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Your New Year’s resolution was to start your own business. You’re ready. First step: What do you call it?

Here are some tips on naming your pride and joy.

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1. What will the name convey?

It’s on your business cards, letterhead, website, promotional materials, and products. It’s your biggest identifier. So what does it tell people? Service-oriented businesses should see if  it will be easy for their customers to tell what they do (example: Friendly Car Washers or Bright Rug Cleaners).


If you’re in a small town, you may want to use more of a small-town feel. Bigger markets may want to project a more corporate feel. This applies both to your company name and how it is designed. Hire a good graphic designer to make sure the look matches your name.

2. Brainstorm

Spend some time thinking about your industry, the products or services you offer, and the words that describe them. Also consider the words your competitors use, and what separates you from them. What are the feelings you want to evoke in your customers?

If you need ideas, try looking up Greek and Latin translations. Use a dictionary, a thesaurus, and any other resources you can find.

3. Keep it short, sweet and to the point

You want a name that is easy to write and remember. Think of companies that are well known – Nike, Apple, Google, Southwest, AT&T, McDonald’s. They are all short and easy to remember. While it is tempting to throw a huge description into your name, that could make it unwieldy.

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Tip: Consider the acronym of whatever words you come up with. You don’t want the first initials to end up being a rude word – that’s a good way to make your company’s business into a joke meme.

4. Don’t make your name too literal

If you’ve got goals to eventually sell lots of different things, don’t build your business identity around one product. For example, if you initially name your business Jim’s Sports Photography but then start photographing weddings, your name is too restrictive. The same concept goes if you’re selling products.

5. Ask for feedback – but don’t live by it

It’s easy to ask friends and family for help in choosing a name, but it can also lead to unnecessary drama – especially when your plans are just getting underway. People might take it personally that you didn’t take their suggestion. Finding consensus can result in a boring name – or one that only people who know you will understand.

If you must involve others, pick a small group of people who understand you and your business (and pick a mix of right-brain types and left-brain types so that you can have some variety).

6. Avoid plain words

It’s hard to be simple – but not so simple that you don’t stand out from your competitors. Plain words make it very difficult to separate yourself from the competition. How many “Main Street Pizza” places are there? If you’re one of the first in your product or service category, then maybe you can be “General Electric.” But more than likely, you’re going to need some pizzazz.

7. Geography can hurt you and help you

If you’ve got a specific region you are serving – say, a whale watch tour out of Boston – tying the city or region to your name can be a good thing. But it can hinder you later on.

For example, Minnesota Manufacturing and Mining started out focused on Minnesota. But once the company grew beyond their industry and the state of Minnesota, they needed to find a new name – 3M.

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8. Avoid obscure words – unless you can market it into people’s vocabulary

Twenty years ago, no one other than mathematicians knew what a “googol” was. Thanks to a great product and a memorable marketing campaign that got the name on everyone’s mind, Google now rules most of the internet.

Obscure words or references might be difficult for people to understand, pronounce and remember. You’ll have to put the marketing effort in to make people remember.

9. Try to avoid the trends

Like 1980s styles, you might enjoy trendy names at the time, but you won’t like the results later. For example, in the late 1990’s, everyone was a “dot-com” to show they were on the Internet. Once the bubble burst, though, it became a sign that a business wasn’t really sure what it was doing.

10. Consider whether you can register a domain and obtain a trademark

It’s important to make sure that your competitors are not using the same name in your industry. If you take the same name, that would expose you to legal trouble and you’ll likely be unable to obtain trademark protection for your company name.

If an internet squatter has grabbed the .com version of your company name, look into other suffixes, or submit a request to ICANN. It’s not the end of the world if you have to use another suffix – if you’ve got a strong brand and you’re getting links, you’ll end up as the number one response on Google for your name even if it isn’t the pure dotcom domain.

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