How To Come Up With A Business Name.
You’ve come up with the next great business idea that’s going to change everything.
But how to come up with a business name?
Today, we’re going to walk through eight ways to name your business.
I’ll provide real-world examples and then share the simple process to coming up with a winning business name that will give you an edge.
When we look at well-known brand names, it’s easy to think that they have the “perfect” name and that’s what brought on all their success.
The truth is, we don’t think it’s a perfect name until they’ve been in business 30-40 years.
For example, in the 1970’s, apples had nothing to do with computers and Starbuck (a character from Moby Dick) had nothing to do with pumpkin spice lattes.
Fast forward over 40 years later and it’s a different story.
So while it’s definitely important to have a good name, the perfect name doesn’t exist.
OK, let’s get to it.
Table of Contents
- Names Fall Into These Three Categories
- Should You Use Initials In Your Business Name?
- Should You Trademark Your Business Name?
- Should You Name It After Yourself?
- Contract and Combine Two Words
- Name It After The Main Attribute, Feature, Benefit
- Use Alliteration In The Name
- Combine A Word and Slang
- Create A Name That Rhymes
- Create A Completely New Word
- Make The Name Possessive
- Misspell It On Purpose
- Some Great Brand Name Combinations
- How To Come Up With A Business Name
Names Fall Into These Three Categories
There’s an easy and effective way to think about your business name.
This will help with deciding on good potential names and throwing the clunkers out right away.
Three ways to categorize business names.
What Is A Positive Business Name?
A positive business name is a name with a built-in positive meaning or value that most people would understand.
Suppose you wanted to create an online store where you could sell every kind of stuffed animal possible. A great name would be Amazon. Because people know that the Amazon is a jungle full of animal. Of course it works with books and just about every product category you can think of.
Another example of a value name is blockbuster. Of course the company by that name has failed, but it’s not because of the name. When the company Blockbuster started in the 1980’s, they didn’t need to spend any money educating their customers on what blockbuster meant. The word already had an established meaning.
What Is A Neutral Business Name?
A neutral business name is a name with no built-in meaning. Think of it like a blank slate that you can build your brand on.
Like the name of the founders.
When the McDonald’s brothers opened their first McDonald’s location in San Bernardino, California in 1948, the name had no meaning. There was no brand power.
Over time, McDonalds’ began to have meaning in the local community, then nationally and know it’s a worldwide brand.
What is a Negative Business Name?
A negative business name is a name with a built-in negative meaning or value that most people would understand.
I’d love to give you some examples of great, nationally-known businesses that have a built-in negative meaning, but I can’t think of any. Although I did see a local company named Your Worst Enemy (pest control).
Should You Use Initials In Your Business Name?
Short answer: No. Don’t do it.
Stay away from starting a new business with initials (ie. J&M, M and K, etc.).
I’d recommend avoiding the use of initials, like “T&M Plumbing” or “ABC Electrical”.
While there are successful exceptions, like A&P, HEB or KFC, they didn’t start off with initials.
A&P started as The Great Atlantic Pacific and Tea Company.
HEB started as the C.C. Butt Grocery Company.
KFC started as Kentucky Fried Chicken.
While all three names were long, they were descriptive which was important when no one knew who they were or what they did.
By the time these companies shortened to initials, they already had strong brand recognition in their communities for several decades. They were established and stable and had strategic reasons for the making the change.
Here are six reasons why it’s better not to use initials in your new business name:
- Initials are not memorable or distinctive.
- Initials can be harder to say.
- Initials have no meaning and it will take decades to get there.
- Initials are harder to rank on search engines.
- The initials are probably already being used in your industry.
- Initials are harder to trademark.
Once you’ve been in business for a few decades and completely dominate your market, then perhaps shortening it to initials may be a good idea.
Can you start a business with initials and be successful? Of course, but why make it harder than it needs to be?
Investing some quality time into the name will pay you back in the long run.
Should You Trademark Your Business Name?
Short Answer: There’s no short answer.
It depends on your business, industry and vision, etc. Generally, it’s not a bad idea.
Trademarking is the method of getting federal protection for your business name and other business assets within your industry so others can’t use it.
All the national companies do it and for good reason.
At first, you may think that trademarking is not relevant to your business because you plan to only operate within your city or state and keep it local. You may want to reconsider.
Suppose you wanted to start your own burger stand with the simple goal of making awesome burgers that people got excited about.
So you come up with a great business name that surely no one else has thought of and you open your first burger stand and get to grilling.
