The right company name can make or break a new business. From legal issues and domain registration to building a strong brand – choosing the perfect name for your start up needs careful consideration. We explain everything you need to know when deciding on a brand name.
One of your first actions as your own boss is deciding on a name for your new business. It’s one of the most important decisions you’ll make for your business as the name you choose is the first step to building a strong brand identity for your company. Get it right and your business can flourish. Saddle your start up with a clunky, forgettable moniker and you may struggle to get the new venture off the ground.
Choosing a good company name is typically a fraught, frustrating process. The right name will need to tick an array of boxes, from being catchy and memorable to being available both legally and as a web address. Expect to spend at least a week or two brainstorming potential brand name ideas before arriving at the perfect company name.
What makes a good company name?
The business name you choose speaks volumes about your new start up. Ideally it should embody the values of your company and the uniqueness of your service or products. But trying to find a name that sums up everything your business does in just one or two words may be impossible.
An alternative approach – typically favoured by creative businesses – is to opt for an abstract, quirky name that serves as a blank slate for whatever you company does. For example, companies such as Apple, Orange, Google, Lego and Starbucks have names that reveal little about their products or services but are short and catchy, making them easy for customers to remember. It’s worth bearing in mind however that these successful companies spend heavily on marketing and advertising to establish their brand recognition with customers. For that reason abstract names won’t work for every type of business. Naming your new construction firm Purple, for example, may make it difficult to compete with other traditionally-named companies in the same industry.
How to come up with a company brand name
Using your own name
Following in the footsteps of many successful brands – think Ford, Procter & Gamble, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer – many people name their start up after themselves. Using your own name can capitalise on your professional experience, shows your commitment to the business and helps differentiate it from your competitors. However, this easy approach to naming your business can prove limiting as your company grows and new staff take on key roles or should you decide to sell the business.
Keep it simple
The best company names are short, easy to pronounce and remember – think of brands such as Apple, Google, Amazon and Tesco. It’s best to avoid long, obscure names – whether Latin or other language words and phrases, or mythical gods and creatures. People prefer words they can understand – having to constantly explain your name or its pronunciation is an unnecessary barrier to business.
Watch your spelling
Adopting a weird spelling for your company name or dropping vowels or swapping letters such as ‘k’ for ‘q’ or ‘z’ for ‘s’ may seem a clever way to attract attention and get around the problem of domain name registration. There’s a risk however that you will lose business as customers struggle to find you when searching online or when referred by others. You need to build the brand on a strong foundation so keep to traditional spelling wherever possible.
As so many words have been registered and trademarked by existing businesses, you may find that creating a coined name for your start up offers more potential. Smashing two or three words together or merging parts of words or letters to create a new and unique name is a popular option used by many companies.
Well-known examples of coined business names are Microsoft, Italiatour, Compaq, KwikFit and Moonpig. With this approach you’ll need to unleash your creative side. Play around with metaphors to reflect key aspects of your business – such as with business names like BigStorage – or string letters together to create a pleasant sounding new word such as Lego and Kodak.
Creating a coined name won’t suit every business and building your brand so customers and clients know what you offer will take lots of work. On the plus side the uniqueness of made-up business names makes them much easier to trademark and protect.
Avoid clichés and puns
Don’t be tempted by overused clichés or puns such as ‘Nice Buns Bakery’ or ‘A Cut Above’ hair salon, as they can limit the growth of your business such as opening further branches. Be careful when it comes to metaphors too. It’s best to avoid trying to imply you’re a market leader with overworked words such as pinnacle, peak or summit in your business name.
Avoid geographic or generic terms
Naming your start up to reflect your service area is a tactic used by many small businesses. Yet while ‘Plymouth Plumbers’ or ‘Bromley Paving and Driveways’ may put you at the top of online search results for local services, it could ultimately be restrictive if you plan to expand out of a particular geographic area or increase the scope of your business offering. Learn from the example of Minnesota Manufacturing & Mining and Kentucky Fried Chicken who ditched the regional aspect of their names to become well-known global brands 3M and KFC respectively.
Steps to choosing a company name
Choosing the perfect name for your small business can be a complicated task. Knowing the steps to take can help streamline the process, producing a unique business name around which you can build your brand.
Step 1: Brainstorm a list of business name ideas
The first step is to let your creative juices flow and come up with a list of possible business name ideas for your new start up. Resist the temptation to brainstorm with friends and family; the best starting point for ideas is the internet. Hit thesaurus websites such as Thesaurus.com and type in a word that relates to your business or product to see a host of synonyms and related words. Look at online glossaries, jargon busters or slang dictionaries for your business which can generate interesting words or hunt for visual ideas by typing in related words into Google Images.
You’ll probably end up with a long list of possible names ranging from dull to downright whacky. Much like panning for gold, you need to sift carefully through this lengthy list of potential names to select four or five strong contenders to move forward with.
Step 2: Domain name search
Once you’ve decided on a shortlist of names the next step is to check if you can get a website with any of those names.
As you’ll likely want to register a website address for your new business it makes sense to check if domain names are available for your chosen name – or even choose the business name based on an available domain name. Use a tool such as Shopify to generate business name ideas and check if the web address domain is available.
There are tons of domain name registrars in the UK including 123 Reg, Go Daddy, Names.co.uk and Nominet, which is the official registry for .uk domain names. Just head to their website and type in your proposed name to see it’s still available. If a name is already taken the domain register website will suggest variants.
This is where it can get very frustrating – you’ve come up with the perfect name for your company only to find the domain name is already taken. But think carefully before trying to shoehorn your business name into any available web address variant.
It’s essential to your brand that your company matches your domain name as closely as possible. It’s very confusing for your customers if you have one name as a business name and another for a domain name. Your domain name should be something easy to find and easy to remember.
Prioritise on getting a website address ending in .com and .co.uk – for example www.yourcompanyname.co.uk – as this is what customers will expect. However, you may want to register variants of an address if they’re available.
Step 3: Stay within the law
Various rules apply when naming your new business, especially if you’re setting up a limited company. Your business cannot have the same name as another registered company’s name – or even one that’s too similar. Perform an internet search for businesses in your area with similar names and check the Company House register to see if a business with that name already exists. If so, click on the company number to view basic details such as when it was registered, its official address, whether it’s trading and when it last filed accounts or an annual return. You can also search the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) on the IPO website to see if a name is registered as a UK trade mark.
There are other rules that apply to naming your business. For example the name must not include offensive words nor sensitive words such as like Royal, British, English, Scottish, Wales, Bank, Chartered and Commission which may mislead your customers. Nor can you imply a professional qualification you don’t hold. The government website has a full list of business naming rules and regulations.
Step 4: Test the name before committing
Every start up name has its pros and cons. Consider your shortlisted business names from every angle: how it will be spoken aloud by yourself and customers, how it will look online, on businesses stationery, shop windows, delivery vans or other locations your company may use. Also consider what image the name conveys – is it positive and approachable? Will customers be attracted to it? Finally, check your business name when written as an acronym, as the results can be surprisingly awkward.
It’s easy to get hung up on choosing the perfect moniker for your start up but by taking your time to explore all the options, you can choose a name for your company that works well both in the long and short term.