How to choose a business name in 1 day

7day_startup_640 This is a sample from my upcoming free book, The 7 Day Startup The purpose of the 7 Day Startup is to help you get to launch quickly and avoid the activities that are common distractions for early companies. There is no better example than choosing a business name, something that new entrepreneurs agonize over for weeks or months prior to launching.

There are a lot of reasons why you don’t need to spend more than a day on your business name:

  1. It will distract you from what is really important which is creating something great. That is ultimately what matters and will be what makes or breaks your brand.
  2. Your business will probably change significantly by the time you get established. Nintendo started out making playing cards. Tiffany’s started out making stationery.
  3. You will grow into whatever name you come up with. Most names mean very little when they are first conceived. Steve Jobs impulsively named Apple after the farm he dropped acid on. If that method works than anything goes!
  4. You can change your business name down the track, often quite easily. Even big brands have managed to do it successfully. For small agile startups it can often be done for virtually zero cost, in a matter of hours or days. You are not stuck with your name for life. Google started out as “BackRub”, creepy!
  5. Your customers don’t care.

Every single one of the world’s top 25 brands, is 12 characters or less – CLICK TO TWEET

Let’s look at a useful framework for choosing an ‘acceptable’ business name. This is the highest level you need to strive for at this stage in your business. Having the perfect worldwide brand can come later, but we want to avoid having a terrible name. That can be detrimental to your brand and is annoying for customers. But it’s not something that requires weeks of work.

In this post I’ll present a simple framework you can use. You can also download the Google doc here if you want to use it on your own business. The irony is that a terrible name is often the result of over thinking your business name.

Come up with a few options

The most sensible way to approach your business name it is to come up with a few options. From there you can use some logic to pick the best one. There are many ways you might go about doing this. Here are some naming tricks to get started:

  • A place. Apple was named after an apple farm. Adobe was named after a creek that ran behind the founder’s house.
  • Combine 2 words to create a new one. Aldi is a combination of Albrecht (name of the founders) and discount. Intel combined Integrated Electronics. Groupon combined Group Coupon.
  • Use an acronym for your service. IBM stood for International Business Machines.
  • Look for industry terms. In our case ‘WP’ is commonly used for companies in the WordPress space.
  • Use the dictionary. Jack Dorsey liked the name Twitch so he looked at words around it in the dictionary and found the word Twitter.
  • Extend a related word. I put ‘inform’ into wordoid.com to come up with Informly.
  • Outsource it – Crowdspring.com is one site that will get others to come up with business names for you. The 1 day turnaround might be an issue here, so forums or social media might work better or asking your friends.

The more time you spend looking at names, the weirder it gets. IKEA was named after the first 2 letters of the founder’s name (Ingvar Kamprad) and the names of the property and the village in which he grew up (Ingvar Kamprad Elmtaryd Agunnaryd). Zynga was named after Mark Pincus’ bulldog.

Yahoo started as “Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web” and then became an acronym for “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle”.

The point is that where the name comes from doesn’t really matter. Come up with 5-10 that aren’t ridiculous and then we’ll apply a framework to choose the best one.

A framework for choosing an acceptable business name

Put your names into this checklist and choose whichever one gets the best score.

business_naming

Click the image to grab the naming framework as a free Google Doc (direct access).

1. Is it taken? It’s best not to choose a name that’s already taken. I can’t provide legal advice here on how to work out if you have the right to use a name, but as a bare minimum you should check:

  1. Is there a trademark on the name in your region? You can use uspto.gov/trademarks in the US.
  2. Is the .com taken for the name? This will often point you to whether or not someone is actively using the name. This doesn’t necessarily mean you rule it out, but it’s another consideration.
  3. Is the Twitter handle taken? This can give you a good idea of how active someone is if the name is taken. You can use knowem.com to see what social profiles are active under the name.
  4. Are you able to register the name for your business in your local area?

These may or may not be total deal-breakers. There are plenty of businesses who have started with names that have been used for other things. It’s up to you to look at how the name is being used, and decide if it’s an acceptable level of risk for you to use it.

