What’s in a name? One of the biggest questions people thinking of forming a company have is “what should I call my business?”. Some people know from the outset. For some, the name can even be the launch-pad for the business idea. But for many it remains unclear. If you’re one of them, here we outline some points to consider in coming up with and evaluating ideas. If you nee a bit of guidance here’s our guide to choosing the perfect business name.

Choosing the Perfect Business Name image - blue toned word cloud featuring brand names and related words

Generating ideas

What will you do?

If you’re not sure where to start you can think about what your core business will be. What will you do? What products and services will you offer? It’s very clear from the name what Pizza Hut do. The same for Dominos Pizza. We took a similar approach for The Formations Company.

Alternatively, you could think about what you would like to help your customers feel and/or achieve, rather than just what you’ll sell to them. E.g. Success Appointments

What might you want to be?

Whilst it helps to explain what you do now, that can constrain you in future. Continuing the earlier Dominos example, they have dropped the word ‘pizza’ from much of their branding as they expand the products that they offer. So if you think that you might want to expand your offering in the future, consider a name that keeps your options open or that can evolve in future.

Who are you?

Using the names of the founding partners is an option often used by many professional services firms including legal firms such as Slaughter and May and advertising agencies like Saatchi & Saatchi. You can take this a step further and use your initials, such as TBWA. This approach may be better suited if you look for new business through existing contacts and on personal reputation, rather than expecting people to find you on the open market through internet searches, for example.

Express yourself

The digital revolution brought about a change in the naming of many creative agencies, switching from relying on names, to naming attributes or the reasons for starting the business such as Dare and Poke. Think about why you’re starting your business – perhaps that could be your motivation.

Evaluating your ideasChoosing the Perfect Business Name image - black and white photo featuring 3 men in suits picking a name out of a hat

Once you’ve thought of a name, or have some options, it might help to consider the following points.

You can always change

If the only thing we can be sure of is change, then you should apply that to your name. Whilst not ideal and potentially costly, it is possible to adapt an established name. British Petroleum became BP when the name no longer reflected the global reach and ambitions of the business. The same happened with the arrival of Accenture.

It’s what you make it

As with so many things in business it doesn’t matter what you say as much as what you do.  In 2011 WPP overtook Omnicom to become the world’s biggest marketing services company. But despite owning many of the biggest businesses in marketing, including Ogilvy and JWT, WPP stands for Wire and Plastic Products. In 1985 Sir Martin Sorrell bought a shell company and took it in a whole new direction. As long as a name isn’t greatly restrictive or deters customers you can make what you want to of it.

Check the internet

The internet is important for all businesses, so check that an appropriate domain name for your business is available. It’s free to check available domains (it costs to buy them) at many sites on the internet. For example 123 Reg

When the internet arrived some companies names didn’t lend well to that format, specifically those with & and other symbols in their names.  B&Q, for example, would have to be bandq.com/co.uk/etc. There are ways around challenges like that. B&Q used its heritage to find a new identity in digital and can be found at diy.com.

Choosing the Perfect Business Name image - illustration featuring two pieces of white paper, on one is written: 'a random generic business name limited'It’s important to also consider how your name might read if abbreviated or altered to remove spaces. Whilst it might amuse others it might not work out well for your business. So when evaluating your chosen name think about how it might look in different settings

Channels to market your business are always changing and you can’t think of every eventuality, but perhaps consider what might happen if you opt for a name already associated elsewhere. Trademarks protect brands, but businesses who have taken place names are finding a new challenge to what they can own as new internet domain names become contested. This article explains how South American countries are rejecting Amazon’s attempts to own .amazon, whilst US clothing company Patagonia has decided not to further contest the Argentine government over that domain extension.

Finally, it’s worth checking to see if many people carry out web searches on or around the name you’re considering, to see if you may face competition when people are looking for your business.

Still not sure?

There are many points to consider in selecting a name and clearly, there isn’t a simple answer or formula to choosing the right name for your business. We hope you’ve found this article helpful and inspired some ideas.  The only thing you must do is be prepared to evolve.

Do you have any ideas on choosing a name a company name, or can share experiences for other readers to learn from?  We’d love to hear them.

Published Thursday January 23, 2014