideas:

3. Play with words

Most new businesses owners will spend some time copywriting, and the business naming process can be a fun writing exercise. As you build up your list of brand names, try a few of these ideas:

  • Name your business as if it was a person
  • Name your business as if it was a pet
  • Name your business as if it was a car
  • Loosen up with Mad Libs in your niche 
  • Play with alliteration, e.g., Ted Talks
  • Add a suffix, e.g., Spotify
  • Mashup two different words, e.g., FedEx
  • Grab a favorite book or two and see what it inspires
  • Check out a thesaurus
  • Take a look at typical names in your industry to get a better sense of customer expectations
  • For each business name you write down, write three more unique versions

Your list of business name ideas could include the materials you use to build your products, problems your business solves, or important outcomes for customers who use your products. 

4. What’s your name?

Adding a family name to the business is the right move for many business owners. It adds a personal touch and shows the human behind the company. If you’re thinking about this strategy, consider the potential paths your business may follow. A family name can sometimes give the impression that the business is smaller than it really is. It can also make a company harder to sell, but some brands, like McDonald’s and Gucci, did it successfully.

5. Avoid being clever or cute

What’s funny the first time can fall flat the second or third time. Don’t hang your business reputation on a name that’s trying to be witty if that’s not natural for your business and industry. Most brands stand out and win customers by being honest and authentic.  

This is why the brainstorming process is so important. It gives you time to clear out the ideas that sound good at first but don’t stand the test of time. A thorough naming process offers the most straightforward path to an authentic and clear business name.

Long-Term Strategies for Business Naming 

A business will evolve over time, and the business name should fit every stage of that evolution. Your new name should fit your current business and products while also setting an aspirational tone for future growth. 

This means that you’ll want to think long-term when choosing a business name. These strategies will help you take the time you need to develop a business name that lasts. 

1. Don’t rush or delay

The business name is a decision that can make or break a business. Take too much time, and the company may never launch. Jump on a name too quickly, and one negative response can steer a startup into the ground. 

Set a clear deadline, then work backward to decide how much time you have to brainstorm, research, and choose the perfect business name. 

If time and project management are challenges for you, these articles can help:

2. Stay true to your business

86% of consumers think authenticity is important when they choose the brands they want to support. Your initial business plan will include the ideal vision of your business, and that vision should be the primary inspiration for the perfect business name.

Narrowing a list of business names to the right business name will probably be a gut decision. While some recommend naming a business by committee, this approach can lead to headaches.

That said, it can help to share the shortlist with a select group. This peer review could help you see first impressions of the name. It might also help you understand what people associate with your business based on your chosen names.

An online poll or survey on social can be helpful, but it can also make the process more complicated than it needs to be. The right approach depends on what your marketing plan looks like. 

For example, if you’re planning a big announcement to launch your new business, pre-launch publicity might ruin the surprise. At the same time, early outreach could show your potential audience how much you value their opinions. The right approach depends on the tone you want to set with your new brand.

Another important note: If you’re selling an original product, you’ll need to choose product names as well. Don’t try to combine choosing a business name with selecting product names. Many businesses have fallen victim to naming their business the same as their flagship product. While it can work in some cases, it can also be very limiting as you grow and expand your product selection into new areas. 

Some businesses choose a name based on SEO opportunities, but that’s not a great strategy. Search engine optimization best practices change constantly, and looking at the naming process this way can do a business more harm than good. 

If you haven’t already, create a comprehensive marketing plan that complements your business plan, and begin researching SEO best practices

It’s also a good idea to save the business names you don’t plan to use. They could be a great fit for a future business product or service!

3. Research your shortlist

With a shortlist of 20-30 potential business names, it’s time to start researching. Competition is hot for social handles, domain names, and other online properties. Small businesses that have been operating for 20+ years often have to figure out workarounds for names that other people claimed online before they got to it. 

To avoid this frustration, start with a Google search. This will give you a sense of your competition for each name, as well as popular niches connected to business names. Approach the search with a logical perspective. You might love a name, but if your brand will never make it to the top of search engines with its brand name, is it worth it?

Next, you’ll want to search Federal trademarks and business licenses in your state. Business owners might license their businesses under a different name than the brand name, and it’s a good idea to avoid overlaps if you can. To address this, many states also operate fictitious business name databases, also called FDNs. These are also sometimes called “doing business as” names or DBAs. 

If you plan to start an LLC or corporation, now or in the future, you’ll also want to research naming requirements for these business structures. You may also want to head to the library to scan trade publications and business directories. 

It’s also important to ensure that your chosen business name doesn’t violate any industry regulations. How thoroughly you search for duplicates is up to you. 

Your next stop is social media. Start with the channels in your marketing plan, then check other popular platforms for potential copycats.

Make sure to check hashtags as well. A business we know created a branded hashtag last year only to find that their brand name was also a popular soft drink in Brazil. The brand was in a completely different country and industry, but they had a big challenge competing with that other brand on Instagram.

Finally, check domain name availability. This research will make it much easier to ensure that your new business name is unique enough to stand out online. It will also help you decide whether the extra work some names might need is worth it.

Next Steps

After choosing the right business name, you’ll want to protect this valuable new asset. Register the entity name with your state and the trademark name with the federal government. Those registrations will help prevent other businesses from operating with your chosen business name.

Don’t just jump into purchasing and registering your domain. Many tiny details can impact the perception and operation of your business. First, choose the right domain registrar, then select the best domain extension

Once your new domain is secure, you’re ready for the next stage of your new business!

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