Over the years, you go on to see great local success. You even open several locations around your state. You are raking in the burger dough.
One day, twenty years down the road, you find out that someone else has the same business name.
Not only that, but they are also in the burger business. To make it matters worse, they started their business around the same time as you and they trademarked the business name you are using!
- 1950’s: Both founders open restaurants in Texas and Virginia.
- 1950’s: Whataburger (Texas) trademarks the name.
- 1970: Both find out the other business exists.
- 2003: What-A-Burger (Virginia) vs Whataburger (Texas) sees its day in court.
Fortunately, they got it worked out and both businesses are still in operation, but not without spending time in court.
That’s time and money that could have been invested in growing their businesses.
Do you have to trademark your business on day one? Maybe, maybe not.
Whataburger (Texas) was in business several years before trademarking, but at some point they wisely got it done.
If you are wondering, it may be worth the investment to find out if trademarking makes sense for your business.
Should You Name It After Yourself?
Naming a business after the founder is one of the most popular approaches.
You can use your last name, especially if it is uncommon and is not already used in your industry.
You can use your first name as well, especially if it is uncommon or unique.
You could also use your full name like Louis Vuitton.
If the founder has a big personality or a high standard for design and quality, they could be the center of the marketing strategy and advertisements.
It may also be easier to trademark your business name.
It’s a neutral name so you may need to educate your target market.
Contract And Combine Two Words
This is about being unique and building value into a name.
Walton + Mart = Walmart.
Cost + Company = Costco.
Instant + Telegram = Instagram.
“Mart” is a store where you can buy a wide range of everyday items.
“Cost” can evoke good value for your money.
“Instant” is all about ease and speed.
Contracting and combining may be easier to trademark and help bolster your marketing.
Name It After The Main Attribute, Feature, Benefit
Examples: Instagram, Costco, 7-Eleven
An attribute is a quality, feature or characteristic that is a key part of something.
A powerful naming method is using an attribute, feature or benefit in the name. Especially, if it is the foundation of your business model or marketing.
Instagram is a wonderful example. Yes it’s a contract and combine name but, their primary attribute is coming in loud and clear. Instagram is quick and easy. It’s instant and that’s a benefit.
From a branding standpoint, it’s unique.
From a marketing standpoint, it’s fun to say.
From a user engagement standpoint, it encourages increased use because it is easy to share your images/videos.
Costco is another contract and combine name that leads off with its core benefit.
To shop at Costco is to find high value items at a cost saving price.
Their entire method for selecting products to place in their stores is built around finding the right quality and cost combination for their members.
Their members know that everything on the shelves fits that method which further increases trust and purchase rates.
Why is it called 7-Eleven? Because the hours used to be, 7:00 am to 11:00 pm, seven days per week so they made it the name. There’s no reason to overthink this naming thing.
Use Alliteration In The Name
An alliteration is a two-word name where both words start with the same letter.
Alliteration is all about how a name sounds and reads.
Using this approach can make it easier to say, fun to say and easier to read.
It can also make it easier to design a logo and signage.
One way to come up with alliteration names is to list out the core products or services and then the core attributes, actions, values or categories.
Dunkin’ Donuts is an action plus the core product. People dunk donuts in coffee so they turned it into the name.
American Apparel is the core value (Made in America) plus the product category.
Krispy Kreme is two attributes. Krispy as in hot and fresh not soft and stale. Kreme as in creamy or smooth texture.
Blockbuster is an honorable mention here.
Combine A Word and Slang
Using slang in your business name is a great way to make a name fun and probably easier to trademark.
Oftentimes, slang is already well known and has a built-in meaning.
It also allows for more creative ways to do your marketing and branding.
You (the user) + Television = Youtube. You get to create your own tv channel.
Internet + Movies = Netflix. You get to watch movies on the internet.
Tickets + The Center of Activity = Stubhub. You get all your tickets here.
While there may be some need at the beginning to do some education marketing, once the name gets out it tends to catch on.
Create A Name That Rhymes
Examples: StubHub, 7-eleven
Rhyming business names are fun to say and easy to read.
Since there’s usually a repetitive letter or word length, it can be easier to create logos around them.
Create A Completely New Word
Sometimes a completely new word is the way to go.
Many moons ago, two brothers had a shoe business together called Dassler Shoe Factory. But as brothers do, they had a disagreement, split up and started separate businesses to compete against each other.
One brother, Adolf “Adi” Dassler, took his nickname and part of his last name and formed Adidas. A completely new name that was unique and easy to say.
