How To Name A Business

How To Name A Business

Naming a new business venture is a pain.

Here’s a short list of things to consider:

  • Domain name
  • Trademark (US and possibly other countries)
  • Existing usage
  • Homonyms (words spelled differently, similar sounds but different meanings)
  • Homographs (words with same spelling but different meanings)
  • Cultural meanings (in that language)
  • Cultural meanings in different languages
  • Can anyone spell it when you say it, for example, over the phone (people are terrible at spelling things)
  • What image or feeling does the name conjure in the viewer?

That’s just a few things off the top of my head - there are more!

Some of the strategies for naming include sticking terms together as well as just making entirely new words up. My old consulting company was - it’s pretty obvious that it’s just Dev (for developer) and the number nine. In addition to being clear for all of the above usage concerns, it was benign-to-favorable in the mind of the reader (e.g. “cloud nine,” “multiple nines of uptime” and “Deep Space Nine” were common).

One trick is to generate a bunch of combination terms and check them in bulk. For example, let’s say I liked the idea of combining a color and a place. I might put those into a spreadsheet with the colors as columns and the places as rows, and then use a formula to generate the combos. Those combos can then be checked in bulk, saving a lot of time. Obviously if you are comfortable with the command line you can use scripts to do the same thing.

Right now, I’m using NameMesh to generate domain name ideas. Once I find an available domain, I sanity check it with the US Patent and Trademark Office trademark search system and Google. I’ll also check obvious variants (in particular plurals and likely misspellings such as c/k swapping). As a tip, if you find a name you even reasonably like, go ahead and just buy it if it’s available for less than $20. Obviously, set a budget in advance, but a domain you like for a few bucks is a great deal. I’ve accumulated a few dozen domains over the years this way, and I’ve sold a handful of those for thousands of dollars (!) which more than made up for the $20 here and there.

Probably the most important (and slowest thing) is verifying the name with other people. Here’s how to do this:

  • Tell them you have a few names you’d like to ask them about
  • Tell them the first name
  • Watch their face carefully for initial reaction
  • Ask them to spell the name
  • Ask them what comes to mind when they hear the name
  • Repeat 2-5 times for each name
  • At the end, ask which name they liked best and why

If you only do one name, most people will (rightly) assume you are just looking for confirmation, which is really a test of your relationship, not the name. By picking at least three names, you can make it into a game.

Naming can be difficult, but at least with a process it’s a matter of work and effort, not just staring at a screen in frustration.

Good luck, and if you manage to find a domain with this process, drop it in the comments!