One of the most important and potentially challenging steps of starting a business is choosing a business name. For some, choosing a business name is the first step tackled because it's simple, quick, and obvious to the business owner. For others, it's a struggle to identify a business name that truly encompasses the business and everything it stands for.
Even if you have an idea of what to call your business, check out these five tips on how to pick a business name to make sure you're choosing the right one for your brand.
- Start by clarifying what sort of message you want your brand name to convey.
- Host a brainstorming session with numerous team members to gather the most number of names.
- Check the availability of domains and whether or not a competitor uses a similar name.
- Register your business name for a trademark to protect it from being used by someone else.
Clarify the Essence of Your Business
The best way to start the process of choosing a name for your business is by reviewing the spirit of your business and brand. Consider your mission statement, your business plan, and your unique selling proposition. And don't forget to think about your target audience and what you learned in your market research.
Some questions that can guide you as you choose a name for your business include:
- What message do you want to portray through your business name?
- What makes your brand unique?
- What are your biggest priorities for your business name? Do you want it to be easy to pronounce, different and unique, directly related to your products and services, etc.?
- What do you want people to think and feel when they see your business name?
- What is your business structure and will your business name use a related abbreviation, such as Inc. or LLC?
- What are the names of your competition? What do you like and dislike about those business names?
- Does the length of the name matter? If so, do you want a short name or a longer name?
Conduct a Brainstorming Session
Once you have a sense of what you want your business name to represent, it's time to get creative. In fact, the more creative and free-thinking you can be during this stage, the more ideas you will generate, and the more possibilities you will have to choose from.
Conduct a series of brainstorming sessions, some by yourself and some with everyone on your team to come up with as many business name ideas as possible. During your brainstorming, keep the essence of your business in mind, but also let your ideas flow unrestricted. Some common ways to start a brainstorming session include brain dumping, list making, mind mapping, and word association.
Business Name Activity
Write down words associated with your business on slips of paper and then mix and match in different combinations to generate business ideas.
Give It Time
Now that you have conducted your brainstorming sessions and have a list of possibilities, it's time to review and analyze your results. Go through your list and remove any non-contenders, sort similar names, and mark the names that immediately resonate with you. A few things to consider when assessing the good names from the bad are:
- Does the name indicate what your business is about? While there are plenty of business names that don't reveal what they do, such as Google or Amazon, as a small business owner, it's to your advantage to choose a name that tells people what you're about.
- Does it set you apart from your competition?
- Is it easy to remember?
- Is it easy to pronounce, which is becoming increasingly important with the use of voice assistants such as Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant?
- Does it fit with your business tone and branding? If you have a serious business, you might not want a whimsical name.
As you sift through your ideas, it's important to let your preconceptions and biases settle before you create your shortlist of the best possible names.
When you have your shortlist of potential business names, walk away, do something else—sleep on it. Choosing a name for your business is a big decision as it will eventually come to represent your brand. (It will also be painstaking and expensive to change in the future). Let your ideas percolate for a day or two, then come back to it and review them again.
In many cases, after a brief hiatus, you will return and instantly know which of your options is the right business name. And if none of the possibilities feel right, start your brainstorming process again.
Before you decide on your business name, check to make sure it's available. If the name is already in use, trademarked, or a domain name, you'll want to reconsider using it.
If your chosen business name is already trademarked, you cannot use it without risking getting sued.
Search the federal database of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Trademark Electronic Search System (Tess). You should also run a series of searches with Google and other search engines for your desired business name to make sure there isn't another company already using your name.
Part of your availability search should include a domain name search if you intend to have a website to promote your company, products, and services. If your business name is not available as a domain, you can consider using an abbreviation, hyphens, or an alternate top-level domain, such as .org.
However, it's important to also consider how easy it will be for potential customers and clients to remember or use the domain to find your website. If they forget to use the hyphen or type in .com instead of .net, you could lose them to your competition. Ideally, domain names should be short and without hyphens. If you have to get too overly creative in a domain name, you might want to move down your list of business name possibilities to the next idea if there is a better domain name available.
For best results, choose a domain with .com and no hyphens to make it easier for people to use voice assist and understand how to reach your website.
Register Your Business Name
Protect your business name by registering it with your state authorities. If you have a limited liability company, a corporation, or a limited partnership in the U.S., you'll need to register the business itself, which will also register your business name. If your business is a sole proprietorship or a general partnership, you generally don't need to register your business entity with the state, but instead through the county and/or city where your business is located.
If you are a sole proprietor, you may choose to file a "doing business as" (DBA) name so you can use a business name other than your own legal name. You can register a DBA with your state or county clerk.
It's not required, but you may also want to register your business name for a trademark, to protect it from use by someone else.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you check if business names are available for free?
To find out whether your potential business name is already being used or is trademarked, use the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's free electronic search system. You can use Google to browse available domain names.
How do I create a catchy business name?
Brainstorming activities like word association and "brain dumping" can help you come up with a unique and catchy name. However, if you are a small business, be sure to use a name that is related to what your business does so that your potential customers are able to find you.