It’s the first question you get whenever you tell someone you have your own business: “Oh cool, what’s it called?”
The answer you give them—your business name—can make or break the first impression your company leaves on the world. If the company name is great, people will instantly get a “feel” for your brand, and even a warm, fuzzy feeling.
But if your business name doesn’t work, doesn’t effectively connect with your brand, you’ve already started off on the wrong foot.
You’ll do a service to both yourself and your customers if you start your online business with the perfect business name. Trouble is, picking a great business name is actually pretty hard. Or intimidating, to say the least.
In fact, we hear this all the time from really smart, skilled entrepreneurs who get so hung up on that one little decision: “Oh god, picking a name is the worst.”
For that very reason, we decided to take on this crucial, dizzying decision, head on. Foundr family, we’re about to show you how to come up with the best business name for your company.
What Should You Name Your Business?
Your business name plays a crucial part in your brand positioning. Positioning, according to Al Ries and Jack Trout, authors of the classic business book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, is, “what you do to the mind of the prospect. the product in the mind of the prospect.“
In the book, the authors go on to explain that naming a business “begins the positioning process, a name that tells the prospect what the product’s major benefit is.“
In other words, by picking the right business name, you can position your company in the mind of the prospect in just the way you want to. Whether you want people to feel comfort, empowerment, happiness, or satisfaction, your marketing begins as soon as the prospect hears your business name.
Instead of having to explain your business every time someone reads your company name, people will know what it is all about. If they don’t get what you sell, they will get an idea of the “vibe” of your company; the identity, the core values, and the type of people you serve.
Take a look at Nasty Gal. Not particularly informative, the name doesn’t tell you what they sell (women’s clothing), but it does signal the identity of its audience—young women who don’t want to play by the rules, who like to show their bold personalities through their clothing.
When Sophia Amoruso, the founder of Nasty Gal, started her next venture, Girlboss, she wanted to maintain that same branding power in its name. As she explained to us in our interview:
Girlboss is…the boss of her own life. … Girlboss is someone who’s in charge of her life and who’s defining success for herself. … Girlboss is a brand, a media brand, really just a conversation that we’re starting around reframing success together but for every one of our leaders or guests at our conferences to think for themselves and to define for themselves what success is.
Amoruso clearly thought about the brand message behind her company and chose the right name from it. As you will see later, the process of finding your company name will follow a similar path as Amoruso followed.
Your business name doesn’t have to be overly complicated or even descriptive; rather, it needs to explain succinctly what your business is about.
Think about the names of the most successful brands in the world:
- Volkswagen (which in German means “people’s car”)
None of these companies tell you what they do, exactly. Rather, they give you a hint of what they’re about. When I hear BestBuy, I think about getting a good deal, regardless of the fact they focus mostly on electronics. When I hear Facebook, I think about my school network, which originally was the target audience of the company.
Your business name won’t be perfect, it won’t explain everything about your business, but it will show off a combination of your brand’s values, ideas, and audience.
At the end of the day, choosing the right business name involves taking some risks, as explained by Ries and Trout:
Choosing a name is like driving a racing car. To win, you have to take chances. You have to select names that are almost, but not quite, generic. If once in a while you go off the track into generic territory, so be it. No world champion driver has made it to the top without spinning out a few times.
A strong, generic-like, descriptive name will block your me-too competitors from muscling their way into your territory. A good name is the best insurance for long-term success.
Should You Make Your Company Name Original?
More often than not, marketers recommend that you pick an “original” name. They wrongly believe that making a name unique will trigger a stronger response in your target audience.
It’s easy to understand why they say so; you want to stand out, so having an original name will help. Sadly, that’s not very useful advice.
Is “Amazon” original? Maybe, but does it relate to their business? Not at all.
Is “Ford” original? No, and it hasn’t really affected their business one bit.
Your company name doesn’t have to be original to position itself with increased strength in your prospect’s mind; it only needs to represent your brand.
Don’t overthink or overcomplicate the name. The last thing you want is for the audience to be confused.
Brainstorm your potential business names (which you will see below), take some risks, and pick one. How hard can it be?
