The Complete Guide to Expertly Name Your Business + Worksheets & Spreadsheet
Are you frustrated that something as "simple" as a name is holding up your business launch?
A lot of new business (or blog) owners find themselves in the unhappy position of not being able to use their own name for their business or discovering that their first choice is already taken.
Both situations leave you at square one: racking your brain for that perfect name. After all, what would Apple be without it's name?
The perfect name can convey so much meaning and imagery. It can differentiate your business in a crowded industry and set a strong foundation for your brand.
With so much riding on coming up with a good name, it's no wonder the process is so stressful!
I've researched all the angles, all the types of names, all the strategies out there, and integrated them with my strategic branding process to create this comprehensive guide.
Don’t let a name hold you back!
If 2018, is your year to start that new business or launch that blog then, download the free guide and follow along as you read this blog post - you’ll be done in no time!
1. The purpose of your business's name
As the first thing that most people will learn about your business, it's pretty important that your name convey the correct feelings to your audience.
Your name is the emotional trigger that will set the tone for your brand as a whole.
Can you imagine if Starbucks had named their company "Coffees'R Us" or "Cool Beans"?Those names just don't convey even half the mystique and curiosity that "Starbucks" does, which is why determining the kind of emotion you want behind your name is so important.
Your name can trigger several different kinds of emotions:
- Mystique - This is a curiosity or fascination response. (Apple, Starbucks,)
- Exclusivity - This is a name that creates a group or community; a feeling of belonging. (Kayla's Army, American Express)
- Mirror - This name mirrors who your audience is and speaks to them. Creates the feeling of being heard or understood. (Parents Magazine, JobFinder)
- Need - This name creates the feeling of a need being fulfilled by describing exactly what you do. (Your First 1K, Toys R' Us)
- Want - This name creates desire for something your audience has yet to attain; usually lifestyle related. (GoodHousekeeping, JustLuxe)
You'll notice a lot of names share qualities. "Kate Spade" for example can fit into Mystique, Exclusivity, and Want, because that is how they have structured their brand's messaging.
When you're coming up with a name, figuring out the kind of emotional response you want your name to trigger will lead you to types of names that fulfill that goal much faster.
2. Types of Business Names
There are 5 main types of business names that you can use to create your perfect name.
Why is this important? As you look at the other companies in your industry, you can take note of the types of names frequently used and decide if you want to use the same type to create a feeling of belonging in the industry or if you want to break the mold entirely.
Looking at some brands that you want to your business to be like, can help you make the decision to go with the flow in your industry (and stand out in another way), or to stand out strategically through the name you choose.
For example: if your industry is full of companies who almost exclusively use acronyms, and the companies you want to be like also use acronyms, then giving your company a clever acronym for a name might be a great way to go.
It could go the opposite direction though. If you're goal is to stand out from day one and all the companies you want to be like use their name to create a mystique, then go forth and be different!
The 5 Types of Names that you can create:
- Founders Name - This one is self explanatory. If you can use your own name and it would work for your industry and audience, then go for it! (Dolce & Gabbana)
- Descriptive Names - Are functional names and usually describe exactly what you do or how you want your clients to feel. These names may be real words, common words, or compound words that are poetically constructed and infused with meaning through your branding. (Harvey's Carpentry, FedEx (Federal Express), Toys R'Us, or Blackberry - the buttons resembled the blackberry fruit)
- Acronyms - This is usually just the Acronym for the Descriptive Name. It can take a dull Descriptive name and give it a little more personality. (Government Employees Insurance Company = GEICO)
- Experiential Names - Create a feeling or highlight a selling point. These types of names can be a single word that is infused with meaning by the company (Apple, Nike, Twitter) or compound word constructed from associated words, that relies on your audience's understanding of both words to extrapolate the meaning (Salesforce, Evernote, or Firefox).
This can be an extremely powerful way to name your business. By using common words to convey an experience, you are piggy-backing on your consumers existing understanding and will not need to teach them anything new for them to draw meaning from your name.
- Invented Names - These names are meaningless until your business gives them meaning. These can be word mash-ups or completely invented. This is a great option because it is very unlikely anyone else will have your invented name, making it easier to get the domain or trademark. (Comcast - Mashup of "communications" and "broadcast" or Sony)
It can also be harder to build recognition with a made-up name because you have to invest in educating your audience about what exactly you do, since your name doesn't provide any clues.
3. Define Your Business & industry
At this point you're probably staring at a blank page, while your mind swirls with an entire world of possible names.
Isn't it overwhelming to try and process ALL the possibilities out there?
Thankfully there's an easier way! You don't need a name that will speak to everyone on the planet. - You just need a name that will correctly represent your brand and speak to your audience or niche.
It's very important to narrow your inspiration to only what will communicate correctly to your audience, otherwise, you run the risk of coming up with a super creative, but meaningless name.
Now that you've considered the purpose for your name and understand the types of names you can use, it's time to get some context for your name by defining your business and your industry. You need to know who you are and the environment you're jumping into, to craft a name (or brand) with meaning.
