So you’ve got a great skill or product and have decided to go into business for yourself. Maybe you already have some paying customers and it’s time to make your business “legit”. You may have even decided your company will be big enough to justify incorporating from the start, but you’ve got one big problem – no company name.
This can be a huge sticking point for a lot of new companies. After wracking your brain for hours it can easily feel like all the best names are taken, and yet every year more cool-named companies are in the news. How do they do that? Let’s go over a few ideas that might make the process a little easier for you.
Should You Use Your Own Name?
Are you a solo consultant or freelancer? Are you an electrician, plumber or landscaper? Are you a public speaker, accountant, attorney or real estate agent? These are all professions that lend well to calling the business after yourself. Essentially if you have a business where YOU are the business, or at least the figurehead of the business, it’s perfectly fine to call it after yourself.
When the State of California contacted me to do some work for one of their agencies I was working under someone else’s contract at the time and this provided the perfect opportunity to go out on my own again. It was just me so I kept it simple and called my company Reid Tech Solutions. I didn’t plan at the time to grow beyond myself. My very first company back in 1997 was a Delaware company called J. Reid Incorporated, where I was freelancing computer networking for businesses. See a pattern here?
Side note: if you’re wondering whether to form a Delaware company or one in your home state I’ll have a future article on that. Make sure to sign up for my mailing list to get notified of new posts.
What Does Your Business Do?
Google’s original name was BackRub, referring to it’s counting of backlinks to rate a web site’s relevance. As stated in Wikipedia, “Eventually, they changed the name to Google; the name of the search engine was a play on the word “googol“, the number 1 followed by 100 zeros, which was picked to signify that the search engine was intended to provide large quantities of information.”
In other words their company name directly related to what the company actually does. Microsoft is another good example of this with the concatenation of “micro” (coming from microcomputer) and “soft” (software). Their original piece of software was a BASIC interpreter for a microcomputer, again showing that the name fits the business.
On a much much smaller scale I remember having a lot of problems coming up with the name of my second company, C6 Software, Inc. I wanted a name that said what we did (software) but left enough room to be able to do what we wanted (what kind of software?). I was younger and thought I was being clever by using the atomic symbol of carbon, the building block of nearly everything. In retrospect it wasn’t the best as it was difficult to remember and spell, and then our competitors would say, “seasick software?” Ah well that’s the way it goes.
It Should Be Easy To Remember and Spell
Going back to that Google example above I don’t think the company name would have had the same impact if it were spelled “googol”. My previous company, C6 Software, is another example that is difficult to spell. In general any company name with a number in it is going to be difficult since there are now at least two ways to spell it. If you use the number “2” there are now four ways to spell it.
What Emotion Do You Want to Evoke?
Another good technique is to evoke something in your market audience with your name. You want them to feel a certain way about your company just from the name. A Fortune 500 company that I think has done pretty well with this is Verizon. The name is a blend of veritas, a latin word meaning “truth”, and horizon, meaning the limit of scope or knowledge. When you look to the horizon you look to the future and that’s the message Verizon was trying to get across. Saying the name out loud evokes that same feeling.
Should You Choose a Made-Up Word?
In general I recommend that a small business go with a different idea than making up a new word, unless you have the marketing capital to educate your potential customers on who you are and what you do. Let’s look at a company name like “Accenture” for example. It’s another merger between two words, in this case “accent” and “future”, meant to signify accent on the future. Sure I get that it’s a forward-looking company once the name is explained but I would still have no idea what they did.
Luckily for Accenture they are a rebrand of the Andersen Consulting firm and had plenty of money to educate both their current clients and new ones. If you don’t have that kind of coin it may be better to go a different naming route.
Who Are Your Competitors?
You’re a plumber and a darn good one. It’s time to go out on your own and start making the big money you know your boss is currently making, so you load up your browser and type “local plumbers” in the search and see something like this: Fred’s Plumbing, Joe’s Plumbing, Bill’s Plumbing, etc…
What should you name your company? Well you’ve got two choices here: fit in or stand out. Sure you could add John’s Plumbing to the mix, but with that name you’re just going to get the call in alphabetical order. The best bet here might be something a bit more creative. “No-clog Plumbing” comes to mind. “Re-pipe Plumbing” works. What’s your specialty or what do you enjoy doing the most? You get the idea.
The best way I’ve found is to set aside 15 minutes to write down everything that comes to mind. There are no bad ideas here and everything is fair game. If I have sticky notes available I will write an idea on each note and stick it on the wall until I’ve filled a large portion of it or something just clicks. A large piece of paper will do as well, but there’s something physical about sticking a note on the wall. Over the next week or so I’ll continue this exercise every time something comes to mind.
There are some pretty decent web sites that will help you generate business names for your wall also. Here’s a site that lists multiple generators that you can try: https://www.thebalancesmb.com/top-free-business-name-generators-2951856. Just type in a few descriptive words and they’ll pump out hundreds of (mostly bad) ideas. But you only need one good idea so it’s worth a look.
Do you have a friend or colleague that’s more creative than you? Ask them for help! Set up a contest or offer to buy lunch. I tend to be more logical and analytical which doesn’t lend itself to this sort of thing and for me it’s absolutely worth paying for. The reason that big companies who are rebranding create employee contests for names is to get more brainpower behind the creative process. You can do this too by asking everyone you know for help. Perhaps a post on social media will pay off for you.
If you’ve got a name you like ask for feedback from everyone. Sleep on it – sometimes for days. Narrow your wall down to your favorite five names and then go check to see if the internet domain is taken. If your company name is “Shoes” you’ll never get that “shoes.com” web address, but you can get “shoe.store” or “shoe.shop”, albeit at a higher price than normal…
If you plan on incorporating you might want to check your state’s corporate registry to see if your company name is taken also. It pays off to be prepared for growth in the event your business does as well as you hope.
In the end there isn’t a shortcut to coming up with a great name and you’re the lucky one if you hit upon it quickly. Don’t get discouraged though because something will come to you in time. There’s also nothing wrong with changing your company name later if you need to, so don’t let it delay your dreams for too long. Get out there and start something!