How to Brainstorm Company Name Ideas
There are three aspects you want to take into consideration when brainstorming your company name:
- Your company’s value proposition
- Your offers—the products or services you sell
- Your audience
Based on these three aspects, you can come up with a list of words that you can then mix and match to come up with the right business name. Alternatively, you can pick one that focuses on just one of these three aspects and go with it.
Let’s imagine you were to start an ecommerce store that sold weightlifting suits for, ahem, weightlifters.
Here you can see a weightlifter using a standard weightlifting suit. Source
To start, let’s think about your value proposition. Your suits help to reduce friction, soreness, and fatigue, increase power, and improve your weightlifting technique. What’s more, your product makes a weightlifter feel like a professional and powerful lifter.
Based on these ideas, some potential words ideas are:
Moving on, let’s think about your offer. In this example, your offer is simple: you sell weightlifting suits. Some words you can use for your name thus could include:
- Clean and jerk
Finally, let’s think about your audience. You serve weightlifters; people who aren’t afraid of lifting huge weights, push, challenge, and even hurt themselves. Some word ideas that come up could be:
In this quick exercise, I have come up with 20+ words that you could use in your name. Before you start mixing and matching them, though, stop and think about your brand—the position you want to take in your prospect’s mind. The name you pick should represent it.
Let’s say your brand was focused on making weightlifters break their personal bests every time they hit the gym. Some potential business name ideas then could be:
- Squat Champion
- Deadlift Champion
- Heavy Squat
- Pro Lifter
- Excel Weightlifter
- Pro Squat Suits
Some of these ideas already seem to be quite good. For example, “Squat Champion” already triggers an idea of a man lifting three times their body weight with a perfect squat, the perfect image you’d like to create in your audience’s mind.
Take some time with it. Finding the right business name isn’t a process to be taken lightly or quickly. This exercise will get you closer to the final name that best represents your brand.
With all this said, there are a few tools that can help you brainstorm business names, some of which include:
Some of these outcomes will be admittedly goofy, but the advantage of using these tools is that they will give you a large list of ideas in a matter of seconds. They get the synapses firing. You may get a few solid ideas out of it as well. The problem is that they probably won’t quite relate to your brand.
Take the names as suggestions, but not too seriously. You can mix the ideas you get with the brainstorming process I showed you before and come up with a final name that’s both interesting and representative of your brand.
How to Pick the Right Business Name
After you’ve created the list of options, it’s time to pick your business name.
Take the list of names you came up with before and ask yourself how they compare with the previous points which you developed them from:
- How does the name explain your value proposition?
- How does it refer to your offers?
- How does it connect with your audience?
- How does it position your company in the prospect’s mind?
- How clear is it?
- How concise is it?
Let’s take a look at three from the previous examples and see how they fare with these questions:
- Value proposition: Given the previous value proposition I mentioned before, it gives a good idea of what the company does.
- Offers: It doesn’t explain the products sold.
- Audience: It indirectly refers to the weightlifters by mentioning the main lifting exercise powerlifters use.
- Clarity and conciseness: It’s short and precise.
- Position: It projects a positive idea of doing squats (and other powerlifting exercises) like a champion, which the audience will like.
- Value proposition: It refers positively to the audience, but it doesn’t relate too much with the company’s main purpose.
- Offers: It doesn’t explain the products sold.
- Audience: It explicitly mentions the audience.
- Clarity and conciseness: It’s a bit long, and it doesn’t clarify what “excel” really means.
- Position: The lack of clarity and low-value proposition relevancy doesn’t help to position the company well enough.
Pro Squat Suits:
- Value proposition: It projects an idea of quality powerlifting suits, so it’s good.
- Offers: It explicitly mentions the products you sell, which is good.
- Audience: It doesn’t directly mention the audience, but it mentions the squat, a main powerlifting exercise, so it’s not that bad.
- Clarity and conciseness: It’s a bit too long, but it’s concise and relatively clear.
- Position: It refers to the quality of the products sold, so it’s good.
With this simple exercise, you can already start seeing which names are the most powerful and which ones aren’t that good. In this case, the first and third names are good, while the second one seems to lag behind the other two. Personally, I like the third one the most because it has a positive vibe towards the audience, the products, and the value proposition.
