Your business’s name is a major part of your brand. No matter how good your product or service is, a bad name can curb your chances of success. A good business name, on the other hand, helps you stand out from the competition and build a strong reputation. Before you settle on the big decision of what your business name will be, keep in mind the key mistakes entrepreneurs make while naming their businesses — and stay away from these common traps.
How to Avoid Common Business Naming Mistakes
1. Make Sure the Business Name is Not Taken
This may sound obvious, but it’s really important to check that you aren’t choosing a name that another business is already using. In order to form a business entity like a corporation, LLC, or non-profit, you have to file formation documents with your state, and state laws require new business names to be sufficiently different from existing names. Additionally, if you ever want to officially trademark your business, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will deny your application if the name already exists. Plus, you could be at risk of an infringement lawsuit.
To avoid these potential issues, check that your business name is available before filing any paperwork. You can find out if your business name is available within your state by contacting the secretary of state office or state agency responsible for business entity filings — most have an online name check tool. For federal trademarks, check the USPTO’s database. Finally, it’s worth it to conduct a thorough internet search to make sure another company isn’t already using your intended name.
2. Ensure the Name is Not Too Long
It’s simple: people won’t pay attention to business names that are too long. Who wants to read an essay while deciding which brand of toothpaste to buy? Keep your name short, to-the-point, and attention-grabbing. You also want your name to fit on your packaging. Another issue is that long names can make navigating social media tricky as Twitter handles have a character limit. Think: Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Amazon. Most successful companies keep it short and sweet. Yahoo was originally dubbed ‘Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web’ … and you can see how that worked out.
3. The Name Should Not Be Difficult to Spell and/or Pronounce
It’s perfectly fine to experiment with new and interesting spelling to make your brand standout, but also remember you want people to be able to recommend your company to friends and family. If your name is too difficult to spell or pronounce, people won’t remember it, and it likely won’t be marketed easily through word of mouth or online.
4. Select Business Names That Are Unique
Relying on generic words or descriptors for your business name is a near-guarantee that it’ll be forgotten. “Creamy” for a yogurt brand or “Clean” for a toothpaste brand simply won’t cut it. If you think about it, most successful companies have interesting or unique names that are memorable. It’s recommended that you use a fictitious or arbitrary word for your company name — you can do this through combining words, inventing new words, or just thinking of random things that may or may not be related to your company. If you ever want to trademark your business, the USPTO is much more likely to approve creative, unique names.
5. Avoid Offensive Names
Avoid names that are or could be offensive in the future. Though it’s hard to predict what connotations could develop in relation to a name, you can do your due diligence in the moment to mitigate issues. First, you should check that your business name doesn’t have offensive connotations or translations in different countries — this happens more often than you may think.
Another thing to check — especially if you’re considering using a first or last name, or both, which many companies do — is that there are no infamous historical figures who have tarnished the name. You never know when a person’s reputation will turn sour so it may be easier to avoid human names altogether. On the subject of history, standards change quickly and you don’t want to be stuck in the past. A number of brands have recently faced a reckoning with names tied to racism or slavery. Think about how your name will age over time and keep that in mind when making a selection.
6. Make Sure to Use Different Brainstorming Techniques
Inspiration comes from unexpected places so don’t forget to use varying brainstorming methods. Remember that limiting your techniques can prevent you from coming up with creative ideas for your unique business names. Though thinking about your brand itself is important, look to the outside world for inspiration. Talk to friends, family, fellow-business owners, people on the street — anyone who has a different opinion and can give fresh, interesting suggestions.
Even something as simple as walking through a commercial area or looking at products can inspire you to come up with the best business name. You can also use a free business name generator tool to help get your creative juices flowing. The key takeaway is that naming your business shouldn’t be a lone effort.
7. Don’t Forget to Reflect On Your Overall Brand Strategy
Though fictitious or random names are memorable and easier to trademark, you need to make sure you’re staying true to your brand’s overall strategy and messaging. If you want to get across a certain image, form your brand name around that. Think about how you want your customers to feel (e.g., inspired, supported, empowered, etc.) and look for adjacent and uncommon words that evoke those emotions. The most important thing to remember is to stay true to your brand.
8. Make Sure to Ask for Feedback from Others
You may think you’ve found the perfect name, but not everyone interprets words the same way. Before cementing your decision, ask as many people as possible what they think of your idea. Good questions to ask are: Is this name memorable to you? What does this name make you think of? Would you buy a product with this name? Try and see things through the eyes of potential customers. You may be surprised by what you learn.
9. Consider the Importance of Catchy and Memorable Names
Though you need to stay true to your brand, your message won’t matter if nobody is paying attention. Catchy, punchy names reel people in and make them want to talk about your business and brand. A catchy name can make or break your business, especially when you’re trying to compete with other companies creating similar products. You want your business name to grab customers and help them develop a long-lasting relationship with your company.
10. Follow Naming Laws for Your Business
Naming a company isn’t all fun and games. You need to think about the legal implications of your decisions and protect your name once you’ve chosen it. Make sure to avoid using words in your business name that are used in or can be confused with a government building or office.
It’s also important to familiarize yourself with Common Law Trademark Rights, which provide protection for a product name, symbol, logo, or other words that identify a source of goods before it’s officially registered with the federal government. Though these rights are limited to geographic areas (if you live in Georgia, you could technically use the name of a business in California that hasn’t been federally trademarked), they can be upheld in court — so make sure you aren’t stepping on anyone else’s turf.
Then, as mentioned above, stay away from names that have been federally trademarked. Just as other businesses protect their names, you should follow naming laws and protect your own business name. Register a legal entity name at the state level, consider a federal trademark, look into registering your Doing Business As (DBA), and buy a domain name to protect your business’s website address.
11. Avoid Hyphens and Special Characters
Though they may seem harmless, hyphens and special characters can be off-putting for consumers. In particular, people prefer not having to type and add hyphens when searching for a product or service, so it’s best to avoid using them for any website or online presence. Special characters can also complicate internet searches, as well as general memorability. That being said, it’s acceptable to use “&” because it can be translated into the word “and.”
12. Don’t Underestimate the Importance of SEO
Especially if you don’t have a big marketing budget, you may find yourself relying on traffic from Google, Bing, Yahoo, and other search engines. To ensure your business shows up near the top when people are searching for products or services in your industry, you need to consider search engine optimization (SEO). The best way to choose a search-friendly name is by selecting something unique (stay away from superlatives like “best,” “advanced,” or “premier”), clearing and claiming your company name across all social networks, using keywords in your tagline and not your company name, and creating a big digital footprint.