How to Choose a Business Name

The name you choose should give customers a peek into what your business does and how you do it.

If there's a formula for choosing a name for your business, it can be best described as 70% marketing, 20% due diligence, and 10% personal preference.

Marketing plays the biggest role in the process, because your business name must define and support your company's branding. Your business name is your customers' introduction to you, and it must tell them who your company is and what it does.

Your business name must also be unique, so that customers can both recognize it and distinguish it from other companies. It's important to do your due diligence by making sure that your company name isn't already in use or sounds too similar to another company's name.

You'll also want to pick a business name that suits and reflects you, the owner, because you're the one who will be using it over and over again.

Below, we've put together a guide to help you decide on a business name.

How to Pick a Business Name: A Checklist of What to Consider

To gather a list of business names you might want to use, first set down the criteria your company name should meet. It should:

Stand out and be memorable. You'll want to choose a business name that customers can easily remember. If it's too generic – such as Pet Sitting Services or Home Construction Experts -- your company name won't be memorable. You also don't want to choose a name that's so catchy or odd that it needs a lot of explanation.

While Google, Amazon, and others have been highly successful using these quirky names, they've also spent millions on advertising to establish their brands. Think twice before you use a made-up word that people will stumble over and have a hard time remembering.

Tell your story, point of difference, or benefit. Your company name should tell customers what to expect from your business, its products or services, people, or benefits. For example, changing the Pet Sitting Services name in the example above, to Just Like Home Pet Sitting, tells customers that your mission is to make pets feel as comfortable as they do at home.

Be easy to pronounce and spell. Customers will have a difficult time remembering a name they can't pronounce. Company names that stray from standard spelling might not show up when customers search it on the internet, an important consideration in today's digital world.

Naming your wine shop Bacchus after the Greek god of wine might be clever and identify you as a cultured wine afficionado, but you can also lose a customer who types in one too few ‘c's or forgets the ‘h' when searching for your business online.

Give your business room to grow. You might launch your business with one product or service in one location, but you should choose a company name that won't limit your options as you grow. For instance, suppose you open a bookkeeping service named Los Angeles Number Crunchers Accounting, and later open a second office in San Diego. Customers in San Diego who want a local accountant might not be willing to consider your company because they'll think it's located too far away.

Connect with your target audience. Your company name should strike a tone that resonates with your target market. You wouldn't want to hire a lawyer from a law firm called Law Dudes, but someone looking for a graphic designer who's young and hip might be attracted to a company called Design Dude.

Be available as a domain name. Unless you are certain that your business will never require a website, choose a name that's available as a domain name (A domain name is a website address, such as www.xyzcompany.com.) It's best to use the same company and domain name, so that customers can easily find you online. (More on searching and buying a domain name below.)

Sound appealing. Your company name should sound appealing when said out loud. Avoid names that are tongue twisters or are awkward or too long when said aloud.

Appeal to you. You'll also want to consider whether the name appeals to you personally. You want a name that you can say proudly without making excuses for it.

8 Steps to Choosing a Company Name

The company name you choose shouldn't be the first one that pops into your head. Take your time and consider at least a few options before deciding on a business name. Here's a step-by-step process to follow:

  1. Brainstorm. Start by writing down every and any idea, on paper or on your computer or phone. There's no need to evaluate your choices at this point. The point of the exercise is to bring up the words and concepts that are relevant to your business and gather as many possibilities as you can.

You might also want to consider using a company name generator like Shopify Business Name Generator. You'll find many others at varying costs on the internet. These services use a wizard that asks you to enter descriptions and words that fit your company. The wizard generates names related to the words and phrases you entered.

  1. Evaluate and edit. Once you've written down all your name ideas and words, it's time to take a critical look at each one. Discard those that don't fit the criteria you've set, and edit and revise the ones you like.
  2. Narrow your choices. Next, narrow your choices down to at least two or three names that you like and fit your criteria.
  3. Review competitor names. Compare your name choices to the names of competitors to make sure they don't sound similar.
  4. Conduct a name search. States keep a record of company names already in use, usually available on the website of the Secretary of State. Names used by sole proprietorships and partnerships won't be included, because those business entity types aren't required to register their names. You should also do an internet search to determine whether a sole proprietorship or partnership is using the same or a similar name.

Trademarked names are listed on a federal database, and you can also conduct a search for your company name on the website of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Some states also have naming requirements for certain types of business entities. For example, a limited liability company might be required to use the acronym LLC in the company name.

  1. Conduct a keyword search on the internet. Sometimes a company name can mean something else, and Internet search algorithms can turn up other companies or products that have nothing to do with your business. You'll want to avoid a company name that depends on words with different meanings.

For example, suppose you are opening a shoe store that specializes in boots, and you think Bootstrap would be a clever name for your shop. Bootstrap is also the name of a framework for building websites, and an internet search calls up entries about the technology—a far cry from what customers expect when they're shopping for a new pair of boots.

  1. Do a domain name search. You can search for available domain names and buy the name you choose at a nominal fee (usually for one year with renewals thereafter) at domain registrars like GoDaddy and others you'll find in an internet search.

Don't be surprised if you find many domain names already taken. And even those that are available could be acquired by someone else in the time it takes you to settle on your choice. Even if you haven't made a final decision on a company name, reserving a domain name you think you might want to use can avoid disappointments down the road, because costs for buying a name that's already in use can run into thousands of dollars.

  1. Test the name. It's a good idea to test the name you'd like to use with friends, family, and colleagues. Sometimes a third party can reveal interpretations you never thought about.
  2. Register the name if applicable. Once you've chosen a company name, register it with the state if it's required for your business entity type and purchase your domain name. Although not required, you should trademark your name if you want to be certain no one else will be allowed to use it.

Should You Use Your Own Name for Your Company Name?

Many highly successful companies have been built on their founder's name. But for each example there are many more who chose a brand name rather than a personal name.

Using your own name can have advantages for some companies in some industries, but it can also have disadvantages. Here are a few questions to ask yourself before deciding to use your own name for your business:

Is your name recognized in the industry? If you've built up name recognition as an expert in your field, using your own name for your company brand can be advantageous. Keep in mind though, if you decide to expand your services beyond those you are known for, using your own name can typecast you, limit your growth, and turn off buyers if you decide to sell.

Are you comfortable being the face of your company? Using your own name puts you in the spotlight, and you'll need to decide whether that's something you will enjoy.

Is your name distinctive? If your name is something like John Smith, naming your company John Smith Consulting won't be very memorable. On the other hand, if your name is hard to pronounce and spell, it will make branding difficult.

Does your target audience need the assurance of knowing your business is backed by a big organization? Clients who answer to higher ups for their decisions might feel more comfortable hiring a company backed by a corporate structure rather than one that sounds like a one-person shop, even if it isn't. The adage, "You won't get fired if you hire IBM," is still true for a lot of industries today.

Does the work that you do require more explanation than your name provides? For startups and even established businesses, it's usually important to choose a name that lets customers know what your company does.

The name Hilton is now readily recognizable as a chain of hotels, but it's taken many years for that to happen.

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