Weighing your options (no pun intended) this way will help you weed out the bad names from the good ones.
If you’re still in doubt, don’t overthink it. A much better solution is to take the names you’re thinking of choosing, get a Fiverr designer to create a quick logo mockup, and use those logos in the online communities where your audience hangs out.
For example, if you were deciding between Squat Champion and Pro Squat Suits, you could spend $10 on two logos, and go to Reddit and Facebook and add the logos in the top online communities, like /r/weightlifting and Gym Workout Fitness.
Let the audience speak for itself. In many cases, a great majority will pick one name over the other.
If the audience still doesn’t lean toward one over the other, go back to the names and get a gut feeling about your options. Yes, I’m asking you to literally feel the names and think which one expresses your company.
What name do you feel the most comfortable talking about for the next 10 years? What name makes you the proudest business owner? What names makes you feel like your business will become a multimillion dollar company?
The business name you choose won’t change the essence of it—if you run it like a champion, it will succeed regardless of the name—but it will give you a good start within the prospect’s mind.
How to Register Your Business Name
So you’ve chosen your business name, now what? While most guides finish here, happily ever after, we’ll take things a bit further. Let’s talk about registering your business name.
By “registering your business name,” I mean considering three aspects in particular:
- Your domain
- Your social media accounts
- Your LLC (or whatever business structure you choose)
- Your trademark
In the case of your domain, let’s go to GoDaddy and check for your business name. The three business names I analyzed before are available, so that’s a great start!
Make sure to pick a .com. While other top-level domains (TLDs) like .co and .net can work, .com’s are the most common in people’s mind.
If you can’t find the exact domain for your business, you can add a prefix or a suffix like:
These prefixes and suffixes won’t change much of your positioning and will help you keep the .com in place.
Then, you have to register your business name for your main social media accounts: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. In Facebook, for example, I was able to find the account for Squat Champion.
If you can’t find the exact names, then once again, add a prefix or suffix like the ones shown before.
Regarding your business name registration, make sure to look for the name first in your local jurisdiction. For example, if you were to pick the name SquatChampion in Wyoming, a state the Tax Foundation named the #1 state to start a business, you’d first need to go to their state business register to check it out.
Once again, the Wyoming Business Entity search database shows me the business name doesn’t exist in the state, which means I could set up my corporation with that name.
From the three aspects mentioned in here, the actual business name doesn’t matter as much as the name you show to the public. For example, people call it Disney, but in reality, the business name is The Walt Disney Company.
Does that mean that The Walt Disney Company will punish you for calling it Disney and not in the former way? Not at all. What matters is that they’re referred to as the much catchier “Disney.”
Finally, trademarking your name isn’t that important when you’re getting started and have no customers. This is the kind of problem to worry about once you’re growing fast and have lots of competitors in your space.
Legally speaking, you can only trademark your business when it’s a unique name and not merely a description. For example, you couldn’t register “squatting suits” as a business name because it’s too broad and descriptive. “ProSquatSuits,” on the other hand, it’s unique and thus can be registered as a trademark.
After you’ve picked the company name, you need to go to your location’s patent office and check for your business name. Each region and country has its own office, including:
For example, I searched for “Squat Champion” in the American patent office and here’s what I got:
This seems to indicate there’s no trademark for the phrase “Squat Champion.”
If you’ve found your name is ready to trademark, you can use a company like MyCorporation or hire a lawyer who specializes in trademark to do it for you in your local patent office.
After you’ve finished with these four steps, you’re done, you have finished coming up and registering your business name!
Pick a Great Business Name, Get a Great Start
Choosing a business name is one of the key exercises all entrepreneurs must go through to cross the bridge from wanting to become an entrepreneur and actually becoming one.
It’s tempting to overlook this process and pick the first one that comes into your head. At the same time, people also tend to agonize endlessly over this decision. You want to avoid either path, taking a few hours at least to pick the right name for your company so you can start your business out on the right foot.
If you have to choose, I’d say err on the side of moving fast. And if you’re one of those people who overthinks everything, then the exercises shown in this article will help you make a decision that’s useful and that still helps you move forward.