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Picking the right company name

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What’s in a name? A lot, when it comes to small-business success. The right name can make your company the talk of the town. The wrong one can doom it to obscurity and failure. Ideally, your name should convey the expertise, value and uniqueness of the product or service you have developed.

A startup needs a name, and it may be the most important decision you make. The name of your business has a tremendous impact on how customers and investors view you, and in today’s small world, it’s a world-wide decision. Here are 10 rules described by the Fortune Magazine how should business name look like:

1. Unique and unforgettable. In the trade, this is called “stickiness.” But the issue of stickiness turns out to be kind of, well, sticky. Every company wants a name that stands out from the crowd, a catchy handle that will remain fresh and memorable over time. That’s a challenge because naming trends change, often year by year, making timeless names hard to find (remember the dot.coms).

2. Avoid unusual spellings. When creating a name, stay with words that can easily be spelled by customers. Some startup founders try unusual word spellings to make their business stand out, but this can be trouble when customers ‘Google’ your business to find you, or try to refer you to others. Stay with traditional word spelling, and avoid those catchy words that you love to explain at cocktail parties.

3. Easy to pronounce and remember. Forget made-up words and nonsense phrases. Make your business name one that customers can pronounce and remember easily. Skip the acronyms, which mean nothing to most people. When choosing an identity for a company or a product, simple and straightforward are back in style, and cost less to brand.

4. Keep it simple. The shorter in length, the better. Limit it to two syllables. Avoid using hyphens and other special characters. Since certain algorithms and directory listings work alphabetically, pick a name closer to A than Z. These days, it even helps if the name can easily be turned into a verb, like Google me.

5. Make some sense. Occasionally, business owners will choose names that are nonsense words. Quirky words (Yahoo, Google, Fogdog) or trademark-proof names concocted from scratch (Novartis, Aventis, Lycos) are a big risk. Always check the international implications. More than one company has been embarrassed by a new name that had negative and even obscene connotations in another language.

6. Give a clue. Try to adopt a business name that provides some information about what your business does. Calling your landscaping business “Lawn and Order” is appropriate, but the same name would not do well for a handyman business. Your business name should match your business in order to remind customers what services you provide.

7. Make sure the name is available. This may sound obvious, but a miss here will cost you dearly. Your company name and Internet domain name should probably be the same, so check out your preferred names with the Intelectual property/Patent Office.

8. Favor common suffixes. Everyone will assume that your company name is your domain name minus the suffix “.com” or the standard suffix for your country. If these suffixes are not available for the name you prefer, pick a new name rather than settling for an alternate suffix like “.net” or “.info.” Get all three suffixes if you can.

9. Don’t box yourself in. Avoid picking names that don’t allow your business to move around or add to its product line. This means avoiding geographic locations or product categories to your business name. With these specifics, customers will be confused if you expand your business to different locations or add on to your product line.

10. Sample potential customers. Come up with a few different name choices and try them out on potential customers, investors, and co-workers. Skip your family and friends who know too much. Ask questions about the names to see if they give off the impression you desire.

Entrepreneur magazine also paid attention on this topic. They indicated tips for naming the business, no matter if it is a classic “brick-and-mortar” business or it is fully online:

  • Choose a name that appeals not only to you but also to the kind of customers you are trying to attract.
  • Choose a comforting or familiar name that conjures up pleasant memories so customers respond to your business on an emotional level.
  • Don’t pick a name that is long or confusing.
  • Stay away from cute puns that only you understand.
  • Don’t use the word “Inc.” after your name unless your company is actually incorporated.

Finally, see the illustration regarding this topic, provided by Infographics.


Here are some naming fails done by major companies, and how they got fixed:

  • AOL
    Originally named Quantum Computer Services back in 1985, the name was far too long and confusing. It was eventually simplified to America Online in 1989, and finally AOL later on.
  • Amazon
    The first name used for what is now the centerpiece of the Jeff Bezos Empire was actually Cadabra. However, it turned out that over the phone most people heard “Cadaver”, and so it was eventually tossed.
  • Sony
    Sony was originally named Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo, which translates to Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation. It turned out to be quite a tongue-twister, so the company came up with a much simpler name.
  • Hertz
    Hertz, the car rental company, was originally named “DrivUrSelf”, which wasn’t easy to spell for anyone.
  • Yahoo!
    Yahoo! used to be known as “Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web”, which is long, hard to remember, and too different from other web portal or search engine names. Fortunately, Jerry Yang and David Filo changed the name of the company and also bought the yahoo.com domain name in 1995.

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