NOTE: before continuing this process, it might be helpful to define your brand. So check out this post and download the questionnaire. This questionnaire is the same one I use with clients and will help you get all those intangible feelings and ideas down on paper, so that you can use them moving forward.
create 2 inspiration boards
An Inspiration board is a group of images that you select to help you "see" all the messages, feelings, colors, fonts, and designs present in your industry already and help you pull together images that you would like to represent your business.
The Inspiration board helps us connect the intangible feelings you want your name to communicate with tangible images.
(This is also one of the first steps in creating your visual branding! I love using research in one area to help in multiple business building activities!)
The first inspiration board you create is for your business.
You'll want to save images that represent the emotions, style, and lifestyles of your audience that you want your business to embody.
Saving images of brands that you want your business to be like, their logos, and brands that your audience also already likes, is a great way to get insight into what your audience is familiar with already and how you can add your own flare.
For example: If you're selling high-end coffee to business women in New York City, you'd probably save images of Coach, Kate Spade, Dior, exclusive restaurants, travel, and a fast-paced lifestyle. You wouldn't save other coffee-shops yet - that's next.
The second Inspiration board is for your industry.
Now you can save images (logos) of other coffee shops. You want to save images of your industry separately so that you can easily compare the two.
For example: this High-end coffee shop for business women in New York City, is jumping into the industry with Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, Seattle's Best, High-end coffee bars in Hotels, and any number of mom&pop shops.
As you search for images of other business's in your industry you should be getting a pretty clear picture of who your business is and who it is not. Be sure to keep geography in mind if your business has a physical location.
Pinning the names/logos of mom&pop coffee shops in Dallas, will not give you a good understanding of your industry in New York City.
Compare your business inspiration board with your industry's.
You should start to see naming patterns in your industry and in your business inspiration.
Maybe both inspiration boards utilize a lot of names that create a mystique? Or maybe the two boards show completely different naming patterns.
These inspiration boards should help you clarify who your direct competition is, what your ideal client is used to seeing, and what direction you want to take your name (and ultimately, your brand).
You may notice that Starbucks is a step down for your clientele and that the high-end hotel coffee bars are what they want, but those aren't convenient for meetings - now you've got a competitive advantage that you can leverage!
4. How to Strategically Name Your Business
Alright, with your understanding of the purpose for and types of names, and your two inspiration boards for guidance, you're ready to develop your perfect name!
You should be able to use your Naming Worksheets (above) to record all the relevant adjectives about your business and your industry, now. Start that "Main Adjectives" column in Your Spreadsheet too and record all the main descriptive words you want your business to communicate.
Use your Naming Worksheets to create the guidelines for your name and brainstorm a few taglines.
Name Guidelines you want to consider:
- What types of names do you want to focus on? Look at the patterns in your industry and the patterns in the business's that you want to be like to help you make this decision.
- Do you need the .com of your business name or can you use another extension? (what is common in your industry) It's always better to have a short .com domain name; this helps prevent misspellings and prospects getting lost, when trying to find your website. If you're in a country other than the US, you may be able to use your country's extension.
- What job does your name need to do? (create intrigue, define a group, explain what you do, or evoke a specific emotion) Again, this is a great opportunity to use those inspiration boards. Do most of the business's in your industry use their name to describe exactly what they do? Is a descriptive name necessary for your audience to understand your business?
- Anything unique to your situation that your name needs to consider?
A note on Taglines or Slogans:
Keep in mind that while your name needs to trigger that emotional response, your tagline can be more direct.
For example: GECO - "15 minutes could save you 15%..." Direct and logical.
Or Tarragon Studios slogan - "The Strategy to Spice up your Brand!"
I actually created the tagline before I came up with the name for Tarragon Studios.
Taglines or slogans allow us to use more words, so you can include metaphors to help you describe what you do. This can lead you to some excellent imagery to use in your name!
So take a few minutes to set some guidelines and brainstorm some slogans to get those creative juices flowing!
The complete guide to naming your startup by Cleverism
5. Brainstorming words
Now comes the fun part!
Using the Business Naming Spreadsheet (download it below) start in the first column and add all the descriptive words that you can think of to describe your business. (use your inspiration board)
Move to the "Nouns" column and write down all the people, places, or things related to your business personality or what makes you unique. (maybe if your business is faster than others, this would be a cheetah or a jet)
In the "Industry Terms" column write down all the words that you can think of that are used in your industry. (If you're a hair stylist, such words might be: scissors, blonde, tint, ombre, etc)
Can you think of any Positive phrases or Metaphor's/Simile's that could be related to your business's personality or competitive advantage? (if you're a bank then a positive phrase might be "a penny saved, is a penny earned.")
6. Dig Deeper with these Naming Tools
You probably have only a few words in each column at this point. We want LOTS of words though; so that you have a huge library of related words to play with.
Try using your main adjectives and filling in your synonyms column with related words!
To expand on your main adjectives, let's use some tools:
- Thesaurus - this is a fantastic, simple tool to find lots of synonyms.
- RhymeZone - this one is a personal favorite because not only does it give you synonyms, but antonyms, related words, and rhyming words.
