This Checklist Will Stop You From Choosing a Terrible Business Name
When I first brought my business to the big, wide world of the internet, I didn’t put much thought into naming it. Actually, that’s not exactly true. I spent a lot of time thinking about the creative side of naming my business. I wanted it to be something quirky, friendly, and clever that people would remember.
I named my website and business The BFF Course. BFF stood for Best Finances Forever, and the course was an eventual online course that I planned to launch (which ended up with a different name altogether). To be honest, I was so enamored with the play on words that I completely overlooked the more practical aspects of naming a business.
My first stint into naming my business was shortsighted, to say the least. Soon, I was sick of explaining what BFF stood for, why there was the word “course” even though my course was named something different, and that tagging my personal Facebook profile was not the same as tagging my business.
After just one year I rebranded my business to my name, Andi Smiles, and it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made for my business. My biggest regret is not being more intentional about my business name in the beginning since I am STILL, a year later, dealing with the aftermath of a rebrand.
Before you go all in with that super catchy name you’ve got your heart set on, I want to share what I’ve learned from my failed attempt at naming my business. Here’s everything I wish I knew about naming a business when I was first starting out.
Pick a name that doesn’t require a lengthy explanation
Ideally, your name should make some kind of sense for the type of business or industry you’re in, but at the very least, it should just make sense. In other words, it shouldn’t require a lengthy explanation.
I love names with stories behind them. The key is that the story should be short—not a 400-page memoir about your life that eventually explains your business name. I also love names that evoke the feeling that the product gives you. When you get a feeling from a name, the explanation is embedded in the emotional response.
But if your coaching business is named Door Stop 2000 and you’re not using door stops as an epic metaphor for your clients’ purpose in life—move on.
This is where I failed miserably. When I explained what BFF meant it did make sense for my business. BUT I had to explain it. Every. Single. Time. Instead of letting my business name speak for itself, I was constantly babysitting it with an explanation.
The bottom line is, your name shouldn’t feel like an inside joke. Pick something that everyone—especially your customers—can connect with. Then, run your name by a few people (ideally strangers!) who aren’t familiar with your business and see if it makes sense to them.
Pick something memorable
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Your business name should be catchy, short, and unique. There’s a reason that many of the most successful startups have one-word names. It’s way easier to remember a single word than it is to remember a sentence or phrase.
Most of us can remember the name of Shakespeare’s plays but not entire sonnets. Think of your name as the title of a play worthy of Shakespeare, and everything that you offer is the sonnet.
Even businesses that are named after their owners, like mine, are easier to remember than Door Stop 2000. There’s something about a person’s name that gets hooked in your brain. And for personal brands, this is a good thing because it’s easier for people to think of YOU when they need help.
When choosing a business name, try to limit your name to no more than three words. If you’re going to use more than one or two words, see if there’s a way the words can play off of each other. For example, The Rock Store is way more boring than The Rock Stop, which has a catchy flow.
Choose a name that will grow with your business
This was my biggest mistake in putting the word “course” in my business name. It implied that my business would only offer courses. Or that my entire business was just made up of one course. People were SO confused when they went to my website and saw courses for sale, but none of them were named the BFF course.
Also, even though I work in the financial industry, having finances in the name limited me to this industry. It wasn’t even that I wanted to expand to other industries, it was that my business name took the option away.
Think about ALL the potential pathways your business could take in the next three to five years. Some things to consider are:
- Do you want to stay in your niche? If you’re a wedding photographer who really wants to shoot concerts, don’t put “Wedding Photography” in your name.
- Do you want to open more locations? If you think there’s even a chance that you’ll want to open multiple locations, don’t specify a place in your name.
- Do you want to expand your product catalog? You might just be selling enamel pins now, but if you also plan to make patches, T-shirts, and tote bags, don’t name your business Peter’s Party Pins.
Will your name limit you to only one pathway? If so, choose a more general name.
Consider the logistics of your name
We’ve talked a lot about the creative elements of naming your business, but there are also practical elements that you should consider. This stuff is way less fun than coming up with clever rhymes, but skipping it could lead to some embarrassing realizations about your name later.