The other brother, Rudolf Dassler, took part of his first name and last name and came up with Rudas, but later changed it to Puma.
The rest is history.
Coming up with a completely new word means…
- It may be fun to say.
- It will most likely be neutral in meaning since it does not exist.
- It will most likely require marketing money dedicated to educating the public.
- It may be easier to trademark.
Make The Name Possessive
Example: Kellogg’s, McDonald’s
Possessive business names never seem to go out of style and this feature can easily be combined with the founder’s name.
Both Kellogg’s and McDonald’s are great examples.
It can be used to be possessive about a physical location, like a restaurant.
It can be used to be possessive about a specific recipe, formula or method like Kellogg’s.
Misspell It On Purpose
Examples: Froot Loops, Krispy Kreme
Created in 1963, Froot Loops has always been marketed to children.
Using double “o”s makes it fun.
Could it be that the combination of bright colors and easy-to-read spelling makes it easy for the little tykes to pick it out in a busy grocery aisle and say it out loud?
Guess who owns Froot Loops. Kellogg’s does.
While the source of the original Krispy Kreme recipe and even the name are shrouded in mystery, it’s still true that “K”’s are visually stronger than “C”’s and encourage a “harder” sound. Changing it from cream to kreme also adds additional uniqueness.
It’s also true that a donut from Krispy Kreme tastes better than one from Crispy Cream.
Misspelling a business name can…
- Make it fun to say.
- Make it easy to say.
- Make it easy to read.
- Make it unique.
- Make it make it stand out visually in a busy space.
- Make it humorous.
Some Great Brand Name Combinations
Many of the great business names use a combination of the naming methods.
And why not?
Combining some of these together can load your new business name with some extra power.
Here are some of the great combinations.
Brand Names Using Two Methods
- McDonald’s: Founder and possessive.
- Kellog’s: Founder and possessive.
Brand Names Using Three Methods
- Krispy Kreme: Alliteration, attribute and misspelled.
- Youtube: Contract and combine, slang and attribute.
- Netflix: Contract and combine, slang and attribute.
- Costco: Contract and combine, alliteration and attribute
- Stubhub: Contract and combine, slang and rhymes.
- Instagram: Contract and combine, slang and attribute.
- 7-Eleven: Misspell (the two numbers are in conflict), rhymes and attribute.
How To Pick a Domain Name and Social Media Handles
Besides the business name itself, it’s important to see what options are available for your domain name and social media accounts.
Making your domain name and social media handles the same will add consistency and professionalism to your brand.
A website name and domain name are the same thing.
mcdonalds.com is a website name and domain name.
A social media handle is a just shortcut to finding a person or business on a social media platform.
For example, @mcdonalds is a social media handle. If you search for “mcdonalds” on a social media platform, their account will come up in the search results, because they’ve secured “@mcdonalds”.
Facebook, Instagram and Twitter all use this method. Linkedin does not.
The right way to do it:
- Website: mcdonalds.com
- Facebook: @mcdonalds
- Instagram: @mcdonalds
- Twitter: @mcdonalds
or if the exact domain name and social handles are not available.
- Website: mcdonalds.com
- Facebook: @mcdonaldstx
- Instagram: @mcdonaldstx
- Twitter: @mcdonaldstx
The wrong way to do it:
- Website: mcdonalds.com
- FB: @mcdonalds-sa
- IG: @satx-mcdonalds
- TW: @mcdonaldstx
- Try to use ten letters or less (not including .com)
- Do not include “llc”, “inc”, “corp”, etc.
- Do not include hyphens/dashes.
- Try to use “.com” versions if available.
How To Come Up With A Business Name
Here’s the process.
- Create a spreadsheet or paper with the following columns: Features/Attributes, Benefits, Names, Domains and Social Media.
- List out every possible attribute or feature and corresponding benefits.
- Using the attributes/benefits/features as inspiration, brainstorm ideas in the Names column. Nothing is off the table.
- Say the names out loud. Cross out the hard-to-say names.
- Go to a web hosting website like godaddy.com and start checking for available domains.
- Go to each social site and search for available handles.
- Once done, circle the names that show good potential.
- Share your list with trusted advisors to get their opinions.
- Pick one and order the domain names and social media handles.
Naming your business is an important step to your success, but it can be fun too.
Keep it simple, don’t overthink it and enjoy the process.
What Do You Think?
Like what you read? Did we miss a naming method? Leave a comment or question below.