- Google - use Google to find related industry terms or more imagery words, by searching for your main business offering + "terms" (example: "Salon terms" or "banking terms").
Also search for related metaphors/similes or other literary devices/symbolism.
- Wordoid - let's you create word mash-ups and is fantastic for making up words or combining words.
7. Name rules
- Short names are easier to remember than longer ones (but may be harder to get the .com domain name)
- Don’t create a name out of a misspelling. Spelling it for customers constantly will get really old and can lead to lost business if customers can't find the right website.
- Don't pick a name that can limit your future growth. Avoiding this one means that you need to have a big-picture vision for your business before you sit down to name it. My Free Course can help make sure you're building your business with the end-game in mind.
- Don’t use numbers in place of words. Again, needing to relay that distinction to clients over and over again will only lead to prospects slipping through the cracks.
Don’t delete names off your spreadsheet!!! This one is critical! Instead of deleting names you don't like or names that are already taken, use the strike-through feature or turn that cell grey. You always want to be able to see that name, so that you don't forget it's no longer an option and waste time finding the same dead-end name over and over again
As with most rules, there are always exceptions. (flickr or Ryder) If you're on the fence about a name that breaks one of these rules and not other viable options present themselves, take a quick pole of current clients, friends and family, or go into a related facebook group and ask for peoples opinions. Be sure to narrow the people you ask to only those in your target audience.
8. is your name available?
Once you’ve got a good sized list of 20+ names you can start to narrow them down by checking to see if they are available.
- Domain registry - Or you can check GoDaddy to see if your domain is available for purchase. You can try some variations for the domain name, just make sure it's still easy to identify as you.
- Registered Business Check - This will search the EDGAR database so that you can see all companies that file with the SEC. You can also go to your states Secretary Of State's website and search their business filings, to see if anyone with your name has filed in your state. (For more on filing your business correctly)
- Social media - Search for the name you want on the social media platforms you want to be on. Search for Business pages with that name on Facebook, or the @ name on Instagram & Twitter. Check Pinterest too! Make sure you won't have to create a weird abbreviation for your name on any of these platforms.
- Trademark Database - Even if you don't plan to trademark your name right away, checking the Trademark Database will show you if there are any business's with the name already trademarked - which means already operating under that name. If the name you want is already trademarked, it's better to walk away and find a different name, than to risk a cease & decist letter.
Check and repeat until you find your name!
9. The Good Name Test
At this point, you should be down to your top 5 names and it's time to test them out!
On page 5 of your worksheets you'll find The Good Name Test. This test will help you decide between names and make sure your new name will fulfill all the strategic requirements!
- Does your name stand out in your industry? (In a good way) Another way to ask this is: is your name distinguishable from your competition?
- How does your name sound? It may seem silly but it's important to test your new name by saying it out loud. As the name of your new company, you'll be saying it often, so you really want to be sure it flows nicely and can't be "misheard" as something unsavory.
- Is your name easy to remember? Sometimes this also means: is it as short as possible? Does it convey imagery? You could do a little test by polling a group of friends or family. Show them a list of 3 - 5 names in the morning and then ask them if they remember any of the names you showed them an hour later (or even that afternoon.
- Does your new name look good in print? Test this by printing your top 5 names out in all caps on separate sheets of paper in the Helvetica font. See which looks better or if any weird shapes appear in the white-space between letters.
- Doe your new name look good as a domain? Try typing it out in your web browser, the same way you would write any domain. Make sure it doesn't accidentally spell anything embarrassing.
- Could your name be easily misspelled? This will be more of an issue if you're using a made-up word or compound word OR if you're using your own name, but the spelling isn't intuitive.
- Does it create a feeling or evoke imagery that you want associated with your brand? If you're using words like Express or Quick, I hope your business needs to communicate speed in some way. Don't just incorporate the same old buzz words that your industry loves; carefully choose words that create the feelings and imagery you want your business to communicate.
- Will your target audience recognize the key elements? Especially if you've selected a name type that is uncommon in your industry, be sure that it's the kind of name that your audience will recognize.
- Is your new name available? How about on Social Media? (Can it be easily recognized if abbreviated or shortened?) Go back to Section 8 to search all the applicable databases to make sure you're name is available.
- Does it allow for future growth? This one can be tough. You don't want to pick a name that is too vague, but you also may not want to box yourself into only providing a specific service. Having a big-picture view of your business as it is now and the direction you may want to take it in the future will help you make sure that your future growth won't be hampered by your name. My FREE Course can help you establish that big-picture perspective from Day 1.
You may need to repeat this process a couple times before you find the perfect name. It sounds crazy but big companies go through huge lists of words & names before landing on the best option.
Give yourself time to find the right name too. Some lucky business owners are able to land on their names right away, while others spend weeks hunting for the right name.
Don't be discouraged. Give yourself the space to be creative and take a step back whenever you need to.
If 2018, is your year to start that business or launch that blog, I hope you'll use this process and these worksheets to make naming your venture a piece of cake!
What do you think of this process?
How did you come up with your business name?
Let me know what you think in the comments!