We already touched on length, but another thing to keep in mind is that your business name will also be your domain name, social media handles, and part of your email address. If you have a super long name, it’s going to be harder to share with others. For example, [email protected] is easier to share than [email protected]
When choosing a business name, type the name as it would appear as a URL, social media handle, and email address. If it’s super long and cumbersome, skip it.
Is it easy to misspell your business name? Are you changing the spelling of a common word to make it more unique? Before you do, make sure you’re prepared to miss out on potential customers who cannot spell your name—or to have your name misspelled in the media.
Also, don’t choose big, confusing words for your name like Alex’s Accoutrements. This isn’t an SAT test, just say accessories. That’s already hard enough to spell.
If your name is unpronounceable you’re going to have a hard time getting people to recommend your business to their friends. Not because they don’t love you, but because they’ll be embarrassed every time they attempt to say your name. Pick words that people can pronounce. Also, if you’re using uncommon words, try to pick words that are spelled phonetically.
Make sure your business name doesn’t mean or sound like something, um, awkward in another language. For example, one of my friends in Peru was starting a new business and eagerly sent me the name. While the pronunciation in Spanish was different than English, the way the word read in English was hilariously inappropriate for his business.
Make sure your name isn’t taken (officially or unofficially)
Now that you’ve done all that work, it’s time to figure out if your name is actually free for you to use. While it can be discouraging to find out your brilliant idea for a name is already taken, it’s better to know now before you invest time and resources into registering your name or dreaming up logo designs.
Google the name
Start by doing a basic Google search. What comes up when you Google the name? Just because someone else is already using the name (or a similar name) doesn’t mean it’s a complete no-go. It really depends on how established the business is, if the business is active, if the name is trademarked, and how you feel about there being a business with a similar name to yours.
Search your state’s Secretary of State business list
Every business entity needs to register its name with the Secretary of State. Most Secretary of State websites have a search option that allows you to search for a business name. Search your state’s website to see if your name is already registered.
Also, keep an eye out for similar names to yours. If your name is too similar to another business, the Secretary of State may prevent you from registering your business.
Do a trademark search
If you’ve confirmed that your name is available on a state level, next go to USPTO.gov (that’s the United States Patent and Trademark Office) and check if your name has an existing trademark. Sometimes, even if a name is trademarked, you can still use it if you’re in a different field. If your dream business name is trademarked, talk to a trademark attorney before abandoning ship.
See if the domain is available
Next, it’s time to see if your domain is available. This might have already come up in your Google search, but if it hasn’t, do a formal domain search via the WHOIS directory.
You can do a domain search through the ICANN WHOIS site, or most domain registrars have a domain search function. If the domain isn’t available you have a few options:
- Modify the domain name (for example doorstop2000.com to doorstop2000inc.com). If you decide to modify the domain name, keep in mind that there is a chance customers will get confused and type in the wrong domain name.
- Choose a different extension, such as .co, .net, or some of the more clever alternative domain extensions like .travel, .photography, or .io.
- Purchase the domain name from the owner. Sometimes domain owners are willing to sell domain names. You can work with a domain broker, like Go Daddy, to contact the owner and negotiate the sell. But a warning: Registered domains often come with hefty price tags. I had a friend whose startup paid $40,000 to purchase their domain.
See if the social media handles are available
You’re almost to the home stretch! The last thing is to check if your business name is available on the social media platforms you plan to use.
If it’s not available, not all hope is lost just yet. You can do an additional check to see if your name is available if you:
- Add a dot or underscore to it (for example, @door.stop.2000)
- Use a clever abbreviation (for example, @DS.2000)
- Add an additional qualifier like your location, industry, or description of your product (for example, @doorstop2000usa or @doorstop2000app)
If your name isn’t already taken on one or more of these searches then you’re good to go! Keep in mind that it’s helpful for customers if you have the same handle across social media platforms.
Your business name is an asset that defines your company. And just like you wouldn’t buy a car without doing a bit of research, don’t commit to a business name without thinking it through from every angle.
Take it from me, it’s worth a little bit of time and extra effort to ensure that your name is going to stick around for the long haul.