2. Is it simple?

Simple always beats meaningful. Being simple makes it memorable and referable. Eventually it will mean something. Case in point – Apple. Here are some guidelines:

  • Try to avoid made up words. It works for Google, but doesn’t mean it will work for you.
  • Don’t use misspellings. This only increases the chance people won’t find you.
  • Keep your name to under 12 characters if possible. Every single one of the world’s top 25 brands, is 12 characters or less.*
  • Don’t use words that people commonly misspell.

Every single one of the world’s top 25 brands, is 12 characters or less – CLICK TO TWEET

3. Is it easy to say out loud?

No matter how clever you are at marketing, there is a very good chance that your number 1 way of finding customers will be word of mouth. Your business name has to be easy to say in order for people to talk about you.

Amazon was originally named Cadabra. During one conversation between founder Jeff Bezos and his lawyer, the lawyer mistook the name for ‘Cadaver’. Bezos realized that others could make the same mistake, and changed it to Amazon.

4. Do you like it?

You will have to say it a lot, so you better like it. It will grow on you to some extent but don’t start with something you don’t like.

5. Does it make sense for your idea?

As a bonus, if the name clearly makes sense for your idea then it’s a real winner. When we built our WordPress conversions plugin, we called it ConvertPress. Nice, simple and it is logical given the purpose of the plugin.

DropBox says what it does without being too specific.

6. Broader is better

Because you are an early stage company, it’s too hard to know exactly what you will be doing down the track. Don’t use specific keywords in your domain name or specific mentions of your service or your location. This could easily change and create a bit of unnecessary work for you. Don’t believe the guy who tells you to put keywords in your domain for SEO value. It’s questionable advice at best and Brand > SEO.

As a general rule, something broader will serve you better. Twitter started as a text message platform but the name works perfectly well for the web and mobile app it is today.

A simple checklist for choosing the best company name

Put your names into this checklist and choose whichever one gets the best score. You can also grab it as a free Google doc here.

business_naming

Click the image to grab the naming framework as a free Google Doc (direct access).

What do you think?  Let me know what you think in the comments below. If you want to jump on the list to get the book you can do that below.

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Other naming resources

*This assumes you use GE instead of General Electric as most of their marketing materials do now.

About

Dan Norris is a co-founder at WP Curve and a passionate entrepreneur with an obsession for content marketing.

7 responses to “How to choose a business name in 1 day”

  1. Payman Taei says:

    Great tips Dan. My start-up app just went through a brand name change from a awfully hard to pronounce and remember “EWC Presenter” (which stood for “Easy WebContent Presenter” to an easy / simple name of: Visme . It took longer than a day, but we were in no rush and wanted something that aligned well with our product and our preference.

    I cover the process in more detail here from start to finish:
    http://www.easywebcontent.com/blog/why-and-how-we-changed-our-brand-name-to-visme/

  2. Mike says:

    Dan-

    You have just single-handedly created the definitive guide to naming your company. 8-9+ figure start-ups won’t agree, but hey, it’s not THEIR money they’re spending, right?? Stealing this for my BEST OF posts. Thank you, my friend.

    PS. I agree with “Don’t use misspellings. This only increases the chance people won’t find you.” I always make a point to buy the 1 or 2 peripheral domain names that people *could* type in if they are (1) poor spellers, (2) guessing/trying to remember the company name, (3) drunk, or (4) some combination of the above. Ie, “TheInvisibleBoss.com” –> “TheInvisableBoss.com” (Note: did I just shamelessly work my domain in there?? Ugh, ban me for life.)

  3. Dan Norris says:

    Ha ha no worries. I think a lot of people just google names these days too but there’s no point confusing people if you don’t have to.

  4. Dan Norris says:

    Much better, and definitely much better than the other options you came up with. The branding looks good too. I think the name should be able to be brandable and the more complex the hard it is to be a brand.

  5. hambo says:

    Would it be a good idea to include the question of whether it’s a misspelling in the spreadsheet? You seem to make a big deal of it! PS. Misspellings doesn’t seem to affect Disqus!

  6. Dan Norris says:

    I think it’s covered under keeping it simple. There are a lot of ways you can complicate it. Too many characters, made up words, misspellings etc. The central theme is the harder you make it for people to refer you, the worse the name is.

  7. Hi Dan,
    How did you actually choose the name WPcurve?
    Thanks!

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