How to name a business in 17 steps
No doubt, you’ll get a rush from everything that comes with launching your business! There are so many things to do and think about other than the tasks of your trade. One of those tasks is to figure out how to name a business.
When I completed the month-long naming process for my freelance marketing business, I felt relieved and ecstatic to move forward. But I also felt like a Nova with an empty gas tank.
For about a month, I would wake up in the middle of the night shouting names. I kept a notepad and pen next to the bed for those 3 a.m.-ers. And I lost focus on conversations with everyone around me. Something mid-story might spark an idea and I’d run off to write it down. I share this so you don’t feel alone if you’re experiencing those highs and major lows.
Researching how to name a business and going through the process is a lot of work. And very personal. What one person praises, another will tear down. But if you follow the steps below, they might help your naming process fly and add a little pep back to your step.
- Lean on your village. You’re about to begin a difficult process. There will be ups. Many moments where light bulbs appear above your head. And downs when you realize that great idea you had is already taken or when you think you just can’t be creative anymore. It’s good to have trusted advisers and good friends who will lift you up when things get heavy.
- Write it down. Get your hands inky and jot ideas on a notepad. There’s something about the old-fashioned way of writing that jogs a brain. A laptop works too. Or hey, maybe even a napkin.
- Include everything. The ideas might just start flowing at first. Stream-of-consciousness is good, so write down the crazy words even if they seem like a stretch.
- Start with what you know. You might start with things related to your business. What do you do? Why? What benefit does your audience get from you?
- Expand your list. Visit a thesaurus and find more words for the words that you’ve already written down. Scribble the ones you like on your notepad.
- Play with words. One tool I like is the idiom dictionary.Plug in words you like to see if they’re in any phrases in an idiom dictionary. Rhyming words are good too. Cross-reference rhyming words with the idioms dictionary. Then substitute your word of choice. Here’s a fun and slightly inappropriate example… Let’s say I’m selling pies. The thesaurus suggests the synonym tart. One word that rhymes with tart is heart. I use the idiom dictionary to come up with expressions, say, “Home is where the heart is.” Then substitute the word you really want to use. Now it reads: “Home is where the tart is.” Now that’s a fun ad headline!
- Look everywhere for inspiration. Your hobbies, favorite books, poems, movies, music. What was the street of your favorite author? The name of your favorite hiking trail? Numbers with meaning. I got my idea for a name from a garden creature called a clearwing hummingbird moth. I adopted the name and made it work for what I do. ClearWing tells a story in itself – clear & concise messaging that gives your brand a lift.
- Create a name list. Now look at your word lists and start playing. What words do you like? Can you combine them? Can you create new words by combining parts? By the end of the process, I examined around 700 words or name ideas on my list.
- Check availability. Once you create a name list, you’ll want to check availability. Look to see if there are already businesses with those names. Get ready – this is the worst part of the process. So many creative names are claimed. If a business in a similar industry to yours has the name you like, keep brainstorming.
- Check to see if your idea is trademarked on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website. If not, it’s still not an all-clear. Lots of businesses are active online without trademarking.
- Check to see if the URL is available.
- Google the name to see what comes up.
- Look for the name in LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
- If someone parked a URL you’re interested in, but no one trademarked or uses the business name, you can still consider the name. You’ll just have to get creative with the URL if you can’t buy it. You might consider adding “WeAre…” to the front of the name or a verb like “Creates” to the back that describes what you do.
- Step away. At this point in the process, you may feel stressed and less creative. Go for a run, take your kids to a movie or do whatever it is you love to do. Maybe that involves wine. You’ll be surprised how more ideas come your way when you’re trying NOT to think about it.
- Audio test. Once you’ve come up with an exhaustive list of names that are legally available, you’ll need to narrow it down. Before you start reaching out to people for opinions, do an audio test of your favorites. Listen to yourself saying it aloud. You’ll rule some out just because they’re awkward to say. It’s helpful to record yourself and listen to the playback. I used a voice recorder app on my phone. I “introduced myself” at a networking event and “recorded” a message on my phone. I was able to hear how my business sounded on a recording, which was quite different than how it sounded to myself in the moment I said it. I was able to rule some out this way too.
- Survey people. I kept track of the men and women because I wanted a name that would appeal to both groups. I tested people from different age groups in my industry, but also people in businesses that could be potential clients. Keep your audience in mind when you survey. You can use SurveyMonkey for a more formal survey process. I did the survey more informally by email, text and Facebook. I asked people to vote for as many as they liked.
- Tell somebody on the phone. When I narrowed the name down to the top votes, I mentioned it to a few people on the phone. I ruled out one of my favorite names because several people asked me to repeat it. Then they would ask me what it meant. Once they understood, they had a positive reaction to it. But the initial “come again?” reaction was a clear sign that the name would be a hassle when networking.
- Let go. You might need some time to think over your finalists, so if you can, give yourself time to just chew on it.
- Trust yourself. At some point, you might get opinion overload. During the voting process, opinions helped show which names sparked positive associations. But when you’re down to the final selection, very smart and successful business people may differ with each other on what makes the best name. So, if you invented the name, it’s available, you like it, and it got a lot of votes on your list, you have to trust yourself at some point and choose a name. You will never make everyone happy.
- Commit. For businesses that have a good amount of lead time before the launch, you’ll have time to create, think, survey and repeat if needed. But time is a luxury that many people don’t have. So go with your instincts and pick the name that you feel you can own with pride. And buy your URL as fast as possible.
- Thank your village. Luckily, I had guidance from a number of wonderful people throughout this process. And, my family who had to listen to my bright ideas and grumblings. My four-year-old son even got in on the action. He recommended I name the business “Cheese Boop.” It was a joke that went on for days and helped lighten the tension. One of my most emotionally supportive villagers was Chantelle Catania. She knows how to name a business. She renamed and re-branded her graphic design firm, Annatto after doing the same thing for many clients. My final name choice was far from her pick, but she pushed me to go with my gut and cheered me when I made a decision. She said if I owned it loud and proud, it would be a success.
So, thank you to everyone who helped me figure out how to name a business. You were patient through a grueling process. And, invaluable sounding boards. Together, we narrowed down a lot of good choices.
This process is not for the faint of heart! If you find yourself in the midst of a rebrand or a new business launch and would like professional help (as in the brainstorming/marketing kind), fill out this form to email me or call 404-409-7759.
And for more inspiration on how to brainstorm a business name, check out Annatto’s blog on